Childbirth is a topic I do not often address in a professional capacity as doing so violates my well-founded resolution against discussing my reproductive organs on the internet, yet now that I am pregnant with my second child, the topic is once again at hand. I underwent a natural, drug-free labor with my first child and now as I prepare once again to do this stupid, terrible thing, I feel it’s my duty to council other young mothers on the hidden benefits of natural birth. (Note that some women find the term “natural” offensive, arguing that all childbirth is “natural” whether accomplished through chemical means or eased by medical interventions, but let’s be clear – after 200,000 years of human development, childbirth is still hideous and unnatural for everyone, epidural or no.)

Midwives, bloggers, and documentary filmmakers are quick to tout the many benefits of unmedicated labor, from faster recovery times to psychotic oxytocin-induced highs. The facts and figures I will leave you to parse on your own, but personally there are no data about the risks of fetal monitoring that will cheer me up when I feel like every bone in my torso is being simultaneously broken from the inside out. Let alone promises of spiritual awakening or a feeling of elemental connectedness with all forms of life.

Why then subject yourself to needless suffering? I offer the four hidden benefits of unmedicated childbirth: Machismo, Spitefulness, Superiority, and Something to Do.

One woman of my acquaintance dismissively suggested that women who refuse to take proffered medical assistance are “just doing it to be macho.” Well, yes. Of course I did it to be macho. Obviously. The last time I got really drunk I challenged my husband (who outweighs me by nearly 100 pounds) to an arm wrestling contest – I am all about macho. And needless, meaningless suffering is the core of machismo. I also happen to have been born with a high pain tolerance and I don’t want to let it go to waste. Bragging about one’s pain tolerance may be immoderate, but it’s really more an inborn physical trait than a finely cultivated element of character. In reality, I’m a coward about every other thing in my life—I have never had the courage to tell off a bully, send back an order, or ask for a raise, but you want to pull out one of my teeth? Bring it.

Of course I didn’t do it entirely out of machismo. I also did it out of spite. In fact I had been somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing until person after person kept telling me I couldn’t do it, that I would crack after an hour and start begging anyone at hand for drugs. Those of you who embark upon the natural childbirth course will soon learn that drug-free labor is one of the few goals in our society that people have no compunctions at all about shooting down instantly and viciously. Conventional politeness would suggest that when someone confesses a personal goal to you, you refrain from immediately scoffing at them: “Medical school? Man, you don’t stand a chance in hell;” “Ask her out? Good luck, buddy.” But tell your best friend, your mother-in-law, or your gynecologist that you’re going to try to have a baby naturally and they’ll laugh right in your face.

Like Marty McFly, there is no better way to get me to do something than to suggest I can’t do it. It’s not mature, it’s not admirable, but spite animates me in a way that courage or compassion could never hope to do. Once my (former) obstetrician had told me that 95% of his patients who claimed they were going to go natural caved, I was hooked – I would have sat right there in the doctor’s office smiling as I tore off my fingernails one by one just to show that smug jerk who was a quitter.

Base machismo and petty spite are joined by the third hidden benefit of unmedicated childbirth, a lifetime of smug superiority. Giving birth naturally means I can now scoff at every other instance of pain in any other person for the rest of my life. My sister has a headache? My coworker has a tooth pulled? Please. My husband could get caught in a bear trap and I’d be there saying, “Pfft! Bear trap? You don’t know pain.”

Of course, I didn’t do this unprepared, and this is the fourth benefit of natural childbirth—it gives you something to do. In my case, that meant a Bradley-style birth class where on eight consecutive Monday evenings we gathered in the desolation-grey conference room of a hospital in downtown Los Angeles and learned how to rock, roll, crawl, and respire our way to calm in the face of crisis. The class was enjoyable largely for the opportunity it afforded me and my husband to make fun of the other couples on the way home, but for those who want to save the $300 allow me to share the secret of the class with you now, for free. The secret is, breathe deeply. No matter what the question, the answer is to breathe. And there is only ever one way to breathe. Deeply. Whether in childbirth or free diving, the answer is never, ever to breathe in shallow, convulsive, hysterical pants.

