3) When Drugs Are Good, ‘Mmm kay?
What I quickly discovered after the initial elation at finding out those little white pills had done the trick and that I was now an incubator for a whole new little person was that being pregnant actually sucks big time, at least for the first fourteen weeks or so.
My friend accurately described the indescribable fatigue I felt as “THE TIRED”, and that’s what it was. An entity full of capital letters, an institution within the institution of my marriage, a feeling so potent it was practically a physical manifestation with jet-black wings, fuzzy tentacles and many, many sand-papery teeth. At the time, it was an all-consuming phenomenon that seemed to take over my whole life, but now, after having my daughter and living through the first six weeks of her life, I don’t really remember the specifics of that first trimester fatigue. This is not because “it was all worth it!” and all the pain and suffering has been washed from my memory in a beautiful pink haze of love for my baby, but because the fatigue of parenthood is so vastly, gargantuanly, spectacularly MORE that THE TIRED seems to shrivel up in the sunlight by comparison. And it was all worth it.
What was not worth it was trying to cope with morning sickness at all times of the day except the morning sans medical intervention. I knew it was time to take more drastic measures to alleviate my all-day-sickness when, one afternoon, I came lurching up the stairs of our admin building and gagged audibly and visibly, just as our sweet little old receptionist happened to be walking past. She shook her head, clucked a bit, and handed me the 800th starlite mint I’d gotten from her that day. Yeah, maybe saltines and ginger ale ruled the roost as far as “cures” for morning sickness went when my mom was pregnant with me (thought she claims she never had morning sickness) but we’ve come a long way, baby! Thank God for Zofran. Sure, it’s a medicine originally concocted to help chemo patients deal with nausea, and yeah, maybe it did dehydrate me so badly my kidneys ached, but you know what? I didn’t walk around gagging into my hands anymore and the green-hued dashes to the loo every 20 or 30 minutes practically stopped altogether. Now that’s what I call “worth it!”
4) That “Glow” is Really a Barrel Full of Eels Rolling Around in My Abdomen, Thanks Anyway
I work at an all-girls boarding school in the middle of the Baltimore suburbs, which means when the student body found out I was pregnant (via a skit performed by my 4 advisees, complete with volleyball preggo bellies) my personal space disappeared entirely. Kids I barely knew would run up to me and coo at my mid-section even before I started showing, which was amusing up to a point. After a while I began to seriously consider wearing a hula-hoop attached to suspenders a la those freaky clown pants, just to keep explorations of my food-babies to a minimum. Once I “popped”, though, fuggetaboudit. All hands on deck – or belly, as the case may be.
Working at all all-girls school also meant I got the distinct honor of answering every girl’s deepest, darkest questions about pregnancy, often in the middle of class. Mostly, they asked things like “Are you scared about having the baby? I mean, not having a baby, but HAVING the baby, ‘cause I am totally terrified of squeezing something that huge out of my vaj, no lie.” To which I replied “Then keep your pants on and you won’t have to worry about it.” Mostly, though, I got the question “What does it feel like?”
For all those who adored being pregnant and who felt somehow hollow once you weren’t sharing your insides with a small alien anymore, you might want to stop reading now. I loved being pregnant for the sole reason that I had worked damned hard to get that way, and I really REALLY want to raise an awesome daughter. Beyond that, I’ll tell you what I told my girls: Being pregnant feels EXACTLY like it looks. You feel like someone shoved a beach-ball under your skin, and when those elbows and that butt go rolling past your ribs, it feels like a school full of mackerel just gave your lungs a drive-by tickle. It’s not “nice”, per se, but it is somehow life-affirming, even when said butt is firmly lodged under one’s esophagus and you think you’re going to die from heartburn.
I loved feeling my daughter move because it meant she was alive and well. Beyond that, I’ll take my unagi in a sushi roll, if it’s all the same to you!
5) How every health teacher everywhere lied about the human gestation period
OHMYGOD YOU’RE SO NOT PREGNANT FOR NINE MONTHS – YOU’RE PREGNANT FOR TEN! TEN, I SAY, TEN!
Needless to say, I did not realize this until I hit week 36 and went “Waaaaaiit . . . four weeks in a month times nine months equals having this baby right now, but I’ve got another month to go. HOLY SMALL HUMAN, BATMAN! This shit is BANANAS!”
Thanks a lot, every health teacher everywhere and my terrible math teachers!
6) Plans are for Pussies!
