The Goddess Has Left the Building...A Birth Story
What I wanted was to slip into water, the rack of the stretched spine eased by a warm pool. I liked the sound of the word waterbirth and the mellow easing down in, a sinking stone. I wanted breath and movement and the tiptops of redwoods swaying in my soul. (I really did.) I wanted stars for brains and my moonsong of a baby urged out into water, its temperature the same as my body. I expected the skin to soothe and slip and somewhere the far-off call of waves. To pull my child up and see her face, my face in her face.
I found instead the sterile splack of room 527, the blink and black of the monitor, its midnight alarms blurring the wave of my dreams. (But dreams imply sleep, so scratch that & just hear the continuous beep.) I became part of the machine, strapped around the belly with elastic hands and gel to keep the monitors in place—one plastic eye on contractions, one plastic eye on the echoed gallop of my baby’s heart. Twice an hour a woman came and took my blood pressure—no sleep for the pregnant, the weary, no sleep for the machine.
I lay strapped for days, a needle of fluid in the back of my hand...I dream of redwoods, of pine needles, a forest where I can run away and birth my child in a secret hotspring. Bound and strapped to a bed that has a split across it so part of it can sink down when birthing time actually comes. I have a drip of antibiotics and one to keep my body hydrated. I hate the needle of a woman who comes in to move the IV to a better position, to another arm. I would rather give birth to a rhinoceros than have an IV in the back of my hand—each time I move I feel a ping in the nerve of my wrist.
I feel all cartilage and wreckage. I feel the defeat of a captured animal. One IV of pitocin they keep cranking up the dosage & I watch the numbers climb. (I was an earth mother, a moon goddess—where is my gravity? Where is my earth?) My body rebels against this chemical induction, Let me birth her in my own time. (I’d spent the weekend before in similar circumstance, on different drugs that did not work.) Where are my muses? Where is my sweet watersong?
We may have to do a c-section—we may have to do a c-section—your baby from the ultrasound is 9lbs, 6oz. Your baby from the ultrasound is too big, these things are rarely wrong.
My baby, from my body, is the perfect size—daughter of a Diva and a Viking—Let her come in her own time. The pitocin isn’t working—this after 24 hours of the man-made hormone streaming through my veins—I am tethered on both sides to the bed. For the first time in my pregnancy, I want to run, to run like I did as a 9-year-old no one could catch, to slip away through the crevasses, the hallways, to run the way I did before breasts, before boys—If the pitocin doesn’t work they may have to do a c-section. Or we can break your water. The mother tigress in me wants a corner of brush, the fortress of a tree, the panther in me wants a grove of wherever panthers live, to howl in pain into the wind—
Please tell me how I have gotten here, the fifth floor of a hospital at the corner of Hope & Grand in downtown Los Angeles. I feel like a watched clock—I was supposed to give birth out under the Milky Way—I intended to birth my daughter in the only body of water on the moon. I meant to have her in a remote valley in the south of France. She wanted to come amid fields of lavender, to be born inside the violet trill of hummingbirds and instead I’m in the belly of science fiction—though I’ve refused the pasty, open-backed gown made of cotton paper that has the word ‘angel’ printed all over it. I want real angels. I opt for my own long black tank top and capri pants, long chandelier earrings from Jamie & Elvira and a garnet bracelet from Jenny’s trip to Amsterdam. I will at least not look like part of the machine.
I am put off by the jarring institutionalization of this *falsified* labor. I’m secretly proud my body and my daughter are not responding to the pitocin. Each time I have to use the bathroom, it takes a team. Unplug the IV from the wall, unplug the monitors from the other side. I am an electric octopus. I strip down to some burgundy lace shorts, tired of the way the black capris are twisting. My hair has developed a big dreadlock in the back, perhaps a nod to my Santa Cruz roots.
Halfway between exasperation and joy and expectation and get me out of this god-blessed hospital, a midwife breaks my water. Why did we not do this first? She talks to me about a “morphine sleep”. It will put me to sleep for 4 hours,she says, through the first tough parts of labor, then I will wake up in active labor, ready to deliver soon. I feel the flood of perfectly warm water, the temperature of my bones. The contractions come severe and jagged—burgundy lightning splitting my pelvis. I told my mother, “I can handle this on my own” when they were going to break my water and she has not returned for what seems like at least an hour.
The contractions turn me suddenly, violently inside out. Where is my mother, my husband, my morphine? Where is my French valley? I’m going to have to labor alone after the 3 of us (the 4 of us!) waiting all these days—the contractions are a planet with their own rollercoaster gravity, spiking outward & inward & I know they will be worse then worse then worse. I’ve heard that pitocin multiplies the intensity of contractions, that the body gets more pain, more intensely. My mother returns—my husband is somewhere down the hall or in the elevator.
Every abandonment issue I’ve ever had surfaces, here at the cusp of my life’s most important event. Though my mother and my husband have been right here with me, sleeping on sad pillows & crinkly mattress for days, I am alone now, in a wild foresaken valley of Alone, even though another person lives inside me, my aloneness is a deeper darker blue than any I’ve seen.
