I was reluctant to share this story, because it feels self-indulgent, somehow (unlike, say, the rest of this blog? This blog that is all about me?) but then I read this and thought, hell, that's good reading!
So here's mine. This is not for the squeamish; there are bodily fluids and shrieking and Dan Rather sightings.
It was fourteen days exactly before the baby was due. I was at my weekly midwife appointment, and I was leaking. “I think,” I told the midwife, “that my water broke. Or, you know, is breaking.”
My husband was there. Because I was huge and cranky and exhausted, he had offered to come with me. I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to make him go to one of the endless number of appointments I had endured, so I said yes.
The midwife took a sample of the fluid, did whatever the hell they do with these things, and said, “That’s amniotic fluid, all right. How long have you been leaking?”
“A week,” I said, “About. I think.” (At my appointment the week before, I had mentioned the leakiness and the other midwife pooh-poohed my concerns. “That’s not amniotic fluid,” she had said, then added something like, “It’s another in a variety of disgusting fluids that spill from a woman as her body prepares itself for childbirth.”)
“Huh,” said the midwife. We were both being decidedly blasé about this, as if the kid inside me could hear and we didn’t want to panic him. “That’s quite a while! So we’re going to have to get you into labor today, then.” She wrote a note down on my chart. My heart began to flap around my chest and my husband was squeezing my arm in a way that made me want to kill him. “We’re going to have a baby today, hon! We’re going to have a baby today!”
The midwife instructed me to scooch down and she poked around in my innards. This was most unpleasant, and did not even approach the unpleasantness that labor would probably be. My heart tried to exit my chest. “Well!” said the midwife. “You’re not dilated in the least. You have a long way to go. So I want you to go home, relax, and take some castor oil.”
In case you don’t know, castor oil is the midwife’s favorite method of getting labor to start. I think, basically, it irritates your digestive system until fluids spew from every orifice, and then your body decides, while it’s cleaning house, to toss the baby out, too. At least this is my primitive understanding of the castor-oil magic. It is natural, which means that it is disgusting. Why did I ever go the midwife route?, I wondered. At that moment it seemed preferable to simply be punched in the head until unconscious, the child removed from me with forceps and a buzz saw.
I staggered out to the reception area, where Scott was announcing to anyone who would listen that we were going to have a baby that day. My head was swimming. Everyone was staring at me like I could blow at any moment. We went outside. A small black poodle on a leash almost tripped me, and I thought, that’s the last dog I’ll see before I become a mother. Then I saw a Jack Russell, and I realized what a stupid game this was to play, especially on the Upper West Side and everyone with their damn dogs.
Waiting for the subway to take us home, Scott kept examining my face and asking me if I was all right, if I was nervous or excited or what. My face was slack with fear and I couldn’t move my lips. The train arrived. We sat down on the 2 train going express to Brooklyn. Castor oil, I thought, And my body said, oh no you don’t, and promptly went into labor.
There was no mistaking it. I could hear Scott asking me if I was okay, and I kept waiting for the contraction to go away so that I could tell him—hey, guess what I just had!—but it never did. As soon as one contraction faded, whoopsie daisy, there’d be the next. Not only was I in labor, but my body had bypassed the introductory stages and had gone straight to the high-intensity phase.
Eventually Scott managed to decode my hand gestures and figure out what was going on. So did the rest of the car. Two women across from us chortled at me and reminisced about giving birth to their babies. “I wouldn’t be in her shoes for a big price,” one of them said. “You can tell me,” the other said, “because I know. Never again would I do that.” I CAN HEAR YOU, I wanted to scream, but unfortunately I couldn’t move or speak.
“Shouldn’t we get out? Don’t we need to get to the hospital?” said Scott. I squeezed his hand harder. No, you idiot. No hospital. Home. Please don’t make me go to the hospital. I will divorce you right now if you make me go. I communicated all of this in a series of hand squeezes.
You know this part if you've had a baby already: everything you read, every doctor you speak to, every hospital orientation you attend, every labor preparation course you take, they all tell you the same thing: don’t go to the hospital right away. We won’t admit you until you’re four centimeters dilated! they say. You’ll probably panic at those first contractions and think you need to go to the hospital! But you won’t! Stay at home and be comfortable and don’t bother the hospital until you’re absolutely certain! Maybe then you can come. Maybe. But until then we don’t want you. So don’t go to the hospital! Did you hear us? Were you listening carefully, when we said the part about waiting? Please sign this form that tells us you understood that part, because Jesus we don’t want you. Until, you know, such time as you’re truly, absolutely ready. But at that point when you think you should come, it will probably be even a few hours later than that. P.S.: Don’t come here.
