There are lots of awesome pictures from the actual birthing day, but I somehow feel less OK about photos of the placenta online than this awesome image of the gorgeous child and her grandpa, who made it to New Haven in the nick of time to… well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Here’s the tale.
Date: July 30, 2005
Place: A Feminist-hippie-intellectual-mom’s-house, where I was house sitting in New Haven. On Alden Ave.
Time: 10:00 a.m.
The water breaks. It feels like peeing, and at first–except for the sheer volume of fluid–I am not sure I’m not peeing. Except that I haven’t peed more than two tablespoons at a time since May. And there’s no relief. There’s no pain. There’s just panic.
I call my mom, then my best girlfriend. My mom says she’s sending my dad who’s off work after hernia surgery, “expect him by 4,” she says, and that I should call the hospital. The bestie says she’ll be right over.
Bestie and I are at the hospital. The obstetrician is a short-haired, severe woman with a permanently etched scowl. She tells me she hasn’t heard of someone having a birthing plan since the 70s. She scolds me for a lot of things I can’t hear, that Bestie tells me about later.
I am persistent in my requests to leave.
I am unplugged from the heart rate monitor and scowled at one last time by the OB before getting dismissed. She says, “If you’re still not in full labor in thirteen hours, come back.”
Bestie has to work, so I’m dropped off at the house-sitting house, and as I walk into the house, I lose my balance because the pain is so big. It is the kind of pain that turns thoughts into a series of shocks, weakens the knees, and sends your breath to a place from which it can’t be readily collected. When I come to, I am hanging on to my car, even my fingernails hurt, and I hobble the way into the house.
“Dad. Where are you?”
“Hartford, I think?”
“Hurry.” I hang up.
I come to after a contraction and I’m walking the house naked. I see drops of blood are appearing beneath me as I waddle. I think, “huh.”
“Dad. Where are you?”
“Milford, I think?”
“OK. The house isn’t locked. I’m getting in the shower.”
“Is everything okay?”
“I mean, I guess? It hurts. A lot.”
I am back out of the shower. I am pacing the house, droplets of water covering me, still naked. Feeling wild. Like a wolf. I seriously picture myself as a wolf. This is not a joke.
Dad arrives. He is not distressed as he should to find me roaming a house in which I do not live naked. I have forgotten that I am naked and experience a kind of spike of alertness when dad suggests finding me some duds. I wiggle back into the least stressful bit of clothing I own.
Dad calls the hospital. The hospital says to call 911. Dad has retrieved a dirty piece of paper from his breast pocket where he writes down times of contractions. He’s had practice. I am one of four children.
I’ve started to scream–a blood curdling scream that is unfamiliar to me–with each contraction. They’re coming hard and fast, and I’m pretty sure I won’t live through it.
Dad times two more before calling 911.
4:10 p.m. Ambulance arrives. With it, six, macho firemen. I am naked again, though I do not remember getting that way. I have been confined to a room, and am vaguely aware of being on a bed, and people come in and out of it, seeming unsure what to do. I want to scream at them to do something, that pacing is not going to help.
4:30 p.m. The macho firemen have formed a semicircle and stand, like spectators, around my pasty, preggers, wailing, labor self. Their arms are crossed on their chests, and I think how awesome it must be for them to have a job where they get to–occasionally–observe a bloody beaver without shame or touching it.
4:32 p.m. Bestie and paramedics arrive. Bestie asks the six machos if she can make them some popcorn. They all kind of grunt and file out of the room. Female paramedic is at my side, gripping my hand, asking how I’m doing. She’s blonde and tall and lovely. Her hands are soft.
“I think we’re going to have to deliver her here,” she says.
5:00 p.m. I’m still screaming like something not of this earth about every 12 seconds.
The blonde, tall paramedic says, “Do you know if there are any clean towels?” to Bestie.
“Sure,” says Bestie, because she cleans rich people’s houses, and she can always find anything in any house. That is why she is a good Bestie to be present at the birth of my kid. That is why my kid has her name for her middle name. But I don’t know that my kid is going to be a girl yet. I have relaxed considerably now that Bestie and female paramedic seem to be doing something.
The male paramedic also has soft hands. He is black and beautiful and has a real live Theo Huxtable haircut. I am half aware that it’s the first flat top I’ve seen in person, because when it was the early 90s, I lived in a farm town where ethnic diversity was inbreeding.
Bestie comes in with towels.
The paramedic’s face makes a left turn. Trust me.
She says, “Maybe we should try to get her to the hospital. She’s not crowning.”
She says, “Do you think you can get into the ambulance?”
“Like up front?”
“No. To a stretcher.”
Some more things happen, but I have retreated to my happy place. My brain is escaping the pain, or at least protecting my intellect from it.
I am walking down stairs, but I feel like I am floating. Maybe I am being carried. Blonde and Flat Top are on either side. Bestie is scurrying around the house, picking things up, cleaning, being useful.
She and Dad discuss driving to the hospital together. They discuss stopping for snacks. They know it will be soon.
Flat Top says in my ear, “You’re going to have to stop screaming once we get you into the ambulance.”
I like to think he is joking, but he probably is not.
The screaming stops. Now I grunt. Blonde says, “push.” I do.
Then I do again.
Baby Pearl takes her first breath.
Time ceases to matter.
They lay her on my chest. She is warm and lightweight and she looks like a worm. She’s a little purple, but she’s crying and she’s got black hair. I weakly put my hands on her tiny back, and I am immediately terrified that her next breath will be her last.
At the hospital, they make baby P go to the NICU to be observed because she was born outside of the hospital. They put her in a baby toaster and hook her up to wires and what have you. They ask me if they can feed her a bottle. I tell them ok, but I would rather feed her. They say I can in 7 hours.
I am on a bed in a room by myself and there’s a stainless steel cart in there, draped with a green hospital cover. The OB is supposed to come help me pass the placenta & stitch me up. I ripped a lot. Bestie and Dad show up. They both eye the cart, and their eyes both ask, “Where’s the baby?”
I say, “It’s a girl!”
They sigh with their whole bodies.
For 7 hours, we make trips between my room and the NICU. Dad and Bestie bring me Slim Jims and Gatorade. Combos. I’d really like some broccoli and a beer.
Little P can finally come hang out with me, and I lay her on my chest. We both go to sleep.
Nurses keep coming in and taking her off my chest and putting her in the stupid baby holding device they’ve brought to my room.
I keep getting up and putting her back on my chest. They come to give me fresh ice packs and dressing for my newly shredded vagina, and they scold me for keeping P with me. I want to say, “I’m having separation anxiety.” Instead, I smile and nod politely and follow their directions until they leave the room.
People come in and out and tell me about social programs and how to nurse. One woman tells me she’s worried for me. She seems devastated that I, a white kid in college, intend to take this baby home with me and raise her.
She is clearly unaware of my resourcefulness and comfort with paying bills late.
Here are some awesome things: I do not mind being hot when baby P is on me. It is a hot ass summer, and I hate summer, but I kind of love the mat of sweatiness baby P leaves on my chest while she naps, which she does, all the time.
Nursing is the best thing ever. It makes me feel powerful and self-sustainable.
I have a terrific network of amazing women and men to help me, and they do. Until I leave them. But that is a story for another day.