I’d been nervous it would take an eternity for the anaesthisologist to come to me but as luck would have it, it was only a few minutes. This was very good news because by this point, it was apparent I was having the dreaded back labor. Its what I had with Primo and my sister and David needed to press on my back with ever iota of strength they had for hours on end. David even had the gall to complain that his hands were hurting him. It felt just the same this time around, so I told David to ready his hands.
He looked at me like, “Really? I mean, I did it with number one but you need me this time too? Don’t you have this routine down by now? Can’t you just take care of it yourself, like a pioneer woman?”
When you are married nearly 10 years, all this is communicated in a look.
I told him he had to press, hard, now, on my lower back.
Here?” he asked, pressing in entirely the wrong spot.
“No!” I gasped. I wanted to point him in the right direction but the fucking contraction hurt so much I had to concentrate on just getting through it and talking was not really an option.
When it was over, I showed him where to press, and told him, please for the love of God, get it right next time. But within a minute or two, when the next contraction rolled around, he had already forgot the spot.
“Here?” asked David.
“No!” I gasped.
Repeat every two to three minutes.
When the anaesthisologist arrived, David was as relieved as I was. I didn’t even flinch when the Drug Man loaded up his big needle. I was too busy salivating. Within five minutes, I was stuck and the morphine goodness was infiltrating my blood flow. I don’t remember it working so quickly last time. Maybe they’ve improved the epidural in the past five years. All I can say is, I give it two thumbs way, way up.
Once I was juiced up, at about 6pm, Dr. Malley came in and broke my water. There wasn’t much of it and she told me that’s because my fluid was already low. On account of my AMA.
“This should help make your labor progress,” she told me, “So if you feel like the epidural is wearing off, let me know, because that may mean it’s almost time to push.”
Now that I had a constant drip of drugs directly into my spinal cord, I felt great so settled in for a long night of comfortable laboring. I didn’t know how much I was dilated but it couldn’t be more than 4 or 5 and that had taken a while, so I figured I wouldn’t be pushing til midnight. David and I chatted. I called the kids, who were at my grandmother’s house.
“Did the baby come out yet?” asked Sec.
“Not yet, but soon,” I promised.
“Call us when she comes out!” yelled Primo, “In fact, call us WHEN she is coming out so we can hear her first cry.”
“Ummm . . . I’ll be in touch,” I assured him.
Within an hour of getting the epidural, it started to feel like it was wearing off. Now, I’ve had the epidural twice before and it NEVER wore off. Moreover, I never had to push the little button they give you so you can give yourself extra drugs. You should know that I prided myself on this, by the way. I’m such a wimp that I would’ve gotten the epidural at 1 cm if they’d let me yet I still prided myself on being so disciplined and moderate in my administration of pain relief.
Now, for some reason though, it was hurting again, and so soon after the drugs had started. That was weird. There was also the fact that I was feeling a lot of pressure in my pelvic floor, the kind of pressure one feels before one pushes a human out of your vagina. So I buzzed Dr. Malley.
“What’s up?” she said, popping her head in the door.
“I feel like the epidural’s wearing off and I feel pressure,” I said, “Can you check me?”
She put on some rubber gloves and did.
“No change,” she said, “You’re still at about six centimeters.”
“That is impossible,” I said, “I feel a lot of pressure.”
“Well the baby is very low,” she said, “Very low. But you’re still at only six centimeters and you can’t push until you’re totally dilated.”
“Ok,” I said. I was not convinced.
“Give yourself more epidural if it hurts,” she said on her way out the door.
I pressed the epidural button but it didn’t seem to do much good. And then, too, the pressure just kept increasing exponentially every minute. In less than ten minutes, I was feeling like I had to push.
“Get the doctor back,” I told David, “I have to push.”
“She was JUST here and you were only six centimeters dilated,” he said. Great support network. Ideal patient advocate.
“I don’t care,” I said, “I’m buzzing.”
Dr. Malley came in, looking visibly perturbed.
“Yes?” she said, with a tight smile.
“I really feel a LOT of pressure,” I told her, “I really feel like it’s time to push.”
“Well, let’s check,” she said and then, a minute later, with what sounded like great satisfaction, she said: “Yeah, you’re still at about six centimeters.”
“Are you kidding me?” I asked, feeling a bit deranged, “I am telling you -- I feel tremendous pressure. I feel like the baby is moving down my pelvis. I feel like I have to push.”
“Well she is really, really low. I can almost feel her head. But you’re still not dilated yet. So we have to wait.”
“Ok,” I said uneasily. There was really nothing else to say. Plus, another contraction was coming. Plus, the doctor was halfway out the door.
No sooner had she left then the pressure doubled and became constant. In a few minutes, I was moaning, not from pain but from the exertion of not pushing. My legs were clamped together. I was literally keeping the baby inside by pressing my legs closed.
“OOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I moaned, “OOOOOO!”
David looked disturbed but made no attempt to get the doctor.
“Get her,” I gasped, “I have to push.”
“Nicole, she was just here, less then ten minutes ago.”
“What do you want me to tell you? The baby is coming out, OK? SHE IS COMING OUT! GET THE DOCTOR!”
The nurse came in then, probably hearing the commotion.
“I have to push,” I panted.
In a minute Dr. Malley was at the door again.
“Is this for real this time?” she said.
I am not kidding. That’s verbatim.
“OOOOOOOOOOOH,” I moaned in reply.
She pried my legs open and then, she didn’t need to check how dilated I was because she could SEE the baby’s head. My baby was actually crowning. David confirms this. It freaked him the fuck out.
“Yep, the baby is right here,” she said, “So push.”
“Ok,” I said, “Right now?”
“Yes, now. Go!”
And I did. I pushed. You know, a tentative push. A starter one.
“Push Nicole!” Dr. Malley barked.
“OK,” I said, and I pushed harder.
“Nicole, you need to push this baby out,” she said, raising her voice, “Now! Now!”
It’s not that I wasn’t pushing. I was, with what at any other time in one’s life would be considered a lot of energy and effort, at about 100%. It’s just that in childbirth you have to push with a supernatural, no-holds-barred, 1000% percent, so that your arteries come close to popping and you nearly stop your heart from the exertion. I’d forgotten this. Also, it’s not something you know how to do instantly. And in my past two childbirths, when the doc on call had deigned to hang around for more then 2 minutes at a time, I’d pushed a few times before the baby’s head crowned, so I had a chance to get the hang of pushing. I’d had some leeway, did a few practice pushes, got some feedback from the doc (“Harder! Harder!”) and then gradually upped my game til I was doing it right. Now there was no time. The baby’s head was literally almost out and I had to go from 0 to 100 instantly. And since I’d been actively trying NOT to push the baby out for the past half hour, it took a few minutes for me to change gears. This is why when the doctor yelled “Push! Go! Now!” I still had my legs closed. I didn’t realize this, of course. I was too busy trying to figure out what was going on. David pointed it out.
“Nicole, open your legs!” he said. He’s not an expert but even he knows you can’t deliver a baby with your legs closed.
“What?” I asked. I was on another planet, far far away. I was wondering if it was actually possible for me to split into two right down the middle from the terrific, mind-blowing pressure in my pelvis.
“Open your legs!” he said again.
“Now! Push! Go! Now!” barked the doctor.
Then David, wise man that he is, just grabbed my legs and pushed them open himself and I understood what he was talking about, “Yes, right. Got it. Pushing the baby out now.”
And I did. Gave it 5000%, bellowing like a dying animal. I pushed one massive, epic push and the baby came flying out, head, body and all.
That’s how you do it the third time around. One push. Done and done.
They placed her slippery, squirmy little body right on my chest and I was shaking and crying and taking her in. She was so tiny and bird-like, a perfect minute human being, all warm and gooey and writhing on me. Could words ever describe the feeling of seeing your baby for the first time? Any attempt seems cheap and unworthy.
“Do you want me to take your baby now?” Dr. Malley asked, and I was confused because I didn’t, not at all, I didn’t ever want anyone to take my baby, not even for a second. I wanted to baby attached to my chest, warm and wiggly until she was grown herself, until she had to deliver her own baby, and even then it seemed like it could work if she just attached that baby to her chest and we’d be like a bunch of matrioshkas, eternally nested together.
Then Dr. Malley said it again, “Do you want me to take your baby and make her cry?”
It occurred to me then that I hadn’t heard the baby cry yet and then I realized what she meant – that they wanted to make sure everything was Ok – and I said, “Yes, yes. Make her cry.”
No sooner had they lifted her off of me than she did, a delicious, tinny caterwaul which reverberated around the room and made everyone laugh.
“Is she OK?” I called over my shoulder to where they had the baby in the bassinett.
“She’s perfect,” the nurse said, “All six pounds three ounces of her.”
And though she’s considerably bigger two months later, she still is.
Every time I see her I feel like I can hear the song “Lets Stay Together” playing distantly in the background. “I . . . I’m so in love with you . . . whatever you want to do . . . is all right with me . . . “ Though the whole experience feels somewhat familiar – I know what milestones to expect and what obstacles I may encounter - - it feels at the same time, all brand-new. The joy isn’t muted because I’ve felt it before. Quite the opposite in fact – the happiness feels even more expansive because it isn’t hemmed in on all sides by terror and confusion, the way it did when I was a first timer.
And I think the same thing I always think about childbirth, after its over: “What a ridiculously small price to pay for all this. Worth every labor pain. Especially with the epidural.”