Labor and Life: Lessons from a Monkey

Childbirth. A woman never thinks about the true magnitude of the pain of labor until it’s too late. The bun is already in the oven when it dawns on her it must come out at some point.

Ready? Not so much. Set? Wait, wait, she’s still cooking. GO!


When I was pregnant with my girl, I kept reminding myself millions of women have given birth. If it was that bad, they wouldn’t do it again and again. How tough could it be?

I wanted children for as long as I could remember, almost to the point of obsession. As soon as I learned how to use scissors, I cut baby pictures out of the Sears catalogue, collecting them in my dresser drawers. One of my most vivid childhood memories was watching the news of the Vietnam War on the television each night, hoping my parents would adopt a Vietnamese baby. No worries, if they didn’t, I would just adopt one when I was older.

courtesy of

courtesy of

Then the war ended.

What? Wars end? That was totally beyond my childhood grasp. That war started before I was born. I didn’t know what “peace” meant.

As the news blasted the end of the conflict, my parents rejoiced, but my mind raced, not understanding. I hid the tears streaming down my face. As the youngest of four, I tended to keep things to myself, especially my emotions.

What would happen to all those war babies? One thing I knew for sure; as our troops pulled out of Vietnam, the birth of those babies would end, and I’d never get to adopt one.

More tears.

Seriously, that’s all I thought about. Not that our troops would finally be coming home. Not that lives would stop being lost. None of it. All I could think about was the baby my parents would never get to adopt. Mind you, my parents had no clue I even wanted them to adopt a child. Sort of like they didn’t know I was in love with Davy Jones and wanted The Monkee’s album for Christmas. Santa knew it, so why did I have to tell them? (And no, I never got The Monkee’s album for Christmas, or any other holiday… I stopped trusting Santa.)

Then I grew up, got married and finally had a bun of my own in the oven. Being pregnant was the most amazing experience of my life. With each one of my kids, I barfed for months, gained 40 pounds, my fingers and feet got bloated like Willy the Whale, and I peed every hour. Who wouldn’t love being knocked up?

For nine months, my babies were mine and mine alone. No one could touch them. No one could hurt them. No one could feel them move inside me. That was my favorite part… feeling them get stronger inside my body every day. Punching. Kicking. Chewing on my ribs. Evidence they were alive. I was sure my son would rip through my flesh like an alien with his endless thrashing. It’s no surprise he’s turned into a great martial artist.

As the gestation period drew to a close, it hit me I was going to have to push the baby out my cabbage. Oh boy! Or girl. I had no clue what I was having, but I knew I had to get it out somehow.

Holy Mother of God. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I want a baby again? No, no, I changed my mind. It’s okay if I’m childless. Let’s hit rewind.

Breathe, Jeanne. Breathe.

Then I reminded myself millions of women have done this. Hell, animals in the wild do it every day.

Ding! Animals.

I started searching for nature shows. I finally found it… monkeys giving birth. This was prior to TiVo, so I stopped everything I was doing and watched.

laborTwo pregnant monkeys. One had a cesarean section, the other a natural birth. The C-section was just as you’d imagine. Doctors, drugs, incision, baby. But it was the natural birth that mesmerized me.

That Mama Monkey kicked ass!

The cameras were on her for days leading up to the birth. Poor thing was all alone in a cage, trying desperately to get comfortable. The harder her labor got, the quieter she got. No moaning. No groaning. No whining. No complaining at all. Just quiet. As the contractions got more intense, she knelt on all fours, letting her belly hang, taking the pressure off.

Breathe. Breathe.

Then she’d move to a different position. Try to sleep. Try to relax. Resting for the labor.

And finally, the baby was coming. Still alone in her cage, she looked calm. She was focused. Squatted and pushed. Pushed again. Breathing. Pushing. Breathing. Leaning against the wall of her cage. Until…

She reached down and pulled the baby out, held it to her chest, closed her eyes, and sank down to the floor, clutching her newborn.

Never once did she make a sound.

She was my Mama Monkey hero.

I was no longer afraid of childbirth. Not in the slightest. In fact, I went through 86 hours of labor with my daughter and not even an aspirin. (FYI, that on-all-fours thing really works!) By the time I got to the labor room, I was fully dilated and ready to push. Too late for drugs.

But that was okay. I was a monkey.

Anyone who has gone through delivery knows there are women screaming bloody murder and swearing like truckers at their evil, sperm-injecting husbands during childbirth. I could hear them all around me in neighboring rooms. But me? I was quiet. Not a peep. Focused.

I had a job to do.

The nurse asked if I was okay. I nodded. She asked again. I nodded again. Finally she said, “Please let me know if you need anything” to which I whispered, “Shhh, I’m a monkey.”

I’m pretty sure she called the psych ward in between contractions.

But I channeled my inner monkey and birthed my daughter without a groan, moan or epidural. Out she came. All 21 inches, 8 pounds, 7 ounces of perfection. She didn’t even cry. Instead, she opened her eyes and marveled at her new world.

The nurse brought her to me, and I clutched her to my chest.

Maybe Santa could be trusted.

I learned more than just about birthing a child from that Mama Monkey. I learned about life. About working hard. About pushing through the impossible without complaining, moaning, bitching or taking out my frustrations on others. That lesson has certainly served me well in my insane writing career. Whenever I get frustrated, I ask, “What would Mama Monkey do?”

Bringing a life into this world is hard. So is living your life. So don’t piss and moan through it. EARN it! Earn your happiness. Earn your miracles.

My beautiful miracle of a child left for college two weeks ago. When she came into the world, she watched it with wonder. Now at 18, she eyed her campus with the same wonder and awe.

Bringing her into the world changed my life forever. Yes, I brought her life, but her existence birthed my motherhood and stretched my heart. My son’s birth, two years later, stretched my heart even wider. When it comes time to let our children go, we birth them all over again.

Just like the day she was born, there is no epidural to ease my pain. But there’s great joy overriding the pain, knowing she is ready. The bun is cooked to perfection.

There’s nothing that can prepare a mother for childbirth and nothing to prepare her for letting her child leave the nest. While I can no longer feel her grow inside my belly, kicking, hiccuping, and getting strong, I can absolutely see the strength in her character, in her heart, and in her passion for knowledge and adventure. I’m excited to see where her new life brings her. Hell, I want to be her when I grow up.

Two more years, and it’s my amazing boy’s turn to go off to college. I wonder what that Mama Monkey did when it was time for her babies to leave. For me, that feat was way harder than childbirth. I wonder if it was for her too.

But I’m not complaining. Not bitching. Not moaning. I’m celebrating. I’d like to think Mama Monkey would approve.

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3 thoughts on “Labor and Life: Lessons from a Monkey

  1. “Shhh… I’m a monkey.” HA HA HAAAAAA!

    This gives new meaning to “monkey see monkey do”! Thanks for writing this – what a wonderful account of a true miracle. (Not just of childbirth, but childbirth without painkillers! You’re my idol…)

    Good food for thought. When you’ve got a job to do, quitcher bitchin’ and moanin’, focus, and get it done… quietly. WWMMD? 🙂

  2. Da-amn, now I’m all Mama Monkeyed about my baby script! Thanks for a great read and all the other words of inspiration/perspiration.

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