Birth Control?

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When my husband and I walked into the hospital-run birthing class last Sunday, carrying the yoga mat and two pillows we had been instructed to bring, there were lots of pregnant women in t-shirts and leggings. And then there was one pregnant lady in white short shorts, a full face of makeup, and nude patent leather four-inch platform stilettos. She and her husband introduced themselves; the live in Mexico most of the time and were here for a few months to give birth. As she clattered away on her unsteady stilettos I whispered to my husband, “This class is already worth the price–it’s like the Real Housewives of Mexico City!” When we toured the maternity ward, the Haitian nurses on the floor had teased stiletto mom about how great she looked. “Careful on those heels, pretty momma!” they said before guessing that she must be having a boy because she’s all belly.

Before the tour, the instructor split us into two groups and had us write questions for her. In between, we shared pregnant woman chit chat–boy or girl, when are you due? Looking at the pretty woman from Mexico, whose headband matched her tank top which matched her shawl, I wished I had put on some lip gloss. “I am giving birth on Sunday,” she announced to the group. “It is going to be natural, but I am going to be induced.”

This confused me. I assumed natural childbirth meant drug-free, and if she was being induced, there must be drugs involved, but what do I know, I’m a first-timer at this too. We all marveled at the ease of the scheduling a delivery–you could tell your family from far away exactly when to fly in, you could mentally prepare yourself for the big day. I pictured the pretty mama in short shorts whipping out a datebook that matched her blue tank top and headband and writing “Give Birth!” in blue pen on next Sunday’s date. Maybe with a heart over the I in birth.

“Does labor take longer if you’re induced?” one of the women asked. The lady in heels didn’t know, so they had me, the secretary of the group, write that down as a question for later. When it came time to talk about medical interventions, the instructor described the two-day process of induction, the medicine given to soften the cervix, the medicine given to ignite contractions, the epidural administered through a spinal catheter to counteract the effects of the contraction-inducing meds. She also passed around two internal monitors that are threaded into the mother’s body, one of which has a spiral hook at the top that attaches to the baby’s skull, to keep track of how they’re doing. All in all, it sounded pretty horrific. And I say this with the full knowledge that there may be a medical reason why I’d have to be induced down the road, and if that happens, I’m glad it can be done safely for both me and the baby. But after listening to the process, it’s safe to say inducing birth is not my top choice.

At the end of the class, I heard the stiletto mom talking to the instructor in Spanish. She had wanted to work with my obstetrician, she told the woman, but he won’t do inductions unless there’s a medical reason for them, so they’d chosen someone else. “But now I’m not so sure that’s what we want,” she said, her voice a little shaky. “Do you think it’s too late to switch doctors?”

The woman had looked so in control at the start of the class, had sounded so sure of herself; all her friends and relatives had told her induction was the way to go. But now that she had more information, she was rethinking her plans. I thought about how scary it must be to think you were all set to give birth in a week and then reconsider everything you thought you knew about it–and to have this crisis of resolve in a foreign country, away from so many of your loved ones.

In 2002 I had a low malignant potential tumor removed from my right ovary (the ovary that later dropped the egg that is becoming Amalía!). After that, I had to have pelvic ultrasounds every three to six months to monitor two remaining cysts the surgeon had left behind and make sure they weren’t getting any larger. Before each uncomfortable procedure, I always made sure I had a pedicure; staring at my painted toes made me feel I had a modicum of control over my unruly body, which could have been acting against me since the last visit, creating cysts I would have to fight.

Remembering that, I felt bad I had laughed at the woman’s shoes when we walked in. The girl’s shoes, really; under all her foundation, that mother-to-be was probably 10 years younger than I am.

I don’t know if she got to work with my doctor in the end, but I hope so; he is so comforting. On our last visit, I told him I was trying to figure out when the baby was likely to come so that I could plan our relatives’ flights so they wouldn’t miss the delivery and he said, “just remember, this is your baby, not theirs, and your experience, yours and your husband’s,” before giving me a high five.

I don’t know what type of experience the Mexican girl finally chose, whether she will give birth this Sunday or not. But however she ends up bringing her baby into the light, as they say in Spanish, I hope it’s a wonderful experience, not a frightening one. Birth is a real leap of faith, especially for a control freak like me, or a perfectionist as I suspect she is. And if she decides a little lip gloss is going to make her feel better during labor, I say good for her.

In the meantime, Amalía is 37 weeks, or full-term, this Friday. And we’re taking the classes, and her nursery is ready, and we’re having her car seat checked on Wednesday by a fireman to make sure it’s properly installed. But you can rest assured that my toenails are already painted.

My swollen toes and Amalía's crib, ready and waiting.

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