Thursday, June 30, 2011

Planning for Peanut: The Build-up to Birth, and "Buffy"

Sometimes it feels like everyone is fucking with the pregnant lady. The medical interventionists say that home birth is an insane risk. The home birth contingent insists that hospitals are traumatizing environments that can ruin your kid's introduction to the world. I've grown weary of all the books and websites, with their long lists of "don't, don't, don't" but then feel guilty that I don't spend more time reading about pregnancy. Various non-professional men have offered me unsolicited birthing advice, such as, "You should start practicing your kegel exercises while driving." Ugh, and the body assessments! Those have ranged from, "Hmm. You don't look that pregnant. The baby must be unusually small," to a certain acquaintance's typically tactless observation, "Well, now it looks like the baby's almost ready to come out." For real, dude? Wait til' you get a load of me in three and a half months... when the baby is actually about to come out.

This sometimes deafening chorus of "No, wrong way!" can be rather disheartening. I trust myself to do what's best for the baby and me, and I know I have good instincts. But I've experienced a recent increase in those Shit!-I-didn't-study-for-the-exam nightmares, and some days I just don't feel like talking to anyone. It's on those days, when I'm feeling down and defenseless, that I tend to think about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Specifically, I'm referring to the late 90s/ early 00s TV series starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It's certainly one of my favorite shows ever. Though I haven't re-watched it much since a DVD rental binge in 2005, I still consider Buffy to be one of the best heroines of all time. I now find her model especially inspiring, for two reasons ~

Buffy is never wrong Which isn't to say that she's perfect. She struggles with typical teen and college-age issues - school, dating, bouts of insecurity. More so, she faces the atypical struggles that come with being The Slayer, a young woman chosen to protect the world from demons and vampires. Endowed with a superhuman strength and healing ability, and assisted by her devoted friends (known as "The Scoobie Gang") as well as her trainer Giles, she usually comes out on top of any battle. But the singularity of her burden can be overwhelming, making her morbid and standoffish at times. It doesn't help that the love of her life, Angel, was a repentant vampire who turned evil after they slept together.

So Buffy's life is full of angst and she doesn't always react well to that. Who would? But even though her life can be super depressoid, it doesn't change the fact that her instincts and moral judgement are generally spot-on. This is perfectly exemplified in one of my favorite episodes, "Living Conditions". At the start of Season 4, Buffy and her pals begin their first year of college. Buffy's dorm roommate is Kathy, a chipper, annoying weirdo who listens to Cher's "Believe" nonstop, barrows Buffy's clothes without asking, openly clips her toenails, etc. As Buffy's anger and frustration mount, she insists that her roomie is dangerous and must be stopped. "Kathy is evil. I'm an evil fighter. It's simple. I'm gonna have to kill her." Fearing that their buddy has gone bananas, Giles and the rest of the Scoobie Gang trap Buffy so that she can't harm her innocent roommate, until it's revealed - SPOILER ALERT - Kathy is actually a demon. Even though this episode didn't fit into the larger Season 4 story arc, I see it as a major turning point in Buffy's character development. It's at that point I realized that when Buffy is actively trying to do what's right, she's never wrong. In fact, when other people try to dissuade her from doing what she thinks best, they are the misguided ones.

Given my aggravation with too much advice from too many questionable quarters, it's obvious why Buffy's correctness should comfort me. But may I just add that I can't think of another heroine who is portrayed this way. Consider two of my other favorites - Liz Lemon from "30 Rock" and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. Both are hyper-intelligent women who make a joke out of everything. Lemon can be sloppy, arrogant and dour. Bennett can be a terrible judge of character. I like their flaws because they remind me of myself. But isn't it nice to have a lady protagonist who is both righteous and rightly confident, one who really ought to believe in her choices? Dudes have Superman. We ladies have Buffy.

Buffy is physically strong Okay, that's an understatement. She has innate superpowers, but she also works at it, training daily with Giles to make herself a better Slayer. While child-birthing may not be a superhuman ability (though it sure as hell seems like one!), it is innate; your body wants to push that little person out. You may want some drugs or need some instruments to help it along, or you may need a C-section, but I've decided I want to try to do it naturally. And I have to believe that nourishing my strength through exercise will help me give birth with greater ease.

That seems like common sense, right? I guess I won't know until I get there. At the very least, my fitness routine has helped me maintain my energy through these first five months. There's really no replacement for it. Unfortunately, pregnant women aren't much encouraged to work out. Most sources I've read recommend activities like "a brisk walk." That's great advice for someone who rarely or never exercises. But if you're used to running 5Ks every few days and you're in the low-risk category (which most women are), there's no reason you should stop running during pregnancy so long as it continues to feel good. I follow my doctors advice - "Stop if it hurts." Even when I'm avoiding pain, I can still break a sweat.

Alas, advocating prenatal exercise falls under the "do" category. And perhaps because a misdirected "do" can get you sued, there's a lot more "don't" advice. Don't run. Don't drink coffee. Don't eat soft cheeses. None of these apply to every woman or every situation, but it's easier to assume that we're all physically inactive, caffeine chugging, raw milk guzzling morons who don't understand the concept of moderation (or pasteurization). We're just expected to distrust ourselves and follow lowest-common-denominator "wisdom" instead. This is the definition of infantilization.

Oh, it gets me riled up! That's just another reason why I have to work out. I can't afford to let this shit distress me. And ever since I identified Buffy as my pregnant woman's role model, I've been relishing my workouts with greater zest. When I think of her doing a back flip before slaughtering a demon, I find myself standing a bit taller on the elliptical machine or smiling as I carefully execute a proper squat. I now like to think of myself as Tara the Baby Birther, and my gut feeling is that I'm going to do just fine on the exam after all.


  1. You should do Kegel exercises on the treadmill! (joking!).

  2. You're dead on. Do what feels right and use your common sense and you'll get to experience birth for all its highs and lows and you'll appreciate it in whatever incarnation it ends up - drugs, c section, or perfectly natural at home or hospital. :) Not being completely bent on either extreme (I want no pain, I want hospital vs. I want to be squatting in my living room surrounded by birkenstocks) is going to go a long way toward you being content with whatever happens to result in one beautiful bouncing Bernadette. Also, definitely do kegels on the treadmill.

  3. Just like politics in the media, most women don't go for either extreme, but the extremists seem to get all the attention. It helps to hear other women express a more moderate point of view. Thanks for the encouragement : )

    Also, I love the visual image of squatting in the living room surrounded by Birkenstocks. In a humorous way, not in an "I want to experience that!" way...