Hard Labor

Many a writer looks upon his or her book as a newborn baby. I thought of this comparison when Deborah, the midwife who helped deliver both our boys, talked to us about childbirth. My wife wanted to do it naturally, but was concerned about the pain. Deborah shrugged. “Most of the pain comes during the contractions, but the contractions don’t cause the pain. The pain comes from the mother resisting the contractions. If the mother didn’t resist the contractions, there would be no pain.” I might not have believed this if I had not watched Jen deliver our second son. The first one had been a long and trying labor, and she had not been able to relax during the contractions. Jen being Jen, she was determined to do better the second time around. Once labor began she stood in the middle of our living room waiting for the next contraction. “Here it comes,” she’d say, and then close her eyes, begin swaying . . . and then open her eyes again.

“Did it hurt?” I asked the first time.

“No,” she said. “You just have to relax and let it happen.” She looked down at me. “But you have to get really relaxed.” She described how most of what she was doing was being absolutely present so that she did not accidentally resist this thing that was happening in her body without her conscious consent.

The most intense part of the delivery for Jen was what is known as the “rim of fire,” when the widest part of the baby’s head is passing through the birth canal.

“So that hurt?” I asked.

She was getting ready to say yes, when she stopped herself. “Not hurt. It was unbelievably intense. It feels like you’re going to split in half. It’s more fear than pain. You just can’t believe your body will actually do this.”

I was hard at work on another novel when my second son was born. I worked hard every morning on that book, would drive to work thinking how I would work hard again the next day. I was good at working hard. I had heard that this was how you got ahead. And yet I often felt as if I was falling behind – behind what I could not say. No matter, more hard work would solve this, and the pain that would awaken me some nights would surely all go away upon the book’s delivery.

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