Category Archives: massage

Pain, Leavened Only by Discomfort: A Labor Story, Part One

How is it possible almost six weeks have passed and I haven’t chilled you to the bone with my How I Had My Baby story? Well, grab your warmest blanket and a mug of hot chocolate, kidlets, because here we go.

By Labor Day in early September, I was ready. My belly had gotten so big I felt like a house on legs, like in those Russian baba yaga stories. Since I am not the type to sit around knitting baby clothes, I had very little useful to do to occupy myself while I waited.

Thanks to an incredible series of classes with doula and midwife-assistant Shara Frederick and some serious book learnin’, both on the subject of childbirth itself and, more broadly, on the question of what kind of parent I didn’t want to be, I felt reasonably prepared for what was to come. (As part of that intelligence-gathering effort, I reviewed a couple of the Bad Mommy Memoirs I plowed through for Cheek Teeth: Are You My Mother? and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?) I knew it would be difficult, especially for someone with so little experience dealing with enduring pain, but I also knew that putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier. So BRING IT ON, said I.

It was like shouting at the ocean. The baby had her own plan. In accordance with that plan, I found myself a week later still pregnant, still awkward and sore and quite tired of the ten-month gestation process. My “What to Expect” app had run out of even semi-useful tips and had started preparing me to “Start losing the baby weight!” First I need to lose the baby, I growled.

In an effort to lose it — or, more specifically, to loose it — on my due date, Monday, Sept 10, I got a prenatal massage from the fabulous folks at the Providence Day Spa on Atlantic Avenue and then ate a brownie the size of a cinder block.

I’m not sure which was more delicious.

By the time I was done, the contractions were both noticeable and regular,  and the birth team stood ready: Mr. Ben with his catcher’s mitt out, Charrow in a rubber apron and gloves. We expected the early stages of labor to be rather slow-going, since it can often take at least half a day to make significant progress. But again, the baby had her own plans. After just a few hours, the contractions had gotten stronger and closer together enough that Mr. Ben called the midwives and the midwives said head to the birthing center.

CONTRACTIONS. MIDWIVES. BIRTHING CENTER. There’s been an infant cooking in my belly or dangling from my breasts for almost a year now and I still can’t believe this is my life. [/end note]

We gathered the ten bags of stuff we had put aside to bring to the hospital, called a car, and got to Methodist at about 8:00 PM. The pain was still manageable; everyone was excited; it seemed like perhaps the baby could propel herself out that very night and avoid the trauma of having her birthday forever synonymous with national tragedy.We all squeezed hands and waited for the midwife to come in.

There were five women in the midwife practice, and whoever happened to be on call when I went into labor would be my sherpa for this arduous, uncertain journey. Five women, and I really liked four of them. Any one of them would be fine; I wasn’t picky! Just, please, I told Mr. Ben, not Grumpy Gail — she had the bedside manner of a 12-year-old boy.

Naturally, the midwife on call was Grumpy Gail, giving my laboring body a choice to make. Should I keep barreling forward and aim to have the baby on September 10th, or throw the process into reverse and (probably) have the baby on September 11th with one of the others? The decision was made before I was even conscious of what it meant. My labor shuddered to a halt. Grumpy Gail sent us home with instructions to drink some wine, get some sleep, and come back in the morning.

Unfortunately, it turned out, the baby could only be put off for so long. About an hour after I tried to go to bed a contraction woke me with the force of a sledgehammer. It was followed in short order by another contraction, and another, both of which made the contractions of the evening — even the ones that sent me to the birth center — seem like cuddly embraces. There was no going back to sleep; no vineyard on earth had ever made wine strong enough to help me now. But what could we do? If we went back to the birthing center, we would have to put our trust in Grumpy Gail to see us through, and that was why we had left in the first place.

We decided to tough it out until dawn, when we figured the shift change would bring another midwife. What I didn’t fully grasp was that I was also electing to go through what would turn out to be a night of back labor at home without any kind of drugs. Back labor. At home. Drug free.

That, friends, is where our story really gets going. Stay tuned for Part Two!

