Comfort Measures in Birthing… Or Alternate Title: I Know Nothing About My Wife


Sometimes I realize how little I know my wife. Sure, we can be connected on an almost-scary telepathic level and finish each other’s sentences, but that’s the “us.” I know us. She knows us. Us together is its own thing, an unbeatable force — unless we’re playing co-op Mario Bros on the Wii — then we’re just teetering on divorce.

The wife also has a new-agey hippy-dippy side — a side that likes yoga and meditation — and is open to trying to new things and new ideas. This is the side I know nothing about — because despite her trying to get me to “come to yoga” with her for the last seven years of our relationship, I’m much happier being close minded and stiff in my lower back.

So when she signed us up for something called a “comfort measures in birthing” class, I assumed it was just another standard birthing class through the hospital. That class had been an eight-hour marathon in which the fairy tale band-aid of where babies come from was ripped off — ripped directly off my eyeballs.

I didn’t know what a comfort measures class meant, except that the wife described it as a way to learn some all natural pain-coping mechanisms for birth. I assumed it was another band-aid to rip off, perhaps in gentler, all-natural way.

I also assumed the class was at the hospital, perhaps taught by the same burly war-storied nurse who had taught the last class, a woman who had described in great detail her experiences of pushing out three ten-pound babies. She didn’t just rip the band-aid off; she tightened the tourniquet, handed you a stick to bite down on, pulled out the amputation knife, and took off the whole limb. That’s a metaphorical way of saying that I learned the baby isn’t the only thing that comes out during birth.

Still, I like this methodology. I prefer this. Give me the amputation knife, plunge it directly into my chest. Give it to me. I can take it. The wife, on the other hand, prefers something called “comfort measures.” Those words again — and whatever they meant, were not taking place at the hospital or coming from the 1800s-era surgical nurse.

“Oh, the class is at somebody’s house,” the wife said, casually dropping this detail during breakfast, not realizing she had just spoken the most terrifying sentence in the course of humanity, even more so than “we’re going to a potluck dinner.”

“Whose house?” I asked cautiously.

“Oh you know, the doula’s house,” she said.

The wife had hired a doula to assist her during childbirth. It’s a non-medical professional woman who sort of plays a personal coaching role, providing comforting energy and experience. Basically it’s the opposite of me, who will be providing nervous pacing, nonsensical murmurings to self, and glasses of ice water, as needed.

So there we were a few hours later, sitting in a “share circle,” cross-legged in somebody’s house, with three other couples, birth balls, aromatherapy candles, and the doula — a small-framed, kindly-voiced woman whom you might mistake for a kindergarten teacher, if not for arm-sleeve tattoo and glint in the eye. It’s a glint that you’ll go over and over again in your mind, trying to figure out what it says, but whatever it says, you instinctively know not to cross it.

As for the other couples: there were the doctor-distrusting, home-birthing hardcore-ists. There were the neurotic hand-wringy couple who were overdressed — maybe they just got off work — but you get the sense they always dressed like that. Then there were the bubbly couple who looked like you might have run into them at the tiki-themed country bar in your old hometown. They were the ringers. That’s the only way I can explain them.

So what exactly are “comfort measures?” Well, I can tell you they are measures that would not comfort me. We learned techniques in little workshops, like holding a comb in one’s hands at certain pressure points, running a tasseled scarf along the body, or breathing in lavender oils. If I’m ever in pain, I can tell you holding a comb in my hand is not going to do shit. But the wife is open to all ideas, so she laid on the floor and I ran the tasseled scarf along her body, and the doula came over to correct my motion to a “massaging ocean-like” motion, and I listened because I wasn’t about to cross her.

In one of the workshops, there was a bowl of ice-water. The trick was to keep your hand submerged in the ice water and endure the pain a full minute — the length of a contraction — while your partner read affirming sentences to you. I submerged my hand in the water a full minute, no affirmations needed. Proving what exactly? I’m not the one having the baby. But see? Give it to me. I can take it.

Now it was the wife’s turn.

“You are a strong and capable woman,” I read monotonously off the card.

“Your body is a wide open space for the baby to descend…”

I stopped. The wife had lasted ten seconds in the ice water.

At that moment I realized I totally know my wife. And it wasn’t this. She’s a younger sibling. She responds to antagonizing. She’s defiant. Tell her she can do something, and she questions you. Tell her she can’t do something, and she pushes you out of the way to prove you wrong.

I raised my voice. “Just put your hand back in that stupid ice water and keep it in there. I did it. It was the easiest thing in this stupid world,” I said.

She did. At the ten second point, she began to flush and wince in pain.

“Quit being dramatic, you got just a little more to go,” I said.

