My son has now survived nearly a full year of living, which, naturally and obviously, makes me the expert on childrearing. I've learned that nothing can prepare a first time parent for what is about to happen to them. Oh sure, there are books and blogs and literature from the gynecologist's office. There's advice galore from every woman who has previously stuck her legs into stirrups and watched a child emerge. I will say that prior babysitting experience helps. Well, sort of. I mean, not with the birthing process and not with how to breastfeed or not go crazy in the middle of the night when the child will not stop crying. But it helps in terms of not holding the baby like a bomb or putting the diaper on backward. I was fortunate to have had such baby-holding-diaper-changing experience. Still, I was unprepared. And I knew it.
For starters, I was terrified about the actual birthing experience. I had literally begged and pleaded with God for my child. Babies don't come easily for my husband and me. We can't just wink at each other and get a positive pregnancy test in the morning, which, in case anyone is wondering, seems to be the sort of magic my sisters-in-law can invoke. And so, several failed infertility treatments, the beginnings of an adoption process, heaps of prayers, torrents of tears, and a great many months after my husband and I first, er, winked at each other in the hopes of manufacturing arrows for our quiver, I found myself carrying our first child. Words cannot begin to describe my elation. But, even from the beginning, I found myself terrified about getting it out. I wished myself a kangaroo on more than one occasion. Lucky marsupials, growing your young in your pouch.
My mother always told me that birth wasn't bad. "People wouldn't have more than one if it was that horrible." She made a good point. Just when I started buying her particular brand of making-me-less-scared, someone at church would say something along the lines of, "labor is absolute hell, but you get a baby out of it." Neat. Thanks. And every time I felt an anxiety attack coming on, I'd remember that I had sobbed hysterical prayers to the Lord for this baby. I felt as though feeling apprehensive was the deadliest of sins. Toward the end, I tuned in to A Baby Story daily. Maybe watching all of these women would somehow prepare me for the birth. Some made me feel better. The calm, epiduralized women were accommodating to the theory of peace that I was hoping for. The caesarian births actually made me start hoping for a breech baby who would emerge through a tidy scheduled slicing of the abdomen. But the screamers, wailers, extreme sweaters and moaners sent me right back into panic mode.
Thankfully (and it is with hesitation that I choose that word) my baby began giving me extremely bad pains where his little butt was ramming inconveniently into my ribcage. I say thankfully because after a few weeks of sleeping on top of rolled up socks (the only way to not feel the stabbing pain) I was ready to get that child out by any means necessary. In fact, on the way to the hospital I looked at my husband and said, in complete sincerity, "I'm not scared at all anymore."
I was induced. My child was growing a little slower than my obstetrician would have liked and she ordered him out a week before his due date, suspecting a failing placenta and a growth restricted baby. Because it was a medical reason, I was happy to comply. I have never supported removing a child early just for kicks. You know, because Aunt Betsy flew in and doesn't have all month to wait around for junior to make his appearance—or whatever.
So anyway, after a few days of calling morning, noon and night, I finally got in for the induction. When I got settled in my room the nurse gave me a gown and pointed me toward the bathroom so that I could get changed. I remember thinking that was peculiar. In just a few hours nurses, doctors and midwifes would be taking turns probing and investigating my hooha with outrageous abandon but for the time being we were all about the modesty. The other curious statement was that I should take off my undergarments unless I was of a religion that prohibited such an act. What religions are these? And how, exactly, does one give birth with her underwear on? Come to think of it, how does one end up in such a predicament at all? Seems to me if you leave your underwear on pregnancy becomes much less of a dilemma altogether. But I didn't engage the nurse in dialogue regarding either of these mysteries. Best not to reveal too much of my personality in the first five minutes. I simply went into the bathroom, took off my clothes, slipped into something a little more comfortable and a lot more revealing, walked out and climbed in to the bed.