Pardon my French – I couldn’t resist the alliteration and the grotty pun. But seriously, here’s what I learned about Birth Plans: The Plan is to Have The Baby. That’s as far as one really needs to go with it, I think, but I know plenty of other women who feel otherwise. There must be discussions with doctors and protocols put in place, sometimes in writing, and though they’re told not to, they inevitably feel bad that they somehow deviated from said plan if all does not go according to it. This is silly. At the end of the plan, there is a healthy baby (God willing and the creek don’t rise.) I did not have a plan because I know myself well enough to understand the following:
a) There’s something in me that does not love a plan. It’s really, really hard for me to see or think beyond the immediate future, so making a plan for 40 weeks down the road just stressed me out more than it helped calm any fears I had. But I only had one, and it was that birth was going to hurt. Bad. Pain is scary to me, but no plan I could have come up with for Ellie’s birth was going to make it not hurt at some point, so why bother? I didn’t.
b) Giving birth is one of nature’s most powerful events, much like hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis. Do you see where I’m going, here? Nature is unpredictable, gross and sometimes violent, therefore the birth process is equally so. Ergo, no plan necessary. Knowledge about what SHOULD happen and when, sure. Knowing what might happen if things don’t follow the normal path, also good. Thinking happy thoughts about what you’d like to have happen, okay. Making a big master plan based on that ideal scenario? No.
c) I’ve always known something was going to go wrong when I had a baby. It’s just a thing I’ve known, so though we attended the Born Free birth class to learn what the hell everybody’s so excited about in natural childbirth chat circles, I knew that was most likely not the way my own “birth experience” would go. Call it woman’s intuition, or maybe it was that I am the product of an emergency c-section. Whatever. It was in the back of my mind for my whole pregnancy, so no solid plans for a natural birth were made.
All those reasons aside, when my babycenter.com alert popped up that it was time to make my birth plan I thought first about the child floating happily inside me and realized that the only thing that mattered to me was that both of us came through the delivery healthy and, if at all possible, happy. However that happened, I didn’t really care. Like her, I was just going to float and let what would happen, happen.
Not so for some of the folks in our birthing class! We chose to do the “weekender” version of the class, meaning we arrived at the hospital at 8:00 on a Sunday morning and didn’t leave until 4:00 that afternoon, but I’m a total people watching whore, so the time flew for me. I knew pretty much everything we were being taught, so I wasn’t shocked by much (save the model of a cervix at each stage of dilation. 10 cm is FUCKING HUGE!) and that left me plenty of time to ogle the other couples.
When asked if we were committed to natural birth or not, just about everyone in our class gave an emphatically positive answer. It was just the two of us, my husband and me, who seemed fine with learning about how one might make it through a delivery with no drugs without being wholly committed to actually doing it for real. I felt oddly proud to be so undecided, maybe because most of those women were having their first babies, too, and they didn’t know any more than I did what we’d be able to do in the moment. Aim low and you won’t be disappointed? Hm.
One guy was pretty much obsessed with his wife’s cervix and wanted to know if she could feel it changing, if he could measure her dilation at home, and if he could help the dilation along at all by “manual means.” Grrrross. Cort and I just looked at each other, appalled. It was understood that he was to face the wall, hold my hand, and look only into my eyes when I was having the baby, and this sudden discussion of cervical mucus, measuring techniques and color changes just about undid us both. I’m all for full fatherly involvement TO A POINT. I also would like to have sex occasionally, so there was to be no “looking.”
A lesbian couple asked if they could lie to friends and family and say that the hospital only allowed two visitors at a time to be on the premises, another couple wanted to know all about pushing techniques and whether giving birth really does feel like taking a big poop. It was entertaining as hell, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a free Sunday and a pregnant friend!
Leaving the class, Cort asked what I thought about this whole natural birth thing. We were told that if I could make it to 7 cm dilated, then I might as well just keep going without meds because I was almost there and the last three cm were the fastest, in terms of time it takes to dilate. I said I’d give it a shot, but that if I couldn’t do it, I wasn’t worried about asking for an epidural at that 6 cm point, though I definitely preferred the idea of being able to get into any position I wanted to deliver the baby. I didn’t relish the thought of being confined to a bed on my back for hours, but if I had to, I had to. He agreed to work on his massage skills, just in case I went all the way sans drugs.
I think NOT having a plan was the best plan I could’ve had because I got the best of both worlds: the confidence to give a drug-free birth a shot with the freedom to choose mas drogas, por favor, should the need arise. Either way, my baby would be in my arms at the end of that labor, and that’s what I was planning for.
