Childbirth: Ten Facts and a Spoon

1. Active labor is generally defined as having minute-long contractions every three minutes or so. If you don’t have a timer, it’s when the mother is unable to recall what it was she was saying or, if pressed, locate a spoon in her own kitchen.

2. It can be difficult for women to describe what a labor contraction feels like. Here’s a try. The earth’s asthenosphere, which drives tectonic movement, churns at temperatures between 1,300 and 4,000 degrees Celsius. That is approximately the amount of force and heat prying apart a woman’s loins periodically for several hours during active labor.

3. “Transition” is when the cervix opens to its fullest. In other words, it’s when every cell in the mother’s body claws at the inside of the skin to get out, causing her to believe and perhaps wish she may shatter into nonexistence. It may be reassuring to observe the midwife at this time. She will be seated nearby with a sudoku puzzle, looking bored.

4. One study suggests that 0.3 percent of birthing mothers experience obstetrical orgasm—intense physical pleasure, resembling sexual stimulation—during childbirth. The true number may be much higher. Many women never tell anyone, and others only divulge this to anyone after years have passed, because, let’s be honest, that sounds weird. You could try writing about it.

5. Babies can make eye contact almost immediately after birth. In this instant, the mother’s heart may be seized in a crushing grip that dwarfs any other pain she has felt in this process. The beauty and ferocity in this gaze may put her in mind of an almighty being from the farthest edge of time and space coming to clarify what is being demanded of her and what is at stake if she fails. Tears may fall down her face as she silently begs for mercy. Only then will the clutch release, the baby’s eyes close and the tiny human surrender in a soft lump on her naked breast.

6. The third stage of labor, afterbirth, occurs when the uterus pushes out the placenta. The purported benefits of “placentophagy,” or consuming the placenta, include reducing bleeding, improving milk supply, and preventing postpartum depression. You can also just plant it under a tree.

7. After giving birth, 10 to 20 percent of women will be diagnosed with postpartum depression, though the true number may be twice as high or more. Symptoms include sadness, frequent crying, and feelings of worthlessness. Genetics may play a role here, so your sister might understand and offer to come help, even if she lives 3,000 miles away and has a teething toddler of her own to deal with.

8. Colic is a condition in which parents are unable to put the baby down for months without being subjected to punishing, high-pitched wails. There is no cure. The number of parents who endure a postpartum depression–colic combination is unknown, because they were all too occupied—bouncing on a yoga ball, shushing their baby, sobbing—to answer the survey.

9. Years after birth, it is common to have disagreements with the baby about electronic devices, kitchen messes, homework, etc. The baby may shout, “When I get an apartment, I am never coming back to see you!” or another well-crafted zinger. This is normal. Experts claim that calmly holding eye contact with the child’s glare may cause involuntary smiling in the mother. It may feel as if that omniscient being were back, playing with the corners of her mouth. This can have a soothing effect. The baby may then smile back. For a merciful moment, they may both forget what they were fighting about.

10. In these situations, memory lapses do not signal the onset of labor. (This is confirmed if the mother is later seen with a spoon in the kitchen, such as while eating ice cream out of the carton.)

ALI SAPERSTEIN is a writer, editor, and hit-and-miss urban gardener based in the Pacific Northwest, but her fingertips are still tinted with the wild blueberries of her childhood in Maine. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hippocampus Magazine, under the gum tree, Humana Obscura, Ruminate Magazine, Watershed Review, and elsewhere.