It is here that I will explain that getting my IV put in was just maybe the worst part of the whole experience. Honestly. When my nurse put it in my arm I thought, "Oh no. I'm really not going to be able to handle this. I'm done. It can just stay inside. I'm fine carrying around the extra weight. Really. And that back pain, I'll get used to it. It'll probably build character—or something." But then again, I'm a self-professed needle weenie.
My doctor happened to be working that night so she came in, sat sideways in the extra chair and flopped her legs over the arm while she described the induction process. I tend to think of my obstetrician like I used to think of my teachers when I was in elementary school. She's like a mythical demigod who only exists within the realms of her office. It was both comforting and unusual that she, like us mere mortals, sits sideways in chairs from time to time—even if she does so while using the word cervix. Because she suspected that my baby was growth restricted, she wanted to try a slow induction process, to see how he handled slight contractions before we forced his little body to endure the real whoppers.
Cervidil would be, for lack of a more pleasant word, inserted. Twelve hours later she would remove the medication and examine me to see how I was progressing. In twelve hours you will come back and check? I was kind of hoping to have this whole thing over and done with by then!!! I thought forlornly to myself, but who was I kidding, my mother was in labor for 23 hours with me and then they still had to rip me out with a suction and forceps. "Don't worry," she said, "you probably won't have contractions and you can sleep all night." Now, I adore my gynecologist but I'd like to know what particular brand of crack she was smoking that night because I might have slept for a total of forty-two minutes and sixteen seconds. Maybe most women don't experience contractions with Cervidil but I was not one of these auspicious ladies—I don't have that kind of luck. They weren't unbearable by any means but sleep was certainly not in the equation. At one point, my nurse informed me that with the way my contractions were going I'd have a baby by morning. For your information, she lied. Steady contractions, minor but nonetheless in attendance, coupled with umpteen machines making clickity clackity hum tink tink noises all night and the occasional, "Dr. Soinso to Labor and Delivery such and such," made for nearly zero hours of sleep on the part of the laboring mother-to-be. Additionally, I had intravenous fluid racing out of my bladder every half hour and my first nurse wouldn't let me go to the restroom without her, personally, unplugging my monitors from the wall. I continually had to page her and it always seemed as though I was interrupting something important. It got to the point where I forced myself to stretch the potty breaks to every hour even though I would be in extreme driving-across-the-state-and-dad-won't-stop-the-car-for-any-reason agony for thirty minutes of that hour. I didn't want to inconvenience my nurse. I thought I was the only woman in the history of delivering babies who needed to pee that much. If, Lord willing, I ever have another biological child, I will inform the nurse that I will be taking myself to the restroom. When, every half hour, both my offspring's heart monitor and mine simultaneously flat line, she should not worry. "If I die, my husband will be sure to inform you, I promise," I'll say imperatively. Side note: My nurse was a perfectly delightful woman who made the early stages of labor very nice for me in every way other than relieving my bladder. And, in fairness to her, nothing fun happened while she was on duty…except for the incessant urinating. Oh, and she got to give me Tylenol for a headache I saw fit to develop. I'm sure it was the highlight of her night.
In the very early morning my nurse got to go home to sleep and I got a new nurse. She was an older woman who was present for the most miserable part of my labor. I asked her meekly if it would be possible for me to just take myself to the bathroom. She granted me my one wish in the world and seemed perplexed at my asking. At around seven-thirty my beloved doctor came to examine me. Despite having contractions all night I was only dilated to one. I was, however, seventy-five percent effaced, which was the only teeny tiny cause for celebration. My doctor gleefully broke my water, which quickly got the contractions coming harder and faster. I'm not even kidding about the gleeful part, she was positively chipper over the whole situation. And just let me tell you that I kind of always thought of the "water" as being, you know, clean, for one thing. And also I pictured it whooshing out all at once and having the whole thing over with. Well, for me it was more of a rather pathetic trickling for quite a long time. I should also point out that bodily fluids aren't, to my knowledge, ever the most hygienic of substances, so clean was out of the question.