At the thirty second mark, she threatened to quit. “I can’t do this anymore,” she said.

“You drag me to this ridiculous crap for two and a half hours, I think you can do another thirty seconds,” I said.

By now the whole room was looking at us, with my “anger proclamations” cutting through the lavender-scented birthing affirmations.

“Now everyone’s looking at us, so you gotta get this. You’re at 45 seconds. My hand wasn’t even hurting yet at this point,” I said.

She hung on, to prove us all wrong. 60 seconds. She made it. The room clapped, and we moved onto the next workshop, which involved me inexplicably rolling tennis balls on the wife’s back.

24 days to go.

17 thoughts on “Comfort Measures in Birthing… Or Alternate Title: I Know Nothing About My Wife

  1. I’m totally the same way as your wife. I feel like somebody telling me no, or that I can’t do something is basically a challenge to me. Best of luck in the coming few weeks!

  2. Your columns are a treat. For what it’s worth, I have delivered three sons, one with traditional drugs, the next two, twin boys were natural childbirth (BIG mistake, trust me, the wake me when it’s over version is a MUCH better idea).
    One thing keeps puzzling me as I read your columns though… possibly because one of my 6’4″ twin sons also refers to his beautiful wife vis-a-vis a third person inanimate object “the wife”. I smack him upside the head if he forgets and does it in my presence. I have no idea where he picked that habit up, but out of curiosity, why do YOU do it ? Doesn’t it make your wife insane to be lumped in the same category as “the dog”, “the lawnmower”, and “the vacuum cleaner”, as opposed to the affectionate personalization of “my wife”? Just wondered.

      1. As likely a longer reader of this blog, I will interject that initially it started with capital letters as a non descript funny way to include anonymously people in the Pizza’s life. It was The Girlfriend, and then The Wife, to the point where The Girlfriend/ The Wife has commented using these terms. And then somewhere it devolved into the wife. Which is fine as a stylistic and funny aspect of this blog’s style.

      2. On behalf of “the dog”, “the lawnmower”, and “the vacuum cleaner”, (and women in general) we unanimously celebrate the promotion of “the wife” to actual valued personhood in the future literary form of “my wife”, despite the fact that “the dinosaur” wrote and said he thinks referring to women as inanimate objects is “stylistically” swell.

  3. Still my favorite blogger, Pizza. And I am thankful to get to share these experiences because it takes me back to 11 years ago when I was going through the same thing. I did the natural childbirth and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m sure your wife has some inner strength she doesn’t even know she has. I remember that ice shit. It did hurt like a bitch.

  4. Maybe it is a younger sibling thing, but I can relate to a lot in this post as someone who doubts I can do something until someone tells me I can’t. That being said, I don’t know why epidurals get such a bad rap. I resisted having one both times and finally caved, only to find labor progressed quickly and was pain free with no side effects. I’ll step off my soapbox now. I like that your wife is using a doula. Always thought that sounded like the way to go. And also that she’s open minded about breathing and relaxation techniques. I bet they will continue to be useful even after birth. It all sounds interesting and your trademark honesty and humor come through beautifully in your writing, as always. This feels a little edgier somehow, and I like that too.

  5. I have a brother two years older than I am. When he said I couldn’t do something that is all I needed…. In my youth I climbed certain fir trees (50 feet tall or so) just to spite him and prove him wrong. Don’t tell mom, she still gets scared for me. And

    I’m still that way.

  6. When I was having kids, in the 80’s, my husband had to pinch my thigh for a minute while I practiced breathing through the pain. No sweat. My thigh was bruised but I had no trouble getting through the minute thigh pinch. Labor? Another story. longest “minutes” of my life. like being pinched by a 60 pound lobster. breathe? BREATHE? Hard to inhale when you are biting your ob/gyn. However, I did it two more times, so heck, it couldnt be so bad….

  7. Your BLOG is Great
    Reading The Comments…
    They are almost Female.
    Dude, (may I call you that?)
    As A Father Of Two Beautiful Kids Of A Son and a Daughter
    Go ahead and make the wife happy
    Do the lamaze or what ever
    Make the wife happy
    It Will Not Make Any Difference
    Unless You Are THERE
    You’ll See What I Mean
    Love Ya,

  8. Hey – I love this post. You had me nodding and smiling all the way through :) All I can say, being one of those new-agey hippy types who has given birth to three babies – whatever it takes my friend, whatever it takes :)

  9. You’ll make it.
    Or… if you’re reading this to your wife, “There’s no way you’ll manage.”
    (This post reminded me that I have yet to write my essay on what I’m going to call “Angry Yoga.”)

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