Natural Child Birth


-My Least Favorite Spectator Sport-
-By Dave Barry-

Reprinted (without permission, naturally) from THE PLAIN DEALER magazine, 8/2/81

Let's take a quick look at the history of baby-having. For thousands of years, only women had babies. Primitive women would go off into primitive huts and groan and wail and sweat while other women hovered around. The primitive men stayed outside doing manly things, such as lifting heavy objects and spitting.

When the baby was born, the women would clean it up as best they could and show it to the men who would spit appreciatively and head off to the forest to throw sharp sticks at small animals. If you had suggested to primitive men that they should actually watch women have babies, they would have laughed at you and probably tortured you for three or four days. They were real men.

At the beginning of the 20th century, women started having babies in hospital rooms. Often males were present, but they were professional doctors who were paid large sums of money and wore masks. Normal civilian males continued to stay out of the baby-having area; they remained in waiting rooms reading old copies of Field and Stream, and activity that is less manly than lifting heavy objects but still reasonably manly.

What I'm getting at is that, for most of history, baby- having was mainly in the hands (so to speak) of women. Many fine people were born under this system, Charles Lindbergh, for example.

Things changed though in the 1970s, The birth rate dropped sharply. Women started going to college and driving bulldozers and carrying briefcases and freely using such words as debenture. They just didn't have time to have babies. For a while there, the only people having babies were unwed teenage girls, who are very fertile and can get pregnant merely by standing downwind from teenage boys.

Then young professional couples began to realize that their lives were missing something - a sense of stability, of companionship, of responsibility for another life. So they got Labrador retrievers. A little later, they started having babies again, mainly because of the tax advantages. These days you can't open your car door without hitting a pregnant woman. But there's a catch: *Women now expect men to watch them have babies.* This is called "natural childbirth", which is one of those terms that sound terrific but that nobody really understands. Another one is "pH balanced".

At first, natural childbirth was popular only with hippie-type, granola-oriented couples, who lived in geodesic domes and named their babies things like Peace Love World Understanding Harrington-Schwarz. The males, their brains badly corroded by drugs and organic food, wrote smarmy articles about what a Meaningful Experience it is to see a New Life Come Into the World.

None of these articles mentioned the various other fluids and solids that come into the world with the New Life, so people got the impression that watching somebody have a baby was just a peck of meaningful fun. At cocktail parties, you'd run into natural childbirth converts who would drone on for hours, giving you a contraction-by- contraction account of what went on in the delivery room. They were worse than Moonies, or people who tell you how much they bought their houses for in 1973 and how much they're worth today.

Before long, natural childbirth was everywhere like salad bars, and now perfectly innocent civilian males all over the country are required by federal law to watch females have babies. I recently had to watch my wife have a baby in Bryn Mawr. *Bryn Mawr*, for God's sake.

First we had to go to 10 evening childbirth classes. Before the classes, the hospital told us, mysteriously, to bring two pillows. This was the first humiliation, because no two of our pillowcases match and many have beer or cranberry-juice stains. It may be possible to walk down the streets of some towns with stained, unmatched pillowcases and still feel dignified, but that is not possible in Bryn Mawr.

Anyway, we showed up for the first class, along with about 15 other couples consisting of women who were going to have babies and men who were going to have to watch them. They all had matching pillowcases. In fact, some couples had obviously purchased tasteful pillowcases especially for childbirth class; these were the Main Line-type couples, wearing golf and tennis apparel, who were planning to have wealthy babies. They sat together through all the classes, and eventually agreed to get together for brunch.

The classes consisted of sitting in a brightly lit room and openly discussing among other things, the uterus. Now I can remember a time, in high school, when I would have *killed* for reliable information about the uterus. But having discussed it at length, having seen actual full-color diagrams, I must say in all honesty, that although I respect it a great deal as an organ, it has lost much of its charm.

