I was one of those pregnant women that everybody hates. I threw up once in my entire pregnancy, and the rest of the time I was like the freaking Madonna with the glow and the benevolence and shit. I got the spider veins and stretch marks and gained a bunch of weight, but other than that it was smooth sailing. Well, that and the first ultrasound.
We had the routine sono at the hospital where we were to give birth. As much as my hippie self would have liked a birthing center, the midwife practice we found operated out of St. Vincent’s. Having just got back from Italy, land of saints, I took it as a sign that we had found the right midwives. It turned out that no birthing center in the world would’ve delivered Lucy. That first ultrasound found a coarctation of the aorta, and so ‘meeting’ our baby turned out to be meeting our cardiologist. He was a nice guy and all, but as I sat sobbing on the bed waiting for the echocardiogram, I was absolutely devastated. It only got worse when he asked if we wanted the option of aborting because of the defect. Yeah, no we don’t. As with all health issues that happen to the baby prenatally, we had no idea what the defect would mean, of there would be more, or really anything besides her aorta being out of normal ratio with the rest of her heart.
I spent the next few months very consciously avoiding stress over Lucy’s heart. It was the only time my normally obsessive brain shut itself up for any serious duration. C and I spoke very little about the defect, choosing to concentrate on the baseball postseason and NPR since we had no tv at that point. We went to regular midwife appointments, listened to music with jangly guitars to feel Lucy toss and turn, and I spent a lot of time sleeping with Bean, who had become my Lord Protector. I’m not Catholic but I am highly superstitious, and I suppose I figured that having spent several weeks tromping through cathedrals in Italy looking at reliquaries must have bought me something.
About a month before Lucy was due, the unthinkable happened. The midwife practice we had been using closed. Are you kidding me? We went in for an appointment to find no reception staff, lights turned out, and received a list of other OB/GYN practices which used St. Vincent’s. That dented my cool a little. A few days after that appointment, though, I got a phone call from my favorite midwife from that practice letting me know where she had moved and would I consider coming over with her so she could continue to see me. I fell in love a little bit right there. Our switch was painless because of her, and while there was a chance that we’d have a non-midwife birth if she wasn’t on-call, I didn’t care. Little did I know that after my last appointment she would switch with one of the OBs to be on call when I went into labor.
At about seven in the evening before I had Lucy, I felt sort of funny so I called my mom to tell her I was in labor. I didn’t have contractions or anything, I just felt like something was about to happen. I went to bed, and slept through most of the hardening of the contractions. To be honest, they felt a whole hell of a lot like the horrible menstrual cramps I had suffered from on and off for years, and sleeping through them was how I coped. I woke up in excruciating pain at about 4 am and we called the midwife. She asked if I could make it until 6, and I figured I could. I tried to go back to sleep but the waves of pain had less distinguishable crests and troughs and I started to get scared. And so I did what any complete freak of nature would do; I waited some more. In hindsight, we needed to leave after the diarrhea and before the constant feeling of having to take a crap. We called her again at 6, and she asked if I felt like I could wait until 9. No problem, I thought. She can hear in my voice that I’m scared and not in serious pain, and first babies usually take longer, and I’d rather labor here with my cats and my bed than in some hospital.
At 7:30 I couldn’t stand up and I couldn’t sit down and I had no idea how I was supposed to make it to the hospital when clearly I was incapacitated. I’m pretty sure I tried to crack jokes with C about how much it hurt only to have the punchline cut off by groans of agony. I made him call the midwife and a car service to take us from Brooklyn in to the hospital while I got our stuff together.
The person I feel sorriest for in this whole ordeal (although C is a close second) is the driver who took us to St. Vincent’s. There we were in the back of a Lincoln, on a terrifically bumpy stretch of road between the Brooklyn Bridge and 12th St with me gripping the oh shit handle and trying to keep my ass off of the seat, the driver swerving all the hell all over the place to avoid the bumps, and C trying to keep everything together through sheer force of will. We got to the hospital at around 8:30, and I filled out the paperwork while I finished transitioning. I handed off the clipboard to the nurse, talked with the midwife for a moment before she went to get into scrubs, went into the bathroom, and realized that I needed to push. Now. So that was what all of that feeling like I needed to take a shit was. I got back into the bed, and my water broke.
Now, the funny thing about water breaking is that folks seem to gloss over how it happens. Sure, some women have a delicate trickle. I did not. I had the violent spew of fluid complete with the most disgusting fart noise to accompany it. And there was meconium in it, so it was a lovely shade of greenish-yellowish. I was horrified that my husband had seen this come out of me (apparently I was expecting roses and Caribbean waters) and for some reason I was overly concerned that my sock was stained by the spew.
That lasted for about a second, because the midwife was back, changed, and we were ready to go. Because of the meconium, a pediatric resident was present to take care of the after-stuff. She was a lovely girl, but god bless america, she sat directly across from my crotch. There I was, C holding one leg, the midwife the other, and the nurses and resident were shooting the shit about…I don’t know what. I did have more pressing things to do.
I don’t remember much about the pain of Lucy coming out, but I will never forget how tired I was. My legs shook, I had to have oxygen, and my poor hips felt like they were being torn apart. And there was my freaking stained left sock dangerously close to my husband’s face. Yeah, I still noticed that. I remember at one point I asked the midwife if I could have a minute to rest, which is really funny in hindsight. Finally Lucy arrived, all slimy and goopy. She was whisked across the hall to be suctioned and to have blow-by oxygen because of the meconium. C went with them.
For a few minutes, I sat with the midwife while she massaged my abdomen to get the placenta out. ‘You did it’ she said. You did a great job. In that moment, when I wanted to be hoisted up onto someone’s shoulders in triumphant celebration, she did it. It was quiet, and subtle, but it was exactly what I needed. I got those last moments of being Jen who had given birth. It took me years to get back to being Jen who was a mommy instead of just Mommy who used to be Jen.
The piece I’m trying to place is about the struggle that happened after we got out of the hospital and how I lost and found myself. It was a real battle, and I was terrified that I would be gone forever. In the end, I’ve been able to look at my beautiful daughter and repeat those words to myself; You did it. You did a great job.