Willa is almost two, and I’m releasing another segment of her birth story. I know that I do not have to finish this, that I do not owe anyone the story, but at the same time, I want to finish it. But there’s also lot of trauma, so it comes slowly. So slowly that you might not even remember parts of the beginning. Here’s a little backlog of the links to each part of the story.
- A Blueberry
- Trying or Surprised
- Posturing to Tell a Magnificent Tale
- A Barbaric Yawp
- Sunny Side Up
- Mesh Panties and Midwives
- Give Me an Epidural
If you’d rather just pop in now, I’ve just convinced my birthing team that I would like an epidural. Me and Pitocin were not a good match and my anxiety was the cherry on top.
There is wait time between asking for an epidural and getting everyone to believe that you actually do want one. And then there is a wait time between the convincing and the arrival of the fly-by-night doctor who will come in with his cart and hook you up to the good stuff.
Anesthesiologists are not known for their bedside manner. They deal in the dulling of the senses and pulling patients under a thick blanket of unconsciousness. They play with breath, beats, and brain. Risky business. God-playing business.
My mom’s friend married an anesthesiologist who left her for a younger nurse. This made me think of “putting to sleep” doctors as the Don Juans of the hospital. He started his second family with the new woman before the divorce from the other was final. I suppose we can each only be talented at so many things, and his patients were likely glad that his skill set favored making tough calls in the operating room. His ability to remain faithful to his wife, although honorable, had little bearing on high-stakes surgeries.
And so, having mustered the strength to advocate for my epidural, we waited on just such a doctor to perform the procedure. Had he kicked the door in, he could not have made a more brusk entrance. When he crossed the threshold, he owned the room.
“Everyone leave,” he said gruffly.
The room scattered out of his way, bugs exposed to his harsh light. He beelined for my spine, adjusting the cloth doctor cap tied onto his head. He glared my mother right out of the room as she seemed most likely to challenge his directive. She seemed to back her way to the door muttering something about being a registered nurse. “Lower the bed,” he barked my nurse. My body twisted with the sheets on the lowering hospital bed as I writhed with each contraction.
“Stay still.” he warned. Please, I wanted to interject. Stay still, please. Or better yet, I know you’re in labor, but I need you to stay still for me. Please.
The midwives took several steps back, like I’d made a deal with the devil. He counted, I contracted. He left. I melted. I enjoyed the smooth spill of calm reaching each finger and toe. I became the classic doped-up patient exclaiming how wonderful it felt and wondering why everyone didn’t do this. “They don’t know what they’re missing!” I said stretching out, unclenching, unfurling.
There’s a frightening inertia with pregnancy as one tries to learn more about what’s happening inside their bodies, a gathering storm of destiny from the moment of a missed period or a pregnancy test. This, this baby, this will change everything. You can’t get off the ride casually. And the contractions that promised to keep coming, harder and closer together magnified this feeling of being trapped.
There’s a frightening inertia with pregnancy, a gathering storm of destiny from the moment of a missed period or a pregnancy test.
But for the first time since peeing on a stick, the epidural made everything pause. And I gulped at the stillness. I eased into my hospital bed feeling like an empowered woman, in control of my body. I could have it all: prenatal yoga and a hospital birth, birthing ball and sweet drip of medicine into my spinal cord.
With the stop came a fraction of mental space. A crack in the door big enough to let my honor roll student impulse through the door. How did this make me look? Perhaps I truly had made a deal with the devil. I felt the need to explain to the room, to apologize and receive validation. I wanted everyone to know that I knew all the things, had rehearsed my birthing script. Had rubbed essential oils on my belly. Had chanted “mom” in low, resonant tones during prenatal yoga class.
The nurse told us to rest as best we could, to take the next hour to recuperate. I watched my team settle into reclining positions, making collected hospital objects into beds and draping their bodies over them. As they drifted away, I grabbed at their hands, collecting last assurances that I’d done the right thing. “Yes,” they cooed. “You made a strong choice.”
It was like that scene in Sleeping Beauty where the fairies put everyone to sleep so they don’t have to live through the sadness of Maleficent’s curse. The nurse dimmed the lights so low that only the screens and machines lit the space with their neon blue power buttons and changing numbers. In this cocoon, I was able to stop and watch and love my people, and the room and the process. I felt warm and grateful. The rest of the world was asleep as far as I knew and they didn’t care about my sweet, sweet epidural.