It was just before 2:30 a.m. on December 26th when we arrived at The Women*s Hospit@l of Greensboro, a place I had heard many wonderful things about from friends who have delivered babies there. I had been to the facility for one Sunday morning insemination, an ultrasound, and an HSG, all good experiences which took place a)during normal waking hours, and b)WHEN I WAS NOT IN LABOR. I immediately rethought all the good things I’d heard when, as soon as we arrived, I was escorted to a cubicle to complete paperwork and answer a bunch of questions. Did I mention the contractions, oh God, the contractions, and did I mention that by now they were 4-5 minutes apart? It shouldn’t have come as a major shock to the nurse on the other side of the table that maybe I might possibly have a little trouble answering her questions in a timely fashion, but apparently she had just been sent over that very hour from, oh, I don’t know, the customer service desk at Sears, and she kept repeating her questions when I didn’t immediately answer. Thank God Gayle finally pointed out the obvious, and she looked closely at me and said, “Ohhhh. I understand.” Things went much more speedily after that, and I was finally taken to an examination room where I was forced to remove my “labor shirt” (purchased specifically for this event) and put on an ugly backless hospital gown.
Once I was on the table a nurse hooked me up to the monitors, took my blood pressure and temperature, and then checked my cervix (which was, until I experienced labor, the worst pain I’d ever known). “Hmmm,” she said as if contemplating what to order from a menu at Shoney’s. “You’re completely effaced.” Silence, accompanied by more poking, then, “You’ve lost your mucus plug, so don’t freak out if you see blood.” More silence, more poking, and finally, “Huh. I’m not sure how much you’re dilated. I’ll be right back.” My mother had arrived, and she was timing my contractions by the wall clock, which now read 3-something; they were 3-4 minutes apart now, and I was freaked because nothing I did brought relief. Mom and Gayle were looking freaked as well. I was managing to breathe through the contractions, but it took every ounce of energy I had not to scream. I remember saying “I don’t know what to do” a lot. In the midst of all of this, my nurse returned with another nurse who announced that she, too, was going to check my cervix. She was quick and efficient, no running commentary this time. I was only dilated 2 centimeters. I wanted to cry. Meanwhile, the first nurse told me that my contractions weren’t registering on the monitor. I interpreted this news as “They aren’t really that bad yet. They are going to get much worse.” She gave me a little button and instructed me to push it each time I felt one starting, and then she left to report the state of my cervix to the on-call doctor.
There are eight doctors in my OB practice, and I dislike one of them. One. The one who was on call that night. We had attempted to page my doctor, my beloved Dr. T., per his instructions, but his pager was off. Now the icky doctor with no personality (we’ll call him Dr. Cardboard) was going to deliver my baby, and I was sad. Then I had another contraction, and I decided that if Dr. Evil and Mini Me delivered my baby I would be fine with it, just so long as they did it soon. When the nurse came back after talking with Dr. Cardboard, she explained that he wanted to be sure I was in “real labor” before proceeding (read: they were not going to admit me unless I continued to dilate), and perhaps I could walk around a bit to move things along. She smiled cheerfully and said she’d come check my cervix again in an hour. If I hadn’t been having yet another contraction I would have slapped her.
I grudgingly put on my robe and headed out into the hospital, Mom on one side of me and Gayle on the other. My sisters were passed out in the Admitting waiting area, which was maybe 50 feet from the room I’d just vacated. I made it to the nearest waiting area chair before I had to sit down. I’ve read that walking is a natural inclination during labor. Not for me. For me, a natural inclination during labor is to claw through solid wood with my bear hands. I sat in the waiting area for a few contractions and then announced that I wanted to go back to the room and lie down.
When my hour was up and my cervix was checked yet again, it was announced that I’d gone from 2 to 3. Actually, I had gone from 2 to about 2 and three-quarters, but the nurse took pity on me and told Dr. Cardboard she was officially admitting me. I have never been so happy to see a wheelchair in all my life. When we arrived in the labor and delivery room, a large open space with a recliner and a pull out sofa, the clock read 4:30. I was so sleepy I was actually half nodding off between contractions, which were holding steady at 3-4 minutes apart and were becoming more difficult to tolerate by the minute. When the nurse asked if I was interested in pain relief I wanted to hug her. She immediately put the epidural process into motion, but warned me that it would take about an hour (there was bloodwork, which had to go to the lab, and other things I can’t remember). My main goal in life at that point became watching the clock and saying to myself, “I can do anything for an hour.” It was almost 5:30 when the anesthesiologist came in to drug me. I wanted to hug him, too.
