Back in France, when I wished there were more hours in the day to study, two female Mormon missionaries showed up at my door. They tried to get inside, wanting to assimilate me to that religion. I had not yet developed the method of chasing Mormon missionaries that I used years later, when we lived in Palm Springs. I took the bus and the Mormon missionaries would nail me at the bus stop. I did not want to run away and miss the bus, so I yelled “Devil get thee behind me” in English and numerous Psalms in Hebrew. This method worked quickly and efficiently for getting rid of many southern California Mormon missionaries. This method has been replicated by me in numerous situations.
Back in France, I was less experienced. I hit them with Genesis Chapter 3 verse 16; in French “Tu enfanteras avec douleur.” I suppose I could have used the English standard version. I basically convinced them not only that I knew my Old Testament pretty well, but that I had enough problems being female and a French medical student without being a Mormon. The older of the two women, a preceptor guiding a young student, said the equivalent of “she knows Scripture; we better leave her alone,” and I hid my joy.
Many years later, I remember watching the Carol Burnett show with my folks. What she said about the pain of childbearing is the first on this list of Carol Burnett quotes. It is awesome, which is why I remember it after all these years. “Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.” My Mother-of-Blessed-Memory thanked God for general anesthesia and used the opportunity to remind me, as she did on every birthday, about my bad kicking behavior. At the time, I was already starting to remind her that I was not sentient — a useless argument. My Father-of-Blessed-Memory ignored the verbal interchange.
All of this obviously came before medical school. The senior preceptor in Obstetrics-Gynecology, not one of my favorites nor even, in my estimation, the sharpest of any known set of knives in any known drawer, had decided that no medical student should even see a birth — so that all patients who had one impending would be referred to an obstetrician and thus increase the business of the obstetric hospital. Whatever.
I had already decided, back in 6th grade, that I would not bear children because my family was such a genetic mess. Type II diabetes on dad’s side was the least of it, for my brother and to a certain degree my father had something later discovered to be Aspergers. Most folks on my mother’s side had something wrong with their pancreases, which I believe now to be the same hereditary hypertriglyceridemia that hit me. But when mother asked me why I did not want a little girl who would be good and cute and smart like me, she received a lecture on genetic recombination as well as the example of her blood relative — a particularly ugly and vicious woman who stole the family inheritance and whose DNA probably had a couple of nucleotides in common with mine. Me, I am childless by choice without regrets. I wasn’t thinking of avoiding pain, though; and could not have if I wanted to. I have had enough of that through illness.
In the current generation of new daddies, many have told me that watching their wives give birth was one of the most moving experiences of their lives. This, in a world where my own Father-of-Blessed-Memory seems to have been overjoyed with being in the waiting room. Men have certainly moved into far less rigid roles in childbirth. Nobody stares anymore when a new daddy is in the supermarket pushing a cart with a little tyke in it. Nobody goes nuts when a man says his profession is “stay-at-home dad,” because his wife loves her work, makes pretty good money, or whatever.
All of that only starts to put in context this video of men hooked to a machine that supposedly simulates labor. So I watched the video – a Dutch TV stunt, really — and I must have been in research too long, for my first thought was that I would not have liked to be the one who wrote an informed consent to be signed by a male subject before putting on abdominal electrodes to simulate childbirth. My other wonder was if they should try this apparatus on younger women, who when asked how they chose to start their families, in this day and age where medicine and technology have done lots to empower women, say that “it just happened.” I can only wonder if parental affection is so lame, so impaired, that inept young male sexual advances can feel pleasant? I mean this would be better than the teddy bears or even realistic dolls given to women of pre-childbearing age so they can “feel” what having a baby is like. At least in terms of the responsibility incurred.
These simulations are simulations for a lifetime. Maybe, a simulation such as childbirth itself would be more powerful in the adolescent, who is not particularly equipped to think ahead for a lifetime. After all, the last time I heard of a woman giving birth under general anesthesia, it was in the accounts of my own Mother-of-Blessed-Memory. And the first time it happened, it was Queen Victoria herself. In France, when I was in school, in the already relatively rare occurrence that general anesthesia was indicated for a woman, they called it a delivery “a la reine,” as the queen, in homage to Queen Victoria herself. In a perfect world, where altruism that provides the species with increased security and wellness is second nature, direct experience should not be a prerequisite for empathy. I will never forget the young schizophrenic who told me that he would only accept medication from a psychiatrist who was or had been schizophrenic. I actually had someone I thought was schizophrenic in my medical school class in France. Last I heard, he was on his way to becoming some kind of an anatomic pathologist, because he related to patients much better when they were already dead. If experience is necessary for empathy, it would be great for this device to simulate childbirth pain to be available by doctor’s prescription. This is a good idea for a lot of procedures; look at medicine on a case by case basis and see what might help the situation. Weighing advantages and risks should be part of an informed consent. There’s only one problem. The people who need to understand; the distant new fathers, who are weak in relationship skills, would probably not be interested in the procedure.