Lope and I have been taking birthing classes for several weeks now, and it's been an eye-opening, and occasionally eye-shutting, experience.

I've seen some things that caused me to lean forward in fascination, like the explanation of how the husband can use massage and breathing techniques to help distract the mother from difficult contractions, and I've seen some things that caused me to momentarily wince and turn away. Like the sudden naked strangers on the video our instructor screened for us in Class 3. You gotta warn a dude about stuff like that.

Picture a dozen quiet couples, all scared shitless, sitting in a medium-sized, fluorescent-lit meeting room in the basement of a hospital administration building on Wednesday nights. All have expressions of inquisitive cluelessness. Most are clutching the pillow we were instructed to bring, but are entirely unsure how it will be used. The seats toward the rear of the room fill up first. Up front is a nurse, Leigh, who tells us about typical and exceptional deliveries she's seen, and what to expect and what to be concerned about, and even helpfully demonstrates different postures we can use during labor to help facilitate the baby's descent down to and through the birth canal.

My favorite part was probably Leigh's repeated slam-dunking of a well-worn doll through a plastic pelvis, showing us again and again how a biological feature on the front of a woman's skeleton allows the hips to spread ever so slightly as the head shoots by. It was very apparent why the baby needs to be facing the right position (backward -- who knew?) to navigate the convoluted path. If she's appropriately head-down but facing front ("sunnyside up" in obstetric parlance) it's much more difficult for her neck to accommodate the descent, and the back of her head will place excruciating pressure on Mom's tailbone.

Last week we got to see one of the actual delivery rooms. The bed more or less amazed me, I'll admit. Darn thing converted from a fairly normal-looking hospital bed to a full-fledged, floodlit birthing throne in a few quick maneuvers, complete with an opening in the front of the seat and a bright red plastic trash bag rigged down below to catch, you know, things that emerge but are not the baby. Leigh hopped right up and showed us how to orient our legs and torso for maximal gravitational assistance and non-fatiguing (well, relatively non-fatiguing) pushing.

Penny, it's safe to say, was less impressed with this wonder of modern hospital furnishings. I'm not sure if it was the resemblance to an electric chair that got her or the plethora of blinking, hissing electrical connectors and hoses sprouting from all points on the perimeter. Come to think of it, it may have been the twin thousand-watt floodlamps mounted in the ceiling above the bed/chair, all set at the flick of a switch to illuminate your hoo-hoo like it just escaped from Alcatraz.

Me, I just paid close attention to how to rig the cross-bar, and where are the buttons for inflating the lumbar support, reclining the various sections and notifying the nurse.

Way back in one of the first classes, long before transformer furniture and naked stranger videos and expando-pelvises, Leigh taught us something that stuck with me right away and has resurfaced much more than I'd expected. It's something that I can already see coming in handy in life beyond the birthing process, which is why I'm excited to share it with you now.

She said to remember these four things about labor pain, which are easy to remember because they correspond to the letters in the word itself. Sort of. (The adjectives are a little forced, but you still get the drift.)

P. - Productive. This pain is *for* something, and at the end of it there will be a result which is pretty fantastic.

A. - Anticipated. You knew this was coming, and you've (ideally) taken appropriate measures to prepare for it, such as teaching your doofus husband how to rub your back in a way that's more relaxing than annoying.

I. - Intermittent. It's not gonna go on forever. Contractions are finite, and in fact we're not even supposed to go to the hospital until they're at least one minute long, five minutes apart and continuing for one hour. (5-1-1, Leigh! I remembered!)

N. - Normal. This is helpful to remember in particular, I think. When you hurt, one prominent and urgent risk is that panic will set in, which doesn't do you any good at all. Your body is loudly transmitting the "SOMETHING'S WRONG" signal; if you can override it by remembering that everything's actually *right*, you'll be in much better shape.

That's what Leigh told us about labor pain. And as a handy mnemonic device, I bet it's stuck in the heads of more students than just Penny and me. Repeatedly, it's proven to be an instructive reminder of the nature of most discomfort we encounter in life.

Not all, of course -- when I accidentally stabbed a Phillips-head drillbit through the side of my thumbnail a few weeks back, it didn't Produce anything except a small bloodstain on my sister's hallway carpet, I hadn't Anticipated it at all, or I'd have moved my danged hand, and it (thankfully) wasn't a Normal occurrence. It *was* Intermittent, though, and the pain subsided after only a moment of blinding confusion and settled into a nice, comforting throb for the remainder of the day.

Most pain, I maintain, fits Leigh's ingenious acronym. This current cold weather, for instance, is a natural, normal event which was predicted by Skytrack Weather 13 or whichever digital forecasting whiz-bangery you've got in your area, and which surely serves some meteorological purpose (making sure all the hibernating animals stay *way* asleep?), and which, sure as June, will be out of here soon enough.

So just keep telling yourself that. Step outside, feel the subzero chill blast you in the molars and say softly, through insta-chapped lips: It's cool. I got my gloves, I saw this coming, it's just nature taking its course, we need this if we're gonna go ice skating on the pond later, and This Too, Shall Pass.

P - A - I - N.

I hope it helps you out sometime.


Hello, I'm Ryan Noel. said...

If not for the handy Cervical Dilation chart you have there, I would have thought you were taking a defensive driving course.

Man, this barely-pre-baby subject matter takes me back to a happy place in early July, which in it's own way is warming me in the cold.

Magnoliawhispers said...

so funny and so real, you will be a pro when it's over, just like you don't know how it feels to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel until it's over, although this is a little more scientific than that :)