Originally written for LIFE & THYME MAGAZINE
Issue 4 | Winter 2016
Originally written for GATHER JOURNAL
ORIGIN - THE NATURAL HISTORY ISSUE | WINTER 2016
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
There was a tiny wet spot on the bed when I woke up to go pee. I was still in the dark on what “water breaking” would look like and feel like; a slightly obvious indicator such as this one failed to resonate and so I didn’t think too hard on it as I shuffled slowly across the wood floors for my middle of the night bathroom trip. When I returned back to bed, I thought on it a bit more and slowly rolled over to look at the clock just in case this was, in fact, the beginning of something. 12:29. I made a mental note as my eyes closed shut.
An hour later I woke up to pee again. As I rounded the corner of the bed, Splash! The pop and splatter of a small water balloon. I studied its outline in the dark and then quickly said Michael’s name. “My water broke,” I said, and it felt all sorts of dreamy and cliche to be saying those words as if only people in the movies have a right to that line. Without hesitation he was up and out of bed to, I think, the kitchen to grab a paper towel to sop up the spill. “I think we call my doctor now?” I asked as if I hadn’t thought on this moment a million times over the course of pregnancy. I dialed Guirguis Group from bed and got the doctor on call, Jill-Ann Swenson, who quietly told me that I’d start feeling contractions in the next three hours so around 5am we could probably head to the hospital. I hadn’t been feeling any contractions at all, even in the weeks leading up to this moment, so I remember feeling unsure if contractions would even happen. Like my water breaking, contractions were another thing I was hanging out in the dark on. I asked Jill-Ann what would happen if I didn’t feel any contractions. Should we still go to the hospital? “You’ll most likely start to feel them, but if you’d like to check in with me again at 5am, go ahead and do that,” she said, and that’s when I wondered what she did on nights like these that had her so calm and cool while speaking with such women. Had she been watching some Netflix show? Reading a book? Writing an email? We hung up and I laid in bed next to Michael waiting to feel something, anything. He checked his Twitter feed like he is wont to do and I laid left nestled up next to him, the glow of his phone oddly soothing. I needed normal.
Time moved fast that night. All of a sudden it was 2:30am, 3:30am, 4:30am. I started to feel cramps within the hour of my phone call with Jill-Ann and from that point on, it became all about the yoga breathing I’d been practicing for some time now. A long and deep breath thru the nose, a slow and moaning “oh” through the mouth. Michael started timing my crampy contractions but they were super irregular. Some lasted 15-30 seconds, some lasted a minute, some went well over a minute; some were 10 minutes apart, some were 5-7, some were 5, some were 4. At 4:30am, Michael went into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. I followed him out into the apartment and while I had no desire to drink a cup of coffee with him, I did have a desire to tidy up. I fluffed the pillows on the couch. I moved papers around. I pushed the medicine ball back into its corner of the apartment near the TV. I brushed my teeth. I took my thyroid pill. I didn’t make the bed because I realized a part of me wanted to return to the disarray of blanket and pillows, a perfectly messy memory marker if you will. As I type this, the bed has still not been made and I am okay with that. My contractions were growing stronger and closer together but they were nothing I couldn’t handle. If anything, they just got me excited. Finally! The end of pregnancy was near! I had been a week late and, dear god, that last week had been torturous. Between endless texts from friends and family asking if the baby was here yet to the endless number of benches I sat on all along Smith and Court Street to the middle of the night freezer runs for coffee ice cream in an effort to comfort myself from the annoying pains of trying to sleep well, I just wanted it all to be over. I had never been all that fearful of giving birth, just insanely curious, and so now as I was adding last minute toiletries to my hospital bag, I simply felt ready to get the show on the road. “Maybe we should just go to the hospital now,” I said, even though I had been all about the 3-1-1 rule. Three minutes apart for 1 minute long over the course of 1 hour. I was certainly getting close to that, but knew I wasn’t quite there. However, my water had broke almost four hours ago. Suddenly, even though we were only going as far as Park Slope, I felt slight trepidation that I’d be giving birth in the apartment.
Soon there was a knock at the door and there was Ken, our friend and upstairs neighbor, who I guess had offered to avail himself to us for a drive to the hospital so that we wouldn’t have to park in hard-to-park Park Slope. With a shut of the lights, we were out the door and down the stairs, walking slowly down the block and across Hamilton Avenue to the car. As we drove down Hamilton to Smith, up Ninth, I kept wondering why Michael was slowing down for all the yellow lights, a real Sylvie way of driving, a move that has always frustrated Carly, which is funny, since Carly doesn’t exactly live a daredevilly life. If there were ever a time to cruise through the yellows, wouldn’t this be the time? That said, I guess stopping at the yellows instilled an added layer of calm in me. Everything was going to be fine. We were driving safely. We would get there in no time. The sun had barely risen. I saw two people walking into the Smith-9th train station and took solace in the fact that their day would be nothing like my day. Ken and Michael were talking about something completely unrelated to the situation at hand and I didn’t mind it one bit. I tuned them out, continued to breathe, and watched the neighborhood bleed into the next.
