Sunday, July 08, 2012

birth power round 1

Land of Rampant Reproduction
When I lived in Utah, the land of rampant reproduction, I got tired of telling and hearing birthing stories with my female friends. It seemed a substitute for substance. Talking about a book or piece of art or science was like a lust or hunger I couldn't satisfy with anyone locally.

The birthing experience was monumental for me, as it for many women. I mark significant changes in my life from those two one-day events. Rejecting the urge to tell the story because those overly-domesticated young women irritated me is just stupid. It's a story worth telling.

The first significant change was the loss of modesty. I don't mean I ran laboring down the hospital hallway naked. (I was in labor, forchristsake, who could run?)

Here's the story: Married for a whole year, I was feeling pressure to procreate in the Mormon-saturated city of Provo, so we stopped using the frowned-upon birth control. I come from a fecund line of women, so it took less than three months: I was pregnant by 19. I had always wanted children–pious pressure or not–so I was very happy to have conceived.

I was also over 2,200 miles away from family, specifically from my mother. All the prodding and poking that goes on with pregnancy checkups began to chip away at my temple-garment-clad modesty. I had no one there to whine to, which was good, though I missed having anyone to share the joys and indignities of obstetrics. In spite of the normal nausea, it was a great pregnancy. I was one of those obnoxious women who "glowed."

I repeat, it was 1979.
I woke up at 7am on Sunday, February 25th, 1979. As I lay in my waterbed (see 1979 reference) I felt leakage which I was sure was the next stage of pregnancy humiliation: incontinence. Great. My baby had been due three days earlier and I was impatient; the week before I'd shoveled snow and did some light jogging. I got up to pee before I, ironically, flooded the bed and realized that the cervical plug (colloquially: bloody show) had come out. I called my mother on Long Island and told her she was going to become a grandmother that day. I showered, then sat down to a big pancake breakfast, against prevailing medical advice. I was about to do some damned hard work and I thought having some nutrients in me would help. I was right. And I was pretty sure I wouldn't throw up but that wasn't going to be my cleanup problem.

You don't know what to expect, right? I believed I had a high pain tolerance but who knew how much pain I could bear? Still, I was determined to do this naturally. The hospital had a new birthing room. So new that they hadn't established policies and procedures. That becomes significant later. My doctor was an old codger but he'd gone along with my natural childbirth notions, in spite of his skepticism. I was laboring in the birthing room and, yes, I was scared. There was no way for me to have known that what was coming was a relatively short first labor (7-1/2 hours), but most of it hard. I was doing my Lamaze concentrating and breathing but every once in a while, I thrashed from the pain. Dave was completely out of his element, just trying to stay in the room...which was part of the deal: you get to enjoy conception, you get to be there for delivery. End of discussion.

Not knowing I was in transition (almost completely dilated), the birthing room nurse suggested a shot of Demerol and I said yes in a haze of pain. (It hit me after the whole thing was over, sitting on side of the bed, famished, with a chocolate chip cookie in my hand.) Then she checked and said the baby's heart rate was elevated and that I'd need to go to a regular delivery room. They put me in a wheelchair.

Let me repeat that.

They folded up my late-labor, contraction-occupied body and sat me in a wheelchair. 

Holy shit. Policy and procedures would remedy this in the future.

They wheeled me down to labor and delivery and into a standard bed when a more experienced nurse said, "This is normal head compression–do you want to deliver here or go back to the birthing room?" "Birthing room," I managed to say and here's where modesty and I part ways–pretty much forever. As I'm being wheeled on a gurney from one end of the ward to another, there is only a sheet between my splayed legs and the busy hallway. A sheet and my urge to push. So there I am, moving down the hall and I could give a shit less if there was no sheet. I'm getting this baby out of me, propriety be damned.

Back in the birthing room, the now irritated nurse had just finished changing those sheets. Well, that was a waste, wasn't it? Another nurse tells me that I need to stop pushing because the doctor wasn't there yet. Well, you'd better get your catcher's mitt on honey, I thought, because I have no more control over this than I do the tide. The doctor showed up in the nick of time ready to do the episiotomy (an incision in the perineum and vagina to allow for an easier birth and ostensibly less tearing). I reminded him that I wanted to try and do this without the episiotomy because it would mean one less thing to heal up from post-partum. He skeptically agreed to coach me through the pushing and he did. The greatest relief I had ever known was pushing that baby's head out of me (I had nothing but the smallest tear that healed up in less than a week, as a bonus).

I come from a family of all girls. My father's clear and obvious wish was for a son. Somehow I knew I would surely have a daughter. When the baby was born and the doctor said it was a boy, I was surprised and delighted. My parents were over the moon. Recognizing their patriarchal bullshit preference did not reduce my joy one iota. I had a perfect 6-1/2 lb baby boy. My cup overflowed. Figuratively. The real overflow would come in three days when the Niagra Falls of milk came in.

I was allowed to leave the hospital at 10 pm that night. I'd been there for 10 or 11 hours. This is where the policies or procedures would also change. I was happy to go home and especially happy for the incredibly thrifty hospital bill but it would be ages before I got a full night's sleep, I could have used one that night.

In the middle of that first night I tiptoed over to my sleeping newborn. I remember that he was tiny, blue terrycloth-clad and lit by moonlight. I was awed and somewhat mystified by his being. I gently poked him to make sure he was real. I wondered if all mothers looked at their newborn in this surreal light. I had that clichéd but true feeling: How could I ever have another child? My heart would burst from doubling this amount of love.

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