This week’s prompt in my writing class was to choose an event we’d like to think more about but don’t remember well, free write about it, and fill in the gaps to make it a cohesive story. Probably because she is turning four (!!!!) next week, I immediately thought about Margaret’s birth, in all of its hazy details.
We are watching “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” snow falling softly outside the hospital window, not enough to obscure the mountains, which look impossibly close from the second floor. I feel fine; this isn’t what labor feels like, I keep thinking, until suddenly, the contractions are constant. For some reason, I keep looking at my watch between contractions, as if my brain is trying to integrate this experience with a known quantity. But, from my labor with Julia, just over three years before, I know what pitocin contractions are like. There is no build up, just sudden, agonizing pain that starts in my abdomen and radiates up my spine.
The doctor comes in, her typical, cheery self. “How are we doing?” she asks brightly. I’m doubled over, clenching the side of the bed. I grunt some sort of reply as she helps me back into bed to check my progress. 4 cm. Only 4 cm. I give Scott a look that I hope means, Tell her I need the epidural, and thankfully, the doctor asks, “So, are we thinking about an epidural?” I have thought about this beforehand; I know that if I have it too early, there’s a chance it will wear off before delivery. The doctor continues nonchalantly, “We’ll probably need to double or triple the pitocin soon, here,” and I grunt, “Epidural!”
At this point, I’ve been in active labor for a few hours. With Julia, I had the idea that even with pitocin, I might be able to deliver without an epidural, and the doctors and nurses went along with that plan. After I finally agreed (demanded?) to have the epidural, and after laboring for twelve hours, they mentioned offhand that almost nobody has a natural birth with an induction. That time, I was flooded from so many hours of contractions that I didn’t even register the pain of the epidural. This time, perhaps because I haven’t been laboring as long, I am shocked as the anesthesiologist places the needle. I squeeze Scott’s hand with all of the force I can muster, tears streaming down my face as I clench my jaw. “Alright, see? Not so bad,” the anesthesiologist says offhandedly, and I wish I had the energy to glare at him as I close my eyes.
I finally feel some relief as the epidural kicks in. Scott’s mom calls, unable to find Julia’s gymnastics class. “Don’t worry about it,” I tell her. “You don’t have to go.” She calls back to let me know she has found it, and the next few contractions are slightly easier as the drugs work their magic and my mind is drawn to images of Julia, tumbling and swinging in her little leotard. I settle in, and we turn the movie back on.
The doctor comes back to check my progress. “You’re about 8 centimeters… that’s great!” she begins, “but…” Scott and I exchange a look as her expression changes. “This isn’t a head… this feels like a butt! Get ready to meet your baby. It’s time for a c-section.” she continues with some details, picks up the phone and calls for someone to bring Scott some scrubs. My mind stops following, unable to process the change from “now I am resting and getting ready to push” to “now I am having abdominal surgery.” Scott starts to ask questions: what are the risks? What are the choices? There is no choice. The baby has flipped in the past hour of laboring; breach. All I can think about is Julia. We will not be home the next day, as we had hoped; most likely, we’ll be gone three more nights. I’ve left her for three nights in her whole life.
I call my mom, adrenaline making me feel a little crazy. “I’m going to have a c-section,” I tell her. I rattle off details: 4cm, then epidural, then 8cm, but breach. “Oh, Meggie, are you okay?” she asks. And then I cry. I cry a lot.
Scott puts on scrubs, I get back onto the bed, and the nurses wheel me down the hall. It is cold in the operating room, and I don’t know if I am shaking from cold or from nerves or a combination of both. The anesthesiologist is right by my head. There is lots of pressure, and then what feels like hours while I wait to hear the baby cry.
“It’s a boy!” Scott exclaims.
“Um, no,” the doctor laughs, the same chipper tone as always. “Look again. That’s the umbilical cord.” I am laughing and crying; he made the same mistake with Julia. The baby is fine. She’s great. I keep asking for her, I tell Scott to go with her while they weigh and clean her, or whatever they are doing in this long, long period of time before I finally get my baby. I cannot feel anything; I cannot move my arms. Scott holds her on my chest. I can’t see her very well; I’m lying down. I try to sit up, try to really look at her, but I can’t. The anesthesiologist takes photos and videos on my phone,hands us tissues, and I no longer dislike him. My nose is running, I’m crying, Scott’s crying. Margaret, a girl.
Later, in the recovery room. I am beyond tired. They want me to nurse, and I am supposed to want to nurse. I remember wanting to with Julia, watching her crawl like a kitten, knowing what she was supposed to do; my first lesson in following my baby’s lead. This time I am doing everything from a distance, watching myself, shaky from the drugs. We call Julia and Paula. Later, Paula will describe Julia’s complete joy when we tell her she has a sister. It’s too late for them to visit; it’s almost 6pm by the time we finally get to our room.
Finally, I think, I can sleep. And then I vomit and vomit while Margaret sleeps. We nurse. At some point, the nurse tells me she’s going to help me walk to the bathroom. This seems impossible, insurmountable. I do it anyway, shuffling in on feet I still cannot feel. I cannot sleep for even a moment. “That happens sometimes after a c-section,” a nurse reassures me. I watch Margaret and Scott sleep, and I watch the mountains take shape out the window as the day comes. Margaret sleeps and nurses, sleeps and nurses, between us in the double hospital bed. Scott wakes up, and promptly goes out to get us breakfast. I request the biggest cup of coffee he can buy, eggs, toast, prosciutto. I sit, I hold my baby, and I eat.