Monday, February 11, 2008

The rock and the hard place

I realize that this blog has morphed from tackling loss, infertility and now pregnancy after loss/infertility. This past weekend I reached 22 weeks (5-1/2 months) of pregnancy. As such, I find myself making that inevitable transition between the this-one-may-also-not-work-out and holy-shit-I-better-get-my-ass-in-gear-because-it-looks-like-this-may-happen lines of thought.

Yesterday, I saw The Business of Being Born documentary at a community screening. (Warning: the link flashes to a trailer featuring pregnancies and babies, but you can quickly click off the trailer page to get more information about the film without seeing this.)

I don’t intend to write a review of the film – because it presented so much opportunity for discourse – other than to say that I am SO glad I saw it. I highly recommend those of you approaching a birth see it, too.

It really got me thinking about my journey thus far and the direction I want the remainder of the journey to take now that I’m midway through it.

If you had asked me a year ago, I would have been happy to have a child in my life by any means necessary. But now that I am actually knocked up with support of modern medicine – read: progesterone, early ultrasounds, CVS testing, etc. – I find myself wanting to reclaim a bit of "natural-ness" in this whole process. Seems a bit two-faced to me. But part of me wants to make up for the horrible, shitty anxiety and poking & prodding of the first trimester. And the other part of me wants to test myself physically and emotionally with the birth process, which may be my only opportunity in my life to do so.

I’m not going for a midwife-assisted home birth in a bath. But I am leaning toward trying to accomplish this by more natural means than pitocin and an epidural.

A few years ago I rock climbed the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney with a friend. At 14,800-feet, Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the Lower 48. The ascent and descent took 16 hours of long, physical effort. It snowed on our first pitch and proceeded to get colder and grayer as we ascended. The weather kept the handful of other teams off the rock. But both my friend and I hate rappelling with a passion and by the time the weather got bad enough to make it miserable, we had climbed too far to warrant a rappel.

My friend forgot the guidebook and we got lost en route. We found our way back to the right pitch but it took over an hour of route finding while I sat on a tiny belay pitch at 14,000 feet. I was tied in, legs dangling over a sheer face. I couldn’t communicate with my partner. It was freezing. Every part of my body hurt as I alternated between feeding out rope and holding the rope in brake position. I felt utterly alone, scared and beyond sore. Climbing big walls is a lesson in isolation and self-reliance. You see your partner for a handful of minutes as you make the transition onto the next pitch. Mostly it is all about you. And your demons. And your effort. And your confidence in yourself. And your pain.

We finally made it and the clouds cleared miraculously to give us a grand view of the Southern Sierras. We took a few minutes to eat a Clif Bar and re-rack our gear for the descent, which was a 2000 foot hike down a craggy 50-degree route comprised of small granite boulders that required us to scramble. Getting lost earlier on the wall meant we were losing sunlight fast.

And I had forgotten my headlamp.

The descent sucked more than the climb up. I dislike downclimbing. Period. The sun was almost completely gone as we made it to the steepest part of the descent. My only light was a tiny hand-held LED light in my bail out kit like the kind you keep on a key ring, which lit up when I pinched it between my thumb and forefinger. We descended slowly. Partly because we were exhausted and sore. And partly because it was so dark that our lights only illuminated the next 10 feet in front of us and we didn’t want to head over a boulder with an 8-foot drop on the other side.

A few teams at base camp saw our lights blinking down the route. They lit lanterns so we could find our way back to camp. It should have been gratifying to see those lights, but they were so tiny and seemed so far away. My fear got the best of me and I found myself between a rock and a hard place – literally and figuratively. I was scared to go on and thought seriously about parking myself on a rock ledge about 2 hours above base camp, shivering all night long while I waited for the sun to come up. That would have taken hours. The other option was to keep going through the cold ache, the exhaustion and the utter fear of a painful or deadly mis-step in the black darkness. Keep going just 2 more hours to base camp, with its bliss of a cup of warm soup and my zero-degree down sleeping bag.

