I gave birth for the first time in my 55 years of life, and I have to say, it didn’t feel so good.
As the father of two fully grown daughters, who have each given birth to two of their own children, I’ve seen a lot of babies being born. I was in the delivery room when my wife gave birth to our girls. And I was just outside the delivery room when my daughters were giving birth to their kids.
My mom also gave birth to 14 of her own kids, half of whom are younger than me, so I’ve been around babies and the birthing process for a long time.
What has always been imminently clear to me is that there is a certain amount of pain associated with it. The women in my life have always made that pretty clear.
No pain, no gain was never more appropriate, right? But at the end of it, assuming it all goes well, the result is a precious life.
This question of pain has always perplexed me though. I’ve experienced a fair amount of it in my life as well. Might some of my impressive experiences be equal to the pain that a woman might endure when she gives birth?
For instance, I once jumped out of a moving truck whose brakes had failed. As we rambled down a gravel road, all I saw was the impending miniature cliff ahead. Rather than wait for somebody else to write my obituary, I leapt from the truck, wearing nothing more than shorts, a t-shirt and a pair of sneakers. It resulted in significant road rash and fractured ribs. In short, it hurt, a lot.
As a junior on the varsity football team, I was returning a kick-off and was sprinting up the right sideline, having eluded several tacklers already. With one defender between me and the goal line, the outstretched paw of that single player snared my face mask and nearly separated my head from my shoulders. I actually saw those strange stars and light bursts for the first time in my life. That also hurt a lot.
Strained ligaments, multiple car crashes and random mishaps have allowed me to experience many levels of pain.
So a couple of months ago when I woke in the middle of the night to excruciating abdominal pain, I assumed bad food was to blame. But after two hours of intensely specific stabs, I started to wonder if there might be more going on. Three hours in and a trip to the emergency room later, turns out my food poisoning was actually kidney stones, three of them to be exact.
Well, that can’t be, I thought. I’m a healthy guy. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Exercise regularly. This must be a mistake. But when the nurse asked about my daily water intake, I sheepishly said I sometimes forgot to stay hydrated. Actually, I’ve been forgetting to drink enough water for about three decades.
Kidney stones will affect 1 in 10 men in the U.S. and now I was a statistic because of my unwillingness to drink moderate amounts water each day.
Back to the pain. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. The root cause of it is the movement of tiny crystalized stones that make their way down from the kidney, through the ureter and ultimately into the bladder where they eventually get evacuated the old-fashioned way. The pain occurs during the 12-inch journey from the kidney to the bladder. The stones scrape against the walls of the ureter. Lovely.
As I squeegeed the gray tiles of our bathroom floor with my face during the three-hour nightmare, I made so many promises to God that I can’t remember if I now have to go to church every day, if 50% of my earnings are committed to Sharing and Caring Hands, or maybe both.
By the time I made it to the ER, most of the pain had subsided because the stones had stopped moving. After a scan determined that I had three stones, with one having moved most of the way down, the nurse handed me a funnel with a fine screen on it. “Use this when you go to the bathroom to catch the stones, which we can then test to see what type they are,” she said.
“I’ll tell you what kind they are; they’re the huge ones, the kind that feel like somebody inserted a two-pound coral shard in my intestines,” I thought to myself.
But I complied and followed her instructions. I drank several ounces of water and headed to the bathroom. I fully expected to pass a stone the size of a penny or a nickel. What I gave birth to looked strikingly similar to a single grain of sand, a really small grain. I practically needed a microscope to see it.
That’s it? This brought a grown man to his knees and put him before his maker seeking spiritual intervention?
So I stood there like a child, my lifelong male vs. female pain barometer completely obliterated.
Moms, you always had my respect and deep admiration, but now you’ve conclusively answered this pain question. Anyone who can push something the size of a watermelon through an otherwise small canal is “the” authority on pain and deserves a lifetime membership to a spa.
As for the grain of sand, I flushed it down the toilet. It vanished with my narrow concept of pain, and hopefully, my birthing days.
Keith Anderson is director of news for Adams Publishing of East Central Minnesota.