They arrive at the same time, angelic as ever and immediately become extensions at the beginning and end of each contraction. My mother and my husband are extensions of my own body, kneading, hitting their fists against my lower back. “Hit me!!” I am saying to them. They hold me up to the surface so I will not drown in the pain. I decide to take the morphine (I told them not to offer me any drugs—how I was ever convinced I wanted this, I have no idea). I decide to take the morphine and take it right now. I need to close my eyes and be numb after these days of no sleep. Somehow I’m convinced that it is still a natural childbirth if I don’t get an epidural, if I’m warrior enough to feel as she is born. This is how it’s *supposed* to happen. I don’t want to be cut open.
Will the morphine affect my baby? Will she be okay? It will leave her system in four hours, I remember them saying. Bring it now. I’m looking forward to sleep. I want to sleep and then to wake up ready to give birth like the midwife said. I want to go on vacation to Machupichu, to Puerto Vallarta somewhere I can be scorched by the sun. The injection burns bright dark orange through my right haunch. I begin feeling a dizziness that might accompany a morning after cheap vodka, minus the titillating exploits that such a night might've revealed.
For the next several hours I labor in dizziness and quease instead of the promised "morphine sleep". I was surely spiraling toward the molten core of the planet or was it unwinding from me? What ended up being 7 actual hours could have been thirty minutes or could have been 3 days. The pitocin intensified the contractions which came every 1-3 minutes. Every two or so minutes, the world turned inside out and backwards.
My mother said, “You’re doing great;” I banned the word “great.” As rehearsed, my husband said, “It’s one contraction. You can make it through this one contraction;” I limited him to two words at a time. Then I told him he could only talk to me in Danish (so I wouldn’t understand). After hours of Mom and Michael massaging my lower back—the contractions became theirs too—hitting my lower back with their fists—holding a tiny mauve hospital container so I could throw up. Giving me those god damned hospital ice chips that I just knew I wasn’t going to be having. (My idea of the worst labor possible was 1. Being induced. 2. Having an epidural, though I began to change my mind on this one as labor progressed. 3. Not being allowed anything but ice chips. 4. Having a c-section.)
A fierce part of my character doesn’t want to be like other people. My “birth plan” (a phrase which I now believe to be an oxymoron) had been virtually thrown out the window. I finally asked what more they could do for me, for the pain—could I have an epidural?? I asked them to check to see how far along I was, how dilated my cervix was. If I had progressed, I would tough it out—if it was to be several more hours, I needed something else for the pain.
Between contractions a nurse checked to see if I had reached 10 centimeters. I had reached 8. Finally, progress. My body really just wanted to go naturally. After all this intervention, it looked like the baby would be here. The nurse I overheard saying the midwife lives half an hour away—and did I feel the urge to push. No. There was no way to do half-hour more of these contractions. The midwife showed up in minutes. I still lay in the bed or sat in my own clothes, my earrings, my bracelet (my dreadlock!). I felt like a wild cat whose enemy was itself and had to run away. Get me out of the room get me out of myself. Get me as far away from this pain as possible. I keep imagining a planet trying to burn its way through my belly.
Later my mother tells me I keep saying, “Can’t. Won’t. Shouldn’t. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Didn’t.”
The midwife arrived and I was eager to push. She made comments as if I wouldn’t be ready to push or didn’t want to. I did! I really wanted to push. The pushing was the easy part. I squatted on the table leaning back against Michael’s torso. They told him to get behind me. I wanted them to tell me when to push—it didn’t hurt I just wanted to see by baby, to hold her to look at her face. I pushed and her head emerged. Then when the shoulders came out the midwife put my hands in the crook of the baby’s arms so I could pull her out of my body. I pulled my daughter up onto my chest and though I'd heard her heartbeat, moments before, she was blue.
Then after a few seconds of rubbing her with a towel she was still blue & before we could blink or cry or despair, the midwife called the angels from the NICU and it seemed like 15 people beamed into the room. I think the baby was affected by the morphine & a friend of mine later said the baby may have just been stressed out by the birth (she’s a neonatal nurse). My mom was suddenly praying in tongues. Michael was studying the midwife’s face for clues. The midwife was totally cool and collected. I knew that Ambrosia was okay. I looked on, knowing that she was perfectly perfectly okay. I love that fact—I knew my daughter was fine.
Her head was long and dented and blue—too long—had I taken too long those last few moments of pushing? They said if she’s too big, her clavicle may break. They said 100 things you do not say to a mother-in-waiting. Our daughter lifted across the room as if on air after Michael cut the cord. A small league of angels in the room with us, holding my daughter under the bright lights in a small baby incubator box.
If I’d been able to get into the water, the warm buoyant water, I could be the mermaid I was meant to be—I could lose my silver tail and grow a new one. No water no way no way. I wouldn’t have torn in the water—they’re sucking fluid now from the new of my daughter’s lungs as they sew my body’s two small tears—I may as well be at the dentist. I do not care just give me back my daughter. I want to suckle her I want her little body on mine. I wanted her to swim into this world, to open her bright eyes in a dim room, soothing blue, my little carp...