Birth Stories

Published on November 12th, 2020 | by Mary Grilli Jacobs


How to Have an Unmedicated Childbirth

The most important thing to do, from the very beginning, is to follow all the rules. Go to school, and then more school, collecting degrees and head pats. Stick to the plan. Whose plan? Don’t ask questions.

Become a lawyer or an accountant or a management consultant, and wake up every morning willing this to be the day your appendix bursts or you get fired so you can avoid putting on your black Banana Republic pants and eating tuna salad sandwiches at your desk.

Get married to an affable guy from the midwest who laughs at your jokes, sleeps soundly, and gifts you books for birthdays and Christmases.

Decide, finally, that you can’t take it anymore. Blink and stare straight-faced at the partner with the horse teeth when he calls you a “fucking idiot” for quitting. That evening, at the bar across the street from the office, tell your former assistant that you are finally “living your truth” as you slurp up the dregs of your third pomegranate margarita.

Spend some time “figuring out what’s next” by volunteering or practicing yoga or starting a life coach certification. Think, what better time than now to have a baby, what with all the extra time and energy I have to grow little baby kidneys and fingernails and eyelashes?

Get pregnant, the old fashioned way, consulting calendars and paper strips, giggling as you directly address your husband’s sperm with “attaboys” and “go get ’em, tigers.” You will cringe about that later. Soon, cells will be churning, dividing, fizzing inside you, forming skin and teeth, and nostrils.

Your pregnant friend will tell you that her birth plan is to go the hospital and “just wait and see how it goes,” but you know that this is a mistake because you’ve seen that surprisingly compelling documentary by Ricki Lake. You picture your friend in 25 more weeks, belly up on a conveyor belt. The belt stops and swish! A blade slides out and slices her open. Chug chug. At the next station two steel arms descend toward her open belly. You think, not me! Instead, you will find a midwife who is taking patients: this, the first of myriad decisions that you will make over a lifetime to gently but determinedly point your child toward health, intellect, and good hair.

When you meet the midwife, she will stare at you so closely and so intensely that you will have to look away, resting your eyes on the paper mâché casts mounted on her wall of the swollen bellies and face-sized breasts of, you presume, previous patients. You adjust your maternity jeans over your own bulge, and look back at the midwife, her wild, untamed eyebrows are bleached trees on a windblown coast.

Photo by Paul Hewart on Unsplash

Your husband will buy the wrong printer ink cartridge, and you will wonder aloud what will happen if you die and he has to raise the baby on his own, but he can’t even match a printer with a cartridge. You will want to stop crying, because it will have been twenty or thirty minutes by then, but you will find you can’t, so you will stuff the useless cartridge back into the box as you weep.

Spend hours in the middle of the night in the soft bluelight glow of your laptop reading “positive birth story” after “positive birth story” with the zeal previously applied to professional pursuits. There are water births, births in clearings in the forest, births at the peak of a mountain at sunrise. In the stories, the laboring mother and her partner always maintain eye contact and french kiss as the baby crowns. Don’t ask questions.

No one in the stories you will read grabs her partner by the collar and screams, “this is all your fault, you bastard!” like in the movies. One midwife claims that she is so in tune with the birthing mother that she can sometimes actually feel the sensation of the baby coming out of her own vagina as the baby is coming out of the birthing mother’s. Try and find an OB who does that, you will think.

When your own labor finally starts, you carefully wash and blow dry your hair, imagining the first photos of you as a mother, and start baking a fancy cake to pass the time. Pause every now and then to breathe through a contraction, and marvel at your ability to stay calm—productive, even.

The labor will progress, and that night you will float, trance-like, in and out of sleep and wakefulness, pain and the echo of pain. The windows will turn from black to blue to pink to bright, and your husband will ask how you slept. Walk around your apartment from the stove to the door to the couch to the bed. Stove, door, couch, bed. Stove, door, couch, bed. Choke down a few handfuls of cake, grabbed right from the pan like popcorn for lunch.

Tell your husband he can eat his fucking burrito in the fucking bathroom. When he goes into the bathroom to eat the burrito, sob uncontrollably, because how could he leave you alone like that right now?

Go to the hospital. The midwife will come in with her wild eyebrows, and suddenly they are snakes instead of trees, and you will realize that if you have to stare into those eyebrows through the next contraction, you’ll break. She will check your dilation and say, “Oopsie! I think I actually broke your water. Things may get a little more intense at this point.” Immediately throw up twice into a pink kidney-shaped bowl that an assistant who will introduce herself to you as Cha Cha is holding. Don’t ask questions.

Time will pass, it could be minutes or hours, and at some point you will find yourself on your hands and knees, completely naked, in the shower. Hot rivulets will snake across your scalp, through your hair, behind your ears, and down your cheeks. You will grunt, and rest your forehead on the cold tile. You will look up into the faces staring back at you – the midwife, your husband, two strangers, and Cha Cha, and beg for mercy. You will lower your head and slurp the hot shower water that has pooled by the drain because you no longer know the word for “thirsty.”

You will say that you can’t do this, and the midwife will say, “but you are doing this,” and then you will know for sure that you hate her. You come to understand that you are going to die there on the shower floor. The baby might come out or she might not, but either way, you will be dead on the tile. “She just didn’t listen to those positive childbirth affirmation CD’s often enough,” they would mutter, heads shaking as they heave your swollen, lifeless body off the floor.

Photo by Carson Masterson on Unsplash

Somehow, impossibly, and only because you have been commanded to do so by the spiteful midwife, you will get up and walk to the bed. Get on the bed, as instructed, and lie down on your back. Don’t ask questions. You will realize in this moment, that you are every cliché of a woman giving birth that you had previously dismissed as untrue and harmful. You will be helpless, panting, and crying. Cha Cha will hold one leg and your husband will hold the other. Someone will pat your head and say that you are “doing amazing” and you will wonder what not doing amazing would look like. Push until the blood vessels in your face and eyes and neck pop and leave red dots that won’t go away for weeks. You will have long forgotten about eye contact and french kisses.

You will feel absolutely 100% certain that this baby missed her exit and is taking a detour out of your butt. Keep pushing anyway, because you’d rather live without a butt than do this for another minute. Dig your nails until you draw blood from dear Cha Cha’s hand, give one more mighty push, and deliver your baby.

The midwife will tell you that you are a strong warrior and the color will begin to come back to your husband’s face. There will be stitches, and a cord will be cut. Look at the placenta, hoisted up proudly in a tupperware container by the midwife, like that’s the prize you were after this whole time instead of a baby, and feel…nothing. Curiosity, maybe.

Later, the baby will cry and cry, and when you call the nurses station to ask them to come check on her, they will ask if you’ve thought to change her diaper. You will say that you didn’t realize that was your job yet, and they will laugh and hang up. You and your husband will smear tar-like poop all over your baby’s legs and backside. Your husband will take the baby down the hall for a jaundice test, and, finally alone, you will sit back and decide that maybe next time, if there is a next time, you should ask a few questions, and then just see how it goes.

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About the Author

Mary Jacobs is a former lawyer and ESL teacher. She is working on her first novel, and has hoards of unfinished short stories languishing on her laptop. She grew up outside of Washington, DC, and has lived in Virginia, Philadelphia, Italy, Chile, Denver, and California. When she tires of writing, she plans to open a gelato truck. She writes in her closet-cum-office in San Jose, California, where she lives with her family.

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