On January 5th, Francesco and I had dinner at a favorite restaurant of ours, one of those “southern style” places that serve the kind of comfort food that you crave when you’re sad and delivers you one meal closer to a heart attack. Francesco was gnawing on fried chicken, I sliced away at fried green tomatoes, and we argued about a cat perched outside on the window seal staring down at our plates. I wanted to feed it Francesco’s dinner but Francesco kept fighting me away from his plate while rambling about how we couldn’t feed the cat because it would follow us home. This drives me crazy and I can’t even count how many times we’ve argued about whether or not to help a stray. I always want to do something and Francesco is a terrible person with no soul.
I rolled my eyes. “How’s it going to follow us home?” I asked. “In its fucking convertible? We drove here, dude. It’s a cat, not a cheetah. And it looks HUNGRY and it’s making me sad. I hope when the baby comes you set a better example of how to be a little compassionate.” I said. Then I looked down at my enormous, overdue belly. “I mean if this kid ever decides to get out. I’m going to have to be induced, I know it.”
Like many women, I’d read way too much about pregnancy and labor and had decided what I wanted as if the universe actually gives you a choice (I’m an idiot). I wanted an unmedicated birth because I’m a whacko and couldn’t fathom being glued to a bed for a billion hours during labor. I get too twitchy and I hate being contained. Also, I’d read that being induced would likely lead to an epidural and Pitocin which often leads to a c-section. I’m an anxious person and being cut open was something I wanted to avoid at all costs so the whole induction thing bummed me out. In fact, a second later I was gazing out the window holding back tears. Francesco put his hand on mine, “it’s going to be fine, babe. Even if you have to be induced it’s going to be fine.” Nothing is more annoying than being told something will be fine when you’re full of pregnancy rage and want to complain your way to a solution. I didn’t want things to be fine. I wanted to be mad and to bitch enough that the universe would right the situation for me. I pulled my hand away, “this kid is going to live in my guts for the rest of my life and I’ll live and die with these marshmallow feet mashed in slippers.” He balked at me and I thought about stabbing him with my fork.
At around 2:00 a.m. I woke up with cramps. I’d had Braxton-Hicks for weeks so I didn’t think much of it until the cramps didn’t go away and slowly got worse. Think period cramps but with mini breaks between the pain. I shook Francesco awake around 3:00 am. “I think I’m in labor,” I said. He sleepily rolled over to face me, “start timing your contractions,” he said, yawning. I used some app and my contractions were coming every five minutes. Huh, I thought. Maybe we should go to the hospital? Then I got up to pee and on my way back to bed my water broke. It was not like the movies. First off, there was so much liquid it was like someone broke an aquarium in my vagina. A bucket of water pooled on my hardwood, covering my floor and slippers in amniotic fluids and slime. Nobody talks about the slime. “Holy fuck! My water just broke! OH MY GOD, IT JUST BROKE!” I screamed. Francesco shot out of bed and just kind of started running around our house in his underwear like a cartoon character yelling “what do we need to do?” While I got into the shower because I refused to leave the house with my legs dripping in goo. “Feed Oliver!” I yelled from the shower, “get my overnight bag and put on pants!” I stood in the shower and felt a rush of excitement to finally meet my little one. I thought I’d be terrified about the prospect of shoving a human out of my body but I wasn’t. I was done being pregnant and couldn’t wait to finally bring my overdue baby into the world.
In the car, I texted friends and family that I was in labor and tried to take deep breaths through the contractions. I tried to go to my happy place. That didn’t work. So instead I sent a message on Instagram canceling my facial for that morning. At the hospital, amniotic fluid pooled at my feet while I checked into labor and delivery. I heard someone yell, “shut the fuck up,” and looked up to see my cousin rushing towards me, a nurse, finishing her graveyard shift. We hugged, “you ready to finally have this baby?” She asked. “God yes! Let’s get him out!” She looked down, “that’s a lot of amniotic fluid.”
