Ok, I realize that with a newborn on site my blog entries have become embarrassingly thin. So I'm going to offer up for your entertainment something rather old: The birth story of my first son, delivered in installments. Just like sons # 2 and # 3, he was late. He was the latest of all. (FYI: Comments will get the next installment to appear faster, thou lurkers who like to contact me via my Yahoo account.) Herewith, Part One.
My son’s due date is October 31st, my own birthday, the day I will turn 35. This slim fortuity has prevented my pregnancy being classified with the insulting term “senile gravida,” and kept at bay offers of amniocentesis and genetic counseling. Because I intend to be a young mother (a vibrant 34) and not an old, haggard mother (a dreary 35), I am convinced he will arrive on time. In my ideal plan, he will arrive at 12:01 a.m. on my birthday so we can be home in time to dress the baby in his Halloween costume, invite some good friends over to party, toast one another with icy-cold martinis…you know, the kinds of things one does in postpartum recovery. I begin my maternity leave two weeks prior to my due date, on October 17th. Coworkers look on; the office busybody (“Oooh, I’m surprised there’s room on the elevator for anyone else!”) raises her eyebrows as if he’ll burst forth before I reach home.
But baby’s due date comes and goes. I spend Halloween night handing out candy on the stoop, dressed in an unspeakable orange wig as a big, fat pumpkin. One week later, the baby’s empty-handed grandmother catches a return flight back home to Georgia. We head in for one non-stress test and amniotic fluid check, then another. Each time the nurse reports that the baby is “perfectly happy.” We decide that he is quite stubborn, and I predict that his teen years will be spent indoors listening to mope rock with the shades drawn.
I take Evening Primrose Oil to “ripen the cervix” and drink Red Raspberry Leaf tea to “tone the uterus.” I hear that walking spurs on labor, so I plod around the neighborhood, gazing at the lame and embarrassing items that people decide to sell at Brooklyn stoop sales. Sometimes I get sharp pains in the cervical region, as if baby is sticking me with a penknife. I go home and the pains subside. I hike back out again, this time to the pool to swim. The baby and I are at one, smooth through the water. A shrewish old lady slits her eyes at my belly. She warns me that my water might break in the pool, and I wouldn’t even know it. So stay on dry land, missy! Maybe the old bird is right. I go home and wait, but labor fails to begin.
I try acupuncture. The first thin needles go into the meaty, fat part between thumb and forefinger, which the acupuncturist pinches in a raised hump to get a better grip on it. He places the needle, and then taps it in gently as if he’s securing a nail with a hammer. Then he gives it a small flex and twist; as this happens, my fingers grasp involuntarily. A small arc of electricity flares up through my wrist. He places a needle a few finger widths above each anklebone; two more needles go in somewhere halfway up the shins. When one of these is inserted and twisted into place, a shocking, electric stab shoots through the sole of my left foot into the air, and is gone. The baby kicks within, jolted.
The acupuncturist also applies tiny balls, no bigger than grains of sand, to four specific meridian points within each ear. Each ball rests inside a small, sticky square, and they are pressed tightly in place. The balls, he says, are to alleviate pain during labor. All I have to do is press them and—pain be gone! This is exciting news.
He returns every ten minutes. With a quick twist of the needles in my hands, hot little jolts fire up my arms. With my eyes shut, I imagine that he’s turning the knob on a faucet of electromagnetic liquid, and the faucet—fat as an inch across—is juicing this stuff directly into my veins. My second, ring, and pinky fingers begin to go numb. The color of the ceiling is a warm, buttery yellow. I tilt my head, first left, then right, to tip tears out onto the pillow.
I think: Perhaps the baby stays within because I want him there. He and I are friends; we go places together. He’s a second, fond heartbeat, a coiled spring. I shall not let him go, because winter is coming.
Finally, the acupuncturist extracts the needles. As each comes out I feel a jittery pinch. He presses each site with moist gauze.
“Where is hospital?” he asks. “Hospital close by?”
“Why? Do I need to go straight there now?”
“Baby tonight maybe,” he says.
I go home and finish packing my hospital bag, then wait. A week later, the baby still hasn’t come. It’s not that I think the acupuncture was a fraud. Rather, I think that this baby and I have outwitted it in our apparent quest to stay together.
After eleven days have passed since the due date with nary a cervical dilation, the doctor finally suggests eviction. We agree to check in to the hospital (NYU Downtown) that night, a Tuesday. The date is November 11th. As the day wears on, I feel like I am preparing for my last meal. The hospital, once benign, is now death’s foyer. I contemplate calling the doctor and telling her I have changed my mind. But the call is never placed. Inaction forces the decision, and by 7:00 p.m. husband and I are in the car on the way to the hospital. As we pull out from the parking space, a stray branch catches on the undercarriage of the car and creaks alarmingly, and I think all at once: The car will break down, and no cabs will be available, and I can go home and never go into labor at all and never suffer any pain whatsoever but at the same time I will cease being pregnant and the baby will magically appear. But the branch is released, and we are released, flung out toward our inevitable destination.