This time last year, January 6th, my husband and I were trapped in the house. We were buried behind a foot of snow and ice, which day after day kept thawing and re-freezing following weather reports which in typical calamitous fashion kept underestimating the length and breadth of the storm's duration. "Thawing expected tomorrow followed by warmer temperatures," they would say, looking sheepish with that sort of home-spun yokelism that was meant to endear but just enraged as the ice grew thicker and thicker on the roads. And the snow would thaw, as predicted, but there would be no warmth, so the frigid temperatures would add a few more millimeters of ice each day to the slalom death-track that engulfed the city. We waited for the storm to pass as patiently as we could, giving up our destinies to the caprices of nature. Of course, the storm meant a little bit more to us, since my due date was in a week and my stomach was ponderously gigantic. Each day we would look outside at the white, white world where not even snowplows dared to tread and grimace. Would our son, who was now so big that he made every inch of me ache, hang on for a couple more days, or would we be faced with one of the greatest challenges of our lives, trapped in our own home with little chance of making it up the two-lane road to our mountainside hospital? I cooked spaghetti with red sauce each night since it was all that was left in the house, and each morning we ate cereal or french toast. Rations were getting low, but we still had the heat, we still had each other and we had a baby, who was hopefully not chomping on the bit to make his way into the world--just yet.
"I want you to know," I said, "I want you to know that I have faith that you can deliver this baby." We discussed game plans. We read chapters about home delivery. We followed the weather reports with a calm resignation that whatever came, including a baby, we could do it together. That's how concerned we were. That's how deep the snow was. That's how few services were getting through.
My husband laughs now. "HAHAHAHAHA!" he guffaws. "Omigod, that's so amazingly ridiculous." He stops to reflect on the birth of our son, a scant week after our city dug out of the snow. "As if I could have delivered the bun!" he chuckles. He's not knocking his own ability to rise up to a challenge; he's remembering my birth coach conducting me like a choir of seasick cows lowing their hearts and guts out. He's also remembering, with the benefit of hindsight, the pediatric unit that swept in and carried our son off for his first minutes and thinking that there are some things which, no matter what the challenge, one might not be able to handle by themselves.
I was in labor for 24 hours. The first 16 were spent at home, contractions ebbing and flowing but not really progressing all that much. Finally we called my mother to bring us some Chinese take-out for dinner; it looked like the bun-show was suspended and we were going to have to wait another day.
We were watching "The History of Britain," a foppish but enjoyable documentary that we had been following for nine episodes. This was episode ten, the last one. Just about the time Winston Churchill was leading England through World War II we realized that we weren't going to have the baby that afternoon. I said, after a lull of about 20 minutes, "I don't think it's gonna happen today."
Nature, fickle bitch that she is, changed her mind as soon as I spoke and decided to bring on the contractions so fast that my husband couldn't keep up. His neat spreadsheet in Excel was forsaken for the back of an envelope with the times between each contraction and a little notation if it was particularly strong. Pretty soon they were all so ferocious that he couldn't tell where one ended and the next started. He began making preparations to fly me to our destiny, and called our midwife and birth coach, gathered our bags, and told me that we had to go, NOW.
It was rush hour on a Friday. My husband didn't care. It didn't register to him. We flew out\ of our driveway and past my mother and her beau's car, which was just pulling up with the now irrelevant Chinese take-out. He flew through bumper to bumper traffic like a hot knife through butter, and if I weren't mewling like a wounded sheep in the back seat, I'm sure I would have recommended a slower pace. But as it was, I was preoccupied.
Things unfold out of time when you're having a baby. Chronology of events became hazy to me almost immediately; if it weren't for the recounting of the tale later to others, and being corrected on certain inconsistencies, I wouldn't know what happened when or if it had happened at all.
But I do know this: when my husband dropped me at the ER and promised to meet me in the delivery room, an orderly plunked me in a wheelchair in the center of the lobby while the desk clerk called up to the delivery ward requesting a nurse to wheel me up. They cheerfully babbled at me. "So, is this your first?" they asked, eyeballing the clock and each other as I gasped through a jolt of sheer animal nature. Patients with a wide range of moderate maladies gaped at my public grunts and my obvious imminent delivery. If there was no room for me, how did that bode for them and that splinter in their eye?
My husband parked the car, and was surprised to discover I was still parked like a dirigible ready to deflate in the ER waiting room. No one had come to get me yet, and while I wasn't completely coherent, I remember the hushed but increasingly emphatic tones the clerk took on the phone while looking purposely away from me. "Um, yeah," she'd say. "We're still waiting for a nurse from Delivery. She's pretty far along." She'd glance back. "Hurry."
Finally, they hauled me up to delivery. **** Those of you who've done this before know the score; those of you who haven't know that you cannot fathom what your body is being asked to do, and would rather not be reminded of that fact until through willfulness or purpose or sheer stupidity you find yourself in the same predicament.
When I arrived in the delivery room, the midwife took one look and said, more or less, that I was ready to go. We mentally prepared for the next hour which seemed to be all about having a bun.
But the bun was coming down the pipe with his head cocked. He couldn't make that last turn. We had to wait.
