3 days before Evening was due, our obstetrician, Dr. M., examined me and announced that I would likely go into labour that very night. “Your cervix is paper thin.”
9 very long days later, I was scheduled to be induced. This bothered me more than the waiting. Intuitively, I felt that she just wasn’t ready yet. So many nights I rocked in the nursery, telling her how much we wanted to meet her with my hand on my belly. After waiting so long, I was certain my baby had a plan, and she knew exactly when she wanted to be born. Yet there we were, waiting endlessly in the hospital for it all to begin. After 5 hours, they sent us home; they were just too darn busy to induce that day.
That evening was the strangest sort of limbo for me. On the one hand, I had expected a far different sequence of events to my evening than lying around the couch. On the other, I was happy Evening had a few more stolen hours to come out on her own before we were due back at the hospital the next morning.
My alarm went off at 6 AM and I got up, still groggy, to feed the kitties. When I bent down to do so, my water broke. I smelled it. Sure enough, it smelled like semen, just as my Aunt Debbie said it would. There wasn’t any doubt.
“Mike, get up!”
“It’s too early to go,” he said.
“My water broke! Get ready, I’m going to have a shower.”
“Wait – aren’t we supposed to hurry when your water breaks?”
So, unshowered, we piled into the truck and started for the city, while I wondered if the tremors in my belly were contractions and excitedly tried to time them.
This time, we were ushered into our awaiting delivery room (#3, the number that follows me throughout my life). We explored our room and wandered about, rather giddily wondering what family members might be awake. I tried to stay on my feet to help things along. My contractions grew stronger, always followed by a gush of seemingly endless amniotic fluid, but they weren’t terrible. This was a great relief to me.
I had a shower, which was wonderful. I tried out the birthing ball, which did feel nice even though I wasn’t certain what to do with it. I pulled out my slippers, only to realize that my feet had swelled to a gargantuan size and my little ballet-style slippers could hardly suffice. A kind nurse brought me some disposable booties to wear as I walked around.
By 11 AM the pain began to shoot down my legs, making walking and standing increasingly difficult. I broke down and asked for the laughing gas.
I never got the timing quite right with the gas, but I certainly didn’t feel any pain when it did hit me for its short space. Unfortunately, it always seemed to be after the contraction had peaked.
The pain in my legs grew more intense, climbing up my back as well. It was just so much so quickly, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get my wits about me if it got much worse, but I wasn’t sure if it was time yet to ask for an epidural. A nurse came in to advise that if I didn’t get the epidural soon, the anesthesiologist would not be available and I wouldn’t be able to have one at all. I didn’t want one quite yet, and I certainly didn’t know if I would need it, but I definitely wasn’t going to lose my chance altogether. So, I agreed to have the anesthesiologist called.
The pain didn’t get any less intense while we waited for him to arrive. Somehow I resented that no one had told me that the pain was going to travel down my legs. The few pain management techniques I had learned were not even in my realm of consciousness. If I ever want to have a natural child birth (medication-free), I will have a lot of work to do first.
Mike held the gas pressed to my face as the anesthesiologist (such a nice man, yet I have no memory of his name, which I do regret) prepared me for the epidural. Mike told me later that the size of the needle terrified him too much to move the mask for fear I’d notice it. I didn’t notice the needle, but I did notice the intense pain in my back as I held on to Mike. I didn’t realize I was having back labour (not knowing any difference), and in my laughing gas induced haze I was horrified that my muscles, required to be still, would start to spasm violently in protest at any moment. The procedure felt as though it took hours to complete.
Somehow we made it through, and a deep, peaceful, numb warmth began to ooze down to my toes. It was so wonderful after all the pain. “Oh,” I said, sensually, “My feet feel like hot chocolate.” That garnered a few knowing smiles and glances to the canister of laughing gas. They really did feel like hot chocolate, though, and I stand by that.
As the anesthesiologist left with his gear, the nurses began to take my bed apart, altering it into some sort of birth throne. Or so it felt in my suddenly elated, pain-free mind. Dr. M. preferred ‘a broken bed’ they told me (I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I thought it was fan-tastic).
For the next few hours, I felt nothing but a cool sensation in my feet. Obviously, my forgotten hot chocolate had grown cold. Mike started getting bored, and the nurses even seemed antsy. The machine I was hooked up to told us that my contractions had slowed (I took their word for it).
“If you hadn’t had an epidural you would have had the baby by now,” said one of the nurses, “Epidurals always stop the works.”
I found this to be incredibly frustrating. For all my research, questions, and classes, this had never come up. But there it was, and it was undeniable that I as failing to progress. As much as the pain relief was wonderful, it was completely counter-intuitive. I knew I couldn’t have handled it without pain relief (maybe in the comfort of home, but not in a hospital, they are far too scary) and I didn’t want any narcotics that could pass on to Evening. In retrospect, I wonder if I could have changed my decision after all. In the moment, I just tried to stay positive about my birth.
