My sister, my mom and I had spent the evening packing boxes for troops. I was neck deep in beef jerky, Crystal Light packets and playing cards. Story of my life, right? I left the ladies to finish the work and went home to go to sleep. It had been a long day. I crawled all 180 pounds of my 9-month pregnant body into a very cozy bed and fell asleep…for about two hours.
Something was burning in my back. It was a waving ache, vibrating out from my spine. It woke me up, but I figured it was from all the work I’d done that day and didn’t immediately freak out. I tried rearranging my body, hugging the stupid pillow that helped me feel less like a loner. That dumbass pillow never even took me out to eat or told me I looked nice. It’s OK though. I burned it after I gave birth.
The ache didn’t go away and I decided to call my labor coach — my experienced, trusty, ever faithful Mom. She knocked at the door ten minutes later. We strolled a few times around the block under the November moon. I was smiling, excited that it looked like the page was turning after being stuck on the same uncomfortable chapter for nine months. When we felt like the contractions were coming at regular intervals, we calmly got into the car and headed for Providence Hospital.
The nurse on duty hooked me up to all kinds of fancy robot equipment. I heard Ava’s heartbeat, her kicks, her cramped movement inside my belly. Oh, what a miracle! How lovely! How nice! After the standard hour of monitoring, the nurse came in with a pleasant smile and proceeded to violate me in the way pregnant women become accustomed to. What’s this? My cervix isn’t dilating? I told the nurse the contractions were uncomfortable. She informed me Medicaid — the only insurance I had — wouldn’t pay for anything unless I was in “active labor”, which is determined by cervix dilation. Since I wasn’t in what the State would define as active labor, I couldn’t be admitted. They gave me a sleeping pill to take home with me. Disappointed, I left the hospital.
The contractions kept me from sleeping any, but I didn’t take the pill. And they got worse. By 6 am I wasn’t smiling; By noon I was crying; By nightfall I was looking for a gun. The pain moved from the back to the front — clench, squeeze and release. The twisted muscle tango that women are cursed with during labor rolled in like a storm a sailor sees from the deck of his ship. The waves were getting wilder and I couldn’t seem to find a life jacket anywhere.
I rocked the assault on my muscles for that whole day and into the night. I was so tired, but I couldn’t sleep. I finally broke and decided to take the pill that nice nurse had given me.
It was Ambien for Christ’s sake. Sure, I had been up for more than forty-eight hours at that point, not including the small nap I had taken before my contractions started. And yeah, I could’ve used some sleep. But instead of sleeping I went shopping with my second-string Labor Coach, a girl named Summer Shine (seriously, that’s her name). Apparently I had become too much for my mom to handle. The cussing had intensified with the contractions. I was like a wild animal, rolling like a crazy person on an exercise ball because I had seen it on that show “A Baby Story” a gazillion times. And for the record, that shit doesn’t work. Nothing works. What are those hippies thinking? You’re just going to roll your fat ass around on a stability ball and your baby will feel the vibe and come on down because the price is right? Idiots. All of them.
Summer followed behind me while I moaned like some pioneer woman in the middle of the Walmart on Franklin Avenue. It was the only place open at 2 am and we seized the opportunity to get out of the house. I didn’t realize it until after I came home from the hospital, but I bought fuzzy pink socks made especially for diabetics, back pain patches and candy. When a contraction would hit, I’d lean over the cart and Summer would rub my back. If I knew how bad we were freaking out the stockers I would have given them a better show. Unfortunately, pain superseded my usual knack for performance. Summer told me later she assumed everyone thought we were a lesbian couple about to welcome their first child. I didn’t even have a chance to get into character. Damn you, labor pains.
Feeling like an amputee patient on a civil war battlefield, I told my mom we should go back to the hospital. Again with the fancy machinery and standard violation. And again, no change in dilation. This time, however, the nurses informed me I couldn’t scream and drop F-bombs in the labor and delivery wing because women were “trying to have their babies.” Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, or maybe it was that a 7 pound human being was trying to get out of my body, but I had forgotten I lived in America and not some Nordic village where bellowing out the pains of hell is widely accepted as normal practice.
I huffed to the nurse in between the tremors, “If you expect me to come here tomorrow morning to be induced you better give me something strong RIGHT NOW. Something even John Belushi would get excited about. Don’t send me away without some kind of relief, or you’re going to burn in hell for all eternity. I **WILL**WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR BOSS, lady!” She came back after a phone call with my doctor. In her hand was a syringe filled with chemical relief.
“What…is…it?!” I asked.
“Stadol,” she said. “It’s high-powered and it should work. It’s also the only thing we can give you.”
And bam, into my hip the needle went. After a few seconds, I was granted some mercy. Whew! I had never welcomed a needle so much in my life!
The old man who greets people at the front door, the one I had nearly set ablaze with my wild eyes when walking in 45 minutes prior, was still sitting in the same spot. I waved and cracked a joke as I exited the hospital. It’s smooth sailing now, brother. I hadn’t eaten this entire time so my mom drove me out to Luby’s. I rode shotgun, thanking God for Science, and thanking Science for Stadol.