Aside from the insertion of the IV, there are four and a half hours of my labor that I would like to forget. And really, what's 270 minutes out of a lifetime? Mom was right! But from 8:00 am until 12:30 pm on July 20, 2006, I was not the happiest of campers. I don't know how far apart my contractions were but it seemed like they were coming right on top of each other, ramming into one another like freight trains gone mad. I clenched my teeth. I gripped the side of the bed as though imploring the inanimate object to take away the pain. I made scrunchy faces. I did not laugh at Kelly Ripa talking about having a bidet installed in her home, but my husband did. It was the only time in the day that I entertained thoughts of punching him. Then The Price is Right came on and I decided I'd rather hit Bob Barker. He's a charming old man but when he was shouting, "Come on down" while I was contemplating gnashing my teeth, decking him seemed like a great idea.
At eleven o'clock the midwife who had replaced my doctor when her shift was over examined me. Expecting, with the way my contractions were raging, to be at a four or five, I was livid to discover that I was dilated to…two. Given that I was clearly not progressing at even a turtle's pace, she offered me my epidural followed by Pitocin. There was no reason, she said, to give me Pit, which apparently causes psychotically intense contractions, before giving me the painkiller. And yes, I was planning, from day one, to get an Epidural. Except that I was terrified of the process. Sitting still while someone shoves a needle into my spine has never been my idea of a good time. Couple that with the fact that at our birthing class some twit who already had three children said, Imagine me saying this in an obnoxious voice, "I'm going to try this one (she annoyingly pats her middle) without drugs. I've had the epi with my other children and every single time I feel this excruciating electric shock explode through my body when they put the needle in. It must be worse than natural birth." Now imagine thirteen first time moms staring back at her in nauseated horror. The doula teaching our class tried to do damage control but it was too late. So, I was terrified of the administration of the medicine and whatever this electric shock business was, but figured that even an electrocution had to be better than screaming and yanking my husband down to my level so that I could shriek, "YOU did this to me!" Plus, I've just never seen the point in trying to be a birth-giving hero. At the end all you get is bragging rights, they don't actually hand out medals for your triumph. And if your theory is that, "Mom did it without drugs so I can too," let me remind you that she also didn't grow up with an internet or a cell phone and I bet you don't have a problem using those. And your childbearing great-granny crossed the country on foot behind a covered wagon but you don't think twice as you board your plane and munch peanuts now do you? Um. Hold on a second, I'm climbing down from my soapbox. Okay, whew, I'm off. And oh, I don't hate people who don't get epidurals or anything. I mean, truly, yay for them. I just don't understand the reasoning. Okay, back to the story at hand. So, I'd been nervously planning an Epidural all along.
BUT I DIDN'T WANT TO HAVE TO GET IT AT TWO!
No, I don't need to be a hero, but I've always thought of myself as having a fairly high threshold for pain. I didn't even know they would give it to you before three. I was horrified for about four seconds. Then my next contraction hit. And it's possible that I might have signed my life away to get that needle rammed into my spine.
The anesthesiologist was going in to a c-section so I had to wait for about an hour. I took a shower. It was really less because I was dirty (although laying in your own amniotic fluid is probably not the cleanliest of options) and more because I was about to claw my way out of my skin and a shower could only help. Emblazoned in my mind is an image of myself standing in the water with both palms on the wall in front of me. My head is hung down between my shoulders and my teeth are clenched as I breathe through a contraction. I think it was the only time I cried. And it wasn't sobbing or blubbering or screaming or moaning; I just concentrated the full weight of the contraction into scrunching my face. And tears burst out.
Back in bed I waited for the anesthesiologist and just before he came in, my midwife examined me. It had been an hour since my goods had last been investigated. Guess what I was dilated to? Drum roll please…TWO! At this point it had been 18 and a half hours since I arrived at the hospital. I honestly think I could have labored for five days and not hit three.
