Monday, June 8, 2009


A few months earlier, I flipped through Lennart Nilsson's photography book, Life, at Border's and was fascinated by the images he was able to capture. He had photographed every stage of human development, from conception to birth. There is an egg descending into the fallopian tube. An egg magnified god knows how many times that it looks like some magnificent planet. A sperm penetrating the egg. Fetuses at various stages of development floating in their amniotic sacs. Looking through the book felt like spying into another world, one so foreign, bizarre, and completely captivating.

I ordered one of my own. I wanted a book to help me visualize what was happening inside of me. We found the illustrations in the Mayo Clinic Guide helpful for imagining the growth of our baby from week to week, but I wanted more. I wanted to peek inside, see him as he is, not as some penciled drawing. I didn't order the same book because Life is more of a coffee table edition, glossy and expensive. I ordered A Child is Born, which has most of the same images but more text to explain what the images capture.

So when I received it from Amazon on Saturday, I immediately plunked down on the couch to finger through it. Many of the images were ones I had seen in the other book, but I scoured them again, trying to extract as many of life's secrets as I could. Near the end of the book, I came to the section on "Labor and Delivery," and I saw photographs of women, bare chested, legs propped up, faces in obvious agony, as they prepared for delivery. I was amazed that they had agreed to be photographed as they were. Then I turned the page and was stunned to see photographs of women and babies mid-delivery. The first in a sequence shows the doctor grabbing the baby's head as it emerges, then the torso, and then the whole body dangling from the doctor's arms with the umbilical cord still in tact. The next two-page spread is a photograph of a woman mid-delivery with the baby's head protruding from her, and the image is captured from the top, as if the camera were dangling from the ceiling.

I had watched Nova's "Miracle of Life" in seventh grade, and I had heard delivery stories from my friends. I assumed I knew what I was in for. But I have to admit, these photographs were a shock. A part of me reeled from it - mostly from fear and perhaps a tinge of disgust - even as I threw the book in Jeff's face with "You have to look at these." I hadn't spent too much time imagining the delivery part, focusing instead on the baby's development. A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend who was coming upon her due date. She said, "I am so scared." Now I understood a little better, not just mentally, but emotionally.

I wondered why I had that reaction -- fear and disgust. Maybe all the blood and gore signaled to the brain that something horrific is happening to the body, even as I know mentally that it is something quite different. Maybe we live in such a sanitized world - where pieces of fish and meat come sliced in geometric arrays wrapped in saran wrap - that we're out of touch with life in its naked form.

But whatever it is, I'm still looking at the photographs two days later and re-living the same shock. Jeff and I joke that we hope our baby's head won't be too large, even as we anticipate it will be given the sizes of our own. We comfort ourselves that billions of women have experienced it before us, so how bad can it be? Then we talk about the time when so many women died during child birth, and feel eternally grateful that we live today.

I want to face my fear head on. I promptly put Miracle of Life on our Netflix queue. I want to find other sources to help me process this fear, so that it no longer seems a stranger come delivery day. But then I remember that strangeness has entered our lives, as I feel the little guy kick inside of me. A day hasn't passed for a while now when Jeff and I don't turn to each other to say, "Amazing... it is so damn amazing."


  1. Hi Shinyung,

    I watched "The Business of Being Born" on Netflix a couple of months ago, which helped me to process and view in a positive light the experience of childbirth, not just for the net effect of, "Hey, my baby is here!" but also by showing women giving birth in a positive, non-traumatic environment.

    It was especially nice because I was my mother's birth partner when my little brother was born 15 years ago (I was just shy of 18 at the time), and hers was definitely a clinical, nerve-wracking experience. She had worried I'd never want to have kids after experiencing her difficult time, but I've had a lot of time to process the reality of birth since then. :)

    Seriously, the documentary was good. It was filmed with a bent on natural birth at home, but even for me, who plans to give birth at the birthing center at my local hospital, it gave me a much needed perspective of it being a natural experience that doesn't need to be feared.