METHODIST HOSPITAL - TRIAGE
The first nurse was a young nurse. Her name is lost on me as I must have interacted with what seemed like 100 nurses over the course of labor and delivery. She told me to undress and then pointed to a neatly folded hospital gown on the bed. Two things I was not expecting---one, how confusing it is to put on a hospital gown. You are literally creating the gown yourself by way of buttons in myriad places. I put Michael in charge of dressing me from that point forward because I just couldn’t (and wouldn’t) work on making sleeves while having a contraction. And then two, a stranger’s bloody underwear waiting for me beneath the gown. Welcome to triage!
I called out to the nurse. “Um, yes, hi, someone’s bloody underwear…” and I could barely finish my sentence before a contraction began. The contractions weren’t terrible. They came slow, building like an ocean’s wave (an analogy I’d heard repeatedly), and then a shortness and a tightening of my uterine muscle until the pain gradually crept backwards. A shadowy figure disappearing in the dark with a finger to its lips.
She apologized and moved me into another room where clean underwear lay waiting. Michael began to unpack my hospital bag. The funny story about my hospital bag: the contents of it were mostly home to two huge bags of tiny stuffed animals Michael had bought online from Oriental Trading (one of his favorite online sites). The animals had arms with little patches of velcro on the hands so that you could essentially hang them from various things in the room. (i.e. medical equipment, towel bars, door knobs, etc.) I love Michael but he can be straight up surprising and weird in terms of what he considers to be a fun purchase. I gave him a hard time for weeks over these animals. First off, it’s my freaking hospital bag and I needed some room for items that might come in handy for, say, getting through birth. I could barely fit my toiletry bag in there without having to punch a couple of monkeys down. He assured me the animals would be a nice touch to the experience. We would hang them around the room! We would give them to the nurses! We would pass them out to other laboring women and their families! Fine, I said. Truth be told, I had spent an afternoon myself baking mandelbread for the nurses as a token of appreciation and thanks… I guess the animals were Michael’s unique way of saying “thanks” as well.
As I breathed through some easy contractions, Michael decorated this broom closet of a room and placed my tupperware of cookies on the counter. When another nurse came into the room to examine me, it was almost comical how quickly she noticed the animals and how pleased she was to see them. From that point on, every single nurse who entered our room for the first time acted like these animals were God’s gift to the maternity ward. The mandelbread? Polite declines.
I was 3cm dilated in triage. Carly texted me something along the lines of “Every morning I wake up and wonder if there’ll be baby news…” so I had Michael snap my photo on the waiting table. As you can see from my expression, I am in pretty good spirits.
LABOR & DELIVERY - ROOM 2
Oh, Room 2.
Room 2 is where shit got real. Yes, we had a corner room on a wet day overlooking the brownstones of 8th Avenue and 6th Street. Yes, the light was so nice that I encouraged Michael to take my photograph.
Yes, we played multiple rounds of a ring toss game Michael bought on, where else, Oriental Trading. But holy cow, Room 2 saw me writhing, my hands gripping bedrails as if I’d been tied to them against my will. I spent an hour in the shower, buck naked on a birthing ball, the curtain pulled back so that Michael could be near me while I worked to dull my contractions with a shower nozzle. We walked the halls at a snail’s pace, stopping every couple of minutes to slow dance my contraction away, a sight that looked a lot more Mary Jane’s last dance than first dance wedding dance. I tried getting on all fours but that didn’t feel good to me. I tried squatting---a position I’d been getting into throughout pregnancy because it felt so good each time---but that, too, didn’t feel good to me. Leaning into Michael felt the best. Honestly I can’t remember the entire sequence of events, but I can remember most details. Like sending Michael out to get me a plain bagel to nibble. How great ice chips taste. Watching Michael eat most of the mandelbread. The copy of Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling I’d bought weeks ago to read in the hospital except the last thing I wanted to do was sit and read in the hospital. That said, I like Mindy Kaling a lot (Michael and I had been binge-watching The Mindy Project on Hulu) and seeing her face propped up across the room reminded me of all things light, fun, and funny. I remember having to push Michael to give my family an update on how I was progressing. They would text his phone and he’d send them back responses like: “The update is that there’s no real update.” I knew all they wanted was to know how dilated I was, how punishing the labor was, etc, but Michael can be cryptic, a real “hoarder of information” as I like to put it. “Just tell them I’m at 5-6 centimeters,” I said, even though that had been the update almost 3 hours ago. “Just tide them over.” I later found out that my mom had called Marie (my mother-in-law) to check to see if she knew something they didn’t. She didn’t. I remember the advice Michael gave me that changed my laboring life while I thrashed and wriggled in bed through each guttural moan. He told me to simply relax the bottom half of my body. If I needed to jerk my body in reaction to the pain, to do it with my arms, to do it with my head, but to slacken that uterine muscle. As soon as I did that, the contractions became more and more manageable on my own. At one point, Michael said, “You got this” and left to go close his eyes in a chair across the room.