I had the friendliest anesthesiologist I could have hoped for. Of course, it's not amusing to have a needle inserted into your spine, but it wasn't traumatic and there wasn't even an inkling of an electric shock. I wouldn't have one administered daily just for chuckles but the relief it brought made the remaining seven hours of my labor almost pleasurable. The only unfortunate part was that my inquisitive husband, who desperately wanted to watch, was banished to the corner of the room because, apparently, husbands tend to pass out at these sorts of things. But when the nurse said, "Excuse me, I'm going to have to ask you to step over there while the procedure is performed," I suddenly felt very lonely and very important in a way I didn't altogether enjoy. Following the Epidural, I got a nifty catheter and a Pitocin drip. Like magic, the dilating began.
The Epidural was administered with me on my left side so I stayed there for quite some time. Shortly after all of my pain went silently into the blazing heat of the afternoon, I got a new nurse. All my nurses were lovely but my last nurse was perfect. Not terribly older than me, she struck up conversation whenever she had a few minutes. She and my midwife were thrilled that Troy and I didn't know the sex of the baby. They couldn't wait to find out right along with us. Troy decided to take a lunch break and I was encouraged to get some sleep. I was nearly promised a baby by midnight. I tried to sleep. Really, I did. But the excitement of meeting my firstborn united with the violent shakes prohibited more than the half hour or so that I was able to get. I didn't feel particularly cold but apparently shivering is a side effect of Epidural. Shivering, however, would be the understatement of the century. My teeth were literally crashing together and if I managed to fall asleep, I would wake up with my tongue caught between my gnashing jaws. The only way I could stop shaking was if I very consciously resolved to keep still.
In the late afternoon, my nurse realized that I had been on my left side for a really long time and she had me turn onto my right side so that all the numbness wouldn't seep to one side leaving the other unepiduralized. It didn't take long for her to come rushing back in. Baby didn't like my right side. He kept pinching the cord and his heart rate would plummet. The midwife assessed the situation. I would roll onto my left side again to see if his heart rate improved. If not, it was straight to the operating room. And by saying, "I would roll," I mean, of course, that the nurse would roll me because I had no feeling from my waist down. I also had no clothing from my waist down and with my blessedly pain free existence, I suddenly became very aware of my nakedness while the rolling was occurring. Perhaps the serpent gave Adam and Eve an Epidural in the garden. I chose to ignore the fact that my merchandise was exposed to anyone who entered my room. Thankfully, the baby's heart rate returned to normal on my left side and no more naked rolling ensued. I did, however, have to get an oxygen mask just in case. In case of what I'm not really sure but it seemed like a good idea at the time and who I am to argue with the medical professionals. I got a B in biology and barely passed college chemistry.
The details of the blissfully numb afternoon are a little fuzzy. I cannot remember how many times I was examined or what I was dilated to during those probings. What I remember is that in five hours I progressed from an unwavering two to a nine. I recall feeling extremely panicky because my mother didn't answer her cell phone right away and I didn't know where she was. Troy and I had decided that we wanted to experience the birth of our child quietly, privately, serenely. I, in fact, had become fiercely attached to the idea of making it through the labor and delivery with only him. The mere conception of this baby had taken so many tears, so many prayers, so much of who we were that I only wanted to share his miraculous entrance into the world with the one person who had walked every aching step of the trial with me. But I needed to know that my mother was in the waiting room…waiting. Sending me moral support through the walls. Being there in case I suddenly decided that I needed her to come in and make it all better. Of course, she got there in plenty of time to sit and wait.
At 5:30 I was at nine. Blessed. Beautiful. Nine.
At 6:30 I started pushing. Thankfully, they had lightened my epidural so that I had control over the delivery.