Our childbirth-class instructor was very big on the uterus because that's where babies generally spend their time before birth. She also spent some time on the ovum, which is near the ovaries. What happens is that the ovum hangs around reading novels and eating chocolates until along comes this big crowd of spermatozoa, which are tiny, very stupid one-celled organisms. They're looking for the ovum, but most of them wouldn't know it if they fell over it. They swim around for days, trying to mate with the pancreas and whatever other organs they bump into. But eventually one stumbles into the ovum, and the happy couple parades down the fallopian tubes to the uterus. In the uterus, the Miracle of Life begins, unless you believe the Miracle of Life does not begin there, and if you think I'm going to get into that, you're crazy. Anyway, the ovum starts growing rapidly and dividing into lots of little specialized parts, not unlike the federal government. Within six weeks, it has developed all organs it needs to drool; by 10 weeks, t has the ability to cry in restaurants. In childbirth class, they showed us theses pictures of a fetus developing inside a uterus. They didn't tell us how the pictures were taken, but I suspect it involved a great deal of drinking.

We saw lots of pictures. One evening, we saw a movie of a woman we didn't even know having a baby. I am serious. Some woman actually let some moviemakers film the whole thing. In color. She was from California. Another time, the instructor announced, in the tone of voice you might use to tell people that they had just won free trips to the Bahamas, that we were going to see color slides of a Caesarean section. The first slides showed her cheerfully holding a baby. The last slides showed her cheerfully holding a baby. The middle slides showed how they got the baby out of the cheerful woman, but I can't give you a lot of detail here because I had to go out for 15 or 20 drinks of water. I do remember that at one point our instructor cheerfully observed that there was "surprisingly little blood, really". She evidently felt this was a real selling point.

When we weren't looking at pictures or discussing the uterus, we practiced breathing. This is where the pillows came in. What happens is that when the baby gets ready to leave the uterus, the woman goes through what the medical community laughingly refers to as contractions; if it referred to them as "horrible pains that make you wonder why the hell you ever decided to get pregnant", people might stop having babies and the medical community would have to go into the major-appliance business.

In the old days, under President Eisenhower, doctors avoided the contraction problem by giving lots of drugs to women who were having babies. They'd knock them out during the delivery, and the women would wake up when their kids were entering the fourth grade. But the idea with natural childbirth is to try to avoid giving the woman a lot of drugs, so she can share the first intimate moments after birth with the baby and father and the obstetrician and the pediatrician and several nurses and the person who cleans up the delivery room.

The most important thing to the natural-childbirth people is for the woman to breathe deeply. Really. The theory is that if she breathes deeply, she'll get all relaxed and won't notice that she's in a hospital delivery room wearing a truly perverted garment and having a baby. I'm not sure who came up with this theory. Whoever it was evidently believed that women have very small brains.

So, in childbirth classes, we spent a lot of time sprawled out on these little mats with our pillows while the women pretended to have contractions and the men squatted around with stopwatches and pretended to time them. The Main Line couples didn't care for this part. They were not into squatting. After a couple of classes, they started bringing little backgammon sets and playing backgammon when they were supposed to be practicing breathing. I imagine they had a rough time in childbirth unless they got the servants to have contractions for them.

Anyway, my wife and I traipsed along for months, breathing, and timing, respectively. We had no problems whatsoever. We were a terrific team. We had a swell time. Really.

The actual delivery was slightly more difficult. I don't want to name names, but I held up *my* end. I had my stopwatch in good working order and I told my wife to breathe. "Don't forget to breathe," I'd say, or, "You should breathe, you know." She on the other hand was unusually cranky. For example, she didn't want me to use my stopwatch. Can you imagine? All that practice, all that squatting on the natural-childbirth classroom floor, and she suddenly gets into this big snit about stopwatches. Also, she almost completely lost here sense of humor. At one point, I made an especially humorous remark, and she tried to hit me. She usually has an excellent sense of humor.

Nonetheless, the baby came out all right, or at least all right for newborn babies, which is actually pretty awful unless you're a big fan of slime. I thought I held up well for the whole thing when the doctor, who up to then had behaved like a perfectly rational person, said, "Would you like to see the placenta?" Now let's face it, this is like asking, "Would you like me to pour hot tar into your nostrils?" *Nobody* would *like* to see a placenta. If anything it would be a form of punishment:

Jury: We find the defendant guilty of stealing from the old and crippled.

Judge: I sentence the defendant to look at three placentas.

But without waiting for an answer, the doctor held up the placenta, not unlike the way you might hold up a bowling trophy. I bet he wouldn't have tried that with people who have matching pillowcases.

The placenta aside, everything worked out fine. We ended up with an extremely healthy, organic, natural baby, who immediately demanded to be put back into the uterus.

All in all, I'd say it's not a bad way to reproduce, although I understand that some members of the flatworm family simply divide into two.