Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Every Day: My Story, Part II

This is part of the Mother's Day blog event to support Mother's Day Every Day, CARE, and the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood. See my previous post for Part I of my story.

There was no room at the hospital.

That is to say, at the hospital where I had signed up to have my baby, which was the only hospital anywhere near my home where the team of doctors I'd been going to throughout my pregnancy for prenatal care delivered, all of the labor and delivery rooms were full. All of the overflow rooms were full. As I struggled to fill out insurance paperwork (Thinking, more paperwork? I thought I'd preregistered so I would not have to fill out all of this paperwork while ACTUALLY IN LABOR) while breathing through contractions in a wheelchair, a hospital attendant cheerfully informed me that the softly lighted, softly-furnished, hotel-like private maternity ward rooms I'd seen on the hospital tour were not available, and that I would in fact be sent to a curtained-off corner of the decidedly NOT private pre-term labor evaluation room.

"We're just having so many Mother's Day babies," she beamed. "Now, please try to stay quiet during those contractions. We wouldn't want to scare any of the pre-term women who are in for evaluations!"

I am really, really amazed that this particular person has avoided being murdered by an enraged pregnant woman during her ignorant, condescending service as a maternity ward attendee. If I weren't such a peaceful, nonviolent -- all right, if I hadn't been in the middle of a stop-your-breath contraction at that very moment -- I might have ended her incredible streak of luck.

Later, in the pre-term delivery room, as I struggled to get comfortable on a barely-padded gurney, a nurse adjusted the baby monitor straps around my belly, and said, "Woah. Your contractions are really intense. Off the chart. They must hurt a lot. I'll tell the attending to call anaesthesia up soon so you can get your epidural."

"I'm not doing an epidural," I said, through clenched teeth. "I'm doing no-drugs, assuming everything goes well. It's in my birth plan. The one I submitted with my pre-registration. My doctor knows all about it."

"Oh. You are, are you?" She gave me a skeptical look. "Hmph. I wouldn't do it without drugs, myself. But you can always reconsider, dear." She patted my arm in a motherly way.

I was used to this attitude by now. Throughout my pregnancy, few doctors or nurses had taken me or my birth plans very seriously. I was 23, and apparently in this day and age of educated women waiting until 30 or 35 to have children, pregnancy at 23 is considered practically the equivalent of pregnancy at 17. If I'd had a nickel for every time someone had told me, "But you're so young!" I would have been able to pay for a doula to argue my birth plan for me.

"Well," the nurse continued,"Your regular doctor isn't coming today. She's not on call this weekend. You know, it's a holiday. Let's see . . . if we can get a hold of him, it will be . . . Dr. Z from your practice. But he's delivering at a hospital across town. We might have to get a resident."

Dr. Z was the one doctor of four who I had managed not to meet once during my entire pregnancy. I had been assured by my OB that one of the doctors I had met and discussed my delivery plans with would attend my birth. And now it turned out that even he might not even make it.

Just then, the resident assigned to attend me until "my" doctor who I had never met did or did not come, ducked her head into the curtain and barked, "Turn onto your left side and stay there. Don't get out of the bed."

"Um, why?" I asked. "The contractions hurt more when I'm on my side. I can handle them much more easily if I sit up a bit, like this."

"That baby monitor is old and it doesn't get a good reading unless you lay on your side."

"But, there's nothing wrong with the baby, right?" I said. "I mean, I haven't had any complications besides some pre-term labor symptoms, and the nurses say the baby's heartbeat is fine. Do I need to be on the monitor all the time?"

"Lay on your side!" the resident repeated. "If it hurts, we can get you some drugs." And she stalked out.

Great. This resident, who incidentally, didn't look much older than I was, and who had somehow managed to acquire the attitiude of some mid-twentieth century strap-em-to-the-bed-and-cut-that-baby-out stereotype straight out of a '70s Lamaze handbook despite being both young and female, MIGHT BE DELIVERING MY BABY.

"I do NOT want this person delivering our child," I said to my husband. He nodded and said something vague and supportive that I can't remember. His eyes had been glazed and saucery pretty much since we walked through the hospital door. Great, I thought. There's my advocate.

"You're not going to be one of those dads who passes out are you? You told me you weren't going to be one of those dads who passes out," I said.

"Of course I won't pass out," he said.

