My mom and grandmom had quick and slightly early deliveries with all of their offspring. I was really hoping that was one thing that I had inherited. Nope. Didn’t start contracting until we were two weeks overdue. I guess I really can’t emulate my female relatives in any way other than vague facial features and attempting to be as badass as they are.
Labor was work – pleasant and requiring tons of focus, will power and grit. I was enjoying myself, and rightly so – this was the biggest wrestling match I’d ever signed up for. But after a whole night of restless sleep and a whole day of regular contractions, I got the chills. Partner and I had already agreed that we liked our OB well enough to give birth in a hospital with her, so the hot tub at the birthing center sounded like an ideal solution to my uncomfortable shivers.
We loaded ourselves into the car with the bag that was packed so long ago that it had a light cover of dust on top of it. I couldn’t wait to get into that jetted jacuzzi. Per the very charming nurse’s request, I was ready to don a mooning hospital gown and sail on through their admission requirements with ease so that I could go on with my pacing, breathing and getting into that goddam heaven-on-earth hot tub.
“Very good breathing,” she said and monitored my Little Alien for fifteen minutes before I could get the go ahead to marinate myself in the soothing waters.
“Hmm. Every time you have a contraction, your baby’s heartbeat decelerates.”
Decells? But I had a stress test literally the day before and Alien had passed with flying colors. It must be common and the sweet nurse is probably just worrying too much about me. She doesn’t know what hearty mutant stock I come from way up north. We’ll all be fine. I’d be pissed off if somebody was squeezing me that hard, too.
“Please let me soak in the tub,” I batted my eyes at her.
Oh, the tub was heaven. I could have stayed in there for hours. But the decelerations meant I had to get monitored every so often. It was late into the second night of contractions by this point, and Partner could use some sleep. The nurse appealed to my reasonable side.
“Your contractions are regular, but you’re not going to give birth tonight. You should rest while you can. Do you think you can rest without morphine?”
I could not. The hazy narcotic naps that I treated myself to between contractions were lovely. I can’t imagine I would have slept without that wonderful drug that I now understand the terrible appeal of. I might buy it on the street now that I know how nice it is. But by morning, the drugs weren’t touching the contractions anymore. I wasn’t breathing through them, I was swearing. Which is a valid pain coping technique – those who bottle it all up rate themselves higher on pain scales. And I wasn’t cursing AT anyone. I was just whispering and trying to ride the wave like a sailor would. Partner was a saint and heaved to on exactly the right spot on my back. No partner should ever hesitate to press with all of their might on that spot. I swear to the gods it saved my sanity.
I enjoyed labor, and I couldn’t wait to push the baby out, but my personal goal was to make it twenty-four hours before saying yes to an epidural and I made it to the mother-fucking thirty-six hour mark. I couldn’t walk around anymore anyway, so I said took the shot to the back like a champion and almost immediately relaxed into the impending excitement of the baby. Shit, I even managed a solid nap.
I was dilating like a superhero and the anesthesiologist (a crunchy yet genius guy that I would like to be) assured me that I would feel plenty to push. I kept feeling the tiny trickles of lube that nurses used to check my cervix and getting all excited.
“Is that my water breaking?”
“Is that my water breaking?”
“Is that my water breaking?”
I didn’t even know that small amounts of lube could still thrill me anymore. Partner and I smirked at each other when my water did break, gushing crystal clear and reassuringly all over the bed. Finally, a sensation we’re used to.
But my Little Alien’s slow heartbeat still complained every time my uterus tried to urge him out into the world. I stopped dilating. No amount of visualization or pure joy or ohming would get me past eight centimeters, and my cervix started to get puffy and inflamed. Even a completely untrained ear could hear the drastic decells in my Alien’s pulse – babies’ hearts should beat a lot more than forty times per minute.
The amazing, wonderful, expert, caring, hippy nurses absolutely did not offer me any interventions that I did not want. They did not interfere with my birth plan. They did not guilt or force me into anything. They offered me information, support and assistance. When they realized that I was laid back and interested in the gory details, they conversed with me in exactly the style I enjoyed. They downright cheered at the size of my hips and pelvis and laughed with me when I joked that they were finally good for something other than making my man pants fit badly.
So when this lovely (and I believe typical) team of medical professionals very gently told me that I might be headed for a c-section, I tried very hard to take it in the spirit that they had offered it – as a helpful solution to an increasingly scary problem.
Pitocin is a dirty word in natural birthing circles, but a frank and almost obnoxious discussion with my team revealed that they “no longer” abuse this drug or give too much of it. They give it in very metered doses and with appropriate warning of how it will feel. I found myself begging for this ill-spoken-of labor inducer, because it was my last shot at pushing this baby into the world like the burly lumberjack that I am.
