“Carmaggedon” birth story?

My daughter Nora lives in Los Angeles, Cal., so I am aware that Angelenos are so dreading the shutdown of 10 miles of the I-405 expressway there for road work this weekend they have dubbed the event "Carmageddon."

Nora is going to walk or take buses as much as she can this weekend, and being from Chicago, she is comfortable with those activities. But many Angelenos are famously more car-bound than she is.

Carmageddon

Los Angeles commuter traffic

Crosstown airline flights between the suburbs of Long Beach and Burbank are sold out this weekend and the police department is asking celebrities to urge their Twitter followers to avoid the expressway and, indeed, to drive in the city as little as possible.

But Jenny Benjamin, writing in The Stir today, brings up an interesting and, to her and other expectant moms, urgent point: What happens if your baby decides to be born in L.A. this weekend?

Pregnant with twins, less than two weeks shy of her due date, a 30-minute drive away ("without traffic") from the hospital she carefully chose for its neonatal intensive care unit, Benjamin considers the possibility of an early labor and aks, "For the love of all things good and holy, what am I going to do?!?!"

Will her husband wind up delivering the twins (one of whom is in a transverse position) on the side of the road? Should she call an ambulance? "Ambulances aren't hovercrafts -- they're going to get stuck in the same traffic!" Benjamin notes.

Her doctor lives close to the hospital. "Good to know at least one of us will be able to get there," she writes.

"Aargh, it's times like this that I really wish that Segways had caught on!" Benjamin frets.

The best solution, she notes, is not to have the babies this weekend. "I have about as much control over that as I do the traffic," Benjamin writes. "Maybe I should see how much my husband knows about home birthing."

Childbirth vs. baseball

Where do you stand on this? It probably depends on how seriously you take your sports.

The baseball season was only a few weeks old when a sports blogger lambasted Texas Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis for missing a game in which he was scheduled to pitch, in order to attend the birth of his daughter, Elizabeth Grace.

Colby Lewis

Colby Lewis

Lewis, 31, was the first player to go on Major League Baseball's new paternity leave list. A player can be on the list, and off the roster, for up to three days for the birth of a child.

"Baseball players are paid millions to play baseball," Richie Whitt wrote in a post for the Dallas Observer sports blog. "If that means 'scheduling' births so they occur in the off-season, then so be it. Of the 365 days in a year, starting pitchers 'work' maybe 40 of them, counting spring training and playoffs.

"If it was a first child, maybe. But a second child causing a player to miss a game? Ludicrous."

Twitter and blogosphere lit up with sputtering rebuttals: Fatherhood trumps baseball any day, buster.

The Rangers' pitching coach, Mike Maddux, said he supports the new list.

But baseball writer Rob Neyer waded in on Whitt's side of the fracas for SB Nation:

"I'm going to be honest here, as I have been since the first time this came up, some years ago (official paternity leave is new, but players taking a game off to attend childbirth is not)," he wrote.

"As a human being, I think this is fantastic. As a baseball fan, though? If my team's in the playoff hunt, I'm sorry, but I don't want one of my starting pitchers taking the night off. We're not talking about some guy who works on the assembly line for the Integrated Widget Corporation. We're talking about one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, not easily replaceable. What if your team finishes one game short of the playoffs? Was it really worth it?

"Or as a sage philosopher once observed, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

"And last I checked, there were many fans of the Texas Rangers."

Well, it's not just the Texas Rangers anymore. Several other players have already gone on the list, including the Oakland Athletics' catcher Kurt Suzuki, Washington Nationals' shortstop Ian Desmond and New York Mets' left-fielder Jason Bay.

“Teams were basically granting [leave to attend births] anyway, but they ended up playing short, and that really wasn’t the goal,” Peter Woodfork, a senior vice president with Major League Baseball, told the New York Times' Tyler Kepner for a story about the list. “[The paternity leave list] leaves no gray area. Neither side feels like, ‘Well, we really want you to stay.’ There’s no guilt, and it helps both sides.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Storytime?

Amber Strocel is one of my favorite bloggers. A Vancouver, B.C. "crunchy granola mom" (and engineer), Strocel writes with equal aplomb about the pleasures of domesticity and more serious issues like Internet privacy.

Strocel also writes a good bit about childbirth, and one recent post got me thinking. In “Scare Tactics,” Strocel considers which kinds of stories about birth and breastfeeding women should share, in particular with pregnant women.

As anyone who has ever been pregnant knows, that bump is a powerful magnet for women who had a 78-hour labor, or whatever, and believe you need to hear a blow-by-blow description, complete with sound effects.Pregnant Graffiti

“I don’t see much value in sharing horror stories,” Strocel wrote, adding that during a discussion she shared on Twitter, others had disagreed, saying they thought “negative stories can prepare women” for the possibility of problems with birth or breastfeeding.

Strocel relates that during the birth of her first child, precipitated at 34 weeks by an infection, she experienced severe hemorrhaging, which required surgery and a blood transfusion.

“I was actually not all that afraid of labour when I was pregnant the first time around… Being armed with someone else’s story of severe blood loss wouldn’t have changed anything for me,” she writes. “Thinking about it, I believe there’s a difference between sharing a horror story that scares someone out of her pants, and useful information that you can use to avoid problems.”

Strocel offers an example of the latter: "If I had a very negative experience with a health care provider, I might share that with someone who was considering seeing the provider."

I agree that would be useful information, but the key would be to catch a woman before she had committed to that provider. By the time other people know a woman is pregnant, she has usually settled on a birth attendant.

In fact, I’m not sure any birth stories have utility for a pregnant woman. Let's think about a really positive one. Would hearing about supermodel Gisele Bundchen’s painless water birth really be encouraging to the average mortal? No pressure, girlfriend, but Gisele had zero pain.

I suspect one reason why people deluge pregnant women with birth stories is that we assume they have some interest in a topic we don't actually get to talk about that much.

The birth story occupies a place very near the heart of the narrative of most mothers’ lives. I have two birth stories myself. One tells of a vaginal delivery in a hospital that required foiling an obnoxious resident itching to perform a Caesarean-section; the other is a near-miraculous survival story.

I hardly ever tell these stories out loud. They are great stories, full of colorful characters, conflict and drama but, practically speaking, who can I press them on? The people who are willing to listen to me use words like “vagina” and “transfusion” do not include, for example, my brother-in-law.

As I think about these stories, though, it occurs to me that even though the near-death experience is more dramatic, the birth of my first daughter is more satisfying, more reassuring, more the kind of narrative prospective parents are looking for: A family overcomes obstacles to have the experience it was hoping for (more or less). It was certainly more pleasant to live through.

I'm not sure it is the more helpful of the two stories. Knowing what it takes to live through a calamity — in our case, speedy access to a competent surgeon and anesthesiologist, and plenty of blood — seems to me to be extremely useful information.

But perhaps the stories we mothers like best are the ones where the fair damsel saves herself.