Birth as a Competitive Sport?

by Chloe Jeffreys · 36 comments

in Adventures as an RN

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.

Today, 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 KITAEN.

tawny_kitaen

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].[3]

Kitaen was romantically linked at various times to Tommy LeeO.J. SimpsonJerry SeinfeldChuck 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 two 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.

 

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

true nutrition discount code October 6, 2013 at 5:11 am

Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied
on the video to make your point. You clearly
know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you
could be giving us something enlightening to read?
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Sara June 7, 2013 at 5:32 am

Wow. Happened on this looking for articles on pain, you are an amazing writer! My sister called her son (sadly deceased now) Wolfie too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

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Carolyn Hastie September 27, 2011 at 11:06 pm

Really lovely and touching to read this blog post Chloe. Beautifully written and very evocative. I was amazed by your experience as a young teenager – I don’t think in Australia we ever had such requirements to shower after Phys Ed and especially not in front of someone.

In terms of birth experience as a competition, you are right – there is no place for a woman’s experience to be criticised or judged – being happy for someone, whatever her choice, is important. Similarly, empathising with someone if the outcome is not of her choosing is important and never ‘brushing off’ a woman’s feelings about her experience is crucial. The greatest gift we can give anyone is to listen intently to what they have to tell us and respect their perspective and ideas. For women I have the pleasure of working with, my take is always that ‘labour is as labour does’ – that we can prepare, but there are many influences and variables that may arise during the process over which, as you say, we have no control. I like your mountain analogy and use a similar idea – the saying that ‘there are many roads to the top of the mountain and at the top, the same sun shines on us all’.

I’m so glad we had that twitter conversation and you have introduced me to your blog. :)
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Annika August 31, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Man, I can’t believe all of you remember the diameter of your babies heads. I’m going to have to look up how big my 2nd’s (9 lb. 4 oz.) head was. I know it hurt. All 3 of them were my Mt. Everest. while they WERE shorter labors with each subsequent one none of them were easy.

Chloe I have so many different comments about different parts of your blog…maybe tomorrow I’ll write. For today I say again you make me laugh until I cry. DH looked at me like, “what in the world are you laughing at?” I personally hate the fword (see I can’t even type it). I cringe every time some woman in labor screams it but today it made me totally crack up!!!

Your blog is like picking up a good novel that is comedy/drama/tragedy – just a darn good read. Keep it up. Your awesome.

Oh, and yes Chloe will help you get your epidural if that’s what you want. But if you tell her ahead of time that you don’t want one….she’ll remind you, “sweetie, that’s not what you wanted.” And she was right. It wasn’t what I wanted. I just thought I was still 4 cm instead of 8.5cm. Chloe, I hope you know I remind you of this fact because it still makes me smile and always will. Thanks for helping me “sing”.
xoxo

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SewWhat? August 31, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I was asleep for the birth of both my kids *sigh*
I always say I wasn’t there when they were born. (and neither was their daddy)

I tried a VBAC but stuff happens… I can only hope I could have been as stoic as you all who do things as naturally as possible if I’d’a had the chance.

Rebecca

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 8:12 pm

This is where my Mt. Everest analogy works. Do everything you can, but ultimately the Mountain is in charge.

I was not stoic, by the way. I was a big whiner. I would have driven myself crazy if I’d been my patient. I bit my mother-in-law. “Hi, Mom!” Someday when I tell the story of how I wore a skirt as a top I’ll tell the story of biting my mother-in-law.

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SewWhat? August 31, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Can’t wait for that one! LOL

I think the Dr. thought I was a whiner, cuz after 26h hard back labor I TOLD him to take me back for a C with Sophie. He only did once her sats started going down. When I woke up he appologized, realizing all that was going on inside me. (long story…)

Yah, after a certain point you just go with it, whatever ‘it’ is. LOL

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Julie E. August 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm

All my boys were born sans meds. Middle son’s head, truly, was like a rounded off cinder block and he had the shoulders of a linebacker. (In fact, he plays football now.) And I remember so clearly, as the doctor stitched me up while a kind nurse held my uncontollably shaking legs, and thinking this mantra to myself, “I can do anything. I can do anything. I can do anything.” It still makes me smile.

