To be honest, I don’t remember much about getting to the hospital, getting into that horrid gown, or getting all hooked up to the monitors in my delivery room. What I do remember is the kindness and the equanimity of the nurses there. I remember being given something to “calm me down,” being propped up to see the TV, having my cervix checked (I was dilated just a centimeter or two), and the morning light from outside the window growing brighter as my dull, monotonous labor wore on and then came to a standstill. By around noon, not much was happening and the decision was made to send me home until things began to progress again.
Back at home, my mom did her best to help me be comfortable. She dimmed the lights and talked me into trying to take a nap. But, it was no good. I was restless, irritable, and pretty soon the contractions picked back up again in both frequency and intensity. So, at about 5:00 in the evening, back we went to the hospital, the three of us, same as before. This time my little knight in shining armor decided to take College Avenue, to avoid all those flipping potholes on Rogers Street, straight through the middle of downtown at rush hour. Just don’t ask my brother to tell this story (he had worked all day on about two hours of sleep and says he’s still got bruises on his arm from my back seat assaults).
Getting checked back in, disrobed, and hooked up are, again, a blur. Probably because the whole time I was thinking to myself that if I successfully birth this daughter of mine, and if she lives to the age of sexual maturity, that I will most definitely bring her here to see just what all that fun stuff leads to. This is birth control, people. This. Is. Not. Fun. And, I was seriously pissed that everybody else in the whole damn world had romanticized the shit out of having babies when the truth was that it hurts like hell. For hours.
At least now my labor was making some progress. I was dilated to about five centimeters when I realized that the counter-pressure of the cervical check (for the naïve out there, this means that a nurse sticks her whole gloved hand up your hooey to feel for how big the hole is at the cervical opening between the uterus and the vagina), the pushing of her fingers against my cervix, felt really good. It was like a momentary pause in the tension there.
So, heck yeah, check me! Can someone please check me?
I’m pretty sure that my call button at the nurse’s station looked like a blinking Christmas light on steroids.
They also taught me to measure the intensity of my contractions by comparing the feel of my belly to: A) my nose, B) my chin, and finally C) my forehead. The latter were the late game contractions that were going to get the work done, and something to be watching for. So, there I was, lying in the hospital bed, trying to occupy my mind between painful episodes of simultaneously pushing on my stomach and my face, wondering how in the world anyone has ever survived this and why on earth anybody ever does it more than once. I began to seriously reconsider my intention to have a completely natural childbirth. I had been so steadfast until now, turning down the epidural several times. My mom came and went more frequently now in order to relieve her stress with cigarette breaks and phone calls to my stepdad, who was on his way home from Alaska and trying to stay in the loop on his layover. I had her ask the nurse about giving me something to help with the pain. The response?
“I’m sorry, honey, but the window to safely give the epidural has passed. You’re too far along now.”
Oh, so lucky for her she said that from the doorway. I dare you to come closer.
So, on it went. But I soon stopped noticing extraneous details like the nurses quitting and starting a new shift like the eternal changing of the guard, like family members coming in to say hello and then shuffling down the hall to congregate in a waiting room, like the fact that evening was coming on outside. The concept of time had completely disappeared for me by now, and as the contractions got stronger and closer together, I lost all sense of trying to measure anything. They would start with a strong vibration at the very core of me that was accompanied by an internal sound akin to the rumbling of an oncoming train. It came at me full speed and pulled me under with a power I had never experienced before. At this point, I can honestly say that it stopped being pain. It was simply power. And I was powerless except to allow it to come through me. I realized pretty quickly that the less I resisted, the better.
