Well, after the first birth experience I was gonna do it completely differently the next time around, you can bet your bottom dollar on that. We had planned to have our kids four years apart – so that we could enjoy the “baby and toddler” phase for each one, yet have the newbie there and established before the big’un started school – and on the stroke of four years, I found myself pregnant again.
It wasn’t automatic this time; it took several months to “catch” which sort of took us aback. Hadn’t this been practically involuntary the first time? This time around we lived in the States, and I had access to home pregnancy tests, so I knew right away when we were expecting. (Dave found out through the simple expedient of Joy RIPPING open the front door when he got home from work one night and announcing in tones of astonished glee, “Mama’s got a baby growing in her tummy!”) I signed up with a team of midwives practically before the pee was dry on the stick.
These midwives practiced through the local hospital (though they’d have let you deliver on the edge of a cliff, if that’s what you wanted), so we opted for a Birthing Room thinking it would be the best of both worlds. If you’ve never toured the obstetrics ward of a hospital, a Birthing Room is almost exactly like a regular labor room, but things are upholstered in garish plasticized paisley and there is a rocking chair – but still, it was a far cry from being strapped to a bed in a military hospital. The midwives’ office was homey and friendly, and we got to listen to the baby’s heartbeat at every appointment. Is there a more magical sound than that galloping-hoofbeat rhythm? I’ve never heard one.
Anyway, things progressed very nicely. We called this baby “Mote” and built a soft green bedroom with cabbage rose curtains and a wall of butterflies. It was wonderful to have health care from people who were NICE. We had a lot of serious, sincere discussions about our “birth plan” (what an oxymoron that phrase is). We went to what my sister-in-law called “screaming classes” again. Joy got the Big Sister tour of the hospital. There were no “issues” and in the fullness of time, February 8th came.
Mote was another latecomer. I did a lot of walking, ate some pizza and had some awkward sex and at around lunchtime the week after my due date – It Was Time.
Of course it was time, because the county was experiencing the worst ice storm it had seen in 20 years. Poor Dave careened home from work 20 miles away, somehow got me into the car and slipped and slid back to town – where I was examined and sent home as being “not far enough along.”
We experienced the pleasure of another trip through the frozen wasteland, with the contractions getting stronger all the time – but at least they were contractions, regular old excruciatingly painful contractions with no puking. By the time they decided I was ready to be admitted I had kinda changed my mind about the whole thing, frankly. The midwife was great, though – there was none of that shaving – enema – sterile zone stuff, and I got to choose positions that were comfortable for me rather than convenient for her.
Still, it seemed things weren’t moving along as fast as she thought they should be; so she took a stick (it looked like something you’d use to push back your cuticles), reached up inside and tore open the bag of waters. Whoo-EE, then things started to move. I had about decided that I was going home and the rest of them could have the baby without me, when the midwife asked, “Did your other baby have a lot of hair?” I stopped mid-whine. “Uh . . . I guess so . . . why?” “Because it looks like this baby has a full head of it. Here, feel,” she answered. I reached down between my legs and felt – the top of a head! It was the most remarkable thing; I’d been so focused on the labor that I’d kind of forgotten there was going to be a baby at the end of it.
The way Dave tells it, I changed instantly and completely. My face radiant, I sat straight up, grabbed the handrails, and pushed like a madwoman. Red slithered out golden and serene – he was born in a caul (the bag of waters stayed around him), so he didn’t get bloody like most newborns are. He cried a little, I guess because someone had told him it was the thing to do, and I held him and kissed him and welcomed him to the world. He had red hair – I’d always known he would.
Having had one Boot Camp forceps delivery, one Crunchy Granola pregnancy, and even a passing fling with The OB Whom Everyone Who’s Anyone is Seeing (that pregnancy ended at four months with a “blighted ovum,” which is when the placenta grows but the fetus doesn’t and is eventually re-absorbed), by the time the third baby came along I figured that I’d proven what needed proving and this time, I was going to follow as much of the doctors’ advice as seemed sensible, ignore what seemed geared toward their individual biases, and give myself permission to have pain relief available at delivery if I wanted it.
Oh, and I had one more caveat: I didn’t care what else he did or didn’t do as labor coach, but Dave was threatened with bodily harm if he didn’t remind me to open my eyes at delivery. I squeezed them shut when I pushed and I had missed the first two!