I labored unmedicated for six hours and managed to breathe my way through the pain. My contractions were nearly three minutes long and thirty seconds apart and every stabbing twisting gut-wrenching cramp was chaperoned by nausea and delirium. But after six hours I wasn’t dilated AT ALL and when my cousin-nurse came to my room to support me she said Id most likely be in labor for the entire day well into the next morning and I was like fuck that. “Someone drug me!” I yelled. Dr. Numbya rolled a cart in twenty minutes later with tools laid out like he’d come to torture me for information on the location of a hidden bomb or something. I had an epidural thirty minutes later which sucked (stabby pain in your spinal cord for twenty minutes because the dude couldn’t get it in right-no thanks) but immediately after I couldn’t feel my contractions or my toes.
The nice thing about an epidural is that you’re numb. The terrible thing is that you’re very numb. I couldn’t move without the help of multiple people like I’d become paraplegic within minutes. They had to insert a catheter so my bladder didn’t explode because I couldn’t get up for the bathroom. Within a few minutes of being drugged, I’d been turned into a pin cushion: IV in my right arm, two belly monitors, a catheter, an internal monitor was inserted later, and an oxygen mask was added when my baby’s heart rate began to drop momentarily after every contraction from my baby’s little head being squished in the birth canal. Eventually, I was given a pill to open my cervix which worked but so slowly because the epidural slowed my contractions to a crawl. After nearly 20 hours in labor, I’d finally dilated to a ten and then I was given Pitocin to speed up my contractions. Once my contractions kicked it up a notch my cousin put her hand on my leg and said, “it’s time to push, cousin.” And I started to panic and wanted to army crawl out of the room, dragging my uncooperative legs behind me.
I was afraid to push. I could tear. My vagina could tear. And I really liked my vagina and preferred it to remain intact. So for the first hour, I barely pushed but even my sad little pushes were exhausting. I hadn’t slept or ate in nearly twenty-four hours, and pushing was also not like the movie: there were no stirrups. Instead, my cousin nurse held one leg while my terrified husband held another. And with every contraction, I’d grab my thighs and do a sort of sit-up while pushing three times in a row. This for two hours. At one point, one of the nurses announced to no one in particular, “Today has been a long day. My patient earlier was in labor for 20 hours and then ended up getting a c-section and she hemorrhaged.” I turned to her and hissed, “Why the fuck would you say that?” The OBGYN who sat at the bottom of the bed staring into my vagina shook her head and told the nurse, “we need to work on some things with you.”
After a long hour of this, my baby started to crown but I sucked at pushing so after a little while my doctor stood up suddenly and said, “I’m getting the mirror, you need to see what’s going on.”
“The mirror?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, “when you see the baby it will give you some motivation to push harder.” Then she was out of the room and came back dragging a tall walnut stained mirror beside her, the kind of mirror you’d normally use to put on jewelry for the ballet. She positioned it at the bottom of the bed so that I could see my vagina in all of its birthing glory and the top of my babies head. She was right, something about seeing my baby’s hair made me feel like there was an end to all of it, that he was right there, just waiting on me to gather the strength and be brave enough, and within the next 30 minutes, he was crowning. I call this the ring of fire. Even though my legs were completely numb somehow I could still fill his head in my lady garden, and it did not feel good. It felt like my vagina was on fire. And the urge to push was unbearable. A gaggle of nurses had trickled into my room and we’re now surrounding my bed, leaning over me, into my face, screaming. I was flat on my back looking up at all of these faces of women who bring life into the world for a living, and who were extremely invested in my labor. “You can do this! Push harder!” They cheered. One nurse, an amazing but terrifying coach, leaned directly over my face, inches away from my nose, and screamed like she was calling shots at a football game. COME ON! PUSH! YOU’RE ALMOST THERE! PUUUUUUSSSH! I closed my eyes and bore down as hard as I could. I felt a relief of pressure and saw my son, Leo in all of his purple glory slide out of my body and into the hands of the doctor. My husband put his hands on his head and screamed OH MY GOD and cried. They put Leo on my chest and his adorable mouth was wide open and the sound of a dinosaur screeching poured out of him. And he was perfect. Purple and perfect. His skin began to turn pink and he rooted around my chest so I popped him on my boob like I’d seen women on YouTube do and he ate for the first time and I watched him, totally fascinated by this person I’d made. And then I panicked when I realized that this was my baby. Then I felt elated again watching him suck. Then terrified. My OBGYN stitched me up while all of this was going on because I guess I’d torn a tiny bit. Then she picked up my placenta, holding it up above her head like a trophy, and yelled, “Anyone want to see the placenta or do something with it?”
