Monthly Archives: October 2023

Happy Birthday to My Firstborn Baby Boy: A Memoir

Once I had my first couple of gout attacks, I read somewhere that people who'd experienced both said it was more unpleasant than childbirth, that supposedly indescribable suffering by which women martyr themselves for the continuation of the human race. Gout sure is painful, but not indescribably or infinitely so. It just hurts a lot in one spot, and more if there's even slight pressure on it - enough pain that at times I experienced it as patterns of light rather than an embodied sensation. There is no virtue in suffering, but if I could thereby make a new person, composed of a mixture of the core instructions for building my own body and those for somebody else I loved who would help me care for and cultivate that new person, then I would go off allopurinol for long enough to endure a few days of pain. My reproductive partner can speak for herself if she wishes, but my impression of labor was that it bore little resemblance to the acute panicked episodes depicted on television and in popular movies. Several months of deep massage by Valentin Rozlomii doubtless helped, as did some movement exercises she found on YouTube (some curb walking earlier in the day, and the Miles Circuit later at night), and half a tab of acid shortly before labor. By the time we arrived at the hospital, she was fully dilated and ready to give birth.

Labor, it turns out, is aptly named. It is not inherently torturous; it is a great deal of work, which calls for strength, flexibility, and stamina, for which one can be more or less ready for. Like many sorts of labor, birth labor is more of a distressing ordeal if one is simultaneously attempting to maintain a class persona with its attending stereotyped patterns of stiffness and selective dissociation. And like many other sorts of labor, it can be made onerous by various efforts at coercive extraction.

On the "due" date, my partner's ob/gyn did not consult with her about her preferences, her situation, or likely risks and benefits, but simply informed us that she was scheduling an induction in a week's time. The expedients mentioned above were a successful attempt to autoinduce just before the deadline, after which we had been advised that induction might not be available if we didn't accommodate the schedule. We remain skeptical that they would have refused in a true medical emergency; it was most likely a compliance scare tactic. Even so, it worked at least a little.

Once we were set up in a hospital room, the nurses issued strident instructions to my partner about how to pose, and how to push. Afterwards, my partner told me that she wished I'd advocated harder to give her space, as the instructions had served only to confuse her, contradicting her own experience of her body - especially, instructing her to experience pushing out a baby as though it felt like defecation, even though she could tell perfectly well that a different pattern of muscular activity was needed. Such instructions might perhaps be helpful for women who do not understand their own bodies well enough to distinguish between their reproductive and digestive musculature - though I suspect there is no clear, intersubjectively verifiable evidence for this like a randomized controlled trial - but were actively harmful in this case. Eventually, the nurses relented and gave her some time to rest, and my partner was able to tune in to her own body and make measurable progress on freeing our baby from her body, but she was so exhausted from following bad instructions that she agreed to a vacuum-assisted extraction, which, fortunately, not only succeeded at bringing the baby out into the world, but does not seem to have inflicted any lasting harm.

I had likewise heard and read many times that caring for a newborn is a torturous ordeal, like a forced march or sleep deprivation torture. What I have found is that caring for my baby in his first year of life was not torture or an unnatural-feeling ordeal. What it is, is a lot of work, which limits how much other work one can do at the same time without compromising one's health.

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