More and more manageable turned into more and more unmanageable. Three or fours hours later, when my midwife came in to check on dilation, I got told I was at 7 centimeters and she’d be back to check on me again in another three hours. “Wait, no, don’t leave, I can’t wait another 3 hours,” I said. “Let’s do the epidural.” I had not been for or against getting an epidural. My “plan” was to labor until my limits had been reached. Knowing full well I wouldn’t see this midwife for another three (or four… she liked to linger…) hours and that I’d have to dance Mary Jane’s last dance for nowhere near the last time, I decided my limits had been reached. At this point, I just wanted a break. A rest. A fucking time out. I was straight up whimpering and starting to feel really sad for myself. Throughout pregnancy, if I ever complained about anything---swollen hands, achy sacrum, trouble sleeping----Michael would shoot me the saucy “Wah, I’m a baby” look. (He’d also speak the word “Wah.”) I told him he could get away with it then, but if he brought that shit into labor and delivery, I was going to murder him. “I’m not having a good time,” I sniveled. “I want the epidural.” And without further ado, they called the anesthesiologist.
What is there to say about the epidural that has not already been said? It’s a trip to happy land. It’s the slow descent of your butt into a hot tub. Falling back against the leather seat of a cab after a long night. Breaking the fast on Yom Kippur to eat a bagel schmeared with anything. It’s when you can’t come up with a single thing better than what you’re feeling right there in the now and you are cajoled into thinking that all might be right with the world. You look at your husband and blow these words out in one breath before drifting off to sleep: “I’m having a good time.”
I slept for three hours. Michael and I are both foggy on what we did to pass the time between 8:30 pm and 2:30 am that night, but I think it consisted of watching episodes of The Mindy Project on my MacBook while chowing down on more and more ice chips as my boredom escalated to unhinged, delirious levels. Since I’d been given the epidural, I was now confined to bed with what felt like Misery legs and on top of that, I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. I wasn’t cold, I just couldn’t stop shivering. I was 8 centimeters dilated when my midwife came back to check on me. “Uncontrollable shaking is a great sign,” she said. “It means you’re in transition.” (Transition is the most difficult phase of labor, but also the shortest lasting ½ hour to 1 ½ hours; contractions are typically 2-3 minutes apart, lasting 60-90 seconds.) I was in transition for, oh, six hours? AT LEAST THAT’S WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO ME.
As the clock neared midnight, I woke up from the dream of giving birth before a new day could begin to the news that my contractions had slowed down and were now further apart. This wasn’t great considering my water had long broken. It was time to administer good ol’ Pitocin to get those friendly contractions up and running again. While a stall in labor felt slightly distressing, I knew deep down that all would be okay, that the epidural was probably to blame since I hadn’t moved or changed positions in forever. Michael set an alarm for every 30 minutes so that I could move from my left side to my back to my right side on a continuous basis. Back felt best. My whole pregnancy had seen me on my sides so an opportunity to lay flat felt like a day at the beach. Every time the nurse came in to raise the Pitocin dose, she’d ask me, “Do you feel the urge to push?” I would think about it every time. “If you have to think about it, then no, you don’t have the urge,” she said. Ugh! Despite not having the “urge to push,” I really wanted to push! That, and I just wanted this all to be over. I was bored. Turned off. Tired. Leg paralysis was wearing on me and I was sick of nibbling the same plain bagel for 17 hours.
The “urge to push” is real. All of a sudden I had it and all of a sudden my doctor was nowhere to be found. Well, he was here in the hospital, just not HERE IN MY ROOM WHERE I NEEDED HIM. I was asking the same question over and over again to Michael and the nurse who sauntered in to check vitals each time. Dr. Pete, Dr. Pete, Where was Dr. Pete? Well, Dr. Pete was a busy guy that night delivering like a million other babies. “Why is there only one person delivering all the babies tonight?” I cried to Michael. “It’s not right, it’s not right…” I felt deranged and forgotten about and kept threatening to push the baby out on my own. I told Michael to go check my vagina. “Do you see the head?” I asked. “I do not see the head,” he assured me and I swear I thought he was lying.
Finally, Dr. Pete showed up and I was all polite and smiles as if he was just one of many guests arriving to my dinner party. Come in, sit down, can I offer you some ice chips?
I laid back and grabbed my legs. Michael provided a deeper push on my left while the nurse took to my right. “When you feel a contraction coming on, you’re going to take a breath and then push for 10 seconds,” said Dr. Pete. Gladly, I thought. Get this baby outta me.
Joseph Carroll Brown slipped out ten or so minutes later on the 9th push. It felt like the best poop of my entire life. He cried a tiny cry, then came to rest on Mama, eyes open, totally calm, all mine, all Michael’s.
“A dark-haired girl is a very ordinary thing, but call her a brunette and all of a sudden she becomes mysterious, sophisticated, a little special.” — Tracy Kennard, Co-owner of Brunette