I remember that first hour in the labor and delivery room as calm and quiet, despite my pain. The lights were turned down low, the blinds were closed, and there was a hush about everything the nurses were doing. It was extremely calming for me. My sisters were asleep on the sofa. My mom and Gayle were watchful. My nurse talked quietly to me, not too much, just enough to let me know what was happening. When the anesthesiologist came in and started the epidural I was significantly calmer than I had been in Admitting. He, too, spoke in hushed tones and explained what he was doing and what I would feel with each step. It took him less than 10 minutes to insert the catheter for the epidural, and I immediately lost feeling in my right leg. My left side was completely normal, so I was still feeling contractions on the left. The nurse explained that she could give me four additional doses of medicine, which she would do until I couldn’t feel pain. She assured me that in the event I could still feel pain after four doses, she would call the anesthesiologist back. I’m happy to report that the fourth dose was the charm. Finally pain free, I curled up into my pillows and slept.
We all slept. The sun was starting to rise, and light was creeping in through the blinds. At my request, Emmylou Harris’s “Wrecking Ball” was playing on the CD player. Occasionally my sister Charity would get up and examine the contraction monitor and report her findings to me. If we listened carefully we could hear the baby’s heartbeat on the fetal monitor. It was a good morning, even in spite of the exhaustion and the trauma of the night before. I was surrounded by people I love, I was feeling no pain, and I was about to meet my kid. I didn’t think life could get any better, but it did. The morning nurse came in and introduced herself, and then announced that she had just talked with Dr. T. and he would be coming in to deliver the baby. Dr. Cardboard would be coming by to check on me, and then I would officially be Dr. T.’s patient. I was filled with relief and gratitude. Dr. Cardboard did stop by around 7:30; he checked my cervix (6 centimeters!) and broke my water, and that was the last we saw of him.
The rest of the morning was more of the same: intermittent sleep, Emmylou Harris singing in the background, lots of cervix-checking. Each time the nurse checked my progress she called Dr. T., and then she came back to report on their conversation. She told me he wouldn’t be there until I was dilated 9, but that I was in good hands until then. Indeed I was. She was a peach. Her name, in fact, was Peach. C. Peach. She looked like she had just walked out of a 1950s movie: long white hair in a bun, traditional nurse’s uniform, white stockings and white shoes. She made me remember all the good things I’d heard about having a baby at this hospital.
I’m not sure what time it was when C. Peach announced that I was at 9 centimeters, but things moved very quickly after that. She left to call Dr. T., and then informed me that he was on his way. People started coming in and setting up the room for delivery. C. Peach explained what would happen when it was time to push. She told me how long I might expect to push since this was my first labor (2-3 hours). She told me that she’s worked with Dr. T. lots of times, and she gave me her take on his work (in her opinion he tended to move things along too quickly instead of letting nature take its course; as it would turn out, this was a good thing).
Dr. T. arrived about 45 minutes later. It was just before 11. He apologized for not having his pager on the night before, and then insisted that I introduce him to everyone in the room, a small crowd that now included my grandmother. He checked my cervix yet again, pronounced it dilated to 10, and went to change clothes. C. Peach flipped up the leg supports, lowered the end of the bed, and gave me a crash course in pushing. Suddenly, after feeling nothing at all from the waist down for the past 6 hours, I began to feel pressure. Not pain, just pressure. C. Peach looked at the monitor and then at me and said, “Did you feel that? That means you’re ready to push.” She directed Mom and Gayle to their posts, and before Dr. T. had a chance to return in his scrubs we were underway.
I would love to tell you how many times I pushed, but I don’t know. What I do know is this: I have never concentrated on something so intensely in my life, and still, I couldn’t feel a thing, so I was not entirely sure I was actually doing anything. And then I heard C. Peach say to my mother, “Do you want to see the head? It’s crowned.” I could hear my sisters squealing, and my mom and Gayle laughing, but hearing those words gave me a massive infusion of adrenalin. My entire reason for being became pushing. I thought my eyeballs would pop out and fly across the room.
When the real action started C. Peach turned up the fetal monitor so she and Dr. T. could hear the baby. Her heart was strong and loud and clear–and then it wasn’t. As my contractions became more intense, her heartbeat became more frenetic. A contraction would start, I would push, and her heartbeat would disappear. Once the contraction ended it would slowly recover. I panicked, but my doctor–did I mention that I love him?–he takes no chances. He explained that she was in a bit of distress, and that he was going to give her a hand–in the form of the vacuum. I didn’t want him to use the vacuum, but hearing her heartbeat go silent made me reconsider. I agreed, and he told me to start pushing four times per contraction instead of three. He and C. Peach were practically cheering, my mom was counting, and my sisters were still squealing when, at 11:54 Mia emerged.
I’m sure there was noise in the room, but I heard nothing. Time stopped. Dr. T. held her in mid-air, his long left had gripping her under her arms, and suctioned her mouth and nose. I could barely take it all in–her tiny body, her little head, her mass of hair, her wide-open eyes. I managed to ask if she was okay, and she screamed her first protest in response. He assured me all was well and plopped her on my chest. Sounds suddenly returned to the room. Camera shutters clicked, the voices of my family called out, Emmylou Harris kept singing in the background, and Mia cried, and there has never been a sweeter chorus.