Should We Tell Girls the Truth About Childbirth Pain?

callthemidwifeYesterday, my seven-year-old daughter walked in the room as I was watching “Call the Midwife,” catching up on season three in preparation for tonight’s advanced screening of episode six at the launch party for Mamas Expo 2014. It was during a particularly scream-y childbirth scene, so I paused the show, explaining what I was watching, and she said she wanted to see it. I don’t want to lie to her about her body or how it works, or where babies come from, so I pressed play.

I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she looked at the TV screen, at first curious, and then cringing and burying her face in a blanket during the especially vigorous pushing. Once the baby was out, in all its fake-world cuteness without any of the real blood and goo, and handed to its beaming mother, Chloe smiled and seemed to appreciate the moment.

I paused the show again and asked her what she thought. She said, “And that’s why I don’t want to have a baby.”

Uh-oh. Not wanting to have scarred her for life and eliminated my chance of ever having grandchildren, I continued the conversation in hopes of mitigating the damage.

“Why?” I asked.

“That was scary,” she said.

“Which part?”

“The baby coming out of her …”, pointing to her bottom, through her legs.

“Where else would it come out?” I asked.

She opened her mouth wide and pointed to it. I opened my mouth wide, too, and said, “Ahhhhh….” like the doctor tells you to do when he’s checking your throat.

We both laughed.

“I don’t think that would work very well,” I said. And, then, even though she hadn’t said anything about the screaming or pain, I gave her a hug and said:

“This show is about a long time ago, and now they have medicine that makes it hurt less, so it’s not so bad.”

Um, what? It hurts a lot. And that “medicine” didn’t work for me and childbirth was awful. I had three epidurals that all failed, leaving me suddenly at higher levels of pain without warning, and Chloe never dropped down far enough into the birth canal for me to push her out. I was wheeled to the operating room for a C-section, screaming and shaking the bed rails down the hospital hallway so badly that a nurse walked in front of me the whole way closing the doors to the rooms where other moms-to-be were laboring so I didn’t freak them out.

Obviously, other women have much better experiences than me, so telling Chloe the story of her birth might be unnecessarily frightening, especially at age seven. Many don’t even have an epidural and manage just fine. But I probably should have been more honest in that it does hurt a lot, and it is kind of weird to think of pushing a human being out of your body, but it’s so worth it, because at the end you get a baby—a gooey, bloody baby—but it’s your baby and you love it.

What do you think? Should I have been more honest about the pain of childbirth?

Ellen Sturm Niz is an editor and writer parenting, living, and working in Jackson Heights, Queens. Follow her on TwitterPinterestTumblr, and Google+.