My father had ditched our regular Halloween tradition of spaghetti and scary movies to go party with his girlfriend, so I stayed home, munched on some veggies with ranch dressing and passed out candy to the trick-or-treaters. I was actually not too bummed about spending Halloween by myself, because I had already become engrossed in the True Blood marathon playing on HBO. Lost in the world of Sookie Stackhouse and her endless supernatural admirers, I barely noticed when my father arrived home at about 1:30am. He stood behind the couch and we chit-chatted for a few moments about the trick-or-treating traffic that had come to the house that night (a lot more children than in past years, odd!) before he planted a kiss on the top of my head and mumbled something about going to bed. I nodded and turned back to the television, but just then, a sharp, piercing pain ripped through my lower abdomen. I shut my eyes tightly and moaned as the spasm continued. "What's wrong?" my dad asked. "I think I'm just having a Braxton-Hicks contraction, you know, like, false labor. I'll be all right," I muttered, as the pain subsided. "Oh. Okay," he replied, and started back up the stairs.
Convinced that it was merely a "false alarm," I went back to my show and almost forgot about the false labor cramp I'd just experienced when, less than 15 minutes later, I experienced another one, every bit as excruciating as the first. "No way," I thought to myself, "I'm not due for another 3 weeks....could it be....?" But I quickly dismissed the thought and diverted my attention back to the television set. Over the course of the next two hours, my contractions continued, and as I timed them, I realized that they had become exceedingly more fervent in duration and intensity. At around 4:00am, I finally broke down and called the Kaiser Advice Nurse. Already in a foul mood from the pain I was experiencing, the Advice Nurse's bedside manner certainly did nothing to mitigate my irritation. After detailing my symptoms, she confirmed that I was probably in the stages of early labor, and then advised me to do something which, at the time, I thought was rather odd. She said, "Drink two BIG glasses of ice water, and then take a cold shower. That will help with the pain." So, like a woman who had been lost in the desert for 40 days, I gulped down as much icy cold water as I could stomach, and (since I had just finished my True Blood marathon) hobbled up the stairs to my bathroom, stripped off my clothes and crawled into the shower.
I remained prostrate on the shower floor, clutching my belly and gasping with each cervical undulation. I endured the arctic-cold water on my body for about 15 minutes, dragged myself out of the shower (and no, I did not dry off, nor did I comb my hair), slipped on my pink terrycloth house dress and laid down on my bed, in a futile attempt to will the contractions away. No such luck. A powerful wave of blood-red pain washed over me and quite literally made me sick. I vomited into my wastebasket and realized, Oh shit, this is really happening. I am in fucking labor. So I lowered myself off the bed and crawled on hands and knees down the hallway towards my dad's room and stopped midway. The pain was too great. I started pounding my fists on the carpet and began screaming, "DAD! DAD! COME HERE! DAD! I NEED HELP!" After about 5 minutes of continuous shrieking and pounding (yeah, my dad is very deep sleeper), he finally jumped up, ran into the hallway and asked, "What's wrong?" I told him that I was in labor and that I would need him to take me to the hospital. To his credit, he moved pretty quickly after that. He helped me to his bed and tried to get me to rest while he changed his clothes, but the pain overwhelmed me with such force that I ended up vomiting into the wastebasket once again.
I barked orders at him while he helped me down the stairs, "Don't forget to get my bags -- the red one and the black one -- they're underneath the staircase. Make sure to come back and put food in Neo's and Mona's food bowl. I need my purse, get my purse." We called the Labor and Delivery department when we got on the road, and they advised us to enter the hospital through the Emergency Room, and I would then be whisked up to the 5th floor. For some reason, my dad chose that day to take his sweet fucking time and stop -- instead of gunning it -- at every yellow light and drive 60 miles per hour on the freeway. I yelled at him to hurry up, and he gave it enough gas to bring it up to 63 mph. Arrggghhhhh.
We arrived at the hospital at about 5:30am, and the ER nurse made sure to take her precious time as she called up to the Labor and Delivery Department to request permission for me to be taken up there. Finally, she turned and informed me that someone would be arriving to bring me up. The wait, which was maybe only 15-20 minutes felt more like 15-20 hours. Keep in mind that at this time, my contractions were only about 5 minutes apart. Every five minutes, I kept asking, "FUUUCK! Where the hell ARE they? What the hell is going on?!?" Finally, the orderly appeared and I cried out, "HURRY!" He wheeled me to the elevator, through all of the double doors and into a labor room.
