Was a time that doctors thought that any kind of motion in the pregnant woman could hurt the fetus. They prescribed rest and lots of it, which equated with women just sitting around for nine months, waiting. This must have seemed strange to the proverbial Chinese women who worked the fields throughout their pregnancies, pushed the baby out into a soybean plant, then went back to work. And there are 1.3 billion people in China. They’re obviously not having problems giving birth.
Nowadays, Western doctors agree that exercise during pregnancy isn’t dangerous; it’s beneficial. Some say it makes labor shorter, eases back pain, reduces fatigue, and makes the post-natal recovery easier. The only exercise Sarah has done so far is the easiest: kegel exercises. Named for Dr. Arnold Kegel, a 1940s California obstetrician, a kegel is the name of a pelvic floor exercise that women do by tightening and relaxing the same muscle that controls the flow of urine.
By doing this over and over—at stoplights, in elevators, while listening to me blather on about fantasy football—Sarah has strengthened her vaginal wall. She’s also lessened her chances of incontinence, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins.
I believe in the power of the kegel. After all, this guy was crafty enough to get his name embedded deep in every woman’s crotch. He must have been onto something.
* * *
The Bradley class met at Swedish Covenant Hospital, and, to my surprise, the other couples looked like … us. Teachers, sales associates, consultants, IT people. Our instructor, Denyse, was not a blissed-out earth mother after all, but rather a down-to-earth young woman who could have passed for Sarah’s big sister. I liked her candor. Once you got past the new-agey stuff, the things she was saying made a lot of sense.
“Giving birth is going to hurt.”
“You use the same muscles to push out a baby as you do to have a bowel movement.”
“You husbands will do a better job relaxing your wife than a doctor could.”
“You’re going to shit yourself; get over it.” (Women only, I assume.)
Every guy was supposed to say what his biggest fear was, and I had the misfortune of going first. I fumbled through something about how I didn’t want Sarah to become a raving lunatic during labor and say she hated me. The guys all nodded meaningfully. Then each of them said they were most scared of complications during the birth and having an unhealthy child.
Um, well, yeah.
It turns out that since the beginning of antiquity, women all over the world—basically everywhere other than this country—have been giving birth in the same position: squatting. The image of a woman lying on her back in a big white bed with her legs in stirrups and doc between her legs coaxing a baby out? Completely unnatural, says Bradley. Lying down puts pressure on the pelvis and narrows the birth canal, and it doesn’t use gravity. If a woman squats with someone behind her to support her, everything opens up, making the labor shorter and less painful. In other words, the Chinese are right.
“How do you squat in a delivery room?” someone asked. Most hospitals have squatting bars over the bed for support—basically like a chin-up bar, Denyse explained. Or you can put something hard under your feet so you don’t fall forward on the soft bed. Or, if you’re really feeling frisky, make the doctor get down on her knees and deliver on the floor.
The Bradley Method is “husband-focused,” which may sound improbable, what with the differing genital abilities of men and women. But it’s true. It is my role to be a “coach,” and while my wife is going through the rough stuff, I’m supposed to stay calm and keep things on course. “Find out your OB’s epidural rate,” Denyse said. “Find out what her policy is on episiotomies. Get a tour of the hospital. Know every inch of the delivery ward. If it doesn’t look good, there’s time to switch doctors, or hospitals.”
We had a lot of work to do. And I could tell by the smile on Sarah’s face that we were thinking the same thing: If this was “husband-based,” I had a lot of work to do.
Was I being brainwashed? If so, I didn’t mind. As the class wound down and we were still talking about dilation and water births and the pros and cons of midwifery, I felt an old, vaguely familiar feeling that hadn’t touched me since college: Whether I liked it or not, I was learning something.