As the due date of my second little approaches, I find myself talking more often about my first birth experience. Like the first time, I’m trying to plan what I can plan and the topic comes up as people ask about my bump. After telling a bit of my first birth story, the most common response is something along the lines of, “wow, that must have been nice.”
I had a fast labor. It was 3 hours and 28 minutes from my first contraction to meeting my baby boy. We made it to the hospital with about 30 minutes to spare. We left the car running, doors open, in the ER entrance without being conscious of it. I pushed 4 times. My doula and doctor made it into the delivery room somewhere around my last push. I have no idea what a triage room looks like. My son was also 2 weeks early. No one expected things to go that way. Parts of my story are absurd and funny and scary. Yet, the result of my labor was a mostly healthy baby boy and a love like I’ve never known. Who could hope for better?
Well, I do.
Most labors are like running a marathon. They’re grueling. They’re a mental and physical stress test whose finish line seems unduly far away. It can feel like an endless series of monitoring, of decision-making, of feeling like a watched pot, of pain perhaps without progress. Hopefully, there are a lot of positives to the birth process. Hopefully, a woman has a wonderful support system. When the baby does finally arrive, the reward is amazing. Still, your body has never been through anything like that before. It’s hard work.
Fast labors, nice as they may sound on the surface, are more like… getting hit by a car. The intensity robs you of the time or mental capacity to find coping strategies. You are pushed into your animalistic, fight-or-flight brain and nothing feels safe. New babies from a fast birth often deal with some trauma, to their musculoskeletal system from navigating the turns of the birthing canal so quickly, or to their respiratory system; without enough time in mama’s birthing canal to squeeze the fluid from their lungs and respiratory passages, they have added challenges breathing and eating on their own.
Mamas are usually left with their own trauma, mental or physical, to sort out as well.
When someone replies to my story with “you’re so lucky,” I know they have good intentions. When the comment comes from a fellow mama, I know she is remembering her own experience and thinking about how nice it would have been for things to go quicker. Her comment means well and even comes from a place of trying to connect with me. But it feels dismissive. It feels like the implication is that my experience was easy, that I avoided the hard work, that I don’t really know what it’s like to give birth. I manage to get something out like, “I bet it sounds nice”, or maybe just a feeble smile, and I walk away from her feeling belittled. What she doesn’t know is that I feel the same way, that her long labor sounds lucky.
Regardless of the time it takes, birthing a baby requires each woman’s body to do the same amount of work. Every labor looks a little different. Every labor comes with its own set of delights and challenges. The next time you meet a mama who had a labor different than yours, I hope you remember that she did the hard work too. If her hard work looks very dissimilar to yours, I hope you respond to her with something akin to, “wow, I don’t know what that’s like.” And I hope she does the same for you. All mamas have done something amazing and instead of ranking experiences, let’s use them to connect and honor one another.
Nikki is a Madison-area graphic designer, a proud mama of one with one on the way, and a lover of anything outdoors. Currently daydreaming about a really good beer (which she’s been missing dearly) and Italian subs (which her baby bump has been growing on).