Even when not in class, I approached pregnancy and labor like I was training for a championship bout. There were stretches, drills, breathing exercises, special teas and tonics to drink. I did Pilates and spinning classes, went running, did squats. I doubt any of these things helped at all, but it gave me a way to combat the gestational blahs and kept me occupied during what is essentially one very long, very slow, very boring opening act. I liked to imagine myself doing all these things as a part of a movie training montage, and when, after months of metaphorically wrapping my knuckles and jumping rope, I walked into the Labor and Delivery room to deliver my first daughter, I had the hard glint in my eye of the down-on-his-luck prizefighter at the end of the last act.

And yes, I nailed it. But rather than rest on my laurels, I went right back out there like a champ and got pregnant again. Now the only question is how to top myself for this next birth. Just skipping the epidural no longer seems like enough. I need to find a way to have it hurt more, last longer – maybe something involving exploratory colon surgery or unnecessary tooth extractions. Whatever it is, though, I can promise you I will spend the rest of my life gloating over it. And that’ll show them.

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SUMMER BLOCK has published essays, short fiction, and poetry in McSweeneys Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, Wheelhouse, Identity Theory, DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle, PANK, and many other publications. Her story "Hospitality" won the 2010 MWA award for short fiction. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, three chickens, and two-and-a-half children. You can find more of her work at www.summerblock.com. Some people follow her on Twitter.

31 responses to “The Pregnant Prizefighter”

  1. philtulju says:

    BTW, I won that arm-wrestling contest handily.

  2. Fabulous and funny! This piece makes me wish you’d more often violate rules about your naughty bits. Can I say that in public?

    I have only one suggestion for your next labor: Lucha Libre!

  3. Becky Palapala says:

    Well. Actually….

    Intentional hyperventilation is a technique used in shallow-water freediving, as in spear-fishing, for example. Over-oxygenate the blood to be able to stay down longer.

    Then all you have to do is learn to master the fear that will come when that O2 starts to turn to CO2, triggering your brain to panic, regardless of how much O2 is actually still in your body. Well, that and learn when to, in fact, believe your body and come up for air. Otherwise, you pass out and die in 5 feet of water. Happened to my husband’s cousin.

    This has nothing to do with childbirth. My husband’s cousin does have a daughter, but he did not give birth to her as far as I know, so I don’t know what the effects of intentional hyperventilation on childbirth might be. I’m inclined to trust you and your crawling, breathing coach that it’s probably not advisable.

    Nevertheless, I do not see myself enduring natural childbirth pain-med free. Just because it CAN be done doesn’t mean I’m not a big, fat wuss.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    Funny stuff as usual, Summer, but you neglected to mention the actual reason: to hold your act of bravery as the ultimate trump card in every argument with your husband forevermore. ; )

    Congrats on Baby #2.

  5. Alison Aucoin says:

    I am all too familiar with the motivational power of spite. It’s surprisingly effective, for me anyway.

    And I can think of a couple of other instances where people feel comfortable torpedoing your dreams. Oddly, they both have to do with becoming a mother: getting pregnant after 40 & adopting as a single parent.

  6. “One very long, very slow, very boring opening act” is the best description I ever heard about whatever it is you are talking about. All I know is, I’m intimidated by all this macho talk.

  7. Nathan Pensky says:

    “I would have sat right there in the doctor’s office smiling as I tore off my fingernails one by one just to show that smug jerk who was a quitter.” So funny. You are so punk rock.

  8. Victoria Patterson says:

    “In my case, that meant a Bradley-style birth class where on eight consecutive Monday evenings we gathered in the desolation-grey conference room of a hospital in downtown Los Angeles and learned how to rock, roll, crawl, and respire our way to calm in the face of crisis.” Love this! Congratulations. In my experience, 2nd birth a shocking breeze in comparison to 1st.

  9. zoe zolbrod says:

    This essay was an excellent tonic! I would also add one more compelling reason for natural child birth: fear of epidurals. I was less afraid of almost any amount of pain than I was of a needle in my spine. Just the phrase, “needle in my spine.” No. No thank you. Anything but that.

    I agree with Victoria that without some extreme complication you might be disappointed in how many macho points you can accrue with birth two. But good luck.