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 8:13 pm

That’s what happened for me, Julie. When it was over I knew I could do anything; nothing would ever be harder in my life than that was. Does a woman HAVE to have that experience? No. But when you have it you know you’ve been marked by it forever.

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Mari Beth August 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Wow! I didn’t know it was so common to have that powerful feeling after giving birth. I remember saying to myself (27 years ago!) right afterwards: “I am never going to take shit from anyone ever again!”

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Tara August 31, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Such a great post! ITA! After 2 induced births with epidurals, my Mt. Everest came with my unmedicated #3. It was textbook and amazing! Unfortunately, it turned me into one proud momma who immediately assumed that every unmedicated birth was easy and amazing and therefore EVERYONE should climb Mt. Everest. I’m sure you can guess that #4, while equally as unmedicated, was long, traumatic, and awful and resulted in one healthy, ginormous baby and one very awful case of ppd. Funny how God often knocks us on our bums when we get too big for our britches. I went on to have some amazing epidural births, too.

I agree that, like much in life, birth is something beyond our control. It’s only when we humble ourselves will we find grace and peace in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Humility is one of the most important lessons anyone can learn, maybe even more important than the perfect birth. I think your experiences have likely made you a well-rounded person who can really be a help to others because you know there are many sides of the birthing story.

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Jamie Jo August 31, 2011 at 11:14 am

You never cease to amaze me, Chloe. Your insights, your way of communicating them, and just who you are is such a blessing. Someday I’d love to meet you in person and swap some yarns in a totally non-competitive way. I’ve sure got my share of Mt. Everest tours. It wasn’t until my scheduled C-section after five horrendous unmedicated home births and a c-section after a long labor that I finally got the benefits of a hospital birth!

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Jamie Jo, I would love that very much. I believe it will happen one day.

As far as birth yarns, I always love to spin some. Birth is so complicated and the playing field is never level. We can’t compare one woman’s experience to another.

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Amber August 31, 2011 at 10:36 am

I did a LOT of research before choosing a drug free home birth. Up until my 34th week I was still seeing a regular OB and planning on delivering at the hospital.

I am so happy I made the choice I did. The labor was VERY long and hard. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. Because of that, if a friend or acquaintance is pregnant, and they ASK, I am happy to share the reasons I chose a drug free home birth.

It’s not a judgement, it’s just sharing why I personally loved the experience and would choose it again.

You are so right – we shouldn’t make everything a competition…and we shouldn’t assume that someone being happy with their choice means that they are looking down at ours.

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I find it disheartening when other women express that my birth story is a judgment on them. That door goes both ways, doesn’t it? I can feel just as judged for the choices I made. And add to that the fact that ultimately you can’t control the outcome really. Can’t we all just get along and be happy for each other? Can that happen for women?

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Tanya August 31, 2011 at 9:57 am

Great post. This stirred up lots of emotion for me – mostly about how women (myself included) compete over everything and it drives me batty. It’s not a competition, ladies. Celebrate our individual accomplishments and cherish each others differences. So easy to say, near impossible to live out.

A Mt. Everest that I long to climb, but probably won’t ever be able to, is adoption. *sigh*

16 inches…..whoa mama….I thought both of my boys’ 15 inch heads were bad….phew
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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 11:56 am

Having watched friends walk through adoption I would say your Mt. Everest is very difficult and I don’t envy you to climb. I wish you the very best on your journey. I hope you’ll come back sometime and let me know how the climb went.

Chloe

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Tabitha August 31, 2011 at 9:16 am

I love this post and ironically for me my Mount Everest moment was probably taking the plunge and getting pregnant again after an horrendous experience carrying and birthing number one.

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 10:19 am

Birth can be empowering but it can just as easily be traumatic and it often is. Good for you for facing yours and walking through it.

