“There’s really nothing else we can do,” the labor and delivery nurse said. “This baby is moving fast and the epidural can’t keep up.”
“Fuuuuuuuuuu….” I erupted, half laughing at the situation, but laser focused on the intensity of the pain.
Everyone has a different response to pain. Some of us shout, some pull inwards, others meditate and some, like me, let out a string of obscenities in such a calm, matter of fact manner that one might guess I was giving my opinion on the latest diet craze.
When I was in college, my then boyfriend introduced me to his roommate, Tom, as someone who used the “f” word as an adjective and adverb without any intention of negativity. For example, Tom might start a conversation, “So, I sat in the effing lecture hall and effing listened to this effing physics professor give this speech on Hawking. Effing surreal.”
Initially we found it comical, but through the years, we adapted to Tom’s lexicon. Swears were used as greetings, to express pain, to express pleasure and sometimes to bond! Now in my 30s, I don’t swear often but will occasionally drop a cuss when meeting someone new in a way that suggests I am immediately comfortable with them, and they can let down their guard. It’s surprising how a conspiratorial curse word can bond two humans to one another, a secret shared.
Perhaps I’m not alone. All around the world there are a bevy of social scientists intrigued by the potential beneficial side effects associated with swearing. Indeed, studies have claimed individuals who swear are more intelligent, feel stronger, and that swearing might actually help relieve pain, perhaps especially for women. The lead researcher in the pain study, Richard Stephens, hypothesizes that women tend to swear less than men, so that when women do cuss, the words take on an emotional, even physical, power. I can attest to this phenomenon.
My first labor was a breeze. My husband and I headed to the hospital after my water broke, and some 16 hours later, I was still progressing slowly. It was at that point I agreed to the tiniest amount of Pitocin because of infection susceptibility. I was also met with the suggestion of an epidural. The rest of the labor was relatively painless.
When I arrived at the hospital to give birth to my second child, the situation was similar: waters broken, slow moving, Pitocin. I remember the nurse expected it to take another four hours, so after the anesthesiologist administered the epidural she casually helped roll me to the side. Seconds later, it felt like my insides ripped apart.
“What is happening?” I looked at my husband frightened. Who looked at the anesthesiologist. Who looked at the nurse.
“The baby is coming. NOW,” the nurse warned. No, this could not be happening. It was 3 a.m., my doctor was gone, and the nurse in the room with me had just spent the past two hours telling me her first career was birthing livestock. Once, she asked us if we wanted to adopt a few of her chickens. This baby was coming and this crazy chicken woman was my only hope?
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” was all I squeaked out. The epidural was useless where the Pitocin was not. She encouraged me to breathe meditatively. I was calm, but my meditation involved a low volume string of swear words, many of which I suspect I invented in that moment.
Somehow, it helped. The rhythmic pattern of “one, two, three,” was replaced with the same rhythm but the words “fu%& this sH!&” over and over again, with each cuss a catharsis of sorts. The pain didn’t leave, but I was able to tolerate it. More nurses and the doctor arrived and our baby was born: pink for a girl, despite the earlier blue streak.
A few hours later as I cradled my daughter, I pulled the L&D nurses aside. “I’m sorry if I swore too much,” a mea culpa.
They looked at one another and laughed. “Oh honey,” one said, bending down as if to share a secret with me, “it happens all the fucking time.”
About the Author: Kate Dolack is the Editor-in-Chief of Military Spouse magazine, a freelance writer and mom to two feisty red-headed girls. In her past life (her 20s), she was a television producer who also served as the Director of New Series Development for an independent production company.