I kept going. And it sucked. But I made it. And had one of my best nights of sleep ever that night. The high I had for the next several days didn't fade either. Even when we hoisted our 50-lb. packs on our aching backs for another 5,000-feet of steep singletrack to the cars.

Climbing that bitch – and making it down in one piece – is one of my proudest achievements to date (forgetting my headlamp notwithstanding).

So while the pain of labor is sure to be more intense than the pain I felt on this climb, I think the emotional response may be similar. I’ve pushed myself physically – on more than one occasion – to the point of the rock and the hard place. Scared to go forward. Scared to go back. It is that space of utter isolation, fear and pain that I think women are most scared of when in labor. That and that something might happen to the baby.

But, as this movie points out, for the vast majority of women who have the confidence that they can get through labor without drugs, everything works out okay for them and the baby. And the result far outweighs the pain they went through.

I know the premise of this film is not for everyone. And we all know there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to family building. But – for me – I really think I can do this without drugs. And I want to give it a go.


Lori said...

You sound like a very strong woman, Ms Planner.

The trailer was powerful. I rarely feel sad about never giving birth...but at this moment I am sad that I never had the chance to see what I could do.

I am sure you have what it takes!

E said...

I'm not sure which is more badass - climbing that "bitch" or deciding to go drug free, but if there's anyone that can do it, I know you can! I missed the screening of the BoBB, but I'm hoping to catch it on a return visit, or maybe on dvd.

Happy 22 weeks!

Carrie said...

I agree with E. I'm not at all sure what giving birth is actually like. What I am certain of is that if anyone is mentally capable of riding the journey then you are.
I loved your story of the climb. How proud you should be. I used to be a bit of a Munro Bagger (Scottish Peaks) and dreamed of adventures liked yours.

Waiting Amy said...

I am greatly impressed, although not surprised, at your climbing prowess. I have no doubt that if the medical situation allows it that you can deliver without drugs.

I did. It was not easy. And unfortunately I did need some medical interventions and a vacuum-assisted delivery. I took some morphine once it was over (highly recommended). If you want more details, let me know.

I know you'll get all the info and do what's right for you and Missy!

Lori said...

No worries, Ms P. I aim to fully heal from the hurt of IF, and every once in awhile I come across one of these tender spots. And that's a good thing. :-).

Sarah said...


I'm going to attempt to do it without drugs too.

I want to have my body WORK.

Congrats on Whitney btw!

christina(apronstrings) said...

man, i would love to give birth at home with a mid wife. it would be so sweet. but then if something happened....
wow, without drugs, i am impressed. i would deliver without drugs, if i could drink mochas and smoke clove cigarettes. but i don't think that'd juve with my mid-wife. or anyone with a brain.

Kim said...

I'm proud of your climb, too! good story and good post.

I feel the same way about the no drug idea. I just feel that something should be natural - since everything else wasn't! You'll be able to do it - no doubt in my mind!

Kirsten said...

I'm so glad the movie impacted you in such a positive way. I had my son epidural free but had lots of other interventions I didn't want. I ended up becoming a doula after that experience and now am having my second child in a hospital but with a midwife. And I have hired my own doula this time. Put together a good team and take a private childbirth class (not the one the hospital offers). You'll be great!

niobe said...

I think it's wonderful that you see so clearly what you want giving birth to be like for you.

Meg said...

I just added the movie to my Netflix. Even though it will not be out until the end of March, but I have plenty of time before I will need to decide any of it!

The JCrew secret is not really deep or dark. We learned that some of the clothing on their displays in the windows and around the store are actually not sold in the store. We learned this after Nancy spend a long time trying to find one of the shirts....more of a bummer than a secret.

Wordgirl said...

You may be my hero.

You should write an article about that and pitch it to a magazine... there's a dearth of good outdoor/related women's stories....


I have so much respect for all you've gone through.