This admission firmly solidifies me as a forever Millennial, but I didn't learn to "be prepared" from the Boy Scouts. I learned it from Scar in The Lion King. While I have never used my preparedness for as much evil-doing as dear old uncle Scar, I have taken it to heart in other places in my life. For example, my partner and I have a thorough zombie apocalypse preparedness plan. I am always prepared to drink the last glass of cabernet sauvignon, rather than let it sit in the bottle. And, when I was pregnant with our daughter, I prepared myself for her birth by binge-watching birth videos online.
I picked a Friday night — movie night — early in my last trimester for my partner and I to sit on the couch with my laptop, ready to fall down the YouTube wormhole. When I told family and friends of my plans, everyone asked me what I could possibly be thinking. They said it was a bad idea. They said that it sounded horrible, that I would scare myself, that it wasn't worth it.
My plan was to give birth vaginally without pain management. I knew that my plan could change depending on the situation I found myself in at the time of delivery, but until then, I wanted to be prepared. I'm a visual learner, so I felt like the best way to learn about the experience of a vaginal, drug-free birth was to watch one. I didn't have anyone willing to let me sit in on their birth so I thanked the Fates that I'd been born in the information age and turned to my good friend Google. None of this seemed absurd or bad or scary to me. In fact, it seemed like being prepared. I thought of it like studying for an exam. I've always been a teacher's pet. Why stop now?
I also thought it was important that not only I understand what I was in for but that my partner understood, as well. He was going to be in the room with me, holding my hand, supporting me. How could he properly do that without having a firm understanding of what it meant to push a baby out of a vagina? Plus, I knew he'd see some pretty scary things happen to my vagina during the birthing process. It probably comes as no surprise that my vagina was — and still is — a pretty happy place for him. I wanted him to be prepared to see that his happy place might have some tough times ahead, but that in the end, hopefully, everything would be OK.
I watched every single mother deliver her baby. I watched as each woman dealt with her pain and exhaustion in a different way. Some of them screamed, yelled, moaned, hummed; some of them suffered in silence. Some of them paced, rocked, changed positions. Some practiced breathing and mantra exercises, squeezed their partners' hands, cried. They said they couldn't do it. But without fail, they did.
Lucky for me, my partner is not only funny, smart, kind, and handsome; he's also used to me railroading him into doing things he probably doesn't want to do. Like, watching birthing videos. So, naturally, he was on board.
We sat down together, cuddled up on the couch and watched video after video. We watched women birth in bath tubs, on their beds, and even one woman give birth in a ravine near her home. We watched husbands encourage their wives and midwives wipe away poop. We watched a lot of vaginas push a lot of babies out into the world. And, yes, it was kind of scary. I cringed. I squealed. There were times I had to look away and times I told the screen, There is no way that baby is coming out of there. There were times I turned to my partner and asked him exactly what had I gotten myself into.
But I kept watching. I watched every single mother deliver her baby. I watched as each woman dealt with her pain and exhaustion in a different way. Some of them screamed, yelled, moaned, hummed; some of them suffered in silence. Some of them paced, rocked, changed positions. Some practiced breathing and mantra exercises, squeezed their partners' hands, cried. They said they couldn't do it. But without fail, they did. One begged, "Get him out of me." But at the end of every video, after I had watched so many that the sight of a crowning baby's head no longer affected me, their reactions were all the same.
After all the pain, the hours (conveniently sped up for my viewing pleasure), and the bone-deep exhaustion, they all held their babies in their arms with looks of pure, unadulterated joy on their faces. That moment, when a mother sees her child for the first time? That look on her face? It's called true love. And I got to witness a countless number of them.
There was a never a moment where I thought to myself, I can't do this.
I wouldn't say that watching birthing videos is something every expectant mother should do. It is certainly not for the squeamish. It's jarring, a little weird, and depending on your tolerance level, kind of gross. But, then again, so is life.
When it came time for me to deliver our baby, I didn't go drug-free like I'd planned. My daughter's heart rate dropped many times throughout my labor and the doctors worried that she might need emergency intervention. They told me I could continue without drugs but that if they had to do an emergency c-section, I'd need to be put under and my partner couldn't be in the OR with us. So, I chose the epidural because I knew I wanted to be awake for her arrival. Before the epidural (a fiasco in itself that necessitated two needles in my back and the paralysis of the entire right side of my body), labor hurt. A lot. Contractions are no joke. And after the epidural, it was still exhausting. I'd been awake for 18 hours and hadn't been allowed to eat or drink for 10 of them (again, because of the potential need for a emergency c-section). But there was a never a moment where I thought to myself, I can't do this.
And neither did my partner. He was there with me through every contraction, every push. He watched his happy place expand to the size of a very large baby head, and he told me, "I see her hair." And, "She's almost here." And, "You can do it, baby." He even held his breath in solidarity with me through every push. After only one hour of pushing, she was here. I took one look at her and I forgot how much the contractions hurt. I forgot gripping the railing on my hospital bed, gritting my teeth. I forgot begging my partner to rub my back. I forgot how tired I was, how hungry. I even forgot all of those mothers who selflessly shared their birth experiences with me through the wonders of the World Wide Web. I forgot it all and I said, Hello, my sweet girl. I forgot it all and felt the pure, unadulterated joy that I had been preparing for all those weeks before.