Again, the birthing team was amazing and let me have a dose of the Pitocin to try it out. And when it was obvious to everyone in the room that my baby hated it and was in true and real danger, they broke it to me very calmly, very matter of factly and made sure that I was completely on board with my imminent trip to the OR. I may be half hippy, but I could also hear that my baby’s heartbeat should be much stronger than it was. I became determined to be the rational, flexible queer that I should be and go with the flow. So did Partner.
Partner was sad that he wouldn’t be able to enter the caesarean section sterile field to cut the cord, but he was thrilled that he wouldn’t need the camera’s flash to take pictures under the bright lights on the bloody side of the curtain, where they encouraged him to snap shots. The icing on his cake and the fly in my frosting, was that he would get to hold Alien first, and walk him directly over to me.
Nobody said anything scary. The team dressed partner in goofy head-to-toe scrubs and ushered him into the operating room, where I was already prepped, fascinated by the operation process and excited out of my mind to meet the Alien whom I had carried for soooooo many long weeks. I asked if I could see the placenta before they tossed it, I listened to them counting and naming the utensils they would use to pry me open and I was transferred onto the cutting table in an effortless physical thrill ride that I hadn’t experienced since outgrowing the tossing and swinging abilities of my childhood older cousins. I was so busy chatting excitedly with the anesthesiologist that I didn’t notice when he pinched a hunk of my flesh to test if I was completely numb enough for slicing. I didn’t feel a thing.
Partner stood right by my head, holding my hand, and I can only assume, just as happily terrified to meet our progeny as I was. The rest was ear-based for me. Some mild suctioning and the voice of the obstetrician.
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Yes, fat is yellow and muscle is maroon.”
“It’s going to feel like I am kneeling on your chest now.”
That wasn’t so bad.
The beep of my heart monitor.
The first squall of my child.
The patient counting of the loops of cord that the surgeon removed from the neck of my now completely quiet child.
“One, two three. And one around the arm for a total of four!”
The OB gave him a tiny eyeball over, showed me no fear and returned to a casual tone of voice.
“Where did his red hair come from?”
There was a nervous pause while the team considered that we may not be the biological parents and I panted with joy, because my baby screamed like he was supposed to and my dedicated physician was already noticing non-life-threatening tidbits about him.
He has red hair! Where is he?
I was overflowing with anticipation and craning my neck to see the cleaning station where the nurses were working on my baby. They were rubbing him with towels and announcing his vital signs. They were not pleased, but not calling a doctor over to him. They stuck a deep suctioning tube down his throat and there are wet sucking noises. I heard the nurse counting to five – only once – but my ears noticed the chest compressions that Partner was seeing and he began to talk to the baby just as he had done when he was in my belly.
“Hey Little Dude,” and then, before I could panic, the baby’s Hep B vaccination helped him perfect his new breathing skills and he was wrapped in a hospital blanket and cap.
The anesthesiologist and I had become good friends by this point and he saved my straining neck by reminding the nurses and Partner that I was desperate to see my baby.
My baby’s fuzzy little head was held next to mine and I breathed him in deep. I sucked as much of his scent into my nose as was humanly possible. I sniffed him and sniffed him and sniffed him. The nurse taking our picture tells me to smile and I think, “I MUST be smiling, because this is bliss. Surely, I am already smiling. Is it possible to smile bigger than I already am?”
Before we know it, my baby, Charlie, is handed to me, swaddled askew in my arms in the way that only a nervous new parent can make it awkward to do something so natural. I loudly shouted my thank yous to the OR team as they wheeled me out, like I had just performed rowdy karaoke.
“Thank you! Thank you everybody! Thank you so much!”
But I meant every word. Their competent hands gave me my child. The life that I created, they delivered to me. In the midst of a process that would have claimed my life and the life of my Sweet Charlie a century ago, I never once felt like I was in the middle of an event so traumatic that weeks later it would give me a panic attack and I would insist that no one speak of the birth until my hormones could recover enough to keep me from bawling. The caesarean section team was so competent, so compassionate and so correct in every action that they made, that I was able to be completely unafraid and focus solely on the bundle of joy that they handed me.
Charlie latched like a ravenous dream – first onto his own and Partner’s fingers, and then onto my nipple as soon as it was offered. Partner gave him his first bath. He melted into a cozy puddle under a mild heat lamp and showed us all his perfect bilirubin numbers, showing no negative effects from the ridiculous trial we had just endured. Had he had any minor newborn issues, I am confident that the capable team looking out for us would have handled them as smoothly as they did our surgery.
I would have preferred to pop my Little Being out into warm water without any drugs, in under twenty-four hours, but the c-section wasn’t half bad. I took my pain meds without becoming addicted, I healed in a reasonable amount of time and I like to announce that scars are just tattoos with better stories.
Western Medicine came through with flying colors, proving to me and my newly enlarged family that a hospital staff is completely capable of facilitating a natural process and then saving our freaky, alternative lives when we were about to turn into a statistic. And I enjoyed the whole damned thing.