How well I remember Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth, a book mentioned today in the front-page New York Times obituary of its author, Elisabeth Bing. Not that I remember what the six practical lessons were, exactly; just that it was one of my favorite books among all the childbirth advice tomes I found myself devouring back in early 1980, when I was pregnant with Meta. Bing’s book gave me comfort, made me think it might actually be possible to push out that baby without hurting her, without hurting myself, and without begging for drugs. All of which is the way it happened.
I was surprised to read in the obit, by Times reporter Karen Barrow, that Bing’s own childbirth didn’t go as easily as she led me to believe mine would go.
As Randi Hutter Epstein reported in her book “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank” (2010), she continually asked her doctor, “Is the baby all right? Is the baby all right,” until the doctor said he could not concentrate with her chatter and gave her laughing gas and an epidural.
“I got everything I raged against,” Ms. Bing told Ms. Epstein. “I had the works.”
But thanks to Bing, who was 100 years old when she died last week, women don’t get “the works” anymore if they don’t want to (and certainly not simply because they’re asking too many annoying questions). Thanks to Bing, Nutmeg is having a baby in a setting in which she’s asked, in advance, what her atittude is toward medication, toward walking around during labor, toward being monitored, toward being cut — all the decisions that, in my day, we women in labor had to just hope would be left to us, not to our doctors. I’m curious to see how the advance planning actually plays out in the delivery room, but I have to believe that asking them will make a difference — and that the existence of Six Practical Lessons, still in print 48 years after it was first published, helped create a culture in which those questions are asked of expectant mothers in the first place.