At some point, my labor stalled a bit again and a fresh new nurse, full of wisdom, dimmed the lights, lowered my bed flat, and put me on my left side. She reminded me to breathe fully in and out through my nose (oh yeah, that Lamaze stuff) and to close my eyes, which actually did help a lot with my overall sense of well-being. And, it helped to normalize the stats on the fetal monitor too, which had started to indicate that the baby was experiencing a lot of stress. It was around this time that the doctor on call came in to check on me. He decided to break my water, hoping that would jumpstart my labor again. The tool they use for that is not pretty, but I didn’t feel a thing and soon enough I was in deep train contraction mode again, rumbling into a deep sacred place without thought or language or identity of any kind. Then, I needed to push.
“Darci,” said a voice, “don’t push. Not yet.”
Huh? How can I not push? I have to.
“Pretty soon. Not yet.”
There was now a team of people in the room. Some of them I could see and others had disappeared beneath the white tent I wore suspended from my legs, which were stretched out into the stirrups. I have no idea how they got there. I needed to push.
“Not yet. Hang on.”
And then the train came again, rolling over me at full speed and I realized that the sound I heard was actually coming from me. I was humming “Om” in my long exhale.
“Oooooooommmmmmmmmm.” I have to push now.
Then the nurse popped her head up over my gown tent and said I could push but she wanted me to wait and work with the contractions. She coached me, steadily and calmly, to relax during the breaks, which were shorter now, and to push with my whole body when a contraction came. She was working with my opening at that point too, massaging it with some oil and stretching it. We were hoping to avoid an episiotomy. The baby’s head was in sight and she guided my hand so that I could feel it beginning to emerge.
Over and over the waves came, dragging me under as I pushed with my every Om. I learned later, from those that were time sensitive at that point, that I pushed for almost three hours until finally, at five minutes after midnight on July 24, 1993, my daughter was born into this world. There was a strange silence in the room however, and instead of laying the baby on me with a congratulatory smile, the doctor cut the cord quickly and whisked her over to a corner of the room partially hidden behind a tall blue curtain. The nurses followed him, as did my mother.
“Haylie,” I implored out loud, “cry for mama.”
They were talking in hushed tones, working quickly, and I could hear the muffled baby sounds which eventually did grow louder into the delicious sound of a thin scratchy wail. They brought her over to me and held her near my face. I looked into her dark eyes and into an ancient, eternal universe of wisdom and love. She didn’t look young to me, she looked old. The strangest, most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Then, they took her away to the neo-natal intensive care nursery down the hall. Her first Apgar score had been only 5, the second one was a normal 10, but she needed to be carefully observed, they said. Three hours in a dry birth canal had caused her a lot of stress and a lack of oxygen, and they weren’t taking any chances.
So, out they all went like a row of little ducks, the doctor, the nurses, my mother, and I found myself alone in the delivery room with no one and no baby, my legs still up in the stirrups.
Hey, what about me?
And then the familiar sensation of cramps, contractions. I reached for my button. Another nurse came in to help me deliver the afterbirth, the placenta, which she held up for my inspection, and I thought, Why doesn’t anyone tell the whole truth about this?
That’s when my grandmother popped in the room to see me with, “Hey babe,” and then a quick peek under my gown tent, “Oh my god, you just about turned inside out!”
Soon I was moved to a post-delivery room where I would spend the night and wait for someone to bring the baby. I don’t remember anything about that or how I got there. I do remember the nurse wanting me to try to go to the bathroom. That was not fun. I remember visiting with my mom and my brother and how they were so tired and needed to go home to sleep. I, on the other hand, was high on oxytocin. It flooded my brain like an omnipotent elixir of Eros. I was in love with life and myself and everyone who was so gracious and good to help me through that amazing experience. I just wanted my baby. Where the hell is my baby?
It was around 2 a.m. when they finally brought her in, wheeling a little plexiglass bassinet cart with my precious wrinkled cargo swaddled inside. The nurse handed her to me and I felt instant relief and recognition as the weight I had carried internally was now translated to my arms. Tiny fingers all curled in a row, little pink lips, and a peaceful, quiet, stillness in those deep black universe eyes. I spent the better part of the night holding her. We were learning each other, she and I, here in this strange sterile place in the middle of the night.