Let me get this straight. According to The New York Times‘ Style section, husbands are now rewarding their wives with diamonds and designer wristwatches after they give birth. These baubles are called “push presents.”
I’ve got all kinds of problems with that, the biggest one being that no one had ever heard of push presents when I was giving birth and I’m pretty sure it’s too late to start demanding one now. Why am I always behind the times?
Worse, I went through pregnancy is the Age of Lamaze, when you were considered a total loser if you didn’t want to go through labor suffering, haggard and militantly non-drugged (this was evidently considered good preparation for motherhood). “Every labor is different,” our tumbleweed-haired Lamaze instructor told us, soothingly. “Some women need drugs when they’re in labor. Some women don’t.” (She posited this with the same non-judgmental attitude she might employ saying, “Some women don’t love their babies. Some women do.”)
Around the Lamaze circle, which resembled an erratic mountain range, pregnant women nodded and their significant others held their hands sympathetically, subtly indicating they would be sharing the pain when it came to childbirth. Of course, no one in the class planned to take drugs while giving birth. That’s why they had shown up to learn relaxation exercises and stare at focal points that usually involved bad macrame. “Labor means work,” the instructor told us. “That’s why they call childbirth labor. It’s work.”
It was a group I didn’t have much in common with, aside from our obvious common condition. I’d originally planned to have a C-section, till I heard that the doctor didn’t totally knock you out for it. Who wanted to be awake when they cut you open? Not me. Reluctantly, I’d decided I’d rather give birth the old-fashioned way, preferably drugged to the hilt. This was something I didn’t mention in class, where horror stories focused on women who gave birth in the era of “twilight sleep” — i.e., drug-induced unconsciousness — and awoke with no memory of what everyone had taken to calling “the birth process.” (Evidently, twilight sleep wasn’t in vogue any longer, which I, for one, thought was a real shame.)
But, listen. Once you show up to give birth, it usually doesn’t turn out the way you plan it. Many of the hard-core natural childbirth proponents in our class ended up with troublesome labors and C-sections. (“Which aren’t failures,” our Lamaze teacher had gently insisted. “Every woman is different.”)
I was one of the few who ended up giving birth naturally, simply because I asked for an epidural too late. “Are you kidding, honey?” the nurse asked me. “You’ve already gone through the worst part.”
All of which was great news back in the day of suffering-is-good-for-you childbirths. Everybody thought I was brave and whole earth-y, and I nodded modestly to encourage the notion.
But these days! If I tell any pregnant women I went through natural childbirth, they look at me like I’m certifiably nuts, since they all get epidurals and they never even consider that going through great pain is a wonderful way to start motherhood. They also get to wear great-looking, sexy clothes that show their bellies, instead of the milkmaid outfits with the virginal little bows at the collar that were all the rage in the ’80s.
It’s not fair! I had to go around looking like a pregnant doily for months. And I never had any idea there was any such thing as a push present I could have demanded at the proper moment.
In fact, I was so behind the times, I probably thought the babies were the push presents at the end. I don’t think I’ll ever learn. As usual, I did all the really important stuff for free.
(Copyright 2007 by Ruth Pennebaker)