There is video footage from Christmas morning of my sisters trying to bribe the baby into being born. Megan is holding up the baby’s presents–two tiny tie-dyed shirts she made, a teensy pair of baby Crocs, a Lambchop doll that talks. Charity is showing the baby the dogs and the cat and pretending to pick her nose, assuring her unborn niece that she will let her eat her boogers if she so desires. In the background my mother is on the phone telling a very animated version of our Christmas Eve catastrophe: a buck appeared from out of nowhere and t-boned my mother’s car with Charity at the wheel and Megan in the passenger seat, while Mom and I drove off into the darkness in my car blissfully unaware until I suddenly realized there were no longer headlights behind me at almost the exact same moment Megan called in a state of near hysteria. The deer’s antlers collided with the driver’s side of the car, and then it hit the car head on. No one was hurt–well, no one other than the deer, who lost the contents of his bowels on the car and then disappeared into the black night–and if we had left Mom’s house 20 seconds later it would have been my car that got hit, with me at the wheel, so we were all feeling pretty good about life except for Mom, who was distressed about the damage to her new car, and, well, the deer. We waited on the side of the road for the highway patrol for over an hour; they never came so we left after being assured by the insurance company that Mom wouldn’t need a police report for the repairs. We had to stop almost immediately so I could pee behind a gas station (it was closed, but I still felt safer peeing near a gas station than on the edge of the woods) because, after all, I was minutes from being 40 weeks pregnant and peeing was my life. All of this is documented on the video, along with the sounds of holiday music in the background, and the mounds of presents and pillows and blankets in the middle of my living room, and the fire crackling in the fireplace. It was a good day. Who wouldn’t want to be born into such goodness?
My kid, apparently, or so I had recently begun thinking. My visit to the doctor the week before had been uneventful–no dilation, little effacement. My nightly Braxton-Hicks contractions were becoming only slightly more uncomfortable, and the baby, while in prime position for birth, was behaving in her usual manner (read: nothing different in her movements indicated that delivery was near). I was scheduled to see my doctor again on my due date, December 28th, and I was sure I would go to 42 weeks and have to be induced, and my child would be enormous and her head would go on record as the largest head ever to be attached to a newborn baby. As a teacher I’ve never believed in bribing kids to get them to cooperate, but on Christmas day, I was perfectly fine with bribing my own. It seemed my only hope.
I should mention that I began the last month of my pregnancy thinking I was in labor every single night. Between the nightly Braxton-Hicks extravaganza and the constant discharge, I was sure labor was imminent and my water was surely about to break, when in fact those contractions were nothing, nada, and I was just wetting myself on a regular basis. Good times. I asked several friends who have given birth, “How will I know when it’s real?” They always replied, “Oh, you’ll know. Trust me, you’ll know.” I have to tell you, in the end, I didn’t know. There was nothing unusual about Christmas day to clue me in that something different was about to happen, and that night when what I believed to be Braxton-Hicks contractions started, I ignored them. I had no idea.
We had our Christmas dinner around 5. I helped Mom prepare some of the meal, and then I ate like the pig I had become in the 3rd trimester, and then I helped her put everything away. After dinner we all sprawled in front of the TV and watched “The Lake House,” and when it went off we watched “Ice Age.” My mom and sisters had spent Christmas Eve at my house, but they were heading home that night, right after the second movie ended. About an hour into “The Lake House” I felt that familiar crampy tightening beginning; as the movie was ending I felt it again. At the beginning of “Ice Age” it happened again, stronger this time, and I glanced at the clock. Forty-five minutes later there was another one. As I have already mentioned, I completely ignored these sensations. I had been told by authorities on the subject that I WOULD KNOW when it was for real, and this couldn’t possibly be real. So I allowed my mother and sisters to leave, to go back home to Virginia (a mere hour away, but still), and I didn’t even mention the contractions. After all, THEY. WERE. FAKE.
Except that about 20 minutes after they left I had another one, a rather painful one, this time after I’d been up walking around, straightening up the house, and THAT, my friends, is what freaked me the hell out. My trusty pregnancy book explained that if you change positions and the contractions worsen instead of improve, you are probably in labor. So I stretched out on my bed. Bam! Then I got up and paced. Bam! I had told my mom to call me when she got home, so I decided to wait for her call; I wanted her to get there and do what she needed to do, and I knew if I called her she’d turn right around and come back. And also, my trusty pregnancy book assured me that first labors were interminably long, and if this was the real thing, it could be hours and hours and hours before anything really happened. There was no need for her to come back yet.
But just to be on the safe side, I called Gayle, who was just 30 minutes away, and explained that I might be having contractions and that I may want her to come over, and we agreed that if I had another one she would head this way. After all, how embarrassed would I be if what I was experiencing ended up being really bad gas from the mounds of food I had consumed at dinner? When I found myself doubled over in pain 15 minutes later I called her back, and she was already on her way. It was 9:55. She told me to start timing, so I made a lame attempt to calculate the times of the last two, and then I started timing for real. At 10:12 there was another contraction, followed by another at 10:22, and another at 10:31. I got a 23 minute break then, and after that a 21 minute break; after that, the longest I went between contractions was 12 minutes.
My mom called at 11 and I explained the situation. I told her I was going to try to go to bed, that I probably wouldn’t need to go to the hospital until the next day, and that she should go to bed, too, and I’d call if anything changed. I actually did try to lie down. It didn’t go well. I also tried walking, standing on all fours, leaning on the exercise ball–all bad. By this time it was after midnight and the contractions were between 4 and 9 minutes apart. I don’t know how long each one lasted, but I was becoming frantic. Nothing I did eased the pain, and it was body-wracking pain. I was still coughing from a cold I’d had for several weeks, and the coughing seemed to make the contractions worse. All those big ideas I had about waiting until the last possible minute to have the epidural…what the HELL was I thinking? I wanted it right then and there, but thanks to my childbirth class, I was sure they wouldn’t give it to me in the near future because I’d only technically been in labor for a few hours, and according to the class, that’s not long enough to make any real progress. For the first time in months I was worried about myself instead of the baby. I was afraid.
Sometime between 12 and 1 I called my mom and told her to come, book and childbirth class be damned. I was in so much pain that I was dry heaving, and I NEVER throw up, ever, so I knew things were getting serious. Out of desperation I took a warm bath. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and the book assured me that the warm water would be soothing, but it did nothing to ease the pain. I did manage to shave my legs and wash my hair, both comforting gestures for me, and then I went into hyper-prepare mode. It was as if my brain suddenly registered that this was really happening and I remembered everything I’d meant to do but hadn’t yet done. I curled up on the bed and directed as Gayle gathered things for me. She was as calm as I was frantic. I was trying to breathe without coughing, because I seemed to have a contraction every time I coughed, but it wasn’t working, so in between bringing me earrings and my shoes and the swaddler for the diaper bag and pillowcases for my pillows, she brought me a cough drop, and I found out the hard way that what they say about eating during labor is true: it’s a BAD idea, even if you’re just sucking a lozenge. After mere seconds I was dry heaving again, and contracting every 3-4 minutes, and losing what tiny grip I had on my composure. It was 2 when my mom called to say she was halfway to my house; Gayle told her to meet us at the hospital, and I didn’t protest.
To be continued.