The nurses continued to increase my hormone doses to bring us back on track. Supper came and went, me eating in my throne while Mike was subjected to the cafeteria.
Finally, after a shift change and a significant darkening of the sky, it was finally time to push. These new nurses tutored me on how while she and Mike each held a leg. I couldn’t feel my own contractions though, so I had to touch my huge belly to feel it contract to push by. Again, if I had known this could happen, I would never had had an epidural.
Suddenly I was terrified I would damage the epidural still in my spine as I thrashed about, imagining myself paralyzed for life. Finally, a nurse convinced me that there was no way I could manage that. “But my back really hurts,” I told her, and she assured me that it wasn’t the epidural.
Dr. M. arrived and examined me again, announcing with shock “the baby has long hair!”
It was amazing how my entire focus shifted to her, eager for any news about my baby. Something real, something more than hiccups and kicks in my belly. Something more snuggly than my huge belly. She also determined that dear Evening was breached (thus explaining the back labour), or more accurately, ‘sunny side up’.
This discovery was followed by a series of other pushing positions while Dr. M. tried to turn her about. The longest was what I will call ‘the football’ because that’s how I felt. I was clutching my arm about my knees, drawing them up, and squeezing my hardest. I vaguely imagined how ridiculous this must look to Mike, but it just didn’t matter anymore.
The acid reflux which plagued me in the last month of my pregnancy suddenly arrived with a vengeance, and with a sinking feeling I realized I’d forgotten to take my pills for it that day. I asked for one, they brought it, but it didn’t work quickly enough. With each push I was convinced that I was about to empty my stomach contents all over a nurse. I’m sure this fear slowed me down.
At some point I remembered being amazed when the nurse told Dr. M. that I had been pushing for an hour. I had expected this part to feel so long and so tedious and terrible, but it was flying by. The cheers of encouragement from the nurses and Dr. M. were wonderful – I felt like I was doing so well! I’d never been cheered on before – I felt that I could do anything!
Still, Evening wasn’t turning as Dr. M. needed her to, so after a while more Dr. M. sent out for a surgeon to get his opinion on how to proceed.
At this point, they finally allowed me to push in a squat position, which I’d hoped for. Maybe it was too much reading; this position just seemed so much more natural.
I gave a mighty push which seemed to impress the nurses, but as soon as the contraction ended I couldn’t hold myself up by my arms anymore (my legs not working terribly well being cooled hot chocolate and all), so that soon ended.
The consult soon arrived and examined me (I was so happy for the epidural then – I found these examinations to be so incredibly painful). He told me that the baby’s face was mashed up against my pelvic bone and they couldn’t get her away from it to let her travel through (how close she was!). Then he said exactly what I had been most afraid of since I became pregnant; ‘c-section’. No way.
Dr. M. stepped up then, “You’ve been pushing for 2 ½ hours, and you need to remember the baby is as tired as you are.”
Those were the magic words, because I was exhausted. I could go on, I knew, but a little baby?
I was terrified, and I was crying, but I nodded all the same. In retrospect, I think I’d read overmuch about the evils of c-sections and medical intervention. It would never have terrified me quite so much if I didn’t think it was so terrible a thing. It was also exacerbated by my pregnancy fear of c-sections, and my life-long fear of dying in childbirth (and let’s face it, a hundred years ago I might have).
Mike started breaking down a little at this point. The scrubs they brought him didn’t fit. “I’ll just watch through the glass if there is one.” His eyes were looking pretty frantic.
"No, Mike, I need you there."
He went for some fresh air and some calm while swaths of iodine were painted on my beloved belly. My head was a blur of pain, exhaustion, and a huge desire for this to be over. My mind searched for the best way to get through this, but all I could find was that I just needed to get through it; I would have the courage because it simply wasn’t possible not to have it, and that is how it went. This is what I told myself about birth while I was pregnant, but never fully felt until that moment.
My anesthesiologist returned, giving me a higher dose to numb me for the surgery. Mike also returned, donning the new scrubs they’d found for him. Then he was left behind as I was wheeled into surgery, a strange and lifeless room full of strangers. These strangers immediately set to work, working quickly and efficiently upon my body with a coldness that seemed to strip me of all humanity. I mean no insult, I’m certain that such a perspective is the very best way to confront surgery, but as the recipient it was disturbing and frightening to be treated this way.
I stared up at the bright, round lights, desperately trying to get to my ‘happy place.’ At the same time I refused to allow myself to go there because I was convinced my baby needed to be here, aware, and looking out for her as best I could.
I watched them strap down my body as I realized few horror movies would ever frighten me again.
The anesthesiologist returned, and it was wonderful to see a familiar face. “How do you feel?” he asked.
“Absolutely terrified,” I told him calmly. Mike told me later that I really didn’t seem terrified at all. For whatever reason, my very real terror was not addressed. I didn’t expect a hospital to be holistic but this seemed flat out mean to me.