The hours began to blur. I remember only patches, and usually in the wrong order. Six more hours passed. My husband has to tell me what actually transpired and when--some events contract while others become elongated and absurdly painful. But through the time, I remember tapping out. I also remember incompetence, arguing nurses, and bizarre tension between the nurse who couldn't agree with the midwife, while I waited for something to happen.
Finally I couldn't wait anymore. I had been in labor for 22 hours and I was exhausted. Physically, I was battered. Emotionally, I was ready to die.
My coach began to sense my desperation and tried to get the midwife to move things along. "I don't think she can wait any longer--can she start pushing soon?" she said. The midwife came to me. "How are you feeling?" she said. "What are you thinking about right now?"
"Give me a c-section," I said. I wasn't kidding. I wanted the ordeal over with, and if the c-section was the way to go, after 22 hours, wheel me in: I was ready for the anaesthetic.
There were a few loaded glances between the staff. "It would take longer to get the doctor here than for you to have the baby at this point," they said.
It appeared I was going to see this thing through the old fashioned way: no drugs, not even an aspirin, in the dark, by the light of a flashlight. The medical staff decided I was okay to push, thank god, and they tried to ease me through my shoving a porpoise through parts unnameable.
They told me to ease back, to hold on; the bun had passed meconium into the fluid and they had to suction his nose and mouth so that he didn't suffocate. While my husband and I were watching this outrageously amazing act of life, the medical team couldn't get the vacuum to work. I wanted to strangle everyone, but I was a little distracted. Finally, mysterious forces tucked behind a curtain swooped in and handed the nurse a functioning vacuum, and the birth continued apace.
They still insisted that I take it slow. They were trying to ease me through the final steps. But apparently I was ready, and though they were counting patient measured breaths for me to follow, I couldn't wait any longer and shot the bun out of me like a tiny cannon.
And there he was.
He arrived with the sleekness of a fish but he was tremendously hairy. He had a cap of the blackest hair I had ever seen, and he was purplish. He was amazing. He was human. His hands were gripped into tiny fists.
And then he was gone. The Pediatric Unit that was called in for every birth in case of some trauma had been tucked behind a curtain waiting for the event far more patiently than I had. They had, in their angelic way, handed the incompetent nurse the functioning vacuum. And when our son arrived they swept down in an elegant choreography to do some art which at that point was far beyond me. I had done my job, but the damned nurses were telling me that I still had more to do and couldn't turn my attention to the guest of honor just yet.
I had been battered in ways that make both women and men alike shiver in horror. Parts of me tore that should never be pained. The midwife assured me that I was going to be stitched up good as new, but that it was unusual, the way I tore. They needed time. My husband was so worried about me that he forgot what was going on on the other side of the room until my coach nudged him. "You're all he's got right now; he needs you." He left my side to look upon the person he had been waiting for all this time.
Finally, after they stitched me up and made sure the bun was in tip-top shape, they handed us our son. He was screaming. He was screaming so loud and with such vigor that we were shocked. They laid him on top of my chest, and he kept screaming. Minutes passed. He screamed and screamed and screamed. My husband and I looked at each other with a sinking gaze--was this it? Was he going to scream until he went to college? What had we done?
And then, exhausted, he fell asleep. It was three-thirty in the morning. We made it. The wait was over. ***** He never screamed again like he did those first 45 minutes. From the moment when he woke next, he proved himself to be a mellow, gentle soul. He seemed far more adjusted to his new reality than we were, that was for certain.
A couple of days after he was born, the only nurse we had any real affinity with was trying to assess the bun's eating habits. He didn't seem to be eating enough; indeed he seemed a little tuckered out, not that interested. Not that I was an authority; I didn't know what the hell was going on.
She said, "He had a pretty rough entry. It's not surprising that he's not that energetic. Just keep offering him the breast and he'll be okay."
We decided to press a little about the "rough entry" comment.
"No-one told you?" she said.
There is no other statement that you want to hear less when you've just had a baby than "No-one told you." We shook our heads.
"He was bagged when he was born, they had to get him breathing. He wasn't breathing because he was born with the cord around his neck. Plus the meconium."
She told us that our son had to be revived. She told us that our son wasn't breathing when he was born.
In hindsight it's actually good that they didn't tell us. Because there was very little trauma and he had only been without oxygen a short time, information that would have made us hysterical was withheld while we tried to adjust to the mere fact of having a third human in our lives. The pediatric unit did their jobs flawlessly, revived our son, and moved on silently down the hall to the next birth. All in a days work, I guess.
For us, we were never more relieved that we lived in the 21st century. We had a team of people who knew what they were doing when it came to our son, and they made what could have been a rather dramatic and miserable end into a beautiful, almost banal beginning. We carried him off to the maternity ward none-the-wiser about his tenuous start, and it's just as well. Because there was no prolonged damage, the only thing it would have done was to make us panic. We were all too tired for that. **** Now we're waiting again. He's almost a year old. There is talk of snow, but we don't have anywhere to be so we don't worry about it. Now we're waiting for him to walk.
He's taken a step or two, toddling gingerly towards one of us and then giddily falling on his butt, not quite sure of himself or his balance. But my husband is primed with the video camera, and now after months of not using it is firing it up at every opportunity, hoping against hope that those first steps are going to be forever frozen, documented for eternity. But he's taking his own sweet time.
He can take as long as he wants. We'll wait.