Remember when I foolishly confessed that I was thinking about doing a supersprint triathlon in September? Well, unlike that whole “writing a book” endeavor (progress to date: NEGATIVE TEN PAGES), I’m sort of inching forward towards that goal in that I actually signed up for swimming classes.

My first class was on Monday evening and I spent the entire day freaking out about it. Here is a partial list of the things that I was worried about:

• Not being able to find the locker room
• Getting undressed in front of straaaaaaannggerrrrrs
• Not knowing what, if any, footwear to wear between the locker room and the pool, like should I do flip flops or those gaylord Nike water shoes or some Lucite heels or WHAT
• That my ancient, now-too-big Miracle Suit would spontaneously perform the Miracle of Falling Right The Hell Off My Shoulders, Thus Exposing My Sad Post-Baby Hooters For The Horror Of All
• Having some Michael Phelps motherfucker observe me tiptoeing over to the Adult Beginner Swim Class and issue forth a loud Nelson-esque laugh at my shame.

Oh and also the swim cap. Jesus, the swim cap. I don’t know why I got so fixated on that little detail but I became convinced it was going to be this humiliating, insurmountable challenge to get the damn thing on my head, like I’d be in the locker room grunting and heaving and eventually collapsing unconscious on the floor in a puddle of my own urine or something, the cap still only halfway stretched across my scalp.

I posted something on Twitter about it, like oh my god you guys what if I can’t get the swim cap on, and people were very kind and no one called me a chickenheaded dumbass but they DID proceed to terrify me further by offering all sorts of exotic and conflicting advice. Get your hair wet, leave it dry, use baby powder, use leave-in conditioner, put water in the cap, wear your hair in ponytail, wear it down, wear TWO caps at once . . . I pictured myself staggering towards the pool, slicked with oil and sprinkled with powder, half-wet, a second cap dangling from one ear. Cue Phelpsian mocker: HA ha!

Kakaty’s suggestion made my day, though. She innocently sent along a link to a video she described as kind of weird, but showed someone putting on a cap, and I dutifully scrutinized it for technique. Wow, I thought. How cool that someone put up an informative little lesson in donning a swim cap, isn’t the Internet useful? It wasn’t until the end when the camera subject did a strange little come-hither twirl that I went, waaaaaait a minute. Then I looked at the comments. And the profile for the video owner. And back to the comments, one from “swimcaplover”.


So, you know, there was that to worry about too. Not only that I’d have this awful time getting the goddamned cap on, but that someone somewhere would be observing, possibly through a carefully drilled hole in the wall, and furiously whacking off over the whole thing.

ANYWAY. As it turned out, everything was fine. My suit held up, I found the locker room, the cap went on with minimal struggle, if any creepy cap-fetish dudes were nearby I was blissfully unaware of their presence, and no one pointed and laughed. The class was divided into a few people like me who know how to swim but need refresher lessons, and a bunch of folks who had never been wet before, and the lesson passed in a flash. I even stayed afterwards and flailed my way up and down the lane a few times, feeling nearly giddy about the fact that for the first time in my life I was doing LAPS. Sure, I had terrible form and I couldn’t figure out how to turn my head to breathe without water shooting up my nose and I had to keep stopping to sort of tread water and gasp, but I was SWIMMING. Rocky theme!

This weekend there is a triathlon class involving an open water clinic, and I keep browsing back to the registration page and hyperventilating a little. If you thought the swim cap fear sounded stupid that doesn’t even compare to my issues with open water swimming, which include, but are not limited to, large partially submerged objects, fish, and Lake Slime. I don’t know if a swimsuit will be okay (it’s hot as hell in Seattle right now but Lake Washington is cooooold) and I don’t know if I can swim well enough yet to even participate in this class and I am particularly concerned with the possibility, HOWEVER REMOTE, that there may be a submarine in the water (a surfacing one) (with water pouring over its sides . . . GAH GAH GAH) and if that’s the case then I will simply DIE OF FRIGHT, but I am trying to psyche myself up to sign up anyway.

It seems like there’s a lesson I should be learning about how things are rarely as bad as I tend to think they’re going to be, but then again, oh my god maybe I am going to be eaten by a MASTURBATING SHARK RIDING A NUCLEAR SUB if I do this thing. If I wasn’t the one worrying about these things, who would?

I love reading birth stories, especially when the author is able to really describe the process in unflinching, funny-only-in-retrospect detail. I love in Waiting for Birdy when Catherine says she “made a creepy didgeridoo sound for 16 hours straight, said ‘Kill me’, then barfed into a trash can.” I love the written choo-choo pantings of laboring women, the geysering bodily fluids, and best of all—of course—the slimy, squalling, heartbreaking result to the whole ordeal.

I have a much harder time reading about the bravery involved with so-called natural births (as though any viable entrance into this world should be described as unnatural). The powerful, indescribable wonder of a drug-free birth, the gift the mother is giving her baby by choosing to be so very strong. The floored wonder of her partner, standing nearby marveling at this pinnacle of human achievement.

It’s not that I don’t understand this. I fully acknowledge the superwoman qualities of someone who endures hours of the most challenging physical situation of her entire life and refusing the intervention that could make it less painful. I am awed by women who have the birthing experience they wanted, that they read about and prepared for and engineered to conform to their preferences.

I understand it and I can empathize with it, but it hurts, a little. I thought I would have that moment of turning to my husband and saying, it’s time. The escalation of it all, the trip to the hospital, the scariness and elation and pain and everything else. Instead, it was a routine visit followed by hours of being drugged and sick and miserable and eventually a surgery and I felt as far from brave as it’s possible for a person to feel.

I guess I will always wonder, was it absolutely necessary for me to be put on the magnesium with Riley? Were they erring too far on the side of being conservative, wasn’t there something else they could do to deal with the blood pressure situation? I felt perfectly fine when I walked in the door, and next thing I knew I was hooked to an IV and gripped by the effects of the medication.

The second thing I wonder about: after the hours of Cervidil with no effect, and the progression of feeling worse and worse with the magnesium, they gave me a choice of Pitocin or trying to rest overnight and having a C-section in the morning. I asked a nurse to be as honest with me as she could, did she think the Pitocin would work in time? They wanted to do the C-section in the morning anyway, because of my blood pressure. She paused, and shook her head. She said it was doubtful. I thought about dealing with the Pitocin-triggered pain all night long, on top of the unrelenting nausea and aching head and trembling, exhausted muscles the magnesium was causing, only to need the surgery anyway. I chose to try and rest.

Maybe I should have tried the goddamned Pitocin, you know? Maybe there would have been a different outcome. Maybe if I had done that, both my babies would have been born without use of a scalpel and a drape.

I don’t have bad feelings about either of my C-sections. They weren’t terrible, they were fine. I saw my babies right away and held them moments later. I recovered with no problems. It was fine.

But. It doesn’t feel brave. It doesn’t feel like that magical spiritual I-am-woman-hear-me-roar experience I now have such a hard time hearing about. I’m torn between thinking, well, that’s great for you, but not everyone gets the birth they thought they were going to have, and my babies came into this world perfect in every way and you know what, we’re ALL brave . . . and I wish I could have had that. I should have tried harder.

Still, still. It’s not too difficult to regain perspective.

August 31, 2005

February 2, 2008

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