Monday, October 17, 2011


In an effort to describe something as indescribable, someone once said to me, "It would be like asking someone to describe what pain feels like." I was thinking about that comment recently, and about how in fact pain does differ, and not just in degree, which led to this piece. Please note: this is not for the squeamish.

“You looked like you were being led from one torture chamber to another,” someone said to me later. My partner on one arm, the doula on the other, briskly walked me up and down the hospital corridors because, after twenty hours of labor, the midwifery team decided the birth would come sooner if I kept moving, stopping only to grip the railing and squat when the contractions hit.

I didn’t want to keep moving. I didn’t want to walk by the lounge where my family members were waiting, to hear my mother call out encouraging words in a choked-up voice that pulled me out of myself and into concern about how she was feeling. I wanted to crouch in a dark corner, where no one would talk or poke or bear me along. I walked only because it was less distracting to keep moving than to negotiate.

How strange, that the passage to a state in which my life would be given over to the needs of another would first require shutting out others. I needed to climb inside this pain, be enveloped in it. This wasn’t torture, whatever it looked like from the outside. Torture subjects from without, like the renal colic that my body tried to arc away from, writhing around a pain that promised release if I could just find the right position, although it never could be found. This pain my body accepted. I floated in it, a boundless ocean that surrounded me as I rode each wave.

When at last I felt the opening up that meant labor was becoming delivery, I became even more enclosed. Not even the snapping of my tailbone or the splitting of my vaginal tissue brought me into the world where nurses scurried and midwives shouted directions. I finally emerged when I felt the sting of the surgeon stitching 20 sutures in the lateral tears as I held my child, trying to make her first moments of life something other than hearing me say, “Ow. Ow. Ow.”

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