It was 1977. I was pregnant with my first child. We lived in Houston, and it was August: that meant, hot and humid. I had been in labor for a day and a half, and I was getting tired. Very tired. So was my husband.
In 1977, the big deal about proper childbirth, was to “go natural”. Meaning, suck it up and have the baby without drugs, because if you can’t even manage that, maybe you shouldn’t have gotten pregnant in the first place. If you’re willing to give drugs to that tiny, defenseless baby in your womb, at this point, you obviously are going to be a horrible mother, once this child is actually born! The baby that trusts you to care for it, to do anything necessary to protect it, is already being abused by this woman, who is now considering shooting up with an epidural and morphine and maybe even popping some benzos. Call social services! Stat! We have a child in danger here, whose mother is considering not going natural!
Militant groups of natural childbirth proponents flourished! (As I recall, most of the militantswere too old to have any more children, or had never given birth before.) People who had given birth and were a part of this militant group, either had pelvic canals so wide, they shot out the babies like watermelon seeds from their mouths, or they were lying, or just plain masochistic or sadistic. It’s also possible they had a lack of prostaglandins, or just no nerve transmissions going from the brain to pelvis to brain. Whatever the reason, this was a crowd that you didn’t want to mess with. These were Olympian competitors when it came to natural childbirth.
So, if you did wuss out and take the drugs, you did not tell anyone. No one. It might get back to one of the militants. Who knew how far they’d go? The idea of a movement to create a constitutional amendment that required any woman who succumbed during childbirth and accepted those evil drugs should be spayed, was not out of the question. Please understand, I am not demeaning those who go au naturale during childbirth or those who advocate for drugless childbirth. I think it’s a wonderful thing, when possible.
So pregnant women went faithfully, with or without their significant others, to Lamaze classes. We brought our mats and pillows, and we practiced how to breathe. Whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo. Shush, shush, shush, shush. Whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo. Shush, shush, shush, shush. There was a proper way to breathe, and an improper way to breathe. Your significant other was supposed to be learning how to be your “coach”, and he would tell you if you were breathing too fast, too slow, not enough. He was supposed to be learning how to get you a lollipop or ice chips, if you needed something to moisten your mouth. He learned how to massage your back. He was supposed to be learning how to speak soothing words to his coachee. Above all, he was to continually remind you that “we’re going natural, baby, we can do this, we can do it! C’mon, push, push, push; breathe, breathe, breathe!” We? I just did not get the “we” thing. Especially, when I was at the height of one of those hellish contractions, I didn’t get the “we” thing.
After two days of contractions so irregular and back to back that they did nothing to dilate the cervix, I was ready for this to end. My then-husband was having a hard time not falling asleep, standing on his feet. The doctor then decided to introduce me to what I think of as a truly evil drug: petocin. Petocin makes a stubborn cervix do what it doesn’t want to do on its own: dilate. While doing the job, it makes the contractions even harder and closer together. My contractions couldn’t get any closer together; they were already doubling back on each other! The nurse decided to “up” the petocin “just a smidge”, and “get this thing going”. (There are times when certain words are forever engraved into your memory, and this was one of them.) I was a small woman, about 5’5″ tall, weighing about 100 pounds, trying to shove a six-pound watermelon down a canal with a diameter the size of a dime. I was not having a good time. And they had just decided to make the contractions harder.
It was then that husband-coach spoke the fateful words: “Honey, you’re just not trying hard enough!”
It was very, very good that I was in the middle of one of the harder, folded-over-on-itself contractions, and that he wasn’t standing about two inches closer, or I would have slugged him so hard, he’d have had no face left. The nurse took him by the elbow and led him out into the hallway, where, I later learned, she had gently explained to him that “Honey, you’re just not trying hard enough”, is probably not the best choice of words when coaching a woman in the middle of hard labor.
It’s a wonder that people ever have more than one child.
©Janet Mitchell, November, 2011