My Birth Story… This is How I Remember It Almost a Year Later.
(Originally Appeared in American Baby Magazine June 2013 Illustrations by Ingo Fast)
I was entirely consumed by my pregnancy. If a book had the word “birth” in its title, I devoured it. If a magazine’s cover featured a woman with a baby bump, I flipped through it wild eyed. Water birth, Hypno birth, The Bradley Method and Lamaze—I studied them as if there would be a final exam involving multiple- choice questions and a true/false section before I was permitted to deliver. My husband, Josh, is an actor, so I had optimistically assumed that he would eagerly put in the hours of preparation required to fulfill his upcoming role of supportive partner during labor. I could not have been more wrong.
“Jess—this is a woman’s business. What can I really do to help you once we are in a room full of doctors?” Josh asked while accompanying me on a research trip to the bookstore.
“You’ll be helpless, just standing there feeling like a failure while I do all of the work!” I insisted, with my hands resting on the sides of my over- inflated belly, as if I were covering the ears of our unborn child. While the cashier rang up the six various guides to motherhood I had chosen (for young moms, hot moms, first- time moms, yoga moms…) I hurried back to the parenting section in search of reading material my husband could delve into. Wedged between What to Expect When You’re Expecting and 1,000 Baby Names sat an 80-page guide to labor and delivery for men. 80 pages! If Josh merely read two pages each week of my pregnancy, he would be the confident, all-knowing labor guru I needed him to be! I added the book to my stack, noticing a slight smirk from the cashier.
“Oh, he’ll read it.” I assured her.
And he did read it. Every single word of the entire…first chapter. I found the slim volume behind our headboard, the 13th page dog-eared. There I stood, nine months pregnant, realizing that the man I had chosen to father my child had absolutely no idea what kind of battle we were about to go into! Poor Josh was woefully ill prepared, and I could burst into labor any minute. It was as if I just learned my triathlon teammate was both aquaphobic and drunk!
Being two weeks overdue was not in my 6-page, double-spaced birth plan. I bought as much time as I could, but after two weeks, my doctor called it. Josh and I rolled the hospital bag onto the labor and delivery floor just before midnight, a plastic band was wrapped around my wrist and the induction began. Our nurse carefully read through each bulleted intention on the document I handed her and dolefully shook her head, a look of concern creeping onto her face.
“Next time,” she whispered, leaning in, “home birth.”
I was promptly hooked up to an IV, and cables and clasps peeked out of my hospital gown. If I wanted to use the restroom, I unplugged from the monitor and dragged an entourage of screeching wheels behind me. Pitocin raged through the IV into my bloodstream and rocketed relentless contractions. In a cramped, crowded space, I focused on my mother-in- law’s eyes as she reminded me to breathe. My own mother massaged my back and applied a heating pad. Seventeen hours after we’d begun, my progress was non-existent. My body had one job to do yet was failing tremendously.
My husband was far exceeding my performance at his own chosen tasks: Stay out of the way and refill ice chips. That’s right , my knight in shining armor had valiantly come to my rescue with frozen water! Once in a while, he even patted my perspiring forehead with a wet cloth.
Once my cervix had been labeled countless degrees of disappointing, my chart status was updated to failure to progress and a C-section was decided as the final course of action. Josh was asked to leave the room as the anesthesiologist walked in. Finally a real knight, one with a sword full of magical meds. I thought to myself. As I sat on the bed, leaning forward and trying to breathe, ignoring the strong pinch against my spine, I looked out the window toward Central Park and saw a familiar outline sprawled out on a bench, arms tucked under his head and eyes closed.
“He had better be dead,” I said to my doctor as he and the nurses transferred me to the operating table.
“Because if he is napping out there,
while this,” I motioned to the jungle of IVs, tubes and monitor cords tethered to me, “is happening in here, I am going to kill him.”
The drugs made my arms shiver viciously and I had to be strapped to the table. A divider went up to shield me from my own numb body. My eyes were filling with tears of inadequacy and sheer terror. Each salty droplet an embarrassment. I hadn’t prepared for anything like this.
I closed my eyes, dearly hoping to disappear from the lights shining down on me. I did not want this to be my introduction to motherhood. I wasn’t giving birth. No, this birth was happening to me.
“It is okay to cry Jess—there is nothing natural about this.”
I looked up and saw my husband’s soft blue eyes between a green cap and matching face mask.
“Hi honey bee,” he said gently as the surgery began.
He firmly gripped my hand as the pressure on my stomach moved up and then down, left and then right. He whispered into my ear a story about a bear that I had heard a dozen times before, a story that kept me calm.
“It’s almost time to find out if it’s a boy or girl.” My doctor’s voice rose from over the curtain.
How is that possible I wondered. I should have been pushing, yelling, at the very least sweating! Instead I lay onatable,feelinguseless,while everyone else did all of the work. I’m failing, I failed were the words that looped through my mind. Then I felt Josh’s hand stroking through my hair.
“You’re doing an amazing job,
I am so proud of you,” my husband’s rough voice scratched against my ear. Was Josh talking to my doctor? She was the one laboring.
Suddenly the energy in the room pulsed. Voices grew louder. Then silence. Our baby’s first taste of air filled his lungs and I heard his cry. Still clasping my hand, Josh stood and looked over the curtain, acting as my eyes. “It’s a boy Jess, a huge boy!”
“He looks like my grandfather but he has your eyes,” he said a couple of moments later, our son, Noah, in his arms. I was desperate to hold him, touch him, smell him, but until I could, knowing his father was there provided the comfort I was desperate for.
For the next hour after I delivered, Josh rushed back and forth between soothing Noah and kneeling down to give me the reassurance I needed. HewrappedNoahupin his arms, answered questions for the nurses, squeezed my hand, and whispered words that reminded me that I had accomplished something amazing. No amount of studying or hours spent envisioning assorted scenarios could have prepared my husband for that day of our lives. When push literally came to shove, what my guy offered in that room— support, distraction, comfort and encouragement—weren’t the kind of skills that could be learned, not even in 80-pages.