Wednesday, July 18, 2012

birth power round 2

It amuses me to think of my small cadre of blog readers seeing the "birth" title. I like to picture which of you are going to be interested and which of you will roll your eyes and yawn!

BIRTH blog entry, incoming!

My second child. I carried her during a time when my marriage became permanently damaged. We were living in New York, I was 22 years old. My beloved little boy had just morphed into a textbook toddler monster and suddenly, I didn't know if I was going to have to have this second baby alone. The cold, stark reality was that I had virtually no work experience, no degree and I was about to be a mother of two. My assumptions about marriage supporting me were crumbling. My inner feminist voice was furious at me. Deafeningly furious.

A mentor gently suggested that I might want to consider terminating. I appreciated her concern and felt grateful for that option, should I have needed it. But more than anything else, I knew I wanted this baby. More than my marriage, more than an easier life. And I also knew this was going to be my last child.

Once my husband agreed to stay with me through the pregnancy and delivery, I signed up for Queens College for the semester after she was born. Words cannot describe how vulnerable and foolish I felt. How could I have woken up in my mother's life?

That said, I was young and healthy. Three times a week I went into Manhattan for expectant mother's aerobics. There was something empowering about acknowledging disappointment with the way things had turned out but knowing I had only myself to rely on to change all that. And it kicked in. That something. I knew I would be able to handle whatever was ahead. Amazing.

In neither pregnancy did I know the gender of my unborn child. Amnios were not routine and I wouldn't have wanted to know anyway. I LOVE waiting until Christmas morning to open my gifts. I tried to guess but was wrong both times–so much for maternal instincts.

There was a midwifery clinic attached to a hospital on Manhattan's Upper West Side. St Luke's Roosevelt Hospital had a great set up and I was thrilled to have found them. On the afternoon of October 20th, 1981 I woke up from a nap as my water broke.

Important note here: both of my beloved offspring had the good manners to begin their respective uteran exits after I'd had a good night's sleep or afternoon's nap. That's how I knew we were going to get along.

Now back to the story. Water breaking, nap over. My son was being babysat by the super's wife, Graciela. A lovely Colombian woman with six of her own. She loved children and took care of my boy a couple of afternoons a week. So I could catch up on housework nap.

I called my husband and told him to meet me at the hospital. To his, normally unsentimental, credit, he rushed home instead. I called Graciela and asked her to watch my son a little longer that day. Dave and I had no car, so we'd arranged with Louis, Graciela's husband and the building super, to drive me to the hospital. I called the clinic and told them where my labor was at and they told me it was probably too early to come in. I knew better. My short first labor and the fact that this baby was 11 days early was reason enough for me to get going.

We piled into Louis' old station wagon–me in the back on my pile of towels (water breaking is a misnomer, it's more like water leakage) and Dave up front with Louis. After six kids you would have thought the man would be used to this but he.was.a.wreck. Chain smoking and shaky, his passable English deteriorated and Dave's more than adequate Spanish did the same. I had never spoken such fluent Spanish before.

Louis' stationwagon had no shocks. None. Every bump in the road brought on a new contraction. We were in 5:30pm rush hour traffic trying to go crosstown. It took an hour-an-a-half to get from Queens to St Luke's.

And something unexpected happened. I had done the Lamaze classes for my son's birth but didn't feel the need to repeat them for this second labor. I sat in the backseat of that old car, giving directions and focusing on letting my uterus do the work and relaxing the rest of my body. It was transcendental. I am not bullshitting here. I had never practiced meditation or biofeedback but for whatever reason, the pain did not panic me the way it did the first time. I was so incredibly calm. I don't tend to tell this story because most women have such difficult experiences and my bliss just doesn't resonate with them. Still, I cannot express what an amazing 2-1/2 hours it was. Oh, yeah, and that. The entire labor from first pang to birth was 2-1/2 hours. 1-1/2 of those spent in traffic.

When we arrived at the hospital, I walked in and they took one look at me and said "maternity, 3rd floor." Dave ran to the elevator and I'm standing there (in what turns out to be late labor) and said, "Um, I could use a wheelchair about now." Wheelchair procured and rode up the elevator. They set me up in a birthing room and left me, thinking I'd be at least another hour or two. At this point, I am focused but edgy: I tell Dave, "don't talk to me, don't touch me...just sit there." Within 5 minutes Dave takes a peek around the corner and sees the baby's head crowning. He steps into the hallway and stammers that the midwife might want to get in there.

The midwife is surprised to see that I'm ready to start pushing. In the first delivery, pushing was the most blessed relief on the planet. This time, it hurt and I informed her that I didn't want to do that again. She calmly advised me that was not an option. I closed my eyes and focused so intently that she had to call my name loudly to get me to ease up. My second baby was born 35 minutes after I arrived at the hospital, 20 minutes of which was spent pushing. When the baby came out, I asked what it was and she placed the child on my stomach and said, why don't you look for yourself? Infant genitalia is quite swollen and I was almost sure but not completely. I said, "it looks like a girl" which she replied "yes, it is" and then handed Dave the surgical scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Man did he turn green.

She weighed 6lbs, 9oz and was perfect. She nursed right away and we spent an hour or so together before they took her to the nursery to put the silver nitrate ointment in her eyes (mandated at the time to prevent the spread of gonorrhea from mother to infant) and make little footprints and such. I had just spent 2-1/2 hours of what my body probably thought would be an 8-hour workout. I had so much adrenalin running through me I was up and walking the halls with my IV pole. After she'd been gone an hour, I asked the nurse to bring her back. She was annoyed and said, they hadn't had a chance to clean her up yet. To which I replied in my best Dorothy Parker, "Well, how did she get dirty?"

Taking her home, I had the age-old experience of falling in love with your second child...when you thought you'd never have enough room in your heart after loving your first.

No comments: