On Monday, I attended my first birth that was not my own. It was exhilarating, emotional and exhausting, a physical and mental roller coaster. It was heartbreakingly beautiful to see a woman in real honest-to-goodness unmedicated labor: the glow of her face as she worked through tough contractions; the connection she had with her husband, who gave 100 percent of himself during her birth; this woman’s strength and joy as she confidently labored to near full cervical dilation; the tears of disappointment and vulnerability as her labor took a turn she didn’t anticipate.
This birth was as I expected it to be in many ways, yet it was like nothing I’d experienced before. Up until now, the only births I’d witnessed were those in the videos we see in childbirth class. My favorite birth video is Penny Simkin’s Relaxation, Rhythm and Ritual. I love the way it unflinchingly illuminates the hard work of labor, as well as the pure joy of birth. I could watch it again and again. Observing a birth in real life is a whole ‘nother ballgame. It provides a perspective you simply can’t get from videos alone. What became especially clear to me is how difficult it is for a woman to have a normal birth in America’s mainstream medical system. Possible, yes, but difficult. I knew this already, as we all know this, on an intellectual level. But actually seeing everything play out in front of me gave me an insight I didn’t have before, and it will absolutely guide how I deliver the Lamaze message to my childbirth classes.