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10/31/2004

Hitting the pelvic floor

happy fun pelvisYesterday I made the acquaintance of a stuffed pelvis.

You should not think it was your average warm and friendly stuffed animal, complete with googly eyes, plush fur, and perhaps a stimulating internal bell or rattle. No, this pelvis was a formidable thing, white canvas with brown spots, complete with forbidding projections that made it resemble nothing so much as a soft-sculpture horny toad.

I met this pelvis in passing at an antenatal class Paul and I attended. I had some reservations about going in the first place; since I am expecting to have a C-section, I wasn't convinced I'd find the information useful. Learning how to focus during labor pains is something I hope not to have to do — with placenta previa, going into labor is bad, and if I do, all the relaxation exercises in the world won't make a dent in my panic. But the childbirth educator said there would be information on breastfeeding and infant care, and I also hoped I might sit in a room full of pregnant women and enjoy pretending to be normal.

I learned a lot.

I learned what an actual placenta looks like. (This is helpful because if I ever meet mine in a dark alley I'll know which pulsing bloody disc to kick the bejesus out of.) I learned that pregnant women should never, ever wear white cotton leggings, no matter what. (I don't ever, no matter what, but the sight of one of my classmates squatting athwart a birthing ball was enough to make me feel a little light-headed.) And I learned that I am really, really sad.

I am not sad specifically to be missing out on labor and a vaginal delivery. During the riveting vulva-stretching scene in the obligatory video we were shown, Paul leaned over and whispered, without moving his lips, "If that placenta migrates after all, we're screwed." I readily concurred, because I easily got used to the idea of a C-section some time ago and feel no fear about it. No, I'm sad because almost everything women are now encouraged to believe about birth — that it's a natural process, that medical interventions are to be avoided, that our bodies can do this — seems, in my case, not to apply.

The educator talked for a while about early signs of impending labor. All I could think was, "If I get to that point, I'm in trouble." When your placenta is completely covering your cervix, the dropping of the baby or cervical effacement can throw a dangerous spanner in the works. "You'll recognize certain signs and you'll be excited," said the educator. Sure, I guess, if by "excited" you mean "bleeding like a murder victim." "Fear is natural," she pointed out, "but you're not injured, and the pain doesn't mean there's something wrong. It means there's something right." She forgot to add, "...Unless you're Julie, in which case it probably means the plague of locusts will be arriving forthwith."

And what to say about the idea that medical interventions are to be avoided, when at this point I eagerly embrace them? The last two and a half years have been nothing but a long parade of interventions — interventions for which I'm deeply grateful, even aside from ART. The intensive series of early ultrasounds, the methotrexate injection, the D&Cs each allowed me to face sadness and loss with some respite from fear, and some feeling of control, however illusory. I can understand and endorse the view that in an uncomplicated birth a woman's body is entirely capable of delivering a baby without intervention any more elaborate than someone gently mopping her brow, but in my case intervention is what could save my life and my baby's.

Most women's bodies can do this. It doesn't look easy and it doesn't look trivial, but it's natural and normal and what our crankcases were meant to do. But what to do with the information that my body is giving me: that it didn't want to get pregnant in the first place, that it had a hard time putting an embryo where it customarily belongs, that it righteously rejects conventional bourgeois ideas about where a placenta should go, that you can take your apple pie and shove it where the sun don't shine?

I will frankly admit that one reason I looked forward to pregnancy, rather than pursuing adoption immediately, is that for a long time, between the endometriosis, the STDs, and the infertility, I'd felt my body was broken in some fundamental way. I hoped for the chance to disprove that suspicion, some way to validate the awesome power of my lady parts after all: Okay, it's hard to get pregnant, but once I'm there I'm gonna glow, goddamn it.

That hasn't been working so well.

I sat in the childbirth class and cried, not loudly or obviously, because I don't, but with slow and silent leakage of the occasional tear that I couldn't blink away.

And as I write this, I'm keenly conscious that some of you who read it will think to yourselves — because thinking to others is a big waste of time — I can't believe she's not grateful to be pregnant, that she's still complaining, that not even this can make her happy. At least she'll get a baby out of it.

And that is true; at this point it is probable that I will bring home a baby. But how I feel now goes against the grain everything I'd previously believed about that. The baby is the most important thing, of course. It's what we all want, above all: a tiny person to love and be loved by, and it's what I wake up thinking of in the quiet of the night, what makes me smile every time I feel an indignant thump from within.

But if the baby — the person, the love, the product — were the only thing, why would I have volunteered for this? Why would any of us who have undergone treatment? What I wanted was more than that baby, and I'm only realizing the enormity of those desires now that it's clear that they're lost to me.

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