Compulsive childbirth

It was the morning of August 19, the day before my due date, and if this kid was anything like the last, I knew he'd be arriving the next day, right on deadline.

I was ready.
A naturally obsessive person, I had been certifiably manic since going on maternity leave just four days earlier. Nesting was in full swing: I was scrubbing baby furniture, cleaning out closets, and laundering armloads of tiny, ruffly, useless things. I had also developed my usual, uncontrollable urge to wander about a Laura Ashley store--a place that, in a normal state of mind, I would have absolutely no use for. After all, who, besides Martha Stewart, needs a frilly floral dress with matching bed pillow and lampshade?

When I'm pregnant, I think I do. My Laura Ashley fetish was so out of control with my first child that I insisted my husband take me there on the way home from the hospital--to pick up the matching lampshade, of course.

All of which is moderate behavior--compared to my second pregnancy. At the end of my ninth month, I woke up bright and early one morning with an insatiable desire to go into the backyard and hack bamboo. Which, of course, I did with great gusto until nightfall. My second daughter arrived eight days later.

This time around, when I wasn't in a closet or at the mall, I was concentrating on the themes of this third--and last--pregnancy: exercise, nutrition, pain control. I was convinced that I could achieve--through sheer will power and extreme physical fitness--the perfect, pain-free, no-fuss, natural childbirth experience that had so far eluded me in life.

Ideally--and I exaggerate only slightly here--I saw myself running around the track at my health club on my due date, flying by slower mortals, munching on one of those energy bars that tastes like ground-up tree bark, and watching the baby just--well, you know--drop out. Then I'd kind of gather things up and head over to the locker room.

Insane? Yes. But there is an explanation--of sorts. When you know you're in the last pregnancy of your life, and you're 36 years old, and you have two other rambunctious children and a full-time job and a traveling husband and no earthly idea how you're going to be able to handle it all, you live in dread of unlikely diversions--like running out of gas--a move that, after all, can absent you for many precious minutes from the productive world. The only sure way to avoid such inefficiency, I figured, was to remain fully in the game: stay focused, never skip a beat--or a morning jog--and simply incorporate the birth into my weekend workout.

Since this had always been the plan--at least since my husband convinced me that a third child was the key to a perfect life--I had engaged an exercise physiologist to help me achieve my goal. Yes, in lay terms, a personal trainer--but this happens to be a very intense one with a master's degree who finds this term inadequate, and, quite frankly, I didn't have the muscle mass (especially then) to quarrel with him.

Though he was already busy with a full slate of clients, John Ledbetter agreed to take on a newly pregnant woman with poor posture and a penchant for swearing because, he said, he enjoyed challenging situations. (He wasn't kidding. The ever-irascible Dallas City Councilman Paul Fielding was a client of Ledbetter for four years--the equivalent of one Dallas mayoral term--though, unlike the past two mayors, Ledbetter actually seems to have enjoyed the association.)

Ledbetter understood my goal: contouring and shaping a scrawny upper body, firming and de-rippling a slightly pear-shaped lower body, gradually--and imperceptibly--gaining 30 pounds during pregnancy, and developing enough stamina, self-discipline, and muscle tone to have a baby and barely notice it.

Hiring Ledbetter was the best thing I could have done. Not only did he never make fun of my idiotic goals, he created a rigorous, but never perilous, exercise program that did keep me looking trim as long as I wasn't standing sideways. I, in turn, stuck to his plan slavishly, even feeling good enough--on those days when the baby wasn't tap-dancing on my bladder--to push the envelope when he wasn't around, euphorically bashing through the outer limits of my recommended maximum 160 heart rate.

Still, on the morning of August 19, when I showed up for our last pregnancy work-out, Ledbetter--tough-guy trainer, lover of challenges, friend to Fielding--looked a bit ashen. "I really didn't think you'd come in today," he said, surveying me with enormous trepidation, as though I might, at any moment, start gushing amniotic fluid all over the Nautilus machines. "Are you sure you don't want to knock off today?"

No way, I said. If we were lucky, labor would start in the middle of our bench-press set, then build slowly through bicep curls and the pec deck. Then I'd hit the track for a few hours of light jogging and contractions. With any luck, I'd never make it to the hospital.

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Laura Miller