“The Story of Your Birth Day”
Oh I love telling this story, the story of an adventure, though it seems unimportant to everyone else but me. I slept downstairs at the time because the pubic symphysis pain that started during pregnancy made it painful to climb the stairs. Dad slept upstairs to be near enough to listen to Huckleberry. There had been many false alarms the prior few weeks, so when contractions woke me in the early morning, I waited a while before phoning Dad. When I did, he wanted to leave right away for San Francisco. What? And wake his mother? And charge about in the middle of the night getting everything ready while I was supposed to relax and get back to sleep? I told him no, not yet, and prescribed myself a bath (Aunt Kali was in Greece), which Dad irritatedly opposed at first for fear the sound would wake Huckleberry and then, giving in, proceeded to double-down on the noise-making and vacuum the upstairs in preparation for Ami’s stay. All the while the loudness was making me anxious, and I had to remind myself to relax into the lukewarm bath until I thought sleep was possible again. Sleep I did, but not late into the morning as I did with Huckleberry. We asked Ami to come, but Dad neglected to tell her why, and for some reason Huckleberry decided to sleep in until 10:30 that morning, which he almost never does. Perhaps the sounds at night did wake him up after all. The contractions steadily grew more intense as Dad raced around the house cleaning and preparing until I finally demanded to be taken to San Francisco, already in considerable pain. Ooo, let me eat something first, he murmured, and then I decided I would eat something, too, and it was significantly longer before we got to the Berry condo where I was supposed to have undergone most of my labor. The car ride was excruciating–the constraint of the seatbelt, the awkward position, the curves, bumps, stops, all the while timing my own contractions and thinking, I’ve still a long way to go, I’ve still a long way to go. Then I could barely get up to the condo. When I did, I was so weary I wanted to rest, and nothing seemed as lovely as being on my back, though I knew it was a position that would slow your arrival. Our doula, Erica, gave the go-ahead by text. For half an hour, I slept the sleep of the exhausted. Then back to work. The pain in my back worsened. I feared through the last few weeks of my pregnancy that, though head down, you were faced the wrong way, and the back pain seemed to confirm this. Dad suggested that Erica might come now. I demanded the shower, remembering how last time it was the only thing that provided relief. I made it hot hot hot, which concerned Dad a little, and then after a while I got dizzy and demanded to be out. Deep inside my animal brain now, I was communicating solely in tense, one-word commands; when questioned or asked for clarification, all I could do was repeat the word at increasingly desperate pitches. Dad laughed, and the part of myself that could detach and still reason laughed with him, for I sounded exactly like Huckleberry. Around then, Erica came. I labored hunched over a chair while Erica tried various squeezes and insisted that I give out low-pitched groans. When my groans became screams, she reminded me again, low, low, low. It was Erica who wondered out loud when we should go to the hospital, Dad who asked me, and me who became flustered wondering why someone wouldn’t just tell me what to do. Eventually, I decided yes, yes, let’s go, because the thought of enduring the car ride in even more pain filled me with dread. At the elevator, we encountered a young woman with a dog who stared wide-eyed at me. Can I get out first? she asked, frightened. Yes, yes, I nodded impatiently. I suspected I looked like a fat banshee. The short car ride was too long. Then the hospital. A man came to me with a wheelchair. I waved it away but then decided I wanted it but then got up again because it was unendurable. Dad laughingly apologized. Up another elevator. The nurses at the front desk asked what we wanted. Wasn’t it obvious? Well, don’t do it out here, one joked. Later, she apologized. They took me to triage, where the resident made me get on the bed for a cervical exam. 7 cm, she announced. I think you should stay. Gentle laughter in the room. She would like to push on hands and knees, Erica told someone. I couldn’t hear what they said. Oh yes, of course, Erica responded. The contractions came, wave after wave. I hunched over a bed. Someone asked if I would like to sit. No no no. They needed to move me. Though the hospital seemed silent, apparently all the labor and delivery rooms were full. I was to go to a different triage room for my labor. Why not the triage room I was in? I couldn’t ask because I couldn’t speak. They shunted me off to another place where they pondered, IV? No! I shouted. O-kay. Chuckles. Before long, one of the nurses asked me if I was feeling pushy. Yes, that’s what it was. I thought again that I had to defecate, but it was probably that, like last time, you were coming. Cervical exam again. Too soon, I thought. Miracle of miracles: You can push! they told me. Some discussion of breaking my waters. I looked to Erica. Is that okay? Is that natural? Yes, yes, everything was yes, yes. But then they broke on their own anyway. I made myself flip over onto my hands and knees. Perhaps my arms and legs were shaking. Someone offered me something, but I declined. Panic flickered at the thought of moving or changing anything. I grunted, I groaned. Low, low, low. In my head an image of myself as a horse, foaling. There was something undignified about it all, but I couldn’t care less. Where was Dad in all this? I barely remember. Part of the crowd. There seemed to be so many people. My body racked with pushes. I braced myself for a long struggle. But then a slip, another slip, and out you tumbled, tiny and alive.