If you’re reading this, at some point you were born—and whether naturally, with an epidural or via cesarean section, it was indisputably a major physical event for the woman who carried you, no matter how much she may have wanted to welcome you into the world. In fact, it may have been so traumatic she simply chose to block it from her mind and focus on mothering rather than relive it by rehashing it again and again, so if you were greeted Monday morning by “Childbirth” trending on Twitter and were brave enough to click, you may not have been prepared for the onslaught of horror stories that ensued.
It all started with a question posed by someone who, by the looks of their avatar, has presumably never been pregnant or given birth, an innocently asked: “What’s the most physically painful thing you’ve ever experienced?”
While maladies like frozen shoulder (which I’m currently experiencing and can confirm is excruciating) made the list, the greatest percentage of responses by far were from women who’ve given birth—including one particularly graphic story that managed to give a firsthand account of several potential postpartum horrors in the space of a single minute.
“The more I watch things like this, the more I wonder why this is hardly ever spoken about as childbirth is usually made to seem like this fairytale where all the pain disappears when you set your eyes on the baby,” wrote one commenter in response to the video above. And we’ve all heard it (at least, most of us potential child-bearers likely have); in fact, my mother regularly and rather glibly refers to fleeting memories as being “like the pain of childbirth.”
As the replies and threads indicate, my mother (who also endured 36 hours of labor from the time her water broke) was one of the lucky ones.
So, this is the part where we once again remind you that childbirth is, in fact, a big deal; one made even more risk-filled by the onset of the global pandemic. While the United States was already the most dangerous place in the so-called developed world for a woman to give birth pre-pandemic—and over 3 times as dangerous for Black expectant mothers—as we have previously reported, the coronavirus has exponentially raised the stakes (as it has for pretty much every other aspect of our lives). In July, it was reported that 7 out of 10 COVID cases occurring in pregnant mothers in Illinois were Black and Latinx Women. But even prior, Neel Shah, a Harvard Medical School assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology, expressed concerns about the disproportionate impact of the protocols compelled by the coronavirus upon Black and Brown expectant mothers, telling Roll Call in May:
“Isolating everyone takes all of the existing inequities in society and it throws them into a pressure cooker. We’re seeing the impact on pregnant people prenatally, as they’re in labor, and as they’re at home caring for their infants without very much support...People who are being disproportionately impacted by this virus are the very people that our health system has failed to adequately care for historically.”
Jamarah Amani, a Florida-based midwife and executive director of the Southern Birth Justice Network, agreed, noting in the same article: “If we are talking about Black women who are already at higher risk for complications and not being able to be seen in person for several weeks, there is a higher likelihood that something would be missed.”
Yet, perhaps because most of us somehow arrive here safely and childbirth has great PR—being widely touted as “the most natural thing in the world”—the dangers of giving birth, an inherently labor-intensive process (pun intended) that can result in death or permanent injury (uterine prolapse followed by a hysterectomy, anyone?), often are missed. Or rather, dismissed, often by those who will never do it.
Tellingly, there were also concerns expressed during Monday morning’s discussion that having these conversations openly might deter women from wanting to give birth—which, no. Women—all types of women—who genuinely want children are going to attempt to have them by the most available means. As for those who don’t, we’d also like to remind you that’s an entirely valid choice that no one should have to explain or justify or be made to feel inadequate for. But for those who do opt to procreate and are able to, these are exactly the conversations we should be having publicly—because arguably, one of the best ways to mitigate risk and advocate for oneself is to be aware of the risks in the first place.