    As for Lennart Nilsson's photos... I read a couple of recent articles on the history of the photos, which was rather off-putting. :|

  2. Shinyung,

    I had the same trepidation as you before my son was born. There was a vague squeamishness that plagued the anticipation I felt for the birth of our child. At the moment of labor, however, you are more caught up in the intensity of contractions and the progress that you're making than the blood and guts of it. Really, your husband/partner/birth coach gets more of a "show" than you do. I wish I'd seen more of my son's birth than I did (but not enough to have wanted it documented).

  3. Don't be scared! Labor is hard but oh-so worth it. If you go in thinking you won't be able to handle it, that's exactly what'll happen. You'll be taking THAT into the room with you.

    You're doing the right things -- reading up on it, talking to other moms, and facing your fear. It's totally normal to be apprehensive but it's also completely doable. Take a class for sure (and not just the 1/2 hour class your hospital offers). YOU'RE GOING TO DO GREAT!!

    P.S. I'm with Eingy, The Business of Being Born is a fantastic documentary.

  4. I think fear and disgust are perfectly normal reactions. Just because every mother has gone through it, doesn't mean it is easy, not scary, or not partly disgusting. I mean, we poo everyday and it's kind of disgusting if you think about it, right?


  5. IF you are thinking to use epidural, it's not that bad. In my case, it worked. I didn't feel lot of pain. As far as blood ... etc we, mothers, don't really see that, plus there is no time for that kind of thoughts.
    Birthing experience made me think of my own mother very much. She had 4 babies without ANY medication. This whole experience made me love her and respect her even more.

    P.S: My plan was not to have an epidural. But I had to give in.

  6. Don't do this to yourself.

    It is really all about attitude and how you approach it. I am a firm believer in the power of your mind over your body REGARDLESS of what you are exercising power over or how strong you think your body is over your mind. You are a strong person, just put that into play.

    I delivered my one and only baby in what many see as record time for a first--five hours from being admitted to the hospital to delivery. No problems or issues, no complaints and I waited until 7 cm to get an epidural because the pain was fine until the really end stages. I firmly believe it was the power of my mind over my body.

    I wanted to deliver quickly, I wanted to deliver in the best manner possible for the baby, and I had no concern for my own personal safety or issues. Above all it was about my baby's journey and I knew a long protracted delivery wasn't the best way to start things off. My personal opinion was the long deliveries cause stress on the baby, which neither of us needed and I wasn't interested in.

    Modern pain management is phenomenal. Take on what you can handle, don't be a hero. Do what makes you comfortable not what you think other people want or expect you to do.

    Just do yourself one favor don't psych yourself out before you get there.

    We have all done it before you. We aren't superwomen we just know that there is no choice but to do things for yourself in the way best suited to what you want to do. Don't listed to the naysayers and those that whine on and on about long protracted labors and deliveries and all the assorted maladies that can plague you. Not that things can't happen, just don't focus on them, dwell on them, and imprint them on your mind BEFORE you even get there. Think only positive thoughts,that you won't have problems, your delivery will be fast, and you will only feel enough pain to know when to ask for meds! And above all relax.

  7. Thanks to those of you who recommended "The Business of Being Born." Jeff and I watched it last night, and what an eye-opening experience. I feel like I'm seeing the birthing experience through a completely different lens. I assumed that I would use epidural and try to get through it as painlessly as I possibly could, but now I'm even thinking maybe going naturally may be the way to go. We'll see come closer to due date. But I feel like I really need to read up on this issue and educate myself!

  8. That movie ... They tried to show only 1 side of it. We watched it before the birth AND after the birth. Our impression was completely different when we watched it after the birth.

  9. Hi Shinyung,

    It's wonderful that you and Jeff are working through issues and choices about childbirth early on in your pregnancy, the better for you and your baby!

    Ina May Gaskin's "Spiritualy Midwifery" is another excellent, fabulous resource. Wasn't a fan of homebirths, but these stories of women helped me to have trust in my body and feel connected to all the many women before me who gave birth - an incredible strength during labor. We had a beautiful birth at a hospital with Elle.

    Another good resource, if you find Spiritual Midwifery a bit much, is Pam England's "Birthing from Within" - she guides you in a more step by step fashion.

    Pregnancy is an amazing time -I miss it! You will be a birth goddess Shinyung!