I chose to have a mirror. While I never thought that was something I would want to see, the experience of watching my child's birth is an image I don't think I can ever forget—nor do I want to. I'd just like to say that giving birth is the most exquisite and the most revolting thing I have ever done. You're sitting there all confused and like, "How, exactly, do I get it out?" And the nurse is all, "It's like taking a crap." Well, actually, she says it more like, "It's as though you're having a bowel movement." But um…my bowel movements do not weight over six pounds and come out with heads that measure fourteen inches around. (It is here that I would like to add an emphatic Praise the Lord!) So I'm sitting, legs in stirrups, knees up near my neck, arms around my legs, attempting to equate my baby to a turd and in any case, I more or less figure out how this business is accomplished. And it's a frustrating activity because as you bear down you see this head start to appear. This, in and of itself, would be fantastic if you could push through eighteen contractions in a row but, well, you need some kind of air in your lungs so pausing becomes a necessity. Three counts to ten…then rest. Oxygen mask on. Oxygen mask off. Three counts to ten…then rest. Oxygen mask on. And during each rest that little head crept back from whence it came.
Now, I am one of the most competitive people I know. Luckily, my husband, on more than one occasion, has been made aware of this personality
One. Two. Three. Four.Five.Six.Seven.Eight.Nine.Ten. Breathe.
That is how Troy would count. Because he knew I'd be mad at myself if I couldn't get to ten each time. Eventually the nurse told him he was speeding up. He knew it. I knew it. He just kind of smiled at her and said, "If she doesn't get to ten she'll be mad at herself."
Though progress was being made, the midwife suggested an episiotomy and, by that point, I was thrilled to oblige. It was the only time Troy and I both looked away. The pediatric nurse was brought in. Moments later, his entire head emerged. They suctioned his nose and mouth and I said, "what do I do now?" Because it seemed that the shoulders would be a painful problem. My midwife smiled and said, "Nothing." And two seconds later, at 7:30 pm, 26 hours after I arrived at the hospital, the rest of him literally slid out. The nurse and midwife had told Troy that he could announce the gender when the baby finally emerged. He said, "It's a boy!" But he didn't need to. The tiny body was twelve inches away from my own and I think it only took a nanosecond for me to take him in entirely. Two arms. Two legs. A nose. A mouth. A…um…boy. Feet. Hands. Fingers. Toes. Flesh of my flesh. Vision of my dream. They laid him on my chest and what I remember most was how hot he was; still snug from being so very close to my soul. And what I recall after that was how he was staring at me in a heartbreaking way. Because for as long as I could remember I had waited for this moment and it had finally come. And if I hadn't felt four pairs of eyes watching the two of us, I would have wept.
"What's his name?"
Troy looked at the inquiring faces and answered, "This is Garrett."
And then he cut the cord. At the time the actual cord cutting ritual didn't feel particularly momentous. But now, in the quietness of night when my wiggly wormy one-year-old is still, I wish I had paid more attention to those few seconds where we were two spirits joined as one. If only I'd relished the time before he was severed from me; cut loose to split his head open and talk back and go to prom and get married and one day cut his own child apart from his wife.
He was whisked to the other side of the room for evaluation and his proud daddy never let him out of his sight. The midwife delivered the placenta. She answered the question of our curiosity. It appeared to be a normal placenta, healthy and unfailing. To me it just looked bright red and gucky. But then, I've never been educated on how to tell a good placenta from a sick one—we didn't, actually, cover that in any of my theatre courses. The midwife began the thrilling task of, uh, refurbishing my commodity and Garrett began to scream…loudly. Only minutes earlier he had been nestled comfortably inside me and now he was this whole separate person making noise all on his own.
Though it had only been about five minutes, it seemed like forever when Garrett was finally handed back to me. From then until the middle of the night, he made barely more than a peep. Troy went out and made the announcement to our families and then we had about an hour with him before they came in. I nursed Garrett for the first time and he did astonishingly well…but he'd sucked his thumb in-utero so he'd had practice. Of course, after the first time he promptly forgot how. That certainly made for a frustrating couple of days. But in the delivery room it was very calm. The three of us did quite a bit of staring at each other, savoring our new family, astounded by the incredible blessing that the Lord had bestowed upon us. With my husband by my side and my son in my arms, I felt that the deepest desires of my heart had been realized. And this was only the very beginning, the first few minutes, of our life together, as a family.