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Rachel August 31, 2011 at 9:10 am

I agree with everything you said, but I’d like to bring attention to one thing:

Look how CUTE I was in the last picture! :)
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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 10:16 am

You were very cute. I remember that moment as though it were yesterday.

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Carolyn Hastie September 27, 2011 at 10:57 pm

Very cute indeed! I see you are as lovely a writer as your mum :)
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Birthblessed August 31, 2011 at 8:23 am

Wow. I had two 15.25″ heads, but that’s a far cry from 16″.

Of course, one of the 15″ heads was breech, which created an entirely different Mt. Everest moment. Ahem.

Now, I had the whole unmedicated birth thing 7 times. Among those 7 I also had one lousy half-dose of Demerol that made me feel horrible, a breech delivery with forceps, a scalp electrode monitor on baby, 3 AROMs, a Pitocin labor enforcer, an unattended hospital birth, a water birth, and a big old bladder prolapse.

And I lost Mt. Everest in there somewhere. Eventually I just felt used hard and hung up wet and wondering why I was a sucker for punishment.

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 8:52 am

See, I quit after my one journey up Mt. Everest. You went on to summit Kilimanjaro and K2, several times over.

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Missus Wookie August 31, 2011 at 8:06 am

I remember being judged and found wanting – and being confused ’cause I didn’t (and still don’t really) get why the others felt it necessary. Thanks for your honesty and I’m sorry that you too felt judged and wanting.
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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 8:57 am

My message hopefully is nobody does it “right”.

The person who trains hard for a year, takes the vacation time, buys the airplane ticket to Nepal, gets there, and finds out that the weather makes climbing unfeasible isn’t a failure at climbing Mt. Everest. Stuff happens. Not everybody who starts the climb makes it to the top and lots of time it isn’t anybody’s “fault”.

Birth is an act of nature that moves through a woman, and the fact that we think we can control it in such a way as to make it an experience we get to define is the flaw in the logic.

If there were a tram up Mt. Everest I might sign-up to take it. And I’d enjoy the view just as much. But I couldn’t brag that I climbed Mt. Everest. And I’d hope the climbers would not think me a failure. Both things would be terrific; they’d just be different ways.

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robin August 31, 2011 at 10:06 am

“Birth is an act of nature that moves through a woman, and the fact that we think we can control it in such a way as to make it an experience we get to define is the flaw in the logic. ”

AMEN!!!
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robin August 31, 2011 at 6:19 am

Beautiful.

I think maybe you had trouble standing next to Tawny in the shower because you were 14.

I agree vehemently that this gig as a woman need not be a contest, whether in our minds or on our magazines or in our birth experiences.

Thank you a million times for the birth photos. They nearly made me tear up.
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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 9:07 am

I’m sure being very young standing against a full-grown woman wasn’t the best. I hope they’ve taken out those mandatory showers after PE now. And Anne was telling me that they had stalls in her days. Not us. One ginormous shower room with shower heads jutting out and a window at the end where the gym teachers watched to make sure you showered.

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Anne August 31, 2011 at 3:44 pm

Yes, the 80’s were so civilized. I could step into the stall, strip, shower, dry, change and no one saw my noonoo.

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Lori August 31, 2011 at 3:21 am

Chloe, that was beautiful. Thanks for sharing this.

My first birth was much like you describe Wolfie’s birth. It was the hardest, most amazing thing I’d ever done, and just an indescribably empowering experience. I walked around for years feeling like I could do anything.

But, I’m sure there are other things people could do that are equally empowering and amazing, that I have no inclination to do, and that in fact might not be empowering and amazing for me.

And, my third birth, which was also drug-free, was a positive, easy experience, but didn’t leave me with the same amazing feeling that my first did.

And, my God, that last picture showing your son’s head is giving me flashbacks to the unpleasant parts of my first birth, with my son’s 16″ head.

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Chloe August 31, 2011 at 4:52 am

Lori! You know a 16″ head when YOU see one, don’t you? That’s exactly how big it was.

I tried to teach my daughter that she should look for a pin-headed man to marry, but she ignored me.

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