A naked, tattooed woman sitting in a partially filled bathtub leans halfway out of the tub to rest her forehead on the knee of her partner, who’s sitting on the toilet nearby. She emits a guttural groan while another, older woman enters the frame, singing a string of coos.
The clip ends and I swipe to the next slide. Here, her partner holds the faucet over her back as another contraction comes. I swipe again. Ten seconds later she emits a series of primal yelps, and a baby’s shoulder slides out. Then, the rest of him.
The clips end and I begin to cry as if I’m the new mother, not just an internet voyeur with a soft spot for newborns.
This is my gateway birthing video.
Don’t worry, Mom — you’re not going to be a grandma any time soon!
I have about as much interest in getting pregnant as you have in getting a colonoscopy.
But you wouldn’t know it from looking at my YouTube search history ever since physical distancing protocols were put into place.
While everyone else uses this time to learn how to bake sourdough and make homemade vinegar, I’ve taken up a hobby as a Home Birthing Video Watcher. I watch these videos while I cook (no yucking my yum!), while I get dressed in the morning, and even during my post-run stretch session. Like I said: full-blown hobby.
I admit this new hobby may seem pretty damn counterintuitive, considering that the world is practically falling apart. Hard to even think about bringing a kiddo into a world with so much unknown and unemployment, no?
Still, I find watching these vids is getting me through self-isolation. And the answer to “But why?” is quite simple: hope.
“There’s nothing more powerful in the world during these uncertain and dark times than hope,” says Brooklyn-based psychotherapist Aimee Barr, LCSW.
“Newborn babies are the ultimate symbols of hope,” she says. “[They] represent new beginnings and a promise of a better tomorrow. Who they will become and the ways they will shape and benefit the world is still unknown, but that excitement of ‘could be’ is there.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but all that potential is enough to make my would-like-to-stay-baby-free self weep and weep and weep.
Of course, it won’t literally be the babies born in 2020 who help us come out the other side of the pandemic. Nor will they be the ones who invent the COVID-19 vaccine.
But, as Barr puts it, “When the days get monotonous and we don’t know what’s going to come next, looking at babies reminds us how much life we still have to live.” And how worth living that life is.
These videos show me a side of birth I wasn’t taught in school
“Most people — whether they can bear children themselves or not — have been taught to fear the process of childbirth but are not actually educated on what birth entails,” says birth doula and doula trainer Ash Spivak, author of Why Did No One Tell Me This?: The Doula’s (Honest) Guide for Expectant Parents.
It’s not like these videos have given me a comprehensive education on birth (the majority of the videos coming through my feed are normal, complication-free births that don’t require medical intervention, which many births do). But they have made me understand what birth can look and feel like.
Having never stepped foot in a delivery room, the closest I’d come to seeing a birth before these videos were the scream-filled deliveries featured on shows like “Private Practice” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” which often display birth as a kind of violent exodus.
Sure, it’s a different kind of learning than, say, taking a class on Coursera. But personally, thanks to these videos, I don’t think, “No way a big ol’ baby head is going to fit through my small hole.”
Instead I think, “A baby! Can fit! Through my hole! The vagina! Is a wonder!” It’s a more informative and empowering experience than high school sex ed classes ever were.
There’s something extra comforting about births at home
It really comes down to the setting: Home births often take place in a bathtub (or a pool meant specifically for water births). This gives the videos a vibe of intimacy that, especially during these rough times, I can’t get enough of.
“During home births the birther is surrounded by loved ones, all their comfort items, and under the care of a physician (a midwife) who knows them extensively,” explains Spivak.
In contrast, the patient-doctor relationship during hospital births is usually less familiar. Hospital doctors and nurses attend multiple births at once, so the doctor you first see may be a different doctor than the one who ultimately delivers the babe, she explains.
“Many people opt for a planned home birth because you can count on the midwife(s) being there for you before the birth, throughout the birth, and to check up on you in the days afterward,” says Spivak.
And after 94 days (not that I’m counting…) of just me, myself, and my makeout buddy, the thought of being physically connected to other humans in the ways these birthing videos display is pretty darn appealing.
One person massaging my shoulder, another petting my hair, a third congratulating me? No doubt, this is in pretty stark contrast to the (very!) little contact there is during self-isolation.
Watching babies emerge from vaginas may not be your version of #QuarantineSelfCare. But, bbs, I implore you to find your own birthing videos, aka the thing that brings you joy.
Maybe it’s the soothing practice of reading aloud to your partner or finding calm by searching your yard for four-leaf clovers, or maybe you just really like kicking back and watching “Dr. Pimple Popper.” Whatever it is, we all deserve to have our own individual emotional haven. And no one has to “get it” but you.
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. Follow her on Instagram.