the packing of the hospital bag. ah, one of those ritualistic rights of passage. as though something you choose to put in could somehow make or break your birth experience. the nice, tidy illusion of control, preparedness. nevertheless, i made a list, bought snacks, am readying myself in some way, perhaps the only way i know how. organizing stuff, making lists, putting stuff into mental piles. i, of course, picture myself in early labor, calmly packing up through mild contractions, all self-possessed and stoic, like a soldier preparing for battle.
it’s just like the hospital tour greg and i went on this past weekend. we arrived late, of course. if joel is anything like his parents, he’ll probably be here by sometime in june. our group was already in one of the “birth suites”. someone shoved a bag of info into our hands and pointed us down the hall, where we met up with the group all jamed into one of the posh rooms. you almost couldn’t tell that this was a place for birthing. as we walked down the hall, i heard no moaning, groaning, or swearing, as women in transition are fond of doing. it was as quiet as a tomb. the lighting was soft and natural, and left one feeling a false sense of calm. the room was like a hotel room. the nurse guiding the tour pointed out the amenities around the room. only if one looked closely could one see the padded stirrups tucked under the edge of the bed, the infant bassinet against the wall, clues of what goes down in these rooms. “and through that door is the tub,” the nurse said with a sweeping gesture. the couples poked their heads in two by two, making faces as if to say, “not bad. we’ll take it”. i found the entire atmosphere a bit disconcerting. the nurse went over the room service menu policies and referenced the hundreds of cable channels available on the wide screened tv that took up nearly one wall. the couples were looking like they were all planning their weekend get-away. how relaxing it will all be! and here, they thought birth was scary! how wrong they were. it’s more like a vacation than anything else.
i felt bad for these, what i assume were, first-time parents lulled into a false sense of security by the over zealous smile spread across the nurse’s face, the natural lighting, the quiet, relaxed atmosphere. they have no idea what’s coming. better pack your bag with more than your pearls and lacey underwear, i thought, things are gonna get real up in here.
honey sticks, someone told me, are vital during the pushing stage for that extra burst of energy. tennis balls for counter pressure massage, your own nightgown so that you don’t have to feel like you’re there for gall bladder surgery, tylenol for afterwards so that you don’t have to wait on the nurses to put in an order, pillows, pads, camera, batteries, computer to update your facebook status as soon as the baby crowns. right?
one thing i did learn from last time is to bring coffee. it will save your life the next day when you have to wake up after a few hours sleep and figure out what to do with your baby, fill out paper work, and cognizantly answer the hospital staff’s questions. i have a stash of starbucks cold coffee in the fridge waiting for the big day to be stuffed into the bag with all of the rest of the supplies.
the truth is there is no magic item you can bring that will get you through labor. when shit gets real it’s just you and your body. no amount of personal hygiene supplies are gonna make you look pretty while you’re sweating through the late stages of labor. so, pack your eye liner if you like. maybe you could use it for war paint on your cheeks after you embrace your primal self. that would be good. if on the hospital tour there were women with war paint on their faces chanting through contractions in the hallways, nearly naked, that might better prepare the new parents to be for what’s in store.
i left there feeling like the whole image the hospital was portraying was distorted. fuck the cable channels. where is the real support for laboring women and their teams? what can we expect you to do for us, besides 24 hour room service, to help us make this awesome and momentous life transition? not much, as even the midwives i’ve talked with tell me they are “so busy” they usually only pop in once or twice during labor to check and see “how things are progressing”. the nurses have multiple patients at a time and are usually so preoccupied with the monitors and checking your cervix’s dilation, they barely have time to look you in the eye.
so, pack your bag wisely. leave the makeup, add the war paint. and plan to pack with you an entire birth team in there while you’re at it. pack your body, and your animal nature, pack your howling and your tribal dances. pack a smudging ceremony, coat your naked body with ashes, hieroglyphics, pack a river to birth next to, a sweat hut. pack paint to cover the birthing suite wall with your art. use your hands. pack a forest of trees to lean on while you push, a patch of fresh green grass to cushion the baby as it emerges. pack the entire history of women birthing all of humanity throughout time, hold it in your head like a round white light. pack in a connectedness to all other mothers, ancient biological processes and a sense of the earth-shattering transformation you’re about to go through. ’cause you sure won’t find it on the hospital menu.