“Make sure you eat a good dinner before you come—check in time is at 8 p.m.,” said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line.
I hung up the phone, feeling like I’d just booked a room for a weekend get away, but what I’d actually done was finalize the arrangements for the birth of my child, which according to the schedule, would take place in the next 48 hours. Right. Now what? My husband and I looked at each other blankly. What does one do with oneself when one knows that only hours remain until life is forever changed? “You want to go get some Chinese food and ice cream?” he asked with a shrug. “Sounds like a plan,” I nodded.
It was eight days before my due date, but my blood pressure had been steadily creeping up and my doctor had determined that it was time to induce. So after our last meal together as a childless couple, we drove over to the hospital to check ourselves in (after we stopped for ice cream, of course). Once we were settled into our room, we sat flipping channels on the television, doing crossword puzzles, and playing Bananagrams, a game that had become a popular way to pass time for us during the later stages of my pregnancy.
At midnight that night a nurse came into our room and brought me a plate of food that consisted of a limp sandwich, juice, and a cookie. I was too excited to eat, so I pushed the plate of food away—after I ate the cookie of course. If I could go back in time and have a little chat with myself at that moment, I would say, “Eat the sandwich for the love of pete! You will not have food again for over 24 hours! Furthermore you will never again eat a leisurely, unhurried meal, using both of your hands to feed only yourself!” Then I would slap myself and ask for another cookie. What I remember most about labor is not the pain, but how hungry I was. During my 17 hours of labor I would have sold my soul for 20 of those limp sandwiches. In fact, I kept finding myself daydreaming—not about my precious long awaited baby, but about an enormous hamburger and a chocolate milkshake.
My Pitocin was started promptly at 8 a.m. the next morning, right on schedule. I soon began to feel the contractions. This was nothing new because I’d been to the hospital on three separate occasions for preterm labor. So I sat there twiddling my thumbs, watching the contractions on the monitor. This was it. This was the big day. I was in labor. Now what? My husband walked over to the monitor and took a video of the contractions, then sat back down. We both looked at each other. “Do you want to play Bananagrams?” I asked. “No, I’m getting kind of tired of Bananagrams,” he answered. “Let’s see if Scrubs is on.”
So we sat watching Scrubs and trying to have a baby for most of the morning with not much to show for it. Then around noon things started to pick up. The contractions were harder and I was starting to dilate. I remembered my breathing techniques from childbirth class, which helped. I tried to take my mind off the pain by doing a crossword puzzle; 56 across: hamburger topper. Cheese. You’re killing me here, crossword puzzle! I switched to watching What Not to Wear, perhaps not the best activity for a huge, swollen, pregnant woman in labor wearing a hospital gown.
About this time, a trim young woman with perfect makeup and long locks of shining dark hair walked into the room. She announced in a chipper voice that she was a student nurse and asked if she could observe me. I had a bad feeling about it, but I reminded myself that I’d once been a student too. So I agreed. Once again, if I could go back in time and pull myself aside for a little word, I wouldn’t say anything, I’d just slap myself and leave it at that. As my contractions began to reach mind shattering pain levels, my perky new companion rattled off questions at warp speed with a maniacally cheerful voice, smiling through her perfect makeup, and tossing her perfect hair. “What was your last job? If you could eat anything right now, what would it be? Guess what I had for lunch?” By the time she got to, “Describe what exactly your pain feels like,” I was grabbing for her hair to scream, “It feels like me reaching down your throat and …” but then anesthesiologist came in with my epidural. Thank heavens.
Finally, with the epidural kicking in and the pain gone, I was able to relax and rest for a while. We watched another episode of Scrubs and did another crossword puzzle. At some point that evening the baby’s heart rate began to drop. This scared us to death. The nurses kept a close watch on us and shifted me to a new position whenever there was a change in heart rate. My doctor kept checking in to assure us that everything was fine. Even with the reassurance, we spent several anxious hours listening to the fetal heart monitor, our eyes meeting fearfully whenever we detected the least change. At last, late in the evening, it regulated itself and there were no more heart rate drops.
After another couple of hours, groggy from exhaustion, I began to notice with mild interest that I was feeling some sensations in my southern hemisphere. The doctor came into the room at this moment to check on progress. She took a look and exclaimed, “She’s here! She’s in the birth canal and you’re ready to push.” Then everything seemed to happen very fast. With five good hard pushes our daughter Sophia entered the world, red faced and screaming. She caught hold of the doctor’s sleeve on her way out of the birth canal with her little fist, as though she were very irate and wished to register a complaint with the person in charge. The doctor looked up at me and laughed as she shook loose the little hand that held firmly to her sleeve.
My parents had been camped out in the waiting room the entire day and night. My husband went to get them and ushered them into the room to see their new granddaughter. I let them gaze at her for a moment before desperately grabbing hold of them and saying in a voice straight out of The Exorcist, “Go get me a hamburger and a chocolate milkshake!” It was 4 a.m., but they found a 24 hour diner and brought back my long awaited meal. It was the best food I’d ever put in my mouth.
Alone in our room, stomachs full, my husband and I spent a long time gazing at our perfect little daughter. It was the happiest moment of my life. Then we looked at each other. Now what? And so with laptop in hand, hopped up on labor hormones and burger, I preceded to plaster the internet with post-labor, mother and baby pictures of myself looking 50 pounds heavier, and like I’d been hit by a bus. Motherhood does strange things to people.