7) Why My Kid Will Be Cawdor, Someday
Turns out it was a good thing I wasn’t 100% committed to natural childbirth. At 42 weeks pregnant and, once again, going in for weekly ultrasounds and exams, I really didn’t care how she was going to make her way into the world, only that she was going to do so SOON. I had gained exactly 15 pounds over the course of the whole pregnancy and up until week 40 hadn’t gotten a single stretch mark. With every day that passed I got bigger and bigger and the skin on my belly turned shiny until I looked like a big pink plum, ready to burst. No longer could I sit up from the exam table without help, no more did I feel like a vaguely off-balance and forgetful but still sexy mom. Now I just felt like a beached whale. Still, when my doc finally slipped off his exam gloves and sighed, I felt my stomach sink a little. “The baby’s not engaged, you see, and this only happens for one reason at this stage in the game: She’s too big. I think we should schedule you for a c-section on Monday or Tuesday.”
Up to this point, every appointment had gone perfectly with only glowing comments from the docs. “Looks good!” “Everything’s on track.” “Great job with the weight gain.” Even after the 18 and 40 week ultrasounds, where you could clearly see Ellie’s noggin as well as the rest of her, no one mentioned the c-word. No one said anything about my incredibly narrow pelvis, not even when, week after week, I had the distinct pleasure of someone trying to shove his or her finger into my cervix to no avail. Nobody seemed to mind that I was literally carrying the baby ALL out front and looked like a beach-ball on legs. Then, suddenly there was no question – this baby wasn’t going anywhere and we needed a new exit strategy.
I walked out of the office after making my appointment for Monday or Tuesday, dejected, and couldn’t figure out why. I sat on the brick wall outside the office, called my parents, and cried. I was disappointed, and that was a surprise. I mean, I was actually psyched to know exactly when my baby girl would be born, and, truth be told, I was pretty relieved not to test my mettle with that whole labor thing.
Still, I’d never had any kind of major surgery before and everything I was dreading most about going to the hospital to deliver the baby was par for the course with c-sections: Sterile rooms, hospital gowns out of which my bare bum would peek, the inability to keep my own undergarments on, catheters, ivs and lots of drugs. Not cool, Zeus. Plus, everything had gone so well for so long that I’d actually started to be able to envision myself delivering my baby by my own efforts and now that chance had vanished like so much fog on a sunny morning.
Needless to say, I got over it, and right quick! I knew when and where my daughter would enter the world and the doc I saw was the best surgeon at the hospital. Plus he was the sweetest little Indian man and I knew we were both in good hands with him. I then spent the remaining 5 days hoping I wouldn’t go into labor, and my mom even asked me to call and see if they could bump up my appointment because she was a nervous wreck. Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to be sliced open! The only thing that had me worried was the recovery – how painful would it be? Some of my friends were in agony, some were totally fine, none of them were me. Much like knowing whether or not I could handle the pain of childbirth, there was only one way to find out. And it would happen on a Tuesday, whether Birnam Wood was marching on Dunsinane or not.
8) Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt – it’s also a reason for your doc to tell you about his German vacation in vivid detail
Sure enough, the morning that I was scheduled to go in for my c-section, I went into labor. Luckily, that meant absolutely nothing to the nurses who tried literally 16 times to take my blood, shoved a catheter where the sun don’t shine (surprisingly painless, I might add) and talked smack about each other as they came to check on me and the baby every so often, assuring me that “we’re right on track, aren’t we?”
It did, however, mean something to my tiny Indian doctor. Once he showed up and saw that I was having contractions on a regular basis, looked at the 90 Brightness tone of my skin and heard my slightly insane laughter as I said “Oh HI Dr. Singh! I’m in LABOR!! Guess that means I can’t have my c-section, huh? AAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!” he decided his only recourse was to distract the hell out of me until the operating room was fully prepped and he could drug me properly.
To that end, he calmly held my hand and told me and CL (in minute detail) about the month-long trip to Germany he had just planned. From the opera house at Munich to the tour of every castle in Deutschland, Dr. Singh’s voice kept right on soothing away my adrenaline rushes that came with each contraction. The smell of the cloves he chews calmed me more than the body-temperature saline solution I had pumping through my finally-i.v.’d hand, and for his small but wiry self I am truly grateful.
Especially since I still hadn’t really come to terms with what was about to happen next and was only then beginning to think that maybe being sliced open so another human could enter the world was a slightly big deal and that maybe there could be some side-effects to that. Like, you know, having a child to take care of. FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.