Can we talk, Other Moms? I know this is awkward; we’ve been in a fight for kind of a long time. People are calling it “The Mommy Wars;” not that it’s any of their business. I don’t even remember how it started– you looked at me funny, I rolled my eyes, you said something you didn’t mean, my response came out wrong, you told your friends in a restaurant bathroom, I dunno. Whatever it was, we’ve been glaring at each other across this line for a while now, and I want to make up. Continue reading
I ask Regina what’s wrong. Something is wrong, or there wouldn’t be an oxygen mask, right? She tells me to stay calm, that they aren’t worried yet (YET?), but that the baby is having some distress. We’re all wide awake now, and there’s a new kind of crackle in the air. Shit is about to go down. The doctor comes in to check out the scene (as it were) and talk to me about what’s going on. The hard truth is this: for some reason, my body is not doing this on its own. The Pitocin is causing contractions, but every time I have one, the baby’s heart rate drops dramatically. As soon as they try taking me off it, the contractions stop and I don’t progress. Bear in mind, I am already two weeks past my due date. There isn’t a lot more time. Going in, I hadn’t wanted a c-section, and they know this. The doctor says there are a couple of things we can try if we monitor him really carefully, but at this point I don’t care anymore. I used to joke that my birth plan was “everyone makes it out alive.” So I look at C, look at my mom, and decide. Let’s DO this thing–cut me open and give me my baby.
For the past day and a half, I’ve been in a warm, quiet, mellow room, nurses floating in and out and machines whirring softly. As soon as the phrase “c-section” is out there, it’s a full-on Broadway musical, like they’ve all been waiting behind the door with canes and straw hats. Suddenly there are at least five (and what feels like 50) additional people in the room; lights are bright, people are talking over each other at me, and everything is moving really fast. There will be more medicine; I can only have one other person in the room with me. My mom goes out to call the family and tell them what’s happening, and C gets suited up. I am hoisted up onto a gurney (no small task, given the size of me at this point) and wheeled into an operating room. I remember thinking that it looks just like they look on tv, with the big bright lights and everything shiny and gray-blue.
The sheet goes up, the drugs go in, and I start shaking like a motherfucker (motherfuckers shake. Like, a lot). I am scared, I am drugged, I am unprepared, and I do NOT take it well. The doctor tells C that I am shaking too hard for them to cut, and I have to calm down somehow. Turns out I DO get to use that Lamaze breathing after all! C talks me through it, his head right next to mine, and we manage to turn it down enough for them to start. I’m told that I will “feel some tugging,” but what I feel is A HUMAN PERSON BEING PULLED OUT OF MY BODY. I am positive it isn’t as bad as natural delivery, but I bet it’s just as surreal. I learn later that they actually take your organs out, pile them on top of your body, take out the baby, and layer everything back in. Holy sci-fi.
After that it’s like the movies again. They hold him up, bloody and wet and curly-headed. He screams, they bring him right up to my face to kiss. I think I remember it; I hope I do. Then they ask C if he wants to stay with me while they sew me up or go with N, clean and swaddled and no doubt wondering what fresh hell this is. I imagine this was one of the harder decisions of C’s life, but at my urging, he goes with the baby through the double doors and into the arms of our waiting family.
This was the most terrifying half hour of my life, but it was just that. Half an hour. And in the end, thank my lucky stars, we all got out alive.
So we’re all checked in. We’re hanging out in our room, doot-de-doo, while we wait for the nurse to come in and get this show on the road. She arrives and informs me that the IV she’s about to put in my hand is “the worst part.” A) Awesome. B) I’m a first-time child-bearer and a needle-phobe, but I’m pretty sure that the IV is not the WORST PART OF GIVING BIRTH. The hits keep on coming with this nurse, who later informs me that the woman in labor a few rooms down “sounds like she’s dying.”