Given that, there was no way, a few minutes after being told I wasn’t dilated at all, that I was going to defy the authority of all the people who are supposed to know about these things. Oh, would they be disappointed in me. They would shake their heads and toss us to the street and I’d have to stagger around the Upper West Side for hours, throwing up in garbage cans and sickening pedestrians.
That said, as the stops lurched by, I began to suspect that I had made a poor decision.
When we got to Brooklyn, I found that I could no longer walk. I had to wait for the few seconds that the contractions would die down to a manageable level to scuttle, crab-like, on all fours until another contraction came, at which point I’d lie down on the cool pavement and wish for death.
Finally we got home, but the easing up of the contractions was not happening as I had planned. I was not even a bit more comfortable. More fluids were seeping down my thighs and pooling in my shoes. I was sticky and hot and in pain and I smelled. I had hoped to change my clothes, but there was no hope of that now. It was all I could do to shoo away our dog Charlie, who was digging his snout into my damp overalls like I had hidden snacks somewhere in there. Apparently I smelled like a giant Snausage. Scott called the midwife, who told us to head straight for the hospital. What had we been thinking, she asked, going all the way home?
Somehow, someway, we had to make it back uptown from Brooklyn. And by now it was rush hour. Scott called a car service, informing them that they were transporting a woman in labor and they had better give us the very best car, not one of those ones with the cloying air freshener thinly masking the cigar stink or with the driver eating a gyro. A few minutes later, a spanking clean car arrived, the driver avoiding eye contact with me as he placed my suitcase carefully into the trunk. We made it across the bridge and saw the cars at a dead stop, snaking all the way across Canal Street.
That’s okay, I thought, I’ll just give birth in the car, and what a story we’ll have! Maybe we’ll be on the news! I underestimated, however, the skills of our driver, who made a few hairpin turns and twists and navigated us onto less clogged streets as we hurtled toward the West Side Highway. His decisive driving skills with his enthusiastic use of the brake and gas pedals caused a curious shrieking sound to emanate forth from behind my clenched teeth. Nonetheless I was pleased to see that we were making progress, even as I felt I might puke upon my husband.
As we made our way uptown I attempted to breathe deeply and remain calm. I assessed the back of the driver’s head and wondered, in case we hit more traffic, how good he’d be at delivering a baby. He was a clean-cut young man. Every one of his well-groomed hairs positively trembled with anxiety. He was trying so hard to not to look behind him and see if I had befouled his tawny leather seats with any baby-related messes. He was a good boy and deserved better than this. Between contractions, I gazed tenderly at his neck.
As we exited the West Side Highway, my husband whispered the words every woman hopes to hear during labor: “Look, honey, there’s Dan Rather.” I managed to look up and there, indeed, was Dan Rather. Not holding up a placard that read “Go, Alice! Go!” but instead standing on the corner waiting for the light to change. That’s the last celebrity I’ll see before I become a mother, I thought. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if Jerry Orbach were standing on the next corner! Then I returned to my suffering.
When we got to the hospital I assumed that nurses would come running to my aid, whisking me up to L& D where they would divest me of my clothes and place me gently upon the delivery table and then hand me my baby. But when we got there, no one seemed to be ready for us or even particularly concerned that we were there at all. I sat in the car and panted, the driver in front of me still staring straight ahead and gripping the steering wheel, while Scott went to get the army of helpers. Finally he came pushing a Victorian-era wheelchair and tried to convince me to get in. All at once my discomfort was impossible to bear. I had been fairly quiet before this, but as he wheeled me into the hospital, I began to scream. I figured I deserved at least this much.
We arrived at a room that was the wrong kind of room. “Why aren’t we in Labor and Delivery?” I asked Scott, who was talking to the triage nurse. Triage! I was not to be triaged! Didn’t these people understand that I was about to have a baby? But there I was, being wheeled into triage with all kinds of other women who were clearly not as uncomfortable as I. They were quiet and still. Some of them were sleeping. Sleeping! We got to an empty bed and the nurse instructed me to take off my clothes and put on a gown. It seemed like an impossible, cruel thing to ask, but somehow, together, Scott and I complied. The nurse hooked me up to the monitor, and then she gaped at the high peaks and the dizzying numbers and said, “Whoa! You sure are in labor!” and I said “NOW DO YOU SEE.”
Minutes later I was sitting on the bed in a delivery room, thrashing about on a tangle of soaked and bloody sheets, pleading with the nurse to get me something for the pain. The contractions had been completely overshadowed by blinding, searing pain shooting down my left leg. It seemed that the baby, who did not quite get that he already had my attention, was resting on the sciatic nerve and with every contraction decided to press on it with all his might. At any moment my leg would pop off and land somewhere across the room.