  10. Summer Block says:

    Yep, despite my above-touted bravery I have to admit that I, too, was really edgy at the idea of someone putting a needle in or near my spine…

  11. pixy says:

    dude, if i ever pop a sprog out, i think i’m going to feel the EXACT same way – i need some way to show off my seemingly infinite pain threshold.
    tattoos just aren’t cutting it any more. and i can’t imagine getting any weird piercings… i think i’d actually like branding (for the feel, not the concept), so… next stop, natural childbirth!

  12. I am so with you on this, Summer. My first daughter’s birth was a 24 hour ordeal of epic proportions and I swore baby number two was not going that route. I was so adamant about this that I was in hard labor and refused to call my husband at work because I wanted to wait until the last possible minute to go to the hospital. My mom was with me taking care of baby number one and she’s a nurse so I figured at the very least I was safe. Turns out watching your daughter in active labor is not easy and she gave in and finally called my husband. I was in transition in the parking garage and refused a wheel chair with gritted teeth in the hospital lobby. By the time I got into a room I was ready to push and daughter number two was born three minutes later without a single pain med and only a team of nurses to catch her… the doctor arrived only to sign the birth certificate. This second girl of mine is definitely the stubborn one of the pair and I wonder…. did I somehow transfer all that to her? No matter. I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

  13. I suppose only a woman that has given birth can appreciate what Mother’s Day means. And of course all that comes after with the rearing, the joys and the cries. It’s the same for Father’s Day. Just on a different plane. There’s that first abortion. The first arrest. The first drug rehab. The first lost job. Parenting never ends. It just takes on different forms.

  14. chloe says:

    my first labor encounter includes an emergency c-section and morphine drip. natural just wasn’t an option. be glad that you have something to top. the nurse with french tips informed me on my way out…my next child rearing experience would be scheduled.

  15. melbage says:

    Very funny stuff! I, too, am largely motivated by spite, but I have a much lower pain tolerance!

  16. Reno Romero says:


    oh, this was great. great morning read. when i read the title i was like: do i want to read about childbirth before i make my egg tacos?

    i’ve never been in a labor room, but i’ve had a few macho friends who entered them with guns, football helmets, jogging shoes, knives, free weights, shirts with the sleeves cut off, and other macho things. yeah, they all came out dizzy, shocked, sickened, confused, and vowing to never, EVER, see a child being born in this life or any other…


    you have guts. hell, dope or no dope, all you women that go this route have guts. i applaud you.

    congrats on your second child!

    wait! you seem to mention pulling teeth a few times. are you not a fan of teeth? just wondering.

  17. Jessica Blau says:

    You’re very funny! AND BRAVE.

  18. Matt says:

    Funny – and terrifying – account, but I think you might have missed one: guilt trip fodder. This way, when your kids reach a certain age, you’ll be able to cow them into behaving with a vivid explanation of exactly how much you suffered just so they could exist.

  19. Summer Block says:

    That’s a good point, Matt, but then they can always counter with that old adolescent chestnut, “Well, I didn’t _ask_ to be born!”

  20. Carrie says:

    I just read a story about a woman in Wisconsin who rode her bike (in active labor) to the hospital to give birth. Can you do something like that to top your first birth?

  21. Bill says:

    Summer, you are hilarious, but we already know that. I just wanted to add “Tiger Mother” to the comments in the hopes of boosting your story’s page rank.

  22. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is a great read, Summer. I had a *natural* childbirth too. In a wave of near-death pain my midwife said to me: The Native Americans believe you’re walking in the Spirit World now. I replied: Yeah, well the spirits are burning in Hell.

  23. Simon Smithson says:

    Spite and gloating are the best things ever!

  24. Marybear says:

    the fingernails analogy is so apt =|
    big hugz

  25. Marybear says:

    oh and the teeth thing ok … I’ve got the string and large door
    let’s see which one of us crazy bitches blinks first .

    my front premolar is cracked and I know my dentist is gonna give up on it

    screw her why should she have all the fun =/

    let’s do this =)

  26. Erika Rae says:

    I think I love you.

  27. I did all the training, but went for the drugs in the end. Both times. Great post!

    • Kavita Saini says:

      A nice post.
      I too did all the training and when labour came calling, my pelvis muscles/bones/whatever (as per the doc) refused to ‘open up’, so they cut me up and took out the baby.

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