I recently read an article from Stir Cafe about dumb things spouses have said in the delivery room. I jokingly posted it to my husband’s Facebook wall with the caption, “Just don’t…”. Conversation ensued in the thread, in which I explained that my husband did really great during both of my (extremely long) labors, and that the only thing that irritated me were his comments about how exhausted he was. His hilarious response was, “Was a nap too much to ask for?” *insert labor relaxation techniques on my part*
The answer should be ‘no’ in a sane, rational world. A rational person will realize that every human body needs sleep in order to function correctly, and that after 15+ hours of being awake, a person gets tired and really should sleep. The problem here is that there is nothing sane or rational about a woman in labor. Nothing. In this moment, I AM levelheaded, and so I am taking it upon myself to explain in a reasonable and intelligent manner why laboring women are irrational, and why that is totally okay.
In preparation to do this, I Googled “How to explain contractions to a man.” There were a couple of amusing examples, but nothing satisfactory to me. Many women and science experiments have attempted to explain or simulate the intensity of the level of labor pains. Like these guys went through in this video. While this is hilarious, electronic shocking pain is not the same type of pain, much like the sharp feeling of being cut or poked is not the same as a migraine, although both can be excruciating.
I polled some of my friends who have had recent childbirth experiences to ask for their best stabs at trying to explain contractions to men, and here’s what I got…
How would you describe labor to a man?
“Doing the splits on a crate of dynamite? Too much? …I remember feeling like I was being ripped open from the inside out and thinking, I’m pretty sure this isn’t good for me. How can this be natural? I might die. All this while wanting to push so badly and having three nurses surrounding you saying, ‘You aren’t dilated enough. Whatever you do, don’t push!'”
-Julien, mother of 4 with another on the way.
“For me transition contractions feel like a really bad case of food poisoning/scraping insides with a knife… I had bad food poisoning not long after (birth) and it felt the same but less intense.”
-Jennifer, mother of 2 with weird and crazy births!
“Do you want literal or humorous? Like a vise grip on your balls? Or like a recurring tightening attack in your abdomen you have no control over and can only attempt to let it take over and try to make everything else relax to help with the pain but all you want to do is scream and throw a fit about making it stop?”
-Melody, midwife, mother of 2.
“The equivalent to being tazed? Multiple times.”
Samantha, mother of 2.
Another legitimate explanation I found during my search was, “It’s like throwing up backwards.” Which is pretty great!
I wanted my husband to understand the type of pain, as well as the other things that are going on in the female body throughout this crazy process. So here is my best attempt at explaining the experience of labor to an individual who does not possess a uterus.
If you got a poor amount of sleep, I got less, because when I fell asleep I was jolted awake by the following sensation… Pretend you have food poisoning. Your stomach is cramping up and letting you know that you are about to take the biggest poop you’ve ever taken in your entire life, and boy, is it going to be ugly. And messy. However, sitting on the potty and eliminating all of the ickies from your system is not an option here. You just keep getting those unbearable cramps every 3-10 minutes (sometimes more) for hours, even days on end. Oh. And all of this with the knowledge that something THIS big is going to come out of something this big, much more similar to being constipated, and knowing that it is going to be super painful when things start moving. (And most women do, in fact, get to suffer from real life constipation also!!! Joy!) The feeling of being in continual pain makes a person irritable. Like when you have a migraine. (It is a little better, because there is relief between contractions. But you have the anticipation that another is coming at any moment.) Add to that the hangry type of edginess you get when your blood sugar is low. Or perhaps like a person who is having a craving for an addictive substance, but can’t have it. This edginess is the result of the hormonal surges that surround labor. It is a real thing. There is a lot going on here, and a lot of explainable reasons to be grouchy.
Visualize yourself in that situation, and then ask yourself if a nap is too much to ask for. Because the answer is yes. Yes it is. The night before His brutal murder, Jesus asked his friends to stay awake with Him in the garden to pray, because He needed strength for the night ahead. There is a similar sentiment here. Most women do not die in childbirth, but golly. Sometimes it really feels like you will! So please. Stay awake with me. (Is 60 hours too many hours to ask for?) And don’t say stupid things. Because I will cry. Or yell at you. Or do something else that I will end up regretting.
This is not an endorsement of women being mean while they are in labor, nor an attempt to justify it. Just an explanation as to why. Because don’t get me wrong. Often we KNOW we are being irrational, and we don’t want to be, and are usually trying not to be with all of our might. But we just can’t stop.
So, dear husband, that is why as you pulled up to the hospital curb while I was in labor with our first, I frantically banged on the window and screamed at you to unlock the door before we even stopped moving. I am sorry. But I had a really good reason. Is that enough?
Let me follow this up by saying that I do not think men are idiots. This is not a feminist rant. I love men. Especially one, in particular. I do not think men are intentionally insensitive, or incapable of understanding this level of pain. They are. In fact, my first midwife told me that she can name 10 things that are more painful than labor, including passing kidney stones. Men have to go through that, too. Pain isn’t fun for anyone.
Women are strong and beautiful, and capable of handling birth. And it is our lot in life. But please don’t think we’re unreasonable for wanting you to hold our hands and rub our backs and say encouraging things, (or keep your flippin’ mouths shut), and stay awake with us. You would want that, too. Believe me.