Labor Pains and
Birth Stories

Essays on Pregnancy, Childbirth,
And Becoming a Parent

Jessica Powers, Editor
(Catalyst Book Press)
For Erin Lassiter, the pain of labor was like "nothing I had ever known before." Kiersten Shue remembers it as "being ignited by flames." Karen Deaver recalls it as "all-consuming, focused, and brilliant."

Carmen Smith says "My baby fits me like a key." Sabrina Porterfield had twins in Finland (and didn't speak Finnish). Sarah Briggs feared that labor would induce another of her manic episodes. Michelle Richards said that when she was finally offered an epidural, "at that point I would have let the night custodian administer it."

Having a baby is no piece of cake. Richards had a two-year post-partum depression. Many of the 29 writers here recall improperly trained nurses, uncomprehending family members, angry doctors, incompetent midwives, crying husbands, and hours and weeks --- and sometimes months --- of waiting. Anne Winterich spent seven weeks in and out of a hospital 3,000 miles from home because of something called "partial placenta previa." Deaver recalls pushing for so long that her body "now felt more like a strip mine than a private garden."

We are reminded in a couple of these stories that --- in a single twenty-four hour period --- there are 300,000 children being born into the world. If there are two words to describe the truth of becoming a mother, one is pain; the other is waiting.

The editor wisely piled up the best writing at the very beginning of the book; things do peter out less than halfway through. For the three men represented here, we would give a star to William Pierce who, in eight pages, best conveys the helplessness of the father, being quickly demoted to the position of an extraneous other in the hospital setting. His nightmares unfold: returning home alone; losing "only one of them, not the other ... and I blamed myself." Finally,

    we reconfigured our lives to raise a child whose brain the twin snake of provincialism and stubbornness had deprived of oxygen.

None of these, fortunately, came to pass.

Above all, we must give three stars to Jennifer Mattern for writing so well, so wittily, about the bane of so many would-be mothers: fat. Her fat and the child's fat. "If this baby gets any bigger," says her doctor, "you'll be on a fast track to a C-section."

    I am quite pleased. I, who, cannot keep a plant alive for more than three months --- a trimester --- am growing within me a gigantic hothouse tomato of a baby.

"I will take first prize at the county fair ... My doctor will make a special appearance with her thin, unsmiling family to present me with the key to her suburb." I knew she had it in her, she says:

    The crowd will cheer as I nurse my infant in our pen, the one usually reserved for the prize hogs.

--- Pamela Wylie
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