My obstetrician was explaining the mechanics of birth. Effacement. Dilation. Transition. His words danced past my ears without sinking in, as surreal and new as the sound of my baby's heartbeat had been moments before. My husband interrupted. "But what does labor feel like? I heard it's like trying to pass a grapefruit through your, um, rectum." The doctor smiled. "More like a watermelon, actually."
Eight months ripe, I stared at them in horror from my perch on the exam table, two men for whom the discussion was purely, shall we say, speculative. Then I pressed my legs together. Tightly.
Like many women, I was scared witless of labor -- that is, until I went through it (three times now). Then I discovered that although it hurt like hell, I loved giving birth.
I got a rush from the no-turning-back-now certainty of my water breaking. I marveled at the raw power of muscles I'd never known I had. I felt like the center of the universe. When life finally popped out from between my legs, slippery red-blue and as startling as a glimpse of a shooting star, I was plumb awestruck to realize that the previous nine months of mystery and wonder really did end in a baby.
Later, lying in my hospital bed surrounded by flowers, the memory of a long, sharp contraction flashed across my consciousness like a phantom limb. "I can't believe I did that," I thought. That's when a whole new set of feelings kicked in: Amazement, that a nonjock like me had aced a grueling marathon. Pride, that I'd required no medication that might have endangered my baby. And a sense of kinship, corny yet cosmic, with every woman who had ever given birth.
Of course, loving labor does not mean having a pain-free delivery. Or a drug-free one, for that matter. You might have a hospital cesarean or a home birth, push just twice or endure a 24-hour saga. The particulars vary, but there are certain common denominators that seem to strongly shape a woman's attitude toward her birth experience, experts say. And sure enough, I found that they made all the difference in mine.