This is how I remember it: Around 4:30 am, I feel a strange discharge and wonder what it could be? My water breaking? It wasn’t a gush, just a trickle – not a flow but a dribble. I go to the bathroom and I have some minor cramping. Contractions?
I wake my husband. We are so excited, we are giddy. We try to be quiet. We are staying at my parents’ house and don’t want to wake them. But, of course, we do. Around 6, we shower. Mom and dad are up – dad is so nervous he pours orange juice into his coffee. 7 am we call the hospital, they recommend we come in to be checked – to confirm that it is amniotic fluid that is “leaking”. Contractions are coming regularly but they are far apart and not very intense.
As we drive the 20 miles to the hospital, I feel very nervous. This is really IT. My husband talks nonstop – as is his way. It is a cold November day, with some fog and expected rain. It is Saturday and the day of the Bobcat-Grizzly football rivalry game. On our way to town, we pass an old motel on Evaro Hill. There are fire trucks everywhere and remnants of smoke and steam. During the night, several of the rooms were gutted by fire. It wasn’t a total loss. I will always remember the day it burned….though it has nothing to do with my labor story. Little trivial things of which your brain takes note.
We arrive at the hospital and I get the “litmus” test for amniotic fluid. Sure enough, my water has broken so we are a “go”. I call my nursing student who will be witnessing the labor and delivery as part of her training. We call other family members to let them know we are in labor. These are early stages – contractions are far apart and not overly strong. I walk the hall and they get stronger, I have to stop several times to breath. I get back into bed and they slow down again. It is going to be a long day.
I am 23 years old, my husband is 21. Neither of us is very mature for our age. Our relationship isn’t such that we talk about these things – other than to discuss surface excitement and lofty dreams of our future as parents. We know where we want to go but have NO IDEA how to get there.
I am scared shitless. I have been through a lamaze class (as a stand-in coach for my sister-in-law). I have listened to a lot of birthing stories and my best advisor just had a baby 7 months before. My mothers’ only words of comfort? “A year from now you won’t even remember the pain.”
This is 1981 – hospitals and doctors are only beginning to look at new, calmer ways of delivering babies. Mothers are given the choice of delivering their babies in their laboring room, in special beds that have stirrups and the foot of the bed drops down and out of the way for delivery. I was given that option; sounded way too “new-age” – I chose the delivery room. Also during this period, doctors were moving away from pain medications and spinal block – or epidurals. They would use them in difficult cases but mothers were encouraged to use minimal pain medications as this was better for the baby. (I didn’t know a lot but I did know that). However, I was told (by a friend) that if I wanted any pain medication, there was only a small window of opportunity for taking it. If it was offered, best to take it whether I needed it or not – just in case things got worse. If you waited until it was time to push, that was the point of no return and they would no longer administer the pain meds. A little over halfway through the labor, I was asked about my pain level and though it was tolerable, I feared the worst and opted for the medication. I believe I was given demerol. After that point, things got a little foggy. (To this day, I regret that decision. While it helped me tolerate the pain, I think I missed a lot of the experience because I was affected by the medication.)
There is no google, no birthing apps, no youtube videos. There are books with photos if you have the stomach for it. There was a 4 week lamaze class that you could take through the hospital – but being naive and rather timid, I didn’t even consider that option. I went into my first labor and delivery relatively ignorant and not very blissful.
I don’t remember a lot of details about the actual birth. I think it was around 3:30pm. I remember things like having to go to the bathroom and feeling fearful of peeing and then delivering my child in the toilet at the same time. I remember my doctor arriving from the Bobcat-Grizzly game. I have no recollection of how long I pushed or how many times. I remember hearing that I had a little girl. Exclamations by the doctor about her size and all of her dark hair. Something about the placenta and too much blood. A nurse pushing on my stomach and another administering pitocin – everyone moving rather frantically.
Then, a warm little bundle on my chest. Her dark hair is matted with blood and amniotic fluid. Her eyes are little slits and she is gently crying. She has a dark complexion and a full, chubby face. She is here. She has arrived amidst a flurry of panic, worry and fear. Warm. Soft. The best, biggest and brightest thing that has ever happened to me. She calms me to my very soul. She gives me purpose – I will learn, I will grow, I will be strong, I will become the best I can be as a person. In that one last push, in that first full breath, she made me a mom.
Today is her 35th birthday. We have been through a lot together. As my first child, she suffered all of my inexperience, ignorance and mistakes along the way. We survived a divorce and all of those trappings together. In the middle years, I feared I would lose her forever to teenage anger and resentment. She often threatened to move away – to a larger, more sophisticated city – never to return. I believed her. But then, through the gentle gift of time, we came back around. We started listening to each other, sharing all the important bits and pieces. Through her, I have learned many essential life lessons. Happy Birthday Jackie! And thank you for giving me so much.