When I entered my final trimester of my first pregnancy, I craved every detail of my friends’ birthing experiences. Some shared their stories frame by frame. But I heard from many moms that they didn’t remember much and that I, too, would forget the hardest parts of labor. I was told that the pain would fade, and I’d hold onto the positives: the excitement of beginning contractions, my newborn in my arms. I do remember those wondrous moments. But I also remember the feeling that I’d never get through, the exhaustion with no end in sight, the panic that I’d turn out to be a medical miracle: the only woman in history whose labor lasted forever.
This was nearly 24 years ago, and I’m still waiting to forget.
My first labor lasted forty hours, and I worked with two labor nurses, both extraordinary. My first nurse brought me through endless contractions while my cervix stubbornly remained three centimeters dilated. A doctor examined me around 12 hours into my labor, and I remember his voice: “You’ll feel some pressure.” I answered, “Go right ahead. You could drive a tractor in, and I wouldn’t feel a thing.” To my complete surprise, the doctor, my husband and my labor nurse all laughed. I hadn’t meant to be funny; I was speaking a simple truth.
I remember exactly what my contractions felt like. The tightening in my outer thighs, radiating to my inner thighs. Then, like a vise, clamping my entire pelvis in a slow-motion internal stretching. Stress to pain to something beyond impossible.
I remember when my first nurse left with the change of shift. I lay in a haze, and realized I was feeling a new set of hands. I was spent, wracked, beyond speech. My second nurse recognized I was in an alternate space, unreachable by the spoken word, so she placed her hands on me. Eyes closed, panting quietly, I thought: “These are the hands of a healer.”
Thirty-eight hours into my labor, I remember gripping my husband’s hands – large hands, with hair on the back – and thinking I had never known such comfort. I remember the moment when the head crowned, thinking through a shock-wave of pain: “It feels like a burning bowling ball.”
When my baby was born, they nestled him in my arms. His eyes were wide, and we stared at each other. He stopped crying immediately, his warmth mingling with mine. Tears filled my eyes — not from pain, not from exhaustion, but from wonder.
For years, I waited to forget the hardest parts. Finally the obvious hit me: I’d never forget because I didn’t want to. Sure it was tough; it’s called “labor” for good reason. But labor was a crucial part of my journey. I’ll never forget because remembering is woven into my fabric. It’s with me, in me, here to stay. Exactly where it belongs.
Amy Kaufman Burk is an author, blogger and mother of three grown children. Amy wrote her first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school. Her second novel, Tightwire, follows a rookie psych intern through her first year of training. Tightwire was written as a voice against the stigma of therapy, and to demonstrate the human capacity to heal. Amy blogs on a variety of subjects including parenting, LGBTQ+, gender equality and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her books in their curriculum. To learn more about Amy, visit her website.