Here’s a reminder of what we did this for:

Posing in Repose

The red and the black

If you haven’t ever sat bolt upright in a massage to say “Ow!” then, my friends, you haven’t lived. Likewise if the massage doesn’t leave you sore for the next couple of days and segue directly into a cold that keeps you from going into the office.

The woman who administered this stern treatment also scolded me, which is kind of fun. I liked her scolding better than that of the Stalinist relic who gave me my first ever massage, after I lost my job during the transit strike. “What did you major in?” barked the Cossack. Upon hearing my answer, she shook her head in disgust. “Oh no, you will never get job with that.” She then advised me to find an older man to look out for me in my next office and not to trust other women, who will necessarily be back-stabby.

Anyway, this woman told me I wasn’t taking good enough care of myself. My entire right side, she informed me, is screwed up. Her best efforts over 70 minutes hadn’t really made a dent. (So she claimed. I felt dented all over.) She gave me a very disapproving look, to which I responded meekly. When I was leaving, I gave an elaborate tip.

It’s always nice to be validated, even, or especially, in one’s troubles. I didn’t have time to explain, nor did she seem to care, *why* my body is dysfunctional. But I have a wild idea: It’s because I don’t know how to properly manage sadness and anger.

Over the past six months or so, I have been to four funerals / shiva calls and spent significant time at the bedside of dying people in two different hospice facilities. I’ve taken off work and traveled and helped bury the dead and eaten round things and listened to people cry. Where I should have felt sad, most of the time I was furious.

By contrast, a once-good friend has hurt me more deeply than I have been hurt in years. I should be justly enraged; I try to be. Thinking in strong words helps for a while (“How DARE you?”). Eventually, though, I keep sliding back into mystified whimpering (“how could she?”).

Worst of all, there’s nothing I can do about anything. I have had almost no agency in any of these situations. The stress of that might be worst of all.

Sadness is a liquid; anger is a solid. My poor body has been melting and freezing and melting again. Is there any wonder it’s a mess?

what’s with today today?

I got my massage! It was pretty exciting — only the second time in my life it’s ever happened, and the first time was not terribly successful. Right after I’d been let go from my (admittedly crappy) job before Christmas 15 months ago, I decided to treat myself. Sadly, the masseuse who was to treat me was a Stalinist relic, a hardened Back-to-the-USSR type, a human tattoo who had no sympathy for my damaged emotional state.

This was our conversation.

BttU: How are you?
Me: I’m a little bummed. I just lost my job.
BttU: That’s no good. What was your major in college?
Me: Film & American History.
BttU: Oh, no, that’s no good — you’ll never get a job with that.

She told me her daughter majored in something practical.

[after a pause in which I tried to feel soothed]

BttU: The office where you lost your job. Was there a man there?
Me: Uh …
BttU: I tell my daughter, when you go into an office, make friends with a man. An older man, to look out for you. Not woman. You can never trust women — they are always jealous of young pretty girls. You need a man to look out for you.

$50 worth of free advice. Thanks, Eastern Europe.

The only other time I had something like a massage was when I visited the secret lair of the free acupressurist at Swarthmore. They had to keep her existence tightly under wraps, and by “they” of course I mean the Quaker CIA, because had it gotten out that there was a woman on campus who could do such wonders for a tense body, there would have been riots. It would have been like 1789, with Worth, the health building, as the Bastille.

The mystery woman was indeed fantastic. What was really exciting though was that in addition to blissing me out, she told me things about myself that she could tell from my shoulders. Like, I’d had a serious loss recently and the pain was keeping me from being able to fully love, and that I should get a pet to help open my heart again. And she was right! I totally need a pet. And cable TV.

Anyway, this massage — at Lather Spa — was wonderful. The young woman who handled me was so skillful I was half in love with her in the during, and bless her heart, she talked very little. She laughed at one point after I started laughing (because she pulled my leg! I dare you not to giggle when your leg is pulled).

And then she asked me to flip over and put my face on the griddle.
“On the griddle?” I asked.
“On the CRADLE,” she said, laughing again. “Did you think we were going to bake you?”

Before I get married I’m going to go back and do it again.