It took even longer to conceive this time than it had before – not least because there were a seven-year-old and a three-year-old underfoot all the time. Not exactly conducive to romance; eventually the timing was right, though, and we were expecting “Mungo.” I went for prenatal care at our local Family Practice clinic – I adored one of the doctors and eventually refused to see the other one. The first one asked me why; I didn’t want to tell him but he pushed me, and I finally admitted, “He’s rude, he’s snotty and he’s condescending” (which he was). The Good Doc chuckled and said, “Well, I don’t think he means to be rude,” which I found hilarious.
We’d moved to the Big City by this time, and being an Urban Pregnant Woman was a little bit odd. In the first place, as a fat woman I found it immensely emancipating to be Big out in public and to SUPPOSED to be big. It’s a whole new world to be looked at as though you’re doing something good for society when you’re used to the feeling that you should be charging admission. Joy and Red loved feeling the baby kick, and they could get better responses to their voices than Dave and I could get to ours.
Mungo was supposed to be born on Labor Day – he had the same due date as the baby elephant at the zoo, who had the courtesy to arrive ON TIME – but he didn’t show up until the 11th. (That’s right – September 11, though it didn’t mean anything in 1994 besides being a good day to finally be born.) Grandma and Grandpa had arrived to take care of the other kids, so we departed for the hospital in fine style – only to be turned back because, again, they didn’t think I was far enough along. We walked into the house in the middle of a grand living-room re-decoration featuring a truly hideous light-up wall – thing – that I, in my hormone-induced insanity, had lusted for at a neighbor’s garage sale. I don’t know who was more disappointed, us at being recycled or them at being interrupted.
Anyway, we went back a couple of hours later and I was sent out in a backless gown to walk the halls and “speed things up.” I had just completed Circuit #3 when I felt the oddest sensation – it was as though someone had popped a balloon against my cervix, quite audible and completely painless. I’d never experienced the “breaking waters” before but there was no mistaking the gush that followed the “pop.” I felt quite vindicated that I was indeed in labor. The doctor (wouldn’t you know it, Bad Doc was on duty that day) hadn’t shown up yet, but who needed him at this stage? We Lamaze-d until about 6 cm, and then I asked for an epidural.
If I had known what would happen, I would have demanded an epidural at the conception of my first child. The bliss was indescribable. To go from being at the mercy of that vice that grinds into your pelvis and your back, about which there’s nothing to do but to soldier through – from that, to being able to feel the pressure with absolutely no pain at all – it was fabulous. I sailed through transition labor like I was at the beach. There was such pressure in those days to go Completely Natural lest something cross the bloodline into the baby – once I knew what it could be like, I don’t think I’d have cared if that baby came out channeling Cheech and Chong for a day or two.
It was almost time to push when the baby’s heartbeat dropped dramatically and it was determined that the cord was around the head and as the baby descended through the pelvic opening it was cutting off the blood supply. I was terrified but there was no time to do anything and nothing to do but submit. They were taking the brakes off the bed to race me to ER and remove the baby via C-section – no time for anesthetic – when a trainee nurse (mine was the first delivery she’d seen) had an idea. She’d been reading about a very old treatment for this condition and she took charge. “Get up on your hands and knees,” she snapped. I did – I’d have done anything anyone said – and she reached underneath me to support the weight of my stomach. Immediately, as the nurse alleviated the pressure of the skull against the pubic bone, the baby’s heart monitor went from “beep . . . beep . . . . . beep” to “beep-beep-beepbeepbeepbeep” as it had been before. Even the oldest labor-and-delivery nurse there was impressed; by recalling something she’d read in her “back before we got civilized” class, that girl saved me from an emergency C-section at best and saved my baby’s life, at worst. I hope she has flourished.
Shortly after this excitement Bad Doc came in and he was almost too late. He sauntered through the room saying, “Don’t push yet; I don’t have my gloves on,” and I growled, “Doc, if you want to catch this baby you’d better get over here – it’s on its way,” and so it was. He was coming, pushes or no pushes. Someone adjusted a mirror, and Dave said, “Open your eyes!” I did, and there came a dark head of hair, and an astonished face; and then, after the head was almost entirely out, two cheeks! Bad Doc pirouetted through the equipment and the nurses (hands up to avoid touching anything, but gloveless) and got there just in time to ease the shoulders out and flip Jack up onto my belly. He was big and bonnie and beautiful – and then there were three.