Okay, maybe some back story is needed here, in order for you to fully understand the above illustrations, no matter how brilliant they may be. The year is 1988, the month is January, I am at my mother’s home in a backwoods podunk racist town on the western Arkansas border. (The fact that the town is racist doesn’t really have anything to do with this story, but details, people, details.) I am 21 years old and hugely pregnant, but not, in fact, due for delivery for three more weeks.
My husband at the time, who shall from henceforth be referred to as the Ex, because that is what he is now, is also present. He is on Christmas break from school, because we are young and idiotic and managed to get ourselves knocked up in the spring of our junior years of college, which probably has a lot to do with why he’s been the Ex for lo these many years past.
Anyway, we are visiting my mother for a few days, at her home which happens to be a two-and-a-half hour drive from our home, and from my obstetrician, and from the hospital where I am expected to give birth. We are not worried about being that far away from home, even though during our visit there’s been a spectacular ice storm and due to unsafe road conditions, we’ll probably be stuck at Mom’s longer than either of us would ever care to be, because, as I’ve said, my due date is still three weeks away and he doesn’t have to be back at school any time soon, either.
The baby, or my body, or something, had other ideas, apparently.
After recovering from the disorientation of waking in a warm wet lake and the confusion and embarrassment of dreaming of going to a swim meet with my boyfriend of the previous year to actually COMPETE in said swim meet, when truly, I can’t swim at all, I knew exactly what was going on, because of the most excellent birthing class taught by my ob/gyn’s wife that I had attended a month earlier. I wasn’t even all that freaked out. I wasn’t having any labor pains, which I found curious, but I knew that wasn’t a completely extraordinary thing and not necessarily something to get into a twist about. I had been feeling great, had experienced a truly easy, morning-sickness-free pregnancy and had felt my baby move in the night, so I wasn’t even worried. I was a little concerned about the mess I had made of Mom’s bed. Oops.
We? What’s this “we” business?
Oh. After I calmed her down enough to explain that yes, I had called my doctor, I wasn’t a complete moron despite my unplanned pregnancy, thank you very much, and he was no more shaken up than I about current events and had advised me to yes, come on into his office to be checked as soon as possible, but take my time, this was a first baby, after all, and not likely to be making an appearance any time soon, I learned that she intended to follow me and the Ex back to our city of residence so she could be present at the birth of the her first grandchild. Okay. Understandable desire, but really, lady, you’re going to have to calm the eff down if you’re going to be anywhere near me when I am in labor, I can tell you that already.
Luckily, I never had to actually say that to her, because after I returned to the living room after taking a shower and getting dressed in the Ex’s XXL sweatpants with bath towels stuffed down both legs and the in the crotch in a futile attempt to keep from trailing amniotic fluid everywhere I went, I discovered this:
Remember I said there had been an ice storm? While the Ex and I were getting dressed, my mother had gone outside to start her ancient wood paneled station wagon to warm up the engine and run the heater in preparation for the journey. While I didn’t see her tumble from the ice-covered concrete porch steps, I like to imagine it looked something like this:
I KNOW this defies all laws of physics and logic. It’s MY imagination, okay?
Yes, it was pretty obvious my mother had broken her arm. She lived by herself, and here I was with labor and delivery imminently approaching if everything I’d read and learned in birthing class was true. Way to screw up another milestone event in my life, Mom.
I called my uncle, who lived nearby, and told him to get his hungover ass up and dressed and come take my mother to the ER. I sat with her until he arrived and listened to her moan and groan and got her a trash can to puke in and a wet wash cloth for her face and eventually came to see the humor of the whole thing. I think I was brushing my hair when I burst out laughing.
“What the hell are you laughing about???” Dang, breaking her arm made her even crankier than her usual bitchy self.
“I was just thinking what a great birthday story this is going to make someday for the baby!” I chortled.
Finally my uncle got there, and he completely agreed with me on the hilarity of the situation, which didn’t improve Mom’s mood one bit, but what did I care? I was out of there, on my way to have a BABY. Let him deal with her crabby ass.
The trip to the doctor’s office was uneventful, if uncomfortable, with all my soggy padding. The Ex is a careful and cautious driver and we navigated the icy roads without mishap.
Four hours later I arrived at my doctor’s office and still had experienced no labor pains. No cramping, no contractions, nothing. Just more water oozing from between my legs. Eccccchhh.
My doctor can be a real pain in the ass, sometimes.
“Well, your water has broken,” he announced after shining that damn light up into my nether regions and poking around a bit. NO SHIT, SHERLOCK. I think I actually did say that. I don’t remember him being amused.
Then next thing he said I did not expect at all. “Go on over to the hospital [next door] and get checked in. I’ll be over in a half-hour or so. If you’re not doing anything by then, we’ll start your induction.”
What? Wait. Induction? Hospital? Now??? No! No, no, no, no. I’m supposed to go home, lie around on the couch maybe, wait for this labor to get cranking, time my contractions, have the Ex count my breathing LIKE WE PRACTICED. Then when my contractions are five—no, three, or even two, considering we live less than a block from the hospital—minutes apart, THEN I’ll go to the hospital. I haven’t even packed a bag! This baby wasn’t supposed to be coming for THREE MORE WEEKS.
Doc wouldn’t go for it. Something about protective barrier being gone, infection, longer the baby stayed in the more risk, blah, blah blah. . . Oh, yeah. . . I did remember something about that from birthing class. Well, damn. Ok. To the hospital I go.
I never did have any contractions. I got gowned and put in the birthing bed and strapped and hooked up to a bunch of tedious monitors and crap, IV started after the usual seven or so stabs and three different people’s efforts. Doc came in as promised and started the Pitocin drip, and OH MY GOD THE CONTRACTIONS, THE CONTRACTIONS, WTF IS HAPPENING TO ME???
This was not what I signed up for. I didn’t expect labor to be a day at the spa, but no one told me that Pitocin makes your body want to—no, DEMAND, with the insistent fury of thousand rabid bears being stung by African killer bees, to push push PUSH OHMYJESUSIHAVETOPUSHTHISBABYOUTOFMERIGHTNOW, but all these damn people in scrubs are hovering over you and saying asinine things like, “No, no, you’re not dilated,” “It’s not time, won’t be for a long time yet,” “NO! STOP PUSHING! BLOW! BLOW! BLOW!” and forcibly holding you down to keep you from curling over yourself as though you’re about to take the most epic dump in all of history.
Oh—and did I mention that after taking the birthing class, I for some reason decided I was going to be the Lamaze poster woman and have my baby without pain medication because I was BAD ASS, and I WOULD DO ANYTHING that was best for my unborn child? Yeah, and also I was terrified of the idea of someone sticking a needle in my back. Poke me anywhere else, I’ll even watch, but my spine? Ut uh, no way.
The Ex did his best. He tried to talk me through my breathing, deep cleansing breath in through the nose, slow out through the mouth, 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . The problem was, I had forgotten how crazily irritable being in excruciating discomfort tended to make me. I may have said something like, “Honey, I love you, but if you don’t shut the hell up and get away from me, I AM going to kill you. For reals.”
His feelings were hurt, but we had learned in the great birthing class THAT NEGLECTED TO INFORM ME WHAT A BITCH PITOCIN IS how labor can been unpredictable and women can act all hateful and shit and you just have to go with it if you know what’s good for you. The teacher had also cautioned us women not to make any absolute decisions about what we did or did not want during our labor and delivery, especially those of us who had never given birth before, because we really couldn’t know what we would or would not want once we were in the thick of things, so to speak, so it was always good to have a backup plan. Well, I knew I didn’t want an epidural, but I figured she knew what she was talking about, so the Ex and I had worked out this agreement that if I did cave under pressure and ask for an epidural, he was supposed to try to talk me out of it, but if I asked again, after three tries at talking me out of it, he was to tell them to bring on the anesthetist.
After TWELVE HOURS of shrieking, “I have to push!” and being told, “NO, DON’T PUSH, IT’S NOT TIME,” and fighting every fiber of my being to try not to push, and blow blow BLOWING, stick a fork in me, I was DONE. I turned to the Ex and said as rapidly as my panting would allow, “I want an epidural, I want an epidural, I WANT AN EPIDURAL RIGHT NOW.” For the first, and maybe the only, time in our marriage, he did exactly the right thing. He looked up and said, “Uh, she wants an epidural.”
AND CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THAT DAMN DELIVERY NURSE SAID? “Oh, no, it’s too late for that. It’s time for her to push.”
FINALLY. Oh, the sweet, sweet relief. I pushed. And I pushed. And I pushed. I pushed for an hour and a half. I was a pushing MACHINE. I knew nothing but to obey my body’s call and I pushed that kid OUT. And then there he was, and everyone was startled by how finished he was, for being three weeks early. He weighed eight pounds! My doctor said it was actually a good thing how things worked out, because that baby would have been way too big if I had gone all the way to my due date.
By that time I was exhausted, and ravenous, because of course I had had nothing but ice chips since a day and half earlier. I held my beautiful baby boy when someone placed him in my arms, took a brief look at him, said, “He’s pretty. Here, somebody take him.”
Yes, I really did that. Of course, just a little while later when I was in a regular room, I oohed and cooed over him and nursed him and did all those things a proper new mama should, but damn, I was tired. And hungry. Did I mention I was hungry? And it was 2:30 in the morning; the hospital kitchen was closed of course (small hospital in a small town) and so was everywhere else in town. This was the 80s, remember? No all-night Taco Bell or 24-hour Walmart then. One of the nurses scrounged around and found me a little cup of vanilla ice cream and some saltine crackers, and nothing had ever tasted so good.
The saltines were so good, in fact, that when the new nurse came on at six and checked my vitals and asked me what I had had, meaning of course a boy or a girl, according to her I smiled sweetly and said, “A cracker.”
Well, we WERE in Arkansas.
Oh—and my mom? She showed up later that day in a spectacular cast that reached from her hand to above her elbow. She had had to have SURGERY the day before and get pins and stuff. She actually had to have two more surgeries, if I remember correctly. She still insisted on holding her first grandchild. The Ex laid him across her cast and she quickly realized that was not such a good idea after all.
UPDATE>>> My son is now 23, and just as I am finishing this post, he and his beautiful girlfriend have come by to show me her ENGAGEMENT RING he just gave her today. I’m a happy, happy mom.
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