When we got about a mile away from the world’s greatest cafeteria restaurant, the pain came rushing back with a vengeance — WORSE THAN EVER. Was this some kind of trick to get me to leave the hospital quietly? Oh I’m writing that letter now. Plans changed and we got the food togo. At home I crawled into the bed, wailing at the ceiling, eyes clenched shut. My mom spoon fed me a few bites of food. THIS IS BULLSHIT. My champion called the nurses back. “She’s worse than before. How long was this stuff supposed to last?” I got up from the bed and BOOM. It felt like my water broke. What I know now that I didn’t know then was about twenty minutes after that nurse’s thumb left the button on the syringe, I went into active labor. Medicine — a cruel joke.
Positive that a baby was about to exit my person, I screamed with the force of Satan himself, “Get in the car NOW!!” I hobbled to the passenger seat; Mom was at the wheel. Zoom, zoom, zoom down Sanger Avenue to what I felt like was going to be the shores of Omaha Beach. Oh God, a yellow light ahead. “Run it, mom!!!”
SHE DIDN’T. She didn’t run the light! They run the lights in the movies, Mom!! God Almighty! Screw everyone else on this planet right now! I am queen! And so help me God, I will cut every last one of you if I don’t get to the hospital RIGHT!!! NOW!!!
The old man at the door made the sign of the cross as I got onto the elevator. I gave him a good, ol’ fashioned middle finger salute. We made it back to the hospital bed I had laid in twice in the last two days. The nurses looked at me.
“Oh God, she’s back.”
The one gentile, tolerant nurse I had come to like told me she wouldn’t make me wait the hour you’re supposed to. She said she’d come back in thirty minutes to check me for dilation. It was the longest thirty minutes of my life. I gripped the bed’s railing when the waves of pain would crash on my body’s hull. Some girl who had been in labor for two seconds, still wearing her maternity skirt and PEARLS, was in the bed next to me. I must have sounded like a sick cow right before you nail it between the eyes with a bullet. She, on the other hand, didn’t make a peep and somehow got admitted before me. What a polite bitch.
After the allotted time had passed, the nurse returned. I welcomed the violation. Had I gone from 3 centimeters to 4? Was I going to have to go home again without any hope? Was I going to have to do this for even one more hour?
No. My cervix had dilated to 4 centimeters. The State would be satisfied and the hospital could treat me. The anesthesiologist/nicest man on the planet came into the fancy room they had assigned me to give me my epidural. He made small talk which was total bullshit, but I appeased him as best I could because he was the man with the needle. “Yes…OHHHH… the weather…OWWWWW… is rather mild for November.”
As the medicine joined my blood in the race through my veins, a numbness came over all the painful parts and I breathed a sigh of real relief for the first time in over 36 hours. And then I finally fell asleep.
At approximately 8:30-8:45 pm, I woke up feeling lots of pressure in the, um, exit area. Summer got the nurse. I was ready to push.
If you’ve never had your feet in stirrups with your very private nether regions exposed for all of God and country to see, and at the same time not cared a single bit, then you really haven’t lived. So there I was, hoisted up like some barn animal, surrounded by my mom, Debbie Sims, Summer, my sister Faith, the BACKUP doctor and a nurse. “Push!!” they said. I focused very hard on doing everything right. Determined to grow up finally, I bared down with what little strength I had left. I did the work millions of women before me had done with a cemented sense of purpose.
At 9:30 pm, November 19th, a Thursday, Ava Lorene emerged from my body — calm, serene and on her own time. At 9:30 pm, November 19th, a Thursday, I was honorably admitted to a league of extraordinary women. We both had crossed a threshold, and both of us were new.
Ava didn’t make a sound until the nurse started cleaning her up. I saw a spot on her hand and asked a series of nervous questions: “What is that? Is she ok? Does she have two eyes and ten toes?” When I was pregnant, I had a dream Ava had thirteen toes on one foot and five eyes on her forehead so this question was very relevant. Lobster hands were also a big concern for me. Happily, Ava was perfectly fine. And so was I.
From my bed I heard her let out a little cry, the kind babies make in the movies. As I heard my daughter make her first audible impression on this world, I laid my head on the pillow, shut my eyes and knew this race was over. Finally.
Ava continues to operate on her own schedule and I’ve continued to tell her, “Hurry!” She taught me patience during that forty-five hours, and has continued to do so every day for the last four years.
I don’t know why things happen the way they do. I don’t know why Life doesn’t abide by the script I wrote when I was younger. But I do know that I have this story now. It’s not the one I would have written if I had control of the pen, but it’s better this way. I’m the protagonist in my life, not exactly the author. Don’t even get me started on the battle between agency and fatalism. Let’s get coffee sometime and talk about it. Despite the challenges, I’ve been given the best co-star a mother could ever ask for. The narrative seems to be progressing nicely – plenty of conflict. And at the very least, it keeps me busy.
I imagine how that guy who does the trailers for movies would sound reading ours:
“This generation, coming to a life near you,
the story of one woman and one little girl,
determined to save the world from normalcy – one day at a time.”
It’s an indie, for sure.