Other than some veiled references about my day job that pays for those dinners at Le Jules Verne, I don’t think I’ve so much as whispered here on my blog what I really do for a living. For those who don’t know, I’m a Labor and Delivery RN. I don’t talk about my job mostly because I haven’t wanted to get dooced.
Except I’m starting to think that getting dooced might be the smart way to go. Yes, I should be grateful that I have a job, but everybody left working is so damned cranky. You’d think those of us still gainfully employed would be bending over backwards with gratitude, but we aren’t and it doesn’t look like it is going to get any better. So today I’m going to tempt some fates and open the door to my working life. I’m going to talk about birth.
But first I need to talk about how yesterday’s post brought up a bunch of past pain from when I was Kitaened. That’s the verb I just made up for what happens when you are forced by creepy gym teachers to take a shower, stark-naked, next to Tawny Kitaen when you’re 14. I think I failed to mention yesterday the part where I didn’t have any pubic hair yet. I was a weird little kid without pubic hair and she was TAWNY
Okay. Okay. I’ve collected myself. Let’s get back to the point.
The point is that life isn’t fair.
I can do things that you can’t do. You can do things I can’t do. Tawny Kitaen was a Sex Goddess from Mt. Olympus while I was a oddly-nomenclatured hairless girl who wore a blue wraparound skirt for a shirt (that needs explaining, but I’m not up for it today) and smoked a lot of pot. Tawny went on to hook-up with rockstars and pro-athletes…oh why bother, let’s just quote Wikipedia because Tawny has a Wiki page (I don’t under ANY of my names in case you were thinking of googling for it):
Julie Kitaen was born in San Diego, California in 1961 to a Jewish-American father, Terry Kitaen, who was an employee of a neon sign company, and Linda Taylor Kitaen, a housewife and a former beauty pageant queen. Julie began using the name “Tawny” at the age of 12, on her own initiative [emphasis mine].
Kitaen was romantically linked at various times to Tommy Lee, O.J. Simpson, Jerry Seinfeld, Chuck Finley, and Jon Stewart. Kitaen married David Coverdale in 1989, but the two divorced in 1991. After her marriage to Coverdale ended, she married baseball pitcher Chuck Finley in 1997. They had two daughters, Wynter Finley in 1993 and Raine Finley in 1998. Kitaen appeared in a feature of professional athletes and their wives in the 1999 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
The point? We can’t all be Tawny Kitaen.
And this has what to do with birth?
Today I stumbled across this article by Martha Kempner entitled, “Epidural Please: Respecting All Choices in Childbirth.”
I think this quote sums up her thesis:
Though I have total respect for this woman’s choices – including her choice to broadcast such a personal event, something I would never want to share with the world – I worried that the message to some viewers might be that those who choose to get epidurals are not experiencing childbirth fully or having a true birth experience. It’s a message that, though often subtle, I think women hear a lot, and pretty much always from other women.
Why the worry for other women, Martha? That’s curious to me. Are you really worried about other women, or are you just worried about being judged for your own choices? Because with a national epidural rate in the US sitting somewhere between 65%-90% I hardly think your rights to an epidural are in any danger any time soon. Nor should they be.
Martha, first let me reassure you. If I am ever your labor nurse I will fall over myself trying to get you your epidural. I’ve attended maybe over a thousand deliveries (I’ve lost count) and some of the best have included epidurals. So, trust me, you’ll get no judgment from me. Other than the part where I suspect you are attempting to disguise your own fears about being judged behind this curiously unnecessary concern for the rights of other women, the only real exception I take to your article is this quote:
When I explained to a friend, who had opted for no pain medication, that I was planning on an epidural from the get go, she reminded me that it slows down labor (something my OB disagreed with), that I’d have to lie in a bed (she’d given birth on all fours), and that they’d probably put me on a fetal monitor the whole time.
I’m sure your doctor is great, but, for the record, science disagrees with your him/her.
But after spending 20+ years with women birthing, I do have this to say about your article:
Just like people who climb Mt. Everest are brave and strong and amazing, women who give birth without pain medication are brave and strong and amazing. (Except for sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes women giving birth without pain medication are pains in the ass, whiny and annoying. In my professional opinion, you do not win the Noble Birth Prize for your birth experience if you hit me and scream “FUCK YOU!” repeatedly in my face (although once, maybe twice, is okay).)
Now, let’s all agree, climbing Mt. Everest is entirely unnecessary. Nobody needs to do it. There is nothing up there that people need to go get. People climb Mt. Everest for the challenge, the thrill, and the fun of it. They also do it for the bragging rights. Anyone who climbs Mt. Everest gets to say forever after, “Hey, I climbed Mt. Everest.” And the rest of us act duly impressed.
The fact that one person climbs Mt. Everest and I don’t want to doesn’t mean anything about me or my character. I might be brave, strong and amazing in other ways, or I might just be a big, fat weeny, but you can’t measure that by one mountain.
For some women, giving birth without medication IS their Mt. Everest. It was for me.
Birthing vaginally without pain medication carried a lot of personal meaning for me. My first pregnancy ended in a Cesarean Section on Christmas night at 7pm. I was 9 centimeters and there was no fetal distress. I know that my doctor performed major surgery on me for his own convenience so he could go to Christmas dinner. I suspected it then and after 10+ years as a labor nurse I KNOW it for a fact. Having been a doula and a homebirth midwife (before I was an L&D RN) I totally get that he wanted to go to Christmas with his family, but I believe that he was morally obligated to sacrifice that privilege when he signed on to be my physician. My birth wasn’t about him; it was about me and my baby.
For my second delivery I chose to hire a midwife and attempt a vbac after my doctor told me in a condescending tone, “You will never birth vaginally, but I’ll let you try.” I walked out of his office sure of only one thing, “I will never have YOU for a doctor again, buddy.”
Birthing without pain medication was hard. My son weighed 9 pounds and 14 ounces, and birthing him was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But just like someone who climbs Mt. Everest, birthing my son has become the measuring stick against which all my other life experiences have been measured. As in, “Is this as hard as birthing Wolfie?” Never once has the answer even been close to, “Yes, this is as hard or harder than giving birth to Woflie.”
Walking through that experience was powerful and important to me. It marked me in a way that climbing Mt. Everest might mark another person. I don’t need to climb Mt. Everest because I’ve already staked my claim. I know I am brave and strong and amazing.
Was it necessary? No. If I couldn’t have done it I would have learned lessons just the same, I just would have learned different lessons.
Why do we all feel that we all have to have the same Mt. Everests? And why do we fear that one woman’s Mt. Everest is an affront to our own? Why can’t I applaud one woman’s bravery without comparing it to mine? Why couldn’t I stand in the shower with Tawny Kitaen and rejoice in her loveliness instead of feeling like an unworthy cretin? Why is being a woman a competitive sport?
I’m pretty sure that people who’ve climbed Mt. Everest know things that I’ll never know, and they might even feel sorry for me because of it. I know things about birthing that another woman who hasn’t done it the way I have will never know. Another woman knows other things about herself that I’ll never know. And both are valid. They’re just different.