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What I See When I Watch Birth Videos

A young mother lays in her hospital bed with her crying newborn baby on her chest.
Photograph by Getty Images

The first time I watched a woman giving birth, I thought “Nope, never happening.”

I was a teenager, and the video our teacher had played, while not especially graphic, showed a kind pain and helplessness that frightened me. While others urged, “Push, push!” I had to look away. I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to think that someday I might be in the same position.

Flash forward several years later, I was married, pregnant and seemingly poised to be in a delivery room myself. While this was definitely happening, in those early days of pregnancy, the prospect of giving birth felt like a faraway prospect. A whole 9 months? I didn’t have to think about it just then, right?

Eventually I couldn’t avoid the subject.

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Watching (unedited) birth videos this time around left me with other feelings. When I saw these women approach the ring of fire, I felt nervous—for myself! Would I be able to do it? But the stories inspired me as well. Birth stories had common themes running through them, sure, but they were each different in their own ways. Some women labored for just a few hours, some for days. Some had medicine-free home births, some had a team of doctors working to help a baby out. There were episiotomies, epidurals, babies who were breech, sets of twins, supportive spouses, unhelpful family members, caring nurses, doulas, midwives.

I wondered about the combination of experiences I might have.

When I welcomed my baby girl, I felt a range of emotions and each one of them was extreme: incredulity, love, gratitude, relief, wonder.

The further along I went in pregnancy, the less nervous I became. As I finished week 40, I was more than ready to go into that delivery room. An incredible thing happened: I never had to make up my mind when it came to the prospect of giving birth. It wasn’t a decision that I arrived at after great deliberation. My body just knew what it needed to do. I remember waking up to those first low contractions and knowing the time had come.

Having a baby is a completely different experience from watching a stranger have a baby in science class. The experience felt much less clinical than I expected, even though I was being monitored, poked and prodded. Instead, it felt deeply personal. Giving birth is emotional! I had watched women welcome babies, and I had only seen their anguish. I'd never questioned what was going on inside.

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When I welcomed my baby girl, I felt a range of emotions and each one of them was extreme: incredulity, love, gratitude, relief, wonder.

That moment was the real climax of the story. It wasn’t the rising crescendo of groans and screaming. It wasn’t the heights of our pain but the depth of our experience in beholding our babies for the first time. The cameras don’t capture that part, not really. It all happens in our minds and hearts.

Now when I watch a birth video, I can’t help but cry when a mom holds her baby for the first time. I’m transported back to my own moment and feel thoroughly connected to every mother who's ever experienced the same.

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