The next day, I woke up to a nurse pushing on my stomach and taking my blood pressure. I saw Leo, bundled and sleeping in his clear plastic hospital bassinet and I remembered that I had a baby. I panicked. We took Leo for a walk in the maternity ward. I pulled myself down the Clorox scented hallways, hoping to get rid of some water weight, so maybe one day I might fit back into regular shoes (important because in my ninth month pregnant I spent a shocking amount of money on new shoes and clothes while daydreaming about looking like myself again one day) after two months in slippers after my toes had swelled to ten times their normal size, banning my stilettos and booties to the back of my closet. My abdomen felt like a deflated balloon and like my organs were loosely moving around in a vast cave. All of us, the women with broken bodies, sluggishly inched ourselves down the halls, nodding to each other, in passing like we’d all just come back from war and were pointing out our sisters in arms. Our partners stood supportively beside us, gazing at this human whose body just opened up and injected life into their family.
Francesco held my hand and looked at me with a strange sense of pride as he watched me inch along. My body wasn’t as bad off as I expected but I can’t say that it was comfortable to walk around with stitches and a crimson downpour between my legs managed by a weird mesh diaper with a maxi pad the size of a twin mattress and a jumbo-sized catheter jammed into my wrist vein on my writing arm. He never wanted to see the birth. The whole idea of a baby popping out of my hoo-haw was as terrifying to him as it had been to me. But after, he couldn’t stop talking about it. “You’re a warrior!” he said. “You’re amazing! That was so cool!” And I overheard him bragging to his friends about it over and over again. I think the fear of birth, for both of us, came from the societal lies we’re told about a woman’s body. Our bodies are either a garden of pleasure or a vessel for life but rarely is it accepted that we can be both (and more). It’s like I believed, we believed, that once I became a mom I couldn’t be a woman anymore and if he saw my body as anything but pleasurable he wouldn’t be turned on ever again. Truthfully: Total bullshit. Nothing is further from the truth. I love my son, I’ve got some work to do to fit into my skinny jeans, but I’m still a babe. I’m still me in this body. I still love punk rock and art, I still love to write and travel and punctuate my sentences with a series of expletives. I still love my friends and low-cut shirts and coffee and eighties dancing in my living room. I still love my dog, videos of handicap animals, and watching the same movies over and over again while my husband groans in the background. “Ugh, THIS AGAIN?” Yeah, motherfucker. The only thing that’s changed is now I can add, “I birthed a kid for you so I can… (insert anything I want to do here).”
And my vagina? Totally fine. I’ll have a faint scar where I tore a bit but nothing too crazy. I expected my vagina to basically explode like the site of a WWII air raid but oddly enough, the baby came out and things elastic-banded back into place because vaginas are resilient as fuck and I had no idea! Seriously, I pushed a whole human out of my babe cave and it still looks the same (and also it would be okay even if it didn’t because I PUSHED A HUMAN OUT OF MY BODY).
All in all, labor was not as rough as being pregnant but it was no walk in the park, either. With the drugs, it hurt less than a Brazillian wax but it’s not something I’d want to do like a bunch of times (seriously, how do people do this like five times? Even thinking about it is exhausting) even if it was a super cool experience and I got the most unbelievable little baby out of it (who is reportedly a genius already according to my little sister). If there’s anything I learned from it, it’s that going into something like this with as few expectations as possible is key. Sometimes you just have to let go of control and let things fall where they may. I started out thinking I’d be induced only to go into labor a few hours later. I wanted to do an unmedicated birth and couldn’t. And it never occurred to me that I could have a twenty-four-hour labor but that’s what my body needed to get the job done. And I’m learning more and more every day how to cope with being out of control (so hard for someone who is amped up on anxiety at all times) because my days and nights are now commanded by a ruler who is neither fair nor just. In fact, he can be downright Stalin-esque. But holy shit, I love him.