Suddenly, I really, really wanted my mother. She had scheduled a flight to arrive just before the baby's due date. But the baby was coming two weeks early.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. None of it was supposed to be this way. I didn't even want to give birth in a hospital -- I'd wanted to give birth in a birthing center, with a midwife. But there weren't any birthing centers in St. Louis. And at the time, midwives were illegal in Missouri. My own mother had broken the law by deliberately giving birth to me and my siblings at home, with an OLD-old-fashioned, still-makes-housecalls sort of doctor and a midwife who had teamed up and abetted her crimes. I might have considered doing the same, but not in our ridiculously cramped one-bedroom apartment in a building with paper-thin walls. Besides, I wanted serious medical support at my disposal if it became a necessity.

So I'd resigned myself to a hospital birth, but not to this -- not to giving birth practically strapped to a hard gurney in what was essentially a curtained-off hallway with condescending nurses shushing me so I wouldn't "scare" the other patients and a rude doctor who kept barking at me not to move (I was, incidentally, even at that moment ignoring her instructions to stay stiff on my side, which I was sure would piss her off, but I did not care).

My mother was supposed to be there. Or failing my mother, at least my sister, who was in town but was not answering her phone. None of my family were answering their phones. My husband's entire family was out at a party for Mother's Day.

"I want my mother," I said to no one in particular.

I knew I sounded now like the pathetic child the nurses thought I was. I didn't care. I was in pain. I was SUPPOSED to be in pain. I was SUPPOSED to be annoyed. I was giving birth, right? Weren't people supposed to be kind and accomodating to women in labor?

Eventually pain and instinct and the rhythm of labor took over my thoughts and pushed aside my fearing and wanting. I would have this baby, hallway or not, rude doctors or not. I would have the baby whether or not my husband ran away or passed out. I would have this baby if I had to walk out into the parking lot and catch him myself. It was ME having the baby, and not them, and everyone else was just there to help me if something went wrong, and if they failed to help me, so help me, I would COMMAND them to help me and they would listen because they would see in my eyes that I was capable of anything.

Eventually I got a fancy hotel-like room and I really barely noticed the room because the room didn't matter now; I was in a prison of my laboring body, but it wasn't a bad prison. I felt like I had the bright light of an interrogator in my face, and yet was laughing.

And then after twelve hours of labor, (or maybe it was really a month and a half) and NO drugs, thank you very little condescending nurse-lady, my son was born, just an hour and a half before the end of Mother's Day. And immediately after the cord was cut, the nurses snatched him up and took him away and I hadn't even seen his face. And I asked the doctor I didn't know (who HAD come, and had been blessedly competent, but practically silent), "Was it a boy? Like the ultrasound said?" and he said "Yes."

And I said, "What's wrong? Why did they take him away?"

And a nurse shouted over, "Nothing's wrong. He has an APGAR score of nine." Another nurse chimed in, "Oh, he's perfect. His face is perfect. Adorable. He has red hair! Red hair!" And suddenly I realized that the damned nurses who had treated me like an infant had now taken my baby who I had not yet even seen and were passing him around and calling in other nurses from the hallway, to show off his red hair. "Can I see this red hair?" I said. They ignored me.

As the doctor sewed up a minor tear, and the nurses cooed over my healthy baby, I pulled my cell phone out of the purse near my bed and called my mother, who finally answered her phone. "Happy Mother's Day," I said. "You have a grandson."

"He just had to make a dramatic entrance, didn't he?" my mother said approvingly. "Coming on Mother's Day. Well, he certainly is your child."

When I hung up the phone, I said, "GIVE ME MY BABY."

When they finally complied, I had to admit that the nurses were right about one thing. He was perfect.

As you can see from my story, I might actually have been more comfortable having my baby trapped in an elevator than in this particular overcrowded hospital. But that's because nothing went wrong during my son's birth. If something had, I would have been grateful for the presence of a doctor. Even the rude resident.

Many other women
are sadly not so lucky as I was. Please visit the Mother's Day Every Day site to learn how you can help women in developing countries get access to prenatal care, skilled midwives or doctors, and a safe, clean place to give birth.


Lisa said...

What a great story Jae. Beautifully told!

Anonymous said...

You have been awesome with your blog work, i just love coming back to your blog every now and then, keep interesting posts like this coming, I am totally impressed.

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