They hook me up to the IV and the monitoring dealies, and they have a look with the ultrasound to make sure he’s not in a weird position. They are as convinced as I am that there must be some REASON he hasn’t even attempted to get out. But his head is down and in position. My body, it seems, is just being a bitch. They give me a pill that’s supposed to make me efface and tell me the process will take eight hours, so I should sleep. Right. Because I’m feeling nice and relaxed and not at all nervous on the eve of bringing a human out of my body and into the world, and then having to take him home and raise him. My mom sleeps, C sleeps, and I try not to puke from nerves and restlessness.
In the morning two things happen. First, the nurse shift changes and Regina comes into our lives. Regina, whose name and awesomeness I will never forget, and to whom I will someday dedicate an entire post. Second, the doctor checks my progress and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED. We’re on to plan b, which involves a drug-on-a-string (really) that is supposed to go in there and tell my cervix to get its shit together. This will also take eight hours. Sigh. A few hours in, this one seems to be working. Here’s how I know: BECAUSE OW. Cramps. Big, bad, cramps. They get worse as time goes on, just like they are supposed to, and it hurts–but in a recognizable way. They are the worst period cramps I can imagine, but it’s a pain for which I have some frame of reference. I’m ok.
Nighttime again, and the doctor comes back. Hallelujah! It’s go time. Time to start Pitocin. This is the big one, the one I’ve been warned about, and I’m scared. Particularly since the pain has already been, you know, painful, and I haven’t even started the real part yet. In an effort to plan ahead, I declare it epidural time. Given that I am more scared of that goddamn needle than I am of squeezing out a baby, I am surprised by how not a big deal it is. There is a moment when I feel the catheter wiggle around, and I remember thinking that stuff should NOT be squirming around in my spine, but whatever. The effects, however, I do not like. My legs feel like they are covered in Saran wrap, and I have some MAJOR shakes. Unpleasant for sure, and since I haven’t been in unbearable pain, it’s not like it’s this HUGE relief. I’m sure if I had been in full-on labor when I got it, I would have been too relieved to notice some pesky tremors.
The shaking wears off a bit, and they start the Pitocin. Regina comes in after a while to tell me I’m having some solid, bad-ass contractions (which I cannot feel AT ALL), and we might be on our way. She says we should try to sleep, since I’ve been at this for 24 hours now and I’m going to need my strength. We turn the lights out; my mom is on the plastic couch, C is in the hospital rocking chair, and I am propped onto my side, waiting in the dark. I listen to the machines beep, watch C slip in and out sleep, try to stay calm. But when Regina comes in a couple of hours later and puts an oxygen mask over my face, I know the plan is about to change again.
I’ve never been particularly hardcore about natural childbirth vs. chemical interventions. This issue can be insanely divisive, but I kind of feel like, it’s your day, lady. Do what feels right. Initially, my philosophy for my own birth experience was similar to Kristen Bell’s recent statement which I swear I did not read in Us Magazine:
“When I arrive at the hospital, I want a glass of whiskey, I want the epidural in my back, and I want to be hit in the face with a baseball bat. And just wake me up when it’s over.”
A girl after my own heart. I make jokes about 1950’s morphine-induced “twilight sleep” and how I want to wake up to a fluffy clean baby, Betty Draper-style. After some reading and some (really) excellent lamaze classes, I start to think, why the hell not? Let’s take this body out for a SPIN and see what it can do! I can be a warrior woman! I mean, I can TRY, anyway. I settle on laboring as long as I can without drugs (just to see), and when I can’t stand it anymore, I’ll take the needle in the back, no hard feelings.
Little do I know it will be needles, chemicals, and scalpels from beginning to end, and nothing natural about it.
As I’ve mentioned, this little boy does NOT want to exit my uterus. I go to the doctor a few days before my due date, all ready for her to tell me that I have to stay because it’s HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. Instead, I’m told there’s been no dropping, no effacing, no dilating. I cry when they make me schedule an induction. I think surely something will happen before then. At 3, 7, and 12 days late, still nothing. FML. Chemicals it is.
Interventions are becoming more common, and a lot of people blame doctors who are in a hurry to play golf, pharmaceutical companies that are in a hurry to make money, and the dismal state of our healthcare system. Each of which may be the right entity to blame. I decide to trust, because it seems like the best option. Trust the doctors, trust the nurses, trust everyone. I mean, in my case at least, they have a point.
