Flesh of my flesh

[Content warning – this piece and the links mull the brutal side of growing babies, and could be triggering in its treatment of pregnancy, childbirth, infertility, miscarriage, abortion, and premature birth. Arohanui and a big hug to anyone who feels like they need it.]

I read some good pieces on childbirth recently:

Monstrous Births 

Get the Epidural

Each peace is strongest where it is personal, weakest where it extrapolates from the individual experience.

Tell your story. Your story is never wrong. Listen to other stories. Yours is only one page in a very large book.

I didn’t want or need an epidural with bub, and was glad to be able to labour without one. I wanted and needed an epidural with the little dude and wasn’t allowed to get it until I’d been labouring for thirty long fucking hours, and I still feel shitty it.

One reason why I might stop at two babies is the delightful thought of never being pregnant again, never giving birth again. My pregnancies were much the same – not dreadful, but not super easy either. I can’t see myself pregnant again next year, definitely not… and then… maybe not ever again. There is a relief in this thought, a relief in stopping at two and having my body to myself from now on.

_______

I wonder whether in the future, we’ll grow babies in artificial wombs, like the pods in the Matrix.

The smell is earthy, not clinical; the parents visit, sing to the babies, place their hands on the pods, smile at their little ones. The attendant knows what they will say, it’s always the same. They say I can’t believe that babies used to be made inside people. The attendant can see them marvel at the process, visiting daily or weekly to watch the babies grow. In the early days of gestation, when the new humans look like tadpoles or fish, the parents are nervous – the attendant reassures them, loss is very rare now. It’s not like when the technology was new. Only the strongest embryos are selected for transfer, the tests are rigorous, and the womb environment has been engineered to perfection. The outcomes are incalculably better than when it was done the natural way. The risks are minimal, negligible. This is your baby, here, this is the one we produced from your cells mixed with your partner’s cells. See, this is your baby, place your hand on the pod, they can feel the warmth.

The parents are always nervous about delivery day. It seems too easy, the staff all know that parents have read the stories about how it used to be, how womb-bearers would sometimes die in the process of childbirth, how babies were often born too soon. Now it is so simple. The babies are removed from their pods when they first start to give smiles of recognition and reach their little hands out. The attendant knows – though it is not common knowledge – that in the old days, freshly delivered babies easily came to harm in the outside world. So much better to keep them safe in the pods until they are a bit bigger. Delivery day is usually timed, the attendants can tell when the baby is almost ready; though there is room for slight uncertainties. Sometimes the parents will visit, the baby will smile and reach out a hand, and the attendant will gently ask “Do you have things ready at home? Your baby could leave with you today.”

This is the best part of the job, they call it the embracing, when the code is keyed in and the pod drains and then opens, and the baby is lifted out and held by the parents, skin to skin. This is the part that is always captured on camera. There are times when the attendant imagines what it would have been like for babies before: the torturous process through the birth canal, the pressure on their heads, an arduous journey into life on the outside. What a blessing to have moved beyond that.

_______

Would I prefer not to have been pregnant, but still have a baby? I don’t know. I feel something would be lost but I’m not sure what. Some fleshy connection, the tangibility of the flutters that later become definite kicks, the knowledge that the baby could hear my heart and my voice, the way I would lie on the couch and the little dude would press his head to my belly to “duddle” the baby. And something mysterious and intangible too, did part of my soul escape into my boys when they were growing and moving in me, will it stay with them forever?

This may be the same dim nostalgia that always hesitates at the unknown. The nostalgia a hunter-gatherer would have felt at the dawn of agriculture. The nostalgia for hand-inked manuscripts when the printing press arrived.

If all births were like my second there’d be no question, it was fine, it was more than fine, it was power and awe and might and strength, in me, of me. But not all births are like that. My first wasn’t: it was abysmal. Women die in childbirth at a rate of around 300,000 a year. In developed countries, maternal death is rare, but childbirth can still be ravaging. I told someone once that I felt completely alienated from my own body during my first labour – beyond pain, exhausted to a point where there was nothing but a hazy sense of horror and helplessness. For some people, like the author of the piece above on monstrous births, there can be reconciliation to bad experiences in the perspective they create. She writes “I would not trade them… I feel like I have been afforded a vantage point that not everyone else has”. And I get this, but am unconvinced. Sooner or later our bodies remind us that they are fallible, eventually they give out entirely and we die. That’s a truth we can’t hide from, a perspective available to anyone who wants to front up to it. We don’t need to have monstrous experiences of childbirth to provide the wake up call.

And then also, life is not a game of would you rather. Things happen, and then we deal with them, and our control is limited. For now, the process of creating new people is brutal and bloody and flesh-bound and mysterious and elemental and precarious.

Whether it’s the woman deciding to get an abortion, or the woman feeling cramps start and her heart sink as she miscarries, or the woman who only ever sees negative results on a pregnancy test, or the woman bleeding on the operating table after a cesarean, these are stories of our bodies and what it is to live in them, and they should be heard.

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