“Have you ever had surgery before?” asked the anesthesiologist.
“You’re going to experience a tugging sensation, I’ll try to let you know before it happens,” he said, and went to work strapping down my arms (my arms!!), and suddenly I was dehumanized again, strapped helplessly down on these tables and completely vulnerable to whatever was in store. I did not allow my mind to wander any further down that road.
I felt an enormous wave of relief when Dr. M. entered the room and joined the surgeon. A wall of blanket was set up along my breasts, blocking off my belly from sight. Mike arrived then, which gave me some comfort because he could help me watch out for our baby. From then on I simply fixated on that light above me as the incisions were made, muscles pulled wide, and the tugging sensations began.
After some time a cry, unannounced and sudden, filled the room. My heart stopped.
“It’s a girl! Did you know were having a girl?” a nurse asked. I started to cry then.
“She’s big! Good job, mama, babies are never big anymore!” I’m not sure what that meant, but have since noticed it to be true. I believe the responsibility lies in genetics, though.
“She’s going by,” they told me as someone rushed her to the warming lights to check her and wrap her. I watched, but their body was turned at an odd angle. “I can’t see her!” I said. But it didn’t seem to matter to them. All I could see was a tiny arm waving about.
Inside I was absolutely furious about this: about being the very last person in the room to see my own baby. I wept over this huge injustice helplessly, and continued to weep that I would never get to see her fresh from the womb, covered in all the gore and coloured purple. Off in the distance Mike was cutting her umbilical cord, but I was excluded wholly from this as well.
Then came an overwhelming need to vomit. Unable to move at all, I wondered if anyone would ever notice me choking on it. “I need to throw up!” I said, but no one heard me. Would the spasm of vomit destroy my insides, exposed and being poked at as they were? After all, I was still deep in the midst of my surgery.
Mike then carried over a swaddled baby to me, clean and looking as all babies do. I was so disappointed, that fresh from the womb window closed forever. Despite all of my hard work growing and nurturing her in my body I was cruelly excluded. I tried to kiss her, but I couldn’t reach. I asked Mike to bring her closer, because I desperately wanted to touch her, but he was too overwhelmed, too fumbling to understand. I looked at her, but I just couldn’t connect that swaddled infant to the wee being that poked and prodded me from within for so long.
The desperate need to vomit was still there, and for all of my efforts to suppress it, I suddenly realized with horror that I was likely going to vomit all over my baby. “Mike, I’m going to puke on her! I’m going to puke on her! I’m going to puke on her, move her away!” I felt so terrible for saying it, for feeling it, but vomiting all over her seemed like such a horrible of welcoming her to the world.
They were gone then, he and my baby, off for tests and who knows what. I really was alone then, all the familiar people gone, alone with efficient, dehumanizing crew, cut open, my baby gone from my belly forever. It seemed like forever that they sucked at my insides and stitched me back up, while I sat there, still trying desperately not to vomit because I was still so convinced I would choke to death.
Finally they were wheeling me out to ‘recovery’, and I really did start vomiting, happily finding a way to turn my head slightly to the left by then. Someone did notice after all, some angel that placed some sort of receptacle in place to catch it for me. I vomited repeatedly, I remember, and the same angel wiped my face for me.
When I stopped, I was poked, checked some more, and then I promptly into a deeper sleep than I’d had in months. Some time later I was awakened, coached to move my arms and legs, and tsk-tsked when I could not. “You can’t see your baby until you can move,” I kept telling myself, and I tried, oh how I tried. The nurses admitted they were concerned that I hadn’t moved yet, which didn’t help. Four hours later, I could finally move my arms sufficiently enough to be wheeled to my proper room.
Mike tells me he was there, but I have no memory of that. I was moved into my bed and the baby placed on my nude chest, bawling. I was told to nurse her, and I fumbled my barely moveable limbs to hold this strange baby to my chest. When we could not manage it, a nurse expressed milk from my breasts and fed the colostrum to her with a dropper. I remember wishing that I could at least do that, but somehow I had lost my voice (psychologically). I was too dehumanized to remember that I had any choice or say in the matter. The nurse told me that she was taking Evening to bathe her and I should sleep.
I felt so empty and devastated and alone.
I must have fallen asleep because I woke some time later to Evening screaming in a bassinet a few feet from my bed. She was placed in such a way that I could not see her, but only hear her, with her little hands splayed open in the air as she worked her little lungs. Mike somehow did not awaken, even when I called his name. I had no idea that hospital beds had call buttons, so there I lay, listening to her cry and being the one person in the world she needed, without any way to reach her. I cried with her for a while, until I thought of singing to her. I sang, and her crying subsided. I told her how sorry I was she was cold and alone and I couldn’t hold her. I told her how sorry I was for all of this. And we cried some more, together, from across the room.
Deep down inside me, I resolved that nothing like this was ever going to happen to us again.