The best way to describe parenthood is that you’d walk barefoot down to hell to rescue your child and bring her back up to the surface world- a modern day Demeter, out to rescue her Persephone- if you ever had to. And once you realize that is the depth of your devotion, the fact that this is EXACTLY what you’ll go through to give birth makes it a decision. A choice. I CHOOSE pain, it doesn’t choose me. It’d happen anyway, but setting it up in your own mind as a decision makes it akin to signing up for the Marines instead of being drafted. (Lot of similes and metaphors in this one- prepare yourself.)
My mind broke from pain and painkillers during the birth of my first daughter. I went to my mindplace, as Sherlock would call it, except mine turned out to be our living room, staring down at my cat, asleep on the arm of our red couch. I don’t know how long I was lost in that image- it felt like hours, but I can never be sure. And before that… or after… I had a dream of buying a teddy bear at some kind of used car lot for stuffed animals, standing under the shade of a live oak tree. (I bought your standard brown teddy bear with a red bow and passed on the undercarriage rust protection and extended warranty.) But that whole teddy bear dream happened between closing my eyes, turning my head, and opening them to look at my husband and tell him about the dream. It happened in 2, maybe 3 seconds. The mind does really weird things to escape pain, is what I’m saying, and I obviously waited too long for the epidural that first time. Or wait- they wouldn’t give it to me earlier, is actually what happened. I never used any painkillers other than an epidural during labor again.
With my second I remember a feeling of panic that I didn’t verbalize as we walked into the hospital. It all came back as to what I would be facing in mere hours- I’d forgotten the really scary bits until that point. I walked in to do it all over again- because what choice did I have? I was also in pain when I got that epidural. Hunch over. Remain still. Arch your back. Now do it through mind snappingly painful contractions. That’s a good girl. My second daughter was 8lbs 14oz. when she was born, and the first thing I said was “Thank God I don’t have to do that again.” And that god I don’t believe in must have laughed and laughed…
And my third. This one I opened the mail one day and it was my draft letter. Report for duty in December of 2015. This one I didn’t volunteer for. D-Day was coming… and somehow I could never, through that whole surprising and unexpected 9 months, wrap my head around this coming baby. I was stuck in pregnancy zone. A rough, rough pregnancy zone. And I’ll skip ahead in the story here and tell you that being uncomfortable can be worse than being in pain. It’s more insidious. It’s harder to verbalize, low level misery. Pain you can fight, but discomfort just IS.
I stayed up the whole night before the induction (we went in at 4am, and this daughter, well she’s thought playtime was 1-4am for months so sleep wasn’t possible anyway.) When my husband woke up I told him it was time to go to war. It would have been easier if that was true, in a way. Because pain… pain makes birth like a car wreck- you’re never scared while it’s happening. Adrenaline kicks in, you’re an active participant in saving your own ass, to busy to be scared.
Third birth though, the nurses listened to me- I told them how it would go down: Pitocin, break my water, but I won’t progress till I get the epidural because I can’t do anything but fight pain- I can’t ever relax into it like you’re supposed to. (I have such a weird sense of pride about that fact. I guess I think it might say something about my character.) The nurses nodded. Decided the old hat must know by this point, and told me I’d get the epidural REALLY early this time. As in not long after they broke my water and before the contractions really got painful. And… I wanted to balk. Something about that seemed… wrong. Ish. But great! Right? Right.
I was itchy, throughout all my pregnancies (bear with me, this isn’t a non sequitur.) It was worse with each successive one, so this last one was the least comfortable. (Helllllooo understatement) And it’s a reaction to pregnancy hormones, so no amount of scratching helps- not that I didn’t try, mind you. Claritin helped a little. Anyway. Everything touching my skin made it worse. And during labor the fetal monitors and their scratchy straps around my ridiculously heaving belly were AWFUL. (This baby was STILL active at 7am… one final hurrah, bouncing around the womb before eviction.) The tape for the IV itched. My shirt itched. The sheet itched. The paper pad I sat on itched. You’re naked from the waist down. And then the being tied down part. I had a blood pressure cuff. An oxygen sensor on my finger. My IV line for the pitocin. A catheter. Two monitors strapped to my belly. The worst is when they break your water. You gush at every contraction- and it’s so hot. So you’re wet. And gross. (you’re welcome) And strapped down. And oh we need your blood pressure again. You’re thirsty? To bad, have some ice… And NOW- totally stone cold sober and not actually in pain… hunch over, gush a TON of fluid, watch out for all the lines and wires tying you here… and contemplate the huge needle about to go in your back and the reality of this moment with it all compounded into one small block of time.
Will you believe that was the most miserable I’ve ever been? It was the most miserable I have ever been- I don’t have the ability to convey it properly. I started to cry. Silent tears. Lots of snot. I had to ask the nurse to wipe my nose. My husband knew. I think I saw him turn his head away, at one point. Everyone always thinks husbands have it easy during birth, but I disagree. I’ve watched him through many a cluster headache in our years- and nothing is worse than watching the one you love suffering. No. I don’t think he had it easy.
It was worse than pain, somehow, that misery. So lookie there- I did walk down to hell for this one again after all. My blood pressure dropped after the epidural. And my blood sugar, I could feel. I was light headed. Didn’t feel right (I didn’t eat anything before we went in. I should have.) I made my husband go get me an illegal Dr. Pepper. I took a few sips, and lo and behold, my blood pressure went back up a little. We didn’t tell the nurse about that. Or about the Claritin I took to help with the itching.
The epidural kicked in. I slept for a few hours. I woke up. It was time to push. I did, and over the quick course of 1 and a half contractions my third daughter was born, pretty much painlessly. (Bless you, epidurals. Bless you.) We laughed and cried happy tears at our new reality. Parents to this new human, who’d come screaming into the world.
And love, just instantly, for this little stranger. For our sweet little unexpected dinner guest… to every dinner from here on out. For the girl we’ll watch graduate high school when we’re in our 50s.
My little medal, for the military service I was drafted into. My third daughter. Unexpected, but once here so instantly welcome. And wanted. And loved. Babies are fun, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I brought pictures this last time, but didn’t use them to focus on, I didn’t need to. What I really focussed on was the phrase “Already back from the Pecos.” My husband went on a week long kayak trip down the Pecos River a few years ago. And as much as he prepared, and as long as the trip was… when he got back it was this feeling of it already happened. You did it. It’s now in the past.
This pregnancy. Birth. it already happened. I did it. It’s now in the past.
Welcome to the world, little human. We have so much to show you.