Saturday, August 02, 2008
she is born
At 6:30 a.m. on Friday I woke to GF chirping something unintelligible from the bathroom. The fans were going in our bedroom and all I could hear was something about "water." I got up and went in. She was sitting on the toilet smiling. "My water broke!" she said. I said something lame like "oh wow!"
My first thought was coffee, because I'm a selfish caffeine addict. Her first thought was to call the hospital. They wanted her in immediately.
This wasn't the way we'd planned it.
I don't know what exactly I thought would happen, but I left work on Thursday fully expecting to go back the next day. My desk was a sea of paper punctuated by half-empty diet coke bottles. I know due dates are approximate, but I think I really believed the old wives' tale that first babies are late. I think I thought we'd spend the weekend at the beach.
When the hospital told us to come in, my heart sank. I was excited, but I also knew that labor lasted for hours, and the standard advice in all the birth books is to wait as long as possible at home, relaxing, before heading to the micromanaged zone of Labor and Delivery. Still, when the bag of waters breaks, the risk of infection increases, so off we went. It was a sunny day, there were no contractions as yet, and we had time for showers and coffee and bagels.
We arrived at the hospital and the valet took our keys. It still felt like we were pretending. Did someone else have to park our car, really? GF wasn't in labor. She could walk just fine. There was no emergency. No police escort was needed.
By nine we were checked in and I began calling and texting the news. Some of our friends got so excited they called in sick to work and camped out at a nearby house, watching movies together and making plans. We thought we'd have a baby by nightfall.
As the morning passed, though, there were still no contractions, so the nurses started GF on pitocin to get things going. By early afternoon her contractions were strong enough that she asked for the epidural, and by late afternoon she was dilated four centimeters. The doctor came in to visit and see how things were going. She had switched shifts with the other ob-gyn when she heard GF was in labor. I love this doctor. When I first heard about her--that she could be brusque, that she was a good labor coach, that she kept her patients from tearing during delivery, that she was an older lesbian with a partner and kids--I just knew she would be our doctor. "That's her," I told GF. Now she teased us and laughed when I told her the hospital was like a casino because it was impossible to know what time it was or how long you'd been there once you were in one of these delivery rooms. She told us she'd see us soon. We agreed.
That's when things began to slow down.
As the anaesthesiologist explained the epidural process to her, GF peppered him with questions. Should she walk? Would her legs go numb? Could she lie down flat? And last, what if the medicine ran out before she had the baby?
The anaesthesiologist chuckled. "This lasts eight hours," he told her. "You'll have a baby before this runs out."
That was at three o'clock in the afternoon. At seven there had been little change, and I phoned the friends who had skipped work to tell them the baby might be later coming than we had supposed. At nine there was still no change, and the doctor upped the pitocin. At two in the morning, GF was finally dilated to eight centimeters.
Great! We thought. Only two more to go!
At this point the epidural had begun to wear off. GF was all for letting it end so she could feel the contractions and visualize her body opening up. The doctor reminded her that she still had two or three hours to go before she got to ten centimeters, and that when she got there she would have some hard pushing to do. We decided to get some sleep, GF started the epidural again, and we turned the lights off in the room.
At 5 a.m. the nurses woke us and the doctor told us to get ready to push. I woke up out of my chair, washed my face, and realized I hadn't eaten anything for twelve hours. The nurses brought me a turkey loaf sandwich on wheat bread. I remember GF putting a little mayo on the bread, squeezed from out of one of those little packets. She was naked from the waist down, propped up in the bed, fixing my sandwich. Even better, she started to push, and in between contractions, I ate my sandwich.
The contractions started coming fast. I could see them coming on the monitor by the bed, the numbers rising and falling with each peak and ebb. When the numbers began to go up, I would grab one of GF's legs with my right arm, put my left arm around her head, and she would pull into a crunch position and push as hard as she could to the count of ten. Then she would lean back, take a deep breath, and crunch again for another ten, and another. Each contraction had three sets of ten crunch-pushes. We did this for two and a half hours.
At 7:50 a.m. the doctor felt for the head and muttered something about it being too big. GF mentioned that our donor was 6 feet one, and I thought the doctor was going to explode. "Six one! Six one!" she spluttered. "A woman your size has no business with a six-one donor!" GF whispered that they didn't really let many short men donate sperm, which is true, and the doctor shook her head. "I want you to give one last big push," she ordered. "And I want this one to be the biggest, hardest, most productive one yet."
Now, GF is a strong little woman, and she wanted to please the doctor, and she had been pushing so hard and with so much effort her face was red and her legs shaking. But still she pushed with all her being, pushed so hard she groaned, pushed as if by pushing this one last time she could finally turn the tide and bring this baby down.
The doctor felt again. It was no good. the head was still too high. "The baby's head is getting a cone shape," she told us. "The back of the head is trying to get down the birth canal, but the major bones of the head still have to come through. I'm comfortable using forceps in situations like this, but I'm not comfortable doing it here." GF and I didn't even have to confer; we looked at each other without a word and she told the doctor a caesarian was fine with her. I felt my throat tighten and my eyes sting, not because I was committed to a vaginal birth, but because it seemed like so much to put GF through abdominal surgery after twenty four-hours of labor. Plus operations are scary. Plus I've seen too many ERs and Grey's Anatomys featuring dead delivering moms not to think anything could go terribly wrong at any moment no matter how routine the procedure.
I kissed her goodbye and they brought me blue paper scrubs to put on. When I got to the operating room I saw GF, strapped down in a crucified position with her head sticking out of a tall blue tent. Her teeth were chattering uncontrollably from the anaesthesia. She looked more tired than I've ever seen her look.
I took a seat by her head and waited. I heard the doctor discussing the incision with a resident, then I heard her call my name. "Stand up!" she said. "Come see your daughter be born!"
I ran around the tent just in time to see GF's stomach looking like a Thanksgiving turkey, and then a flailing baby with an impossibly thick white umbilical cord pulled out like stuffing and hoisted over the table, dark red and covered with what looked to be a thin layer of goat cheese. The nurses brought her to a table and started to dry her off. I touched her and called her name, and she stopped crying and cocked one dark eye at me. The other one wouldn't quite open, but the more they dried her the wider it got. Two dark black eyes looked me over from under a thick dark head of hair. She pursed her lips. "Hello Maudie," I whispered softly. "She's responding to your voice," the nurses told me. They gave me scissors to trim her tough little garden hose of an umbilical cord, then wrapped her up tight and handed her to me. I brought her over to GF to kiss.
GF gamely kissed the baby, and then went back to throwing up into a pink plastic container. Nurses and doctors offered their congratulations and I thanked them. Our doctor came towards me, her eyes merry over her surgical mask. "Well congratulations!" she said, reaching out her hand. I opened my arms to hug her. She bent towards me, and I gave her a big kiss on the cheek of gratitude and relief. She chuckled.
SInce then every day with Maude is new and strange. When she cries we've twirled her in the night, sung her songs, made up rap poems about who loves babies (Everyone loves babies), and looked deep and long into her dark, otherworldly eyes. Sometimes she looks back at me, and I see that she's come from a far place to be with us, and I fall in love. The three of us move in the house now through the long afternoons and cool evenings, all of us just looking at each other, over and over. And life feels perfect.