I always picture it going the way it does in the movies– an extremely public water-breaking (elevator, coffee shop, the Improv) while wearing an adorable dress and smiling sheepishly, or reaching over in the night, calmly squeezing C’s arm and saying, “it’s time.” My packed bag will be all ready to go, but my adorable husband will stumble around all nervous and wound up, speeding us to the hospital while I glow maternally and do some deep breathing exercises. I know it doesn’t REALLY happen like that, but when it’s all said and done, I do feel like I missed out on that moment. We know it’s time because, well, it’s the appointed time. Scheduled.
We leave the house at 12:30 a.m., since inductions are scheduled to start overnight. We’re all packed, we’ve eaten, we’ve mostly slept. We drive slowly, no traffic, no ticket we have to use the baby to talk our way out of. I’m still secretly hoping that we’ll hit a pothole or something and I’ll go into labor. I have a very clear memory of pulling into the hospital parking lot and thinking,”this is where we parked the car when we came for our having-a-baby appointment.” We go to the desk, no pain, no doubling over. I fill out paperwork, get a bracelet, am shown to my room. It all seems terribly anti-climactic; I am a non-event. By the time it’s over and N is finally here, I can’t believe I ever lamented the lack of drama.
My mother is a doula. She’s extremely well suited to it. She’s warm and affectionate and one with nature. She’s a calming presence, a former Catholic with Buddhist leanings, and her hands are soft and warm.
Also she likes horror movies. The gorier the better. So, you know. Perfect.
Many years ago, she was volunteering at a hospital as a translator and got pulled in to help a Spanish-speaking woman deliver a baby. Rather than run out of the hospital room screaming, “my eyes! my EYES!”, as I imagine I would have done, she decided to become a doula. In order to witness MORE live births. To each his own.
Once I find out I’m pregnant, I decide that she’ll be my doula. I get mixed responses to this; some people recoil and say they could NEVER have their own mother in there, what with all the fluids and the yelling and the proximity to one’s vagina. I get that, but it seems like a good idea to me as long as I don’t think too much about that last part. Since she’s my mom, though, I have to confirm that I can at any point during the birthing process tell her I hate her and to get the fuck out, and we can still be friends afterwards. She assures me that she understands, and that she’ll treat me like any other client.
In our first meeting, she asks us about our birth plan. Which, apparently, is a thing. Who knew? She asks us if we want to talk about home birth. Pretty sure I never want to talk about that ever again. I don’t judge anyone’s choices, truly, but I personally do not want to give birth at home, or in a field, or by moonlight in an inflatable pool under an oak tree. I want stainless steel and beeping electronics that light up. People say that like it’s a bad thing. I ABSOLUTELY want it to be treated like a medical emergency. Epidural? Yes please! This is America. As my father is fond of saying, “what’s the point of living in a first world country if you don’t take advantage of air conditioning and pharmaceuticals?”
As I start looking more carefully at this whole birth plan thing, I learn that there are templates all over the internet, and, as it turns out, there’s an app for that. The templates prompt you with extremely specific questions: What temperature would you like the room to be? Are you opposed to drugs? When and how and which drugs do you want? Do you want a birthing ball or a birthing stool (what?)? Who will be in the room with you? Do you want a mirror to watch the baby come out? SERIOUSLY, WHAT?!
I end up with a three-and-a-half page page birth plan, typed, bulleted, and crafted with love. By the time we get to the actual birth, it’s months later and I have been through Lamaze and yoga and “prepared childbirth” classes. I’ve read more, learned more, talked to my husband more, and waffled on nearly every decision from the original document (except for the mirror. Holy hell). I know the signs of labor, when to call the hospital, how to breathe at which juncture, when to ask for an epidural. I have my hot water bottles and my ipod, and I have a photo we took at Sea Ranch to focus my breathing on during contractions. I am PREPARED for childbirth.
At no point in all this preparation did it occur to me to read about c-sections. Whoops.