Before going into labor with my eldest daughter, I had worried about what I assumed would be a loss of dignity during childbirth. I knew that the midwives and doctors around me would hear me scream like I've never screamed before. Chances were they'd see me poop on the birthing table. For hours, if not days, they would gaze upon the nooks and crannies of my large, wobbly-even-when-not-pregnant figure. They would get to know my body in an intimate sort of way — one I would typically only reserve for my closest romantic partners. I feared that I would feel embarrassed or uncomfortable or that I would deeply regret my choice to go for a hospital birth rather than a home one, surrounded only by a couple of trusted individuals.
Until having my first child, I had never experienced anything so simultaneously beautiful and disgusting. Seeing her little face for the first time, as wrinkly and blotchy as it was, felt like an actual miracle. It was a moment in which to appreciate the gloriousness of human biology, the love between my partner and I, and the excitement of nurturing this human thing that I had somehow made.
Looking around the room before being transferred to the post-labor ward, however, my surroundings seemed more like a crime scene than the setting of reproductive wonderment. There was blood and sh*t and all manner of unknown goop on every surface. My baby and I, naked and exhausted, were covered in all of it, too.
My birth was observed not only by the entire midwifery staff and a head doctor, but by student doctors, anesthesiologists, and all the other available OB-GYNS in the hospital at that moment
In the 56 hours I'd been in the hospital, though, that was the first moment I recalled my earlier fears. I had, in fact, screamed like I've never screamed before. I had pooped in front of strangers. I had contorted my big, soft body in all myriad of positions to try to alleviate the pain. I suppose the whole experience had been "undignified," in the sense that there was nothing serious or composed about my behavior throughout it. If to be dignified is to be, or to feel, worthy of respect, however, I'd never felt so profoundly dignified, strong, beautiful, and blissfully whole in my life.
In the immediate weeks after having Luna, my oldest, I would experience little flashbacks of her birth. It had been a long, arduous, excruciating process, and I could remember most of it all too clearly.
I had been induced a week before my due date after learning that my daughter wasn't gaining as much weight as the doctors felt she should be. For that reason combined with my higher BMI, my pregnancy was labeled "high risk." On the day Luna was born, we were also considered the most interesting case in the maternity ward (as one midwife would later tell me). This meant that my birth was observed not only by the entire midwifery staff and a head doctor, but by student doctors, anesthesiologists, and all the other available OB-GYNS in the hospital at that moment — a fact I did not learn until they all came into our room an hour before Luna arrived.
I clocked their presence, feeling annoyed that all these unknowns were suddenly spectators in my family's moment — but what didn't cross my mind was how I might look or seem to them. I didn't care that a dozen or so random people were looking at my naked body. I didn't care that they were probably going to see me poop (they did). I didn't care that they all had front row seats to my vagina's upcoming revue. To be honest, all I could think about in those moments was how much pain I was in. When I was able to speak, all I could do was ask for more gas and air. When I was able to hope, all I could do was will my little one to come out soon.
My eldest is almost 2 years old now, and I've since welcomed her little sister into the world. At only 4 months old, my youngest's birth remains pretty fresh in my mind. There was a lot I worried about going into that one. Throughout this pregnancy, I'd been so concerned with time management. Questions of how to balance two under 2 kept me up at night. Panic that Luna would resent Elia coursed through me whenever I pictured them in a room together. I worried about money. I worried about not having enough space in the house for two kids. I worried about how my husband and I could possibly have couple time (or how I could possibly have me-time) with twice the amount of children to look after.
This time, I didn't waste any mental energy contemplating how embarrassing labor might be.
This time, though, I never worried about losing my dignity during childbirth. I actually didn't poop during labor this time, but I'm almost certain that I beat my screaming range by a mile. My body was softer, larger, and more adorned with stretch marks and cellulite than ever before (characteristics we're so conditioned to perceive as flaws), but I never once felt embarrassed about who might see me laid bare. This time, I didn't waste any mental energy contemplating how embarrassing labor might be.
Having now done it twice, I've come away from the experiences thinking of childbirth as a lot of things. Beautiful and disgusting, definitely. Agonizing and incredible, sure. Empowering and debilitating, yes. Embarrassing does not make the list, though. There is nothing shameful about having a child. There is nothing humiliating about having to bleed, and sweat, and cry, and scream, and sh*t your way through the process. There is nothing mortifying about your body — this source of tremendous strength, love, and beauty that it is — being out in the open for people to see and to help heal.
To be honest, there are a lot of things I worried about before having children that have ceased to matter now. I used to work to hide the dark circles under my eyes, convinced that they were "ugly." These days, I appreciate them as signs of all that I am doing. I used to obsess over my career until my anxiety was so all-consuming that I couldn't sleep unless I smoked up. Now, I try to enjoy every moment of both my jobs — being a mother, and a writer — without berating myself for not doing "enough." I used to worry about pooping in public, and specifically at work, in case someone spotted my shoes under the stall and learned that I was the one responsible for those foul smells. I guess you could say I worried about appearing dignified to others — about seeming like someone wholly put-together.
Childbirth is, in many ways, a prelude of what is to come when you have children. Things get messy, loud, disorienting, malodorous, and sometimes they can feel totally out of your control. And, somehow, it is all of those things that contribute to how damn magical this stuff actually is.
This first-time mom wants to have a home birth, but is she ready? Watch how a doula supports a military mom who's determined to have a home birth in Episode One of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for the next three episodes, launching every Monday starting November 26.