I was panting “My leg my leg my leg” but all I could manage was “ma-LEH, ma-LEH,” and the nurse was on the other side of the room, doodling on some paperwork and absentmindedly murmuring, “Who’s Molly, sweetheart?” She turned and saw me sitting up and suggested that I lie down, but that seemed like the Worst Idea Ever, and so I ignored her. Then the midwife came in and said, “Wow, look at that bloody show,” and I thought, on with the bloody show, but couldn’t share my funny line because my leg was being sawed off by a thousand tiny and invisible gnomes. I mouthed “epidural,” and the midwife saw the gleam in my eyes and she nodded.
At that point Scott, who had been out of the room doing god knows what—probably kissing some hot nurses who weren’t soaked in meaty sauces—came back to me, and I began to relax a little. And the anesthesiologist came in and delivered the epidural, which immediately numbed my left leg but didn’t change the contractions a bit. He explained that it might take a few minutes and for me to relax. I was jubilant that the sciatic pain had disappeared, that I was going to keep both legs after all. I was trying to explain to Scott how it was interesting that, between contractions, there’s no pain at all, and you feel like this is all quite manageable, until your insides begin contracting again—only I couldn’t get enough of it out before another contraction began. And by then, curiously, I had begun to moo with each contraction. So I sounded like this. “Actually this isn’t so bad—MOOOOOOOOooooo—because between the contractions the pain just—uuummmmmmmmoOOOOOOO—sort of goes away and then you—MUUUUUUUUUMMMMMUUUHHHHHHH. You know?” Scott tried not to laugh.
I couldn’t help but notice that the contractions weren’t decreasing in intensity in the slightest, and I asked the anesthesiologist what was up with that. In response, he backed away and ran for the door. All I could hear were his footsteps retreating rapidly down the hall. Then the midwife checked me and said, “Well, here’s why it didn’t work. I can feel the baby’s head.”
Now I was called upon to push. Only, because of the epidural that had not accomplished shit for the contractions, I was completely numb around the area toward which I was supposed to push. I had no idea what I was doing. Everyone would ask me if I wanted to push, and I would say, “Sure, I guess,” and I would attempt something like pushing, and the midwife, who had a thrillingly low voice with a sexy Slavic accent, would purr, “You are not pooshing, you are making a poooshing face,” and she would be right. Then she claimed to be pressing on my delicate feminine parts and she would say, “Poosh right there, where I’m pressing,” only I couldn’t feel a thing. So I would pretend to push some more, and then everyone would cheer, and I would guess that time I was actually pooshing and not merely making the pooshing face.
The mood in the room became strangely casual. I was sucking on oxygen because the baby’s heartrate had dipped slightly and my head was spinning. I said to Scott, “I love the music they’re playing in here. That’s so nice, that they pipe in classical music for you.” And he said, “Honey? That’s your CD. The one you burned a few days ago.” The nurse and midwife would drift away between pushes, gathering in the corner to do something I couldn’t see (smoke? Eat fistfuls of Cracker Jack?) until I called out, “Hello? I, uh, think I could push now,” and then they would return and I would do my best imitation of a woman pooshing and not just, etc.
After what felt like hours of this, but was in fact only fifteen minutes, the nurse and midwife began to exclaim over something—something coming out of my vagina! “What is it?” I asked, and they said, “It’s a baby!”
Because of the epidural that had robbed me of all ability to feel what was happening to my poor vagina, I was spared the so-called Ring of Fire sensation, in which the baby’s head stretching everything to its outermost limits and beyond, causing you to believe your vestibule may in fact be aflame. Nonetheless I still had Johnny Cash in my head as I pooshed. And pooshed. Love is a burnin’ thing. Doo doo-doo doo-doo doo doo doooo. And it makes a fiery ring. “Look at his eyelashes!” the nurse exclaimed, and my husband looked down and said, “Oh my god,” and I said, “Are they longer than his head? Is he some kind of fringed freak? Will he make us some circus money?” Only I didn’t say any of these things because I was mooing.
I pushed a little more, and all at once the baby flopped right out of me and was placed on my stomach. It was an indescribable pairing of events—there was a tumbling sensation, a slipping away, and HOLY SHIT IT’S A BABY AND IT’S RIGHT THERE ON ME. Our hot and gooey baby was wailing and he was more beautiful than I had dreamed and he was ours. All we could say was, “Hello! Hi! Hi, Henry! Hello there!” We waited a year and then he finally said hello back.