I had to quickly change my clothes, hop onto the hospital bed and endure the humiliation of a public inquest regarding my sexual history in front of my father. When the bitchy nurse made a move to perform the cervical exam, I locked my knees together and demanded that they let my father at least move to the other side of the curtain first. It turned out that I was already at almost 6 centimeters. "Wow, you're almost ready to give birth!" she exclaimed. "When did your water break?" "I don't know, I never noticed when my water broke," I panted. I told her that I'd called the Advice Nurse about two hours previously, and she had advised me to take the cold shower and drink the two big glasses of ice water. "You know, that probably helped accelerate your labor," she murmured. "Whatever, all I know is that she was a fucking bitch to me," I snapped back angrily. "Give me my fucking drugs! I want an epidural RIGHT NOW!" "Stop -- you must breathe slowly. Otherwise, you're going to hyperventilate. Oh no, you're too far along for an epidural. We can't give you one anymore." "WHAT THE FUCK?" I howled. "NO! THIS IS NOT PART OF MY BIRTH PLAN! I AM IN FUCKING EXCRUCIATING PAIN. I WANT DRUGS NOW!" Thankfully, another nurse -- the nurse-midwife who actually ended up delivering my son -- took pity on me (or perhaps it was just that she didn't want to hear my bitching anymore) and tapped an analgesic line into my IV. That was about as helpful as putting a Band-Aid on a gaping chest wound. But at least it was something.
After I was all "prepped" and the decision was made that I was about to pop any minute (no fucking duh, people), the bitchy nurse returned and informed me that I would have to walk across the hall to the delivery room. "WHAT?" I bellowed again. "Unh-unh. No fucking way! I can't! Can you just wheel me over there? I am in fucking pain." She squared her shoulders, pursed her lips in that haughty line and told me matter-of-factly, "You have to. We cannot wheel you over to the delivery room -- you have to walk. Come on, get up. You can do it." I swear, I had never hated anyone more than that woman at that moment. So, caught in the midst of unrelenting, 2-minutes-apart contractions, I grudgingly staggered the 30-or-so steps from that hospital bed to the delivery room.
Now, even though I was on the brink of delivering, I was still very self-conscious about my body, and about who saw what. I allowed my father to remain in the delivery room with me, but only upon the strict stipulation that he could not step anywhere past my shoulders, and that my gown could not be pushed past my knees, nor would I require the use of a mirror. Whenever the delivery nurse tried to push the gown up, I would always quickly grab the gown and tug it back down. There was no way I was going to let my dad see my cooter!
As I settled into the delivery bed and put my feet up on those paddles, the actual delivery part progressed rather quickly. I remember grasping my father's hand with Herculean strength as each burgeoning contraction ripped through my abdomen, and screeching, "OH MY FUCKING GOD! SHIT! THAT FUCKING HURTS!" when the baby started crowning. I remember feeling irritated with the nurse-midwife because after each concerted effort, she would promise that "the baby's almost out, we only need two more pushes," and I would snap at her, "You just said that! I thought that was it? Arrrggghhh!"
At long last, I gave one final and powerful push, and in that instance, it was like the world stood still. It was the oddest sensation, because in the twinkling of an eye, the inexorable agony had transmogrified into relief, euphoria and wonderment all rolled into one singular, fleeting moment. The stranger who had occupied my body for about 8 1/4 months had made his grand entrance, and I would, from that point forward, be forever known as Mama.
My memories of giving birth to my son and our first 24 hours together are both vivid and hazy...is that even possible? There are certain glimpses which I remember so clearly, such as when the nurse-midwife guided his passage out, and -- it was so funny, even then -- she kind of tossed this bloody newborn being onto my lower abdomen. I remember leaning forward and peering at him and thinking, "Whoa. She just tossed him into my lap, like he was a football. Am I supposed to pick him up now?"
They cleaned him off, took his Apgar scores and vitals, gave both of us matching security bracelets and placed him in my arms so we could have skin-to-skin contact, and so I could make an attempt at breastfeeding. I stared at my baby and marveled at his oddly-shaped head, pink, wrinkly skin, tousled hair and humungous hands and feet. I wondered who he would eventually look like, and if he knew that I was his mother.
Twelve hours later, after all our visitors and well-wishers had gone, it was just little Holden James and me alone in the room. Then, it hit me. I didn't have a lot of experience with babies, my sister always took care of our baby cousins when they were younger. She had always been the "pretend mommy," I was always content being the "pretend auntie." I had no idea how to take care of a newborn, and I was scared shitless that I would do something wrong and end up hurting or worse yet, killing my newborn son. All sorts of freaky and unmentionable thoughts floated around in my head. I found myself praying to God and asking my mother's spirit to help guide me, because I had no idea what to do. At what was supposed to be the most joyous time of my life, I had never felt more frightened or alone.
A little more than 12 months have passed since that fateful Saturday morning. I admit that I have stumbled myriad times along the way, but I have also learned much about myself and what it takes to be a good parent. Twelve months ago, I agonized over whether I would be able to provide for all of my son's needs, and give him everything he needs to feel happy, loved and secure. I worried about whether he would be "missing out" by not having his father in his life. Today, however, all I have to do is look into my son's sparkling eyes and see the wide, jubilant grin spread across his face, feel the strength of his skinny arms around my neck, and any concerns or fears I may have simply melt away.
I chose to be without Holden's father for all the right reasons, than to stay with him for all the wrong ones.
And I know -- beyond a shadow of a doubt -- that the choice I made was the right one for Holden and me.
November 1, 2008
November 1, 2009