My son is almost 4 months old, and while I still haven't mastered how not to get peed on while changing his diaper, I do feel like I have some worthwhile tips for giving birth.
1. Spend at least as much on your birth as on your wedding dress.
I've watched enough Say Yes to the Dress while pumping to realize that most women spend MANY THOUSANDS of dollars on their wedding dress. I am as mystified by this as I am by the fact that 99 percent of brides on the show want hackneyed strapless sweetheart necklines and repeatedly say "sister-in-lawS."
We all know that the dress gets worn once and then maybe gets tried on a decade later during playtime by your daughter or gay son. If you want to give your daughter or gay (or straight) son something a lot more valuable than a strategically ruched costume, then invest in your birth experience. Because it is your child's birth experience, too: it makes sense that a positive childbirth can help you hit the ground running* in establishing a happy, intimate bond with your baby. It also strengthens your marriage -- a friend once told me that, looking back, she pinpoints the pusillanimous way her husband handled (or didn't) the birth of her daughter as the end of her marriage.
Hire a doula or, at the very least, pony up for some good coaching. Most women -- and couples -- simply don't realize how many choices they have at every turn of their birth experience. Whether you plan to labor with an epidural or the Pitocin Fairy pins you down or you end up having an emergency C-section, there are still choices you can make throughout your entire birth experience that allow you to feel some control over what is probably the most dramatic day of your life.
A doula or coach can help you be your own advocate. Knowing what your rights are, when you can say no to the hospital staff (you can!), or at least when to say "We'd like a few minutes alone to discuss this" is incredibly empowering. For example, you can learn the magic words to say that allow you to hold your child -- both of you naked -- for the first hour of your little one's life without having a nurse whisk your baby away to have him or her weighed, sanitized and swaddled. This is YOUR birth experience; this is another day on the job for them, no matter how dedicated they are.
Really, if you could splash out for that Swarovski-encrusted blusher, you can throw some ducats at a doula.
2. Get eyelash extensions.
Getting a pedicure seems to be a standard pre-birth ritual, presumably because it is relaxing and makes you feel pretty even though your little piggies are going to be covered in those awesome no-skid hospital socks which I kept on for three days.
But the thing that's going to be seen in all your pictures is your face, mostly looking down on your blessed burrito like a Madonna (the original BVM, not MDNA). This is why you should get eyelash extensions. I happen to think every woman should get eyelash extensions, because they are life-changing in ways that would take me an entirely new column to express, but you REALLY should treat yourself to some before you give birth. Well-done eyelash extensions make you look beautiful and doe-eyed without a lick of makeup. There's something about a full face of makeup that just doesn't go with 18-hour labor hair (the ultimate bed head) and meconium smeared on your chest. People will see photos of you and marvel, "How do you look so good?!" rather than "Why do you look like a drag queen with an IV?"
3. Bake brownies...
Or cookies or whatever your specialty is, put them in Tupperware, and bring them with you to Labor and Delivery. Then start handing them out: as soon as we got to the hospital office where you lay down your credit card and beg for a private room, my husband was passing out the triple chocolate Kahlua bars I'd made. (I was being induced, so we had time for this.) Because I'd baked a few dozen goodies, nurses on every shift of my weekend in the hospital ended up getting force fed by us, and by day two, they were coming into my room saying they'd heard we were Dessert Central.
While admittedly this seems like an obvious ploy to get treated well, it really turned out to be the least I could do to thank the (mostly) women who took such thorough and compassionate care of me and my baby. Giving them a liquor-infused brownie felt like nothing in comparison to their bringing me a peri bottle with warm water for spraying my "repair."
Believe me, you'll have a much more harmonious birth experience if you hand out brownies rather than a birth plan.
4. Wear a great nightgown.
Your eyelashes need an appropriate accessory. Besides making you feel attractive (no small thing), a pretty nightgown also means you don't look sick. Think about it: giving birth is the only time you check into a hospital not because there is something wrong with you. On the contrary, there is something very, very right with you and it wants to get out.
The psychology of not wearing a generic and unflattering hospital gown is this: you will be treated more like a person than a patient. A nurse on every shift commented on how pretty my nightgown was -- black lace, made for nursing, purchased at a store called, for real, the Upper Breast Side. If someone warns you about how many fluids you'll get on your lovely gown, A) YOU CAN WASH IT and B) you can, as I did at my doula's last-minute suggestion, take it off and give the final pushes naked so that you and your baby meet each other in your birthday suits. I was surprised at how delighted I was to get peed and pooped on by my son... it made me feel like a real mom.
5. Don't be surprised if you have FUN.
I was. I was surprised at how much fun I had -- okay, NOT when I was in active labor without an epidural clutching my late mother's rosary, moaning my way through every contraction, causing the anesthesiologist to pop his head in the room and ask, "What is that sound???" But I will say that when my water broke it was kind of cool -- like "Oh my God, I've read about this and it's really happening!" cool -- and then when I saw my mucus plug, even though I was in immense pain, it was kind of fun in the way that 2nd grade boys marvel at their boogers. Not to sound like a crazy masochist, but by the time I got to the pushing, it was the best pain I've ever felt in my life. My awesome OB down by the birth canal, Lori, the nurse from Texas at her side, my groovy Orthodox doula holding one leg and my best girlfriend who-happens-to-be-a-doctor-so-I-didn't-mind-her-seeing-a-tiny-person-come-out-of-my-vagina holding the other leg, and my husband behind me, kissing me after every push -- we had a ball. In between contractions, we talked about how hard it is to meet a mate, how gay BFFs are the best matchmakers, and how annoying weeknight weddings are.
One of the most fun moments came when my OB was encouraging me to push up and out**, and I exclaimed like some Eliza Doolittle in stirrups, finally grasping the dipthong, "You mean push like a Thai stripper with a ping pong ball?" And she declared, "YES! Exactly!" And then Dr. Brownstein told us about what she and her husband saw in a bar on their Bangkok honeymoon and we, as a group, marveled at what a flexible and creative piece of work is a vagina.
It was like the best girls' night out ever except I wasn't drinking and I tore my labia.
Godspeed and good lashes. May the forceps not be with you.
*Only figuratively -- trust me, if you start running before six weeks post-partum, you will pee down your leg for miles, no matter how many Kegels you did.
**And therein lies another tip you haven't heard before: pushing is not like making the biggest poop of your life; it's more like calling on every bit of Pilates or Core Fusion or Tracy Anderson Method you've ever done.