My thanks to the fantastic Liz Hoover Moore for inspiring me to finally post the rest of this. For installments One and Two, see:
I’m hooked up to the monitor again, sometime in the middle of the morning. The kind nurse on that shift allows me to stay in the rocking chair. I watch the contract-o-meter rise and fall, up to 70 and beyond, down to 5. An endless pink sheet prints out the history of my pain and the vibrancy of the fetus. His heartbeat sinks and rises as he turns within, swims deeper away from the constricting bands. Depending on how I sit or move, the level of the contract-o-meter’s readout changes. Sometimes the pain is deep but the contract-o-meter doesn’t register it. I want to jar the needle so that it shows the jagged peak I feel, not some pudding-shaped lump that suggests a bad hair day rather than a fierce pain. It should jump and shimmy like I’m telling wild lies, damn it! Then I will get the epidural…yes, the epidural that I have all-too-suddenly decided I must have, and have now. It’s 5:30 a.m.
I grip husband’s knees and tell him of my epidural desires. I have a thin sense of shame but the pain supercedes it. No one gives you any medals anyway, damn it. He understands. He calls the nurse station.
Doctor H. arrives for a status check.
“Great progress!” she announces brightly. “You’re now at two centimeters.”
She has got to be kidding.
TWO centimeters, after an entire night of pain—pain, mind you, that I had decided to withstand like a hero. If I’ve hit a two on the pain scale on the way to ten, then I consign myself to eternal cowardice.
But Doctor H. smiles sadly. “I’m afraid it’s just too soon for the epidural. We like you to be at least a four.”
She decides to give me another dose of the misoprostrol to “speed things along,” and offers me a Stadol drip in the IV so that I can sleep for a couple of hours. Stadol is something like Demerol, and I’ve been told to avoid it. Rumor has it that you can still feel the pain, but you’re doped up and goofy. The promise of sleep is too tempting, however, because I know I’ll need my energy soon enough. How many hours away that might be is still unknown. I accept the Stadol.
Of course, it takes at least an hour for someone to arrive to administer the stuff. Evil Nurse drops by with a surgical mask around her neck to inform me that she’s been at a delivery and “that’s more important than you; you’ll have to wait.” I’m so desperate for help that I actually thank her. Hey, Evil Nurse, thanks for stopping by!
The next thing I remember, a bearded male doctor appears in my field of vision. I see him upside down. He looks like a youthful Santa Claus. My husband later suggests that he is creepy and beady-eyed, but to me he is a kindly gentleman, a lovely dapper fellow. He is the drug pusher, the savior. He carries a needle of potion, and an unknown nurse fumbles with the IV while I thrash on the bed. The fumbling goes on for an impossibly long time. Then the Santa Claus doctor is leaning over me, suggesting that I will soon drift away. I think I see my husband on the couch. I think inexplicably of white paper, tumbling in the wind. I sink beneath a softness that obscures the pain.
I next wake up into darkness and think that I am alone. Lying on my side, I search for my husband’s presence on the couch, but I don’t see him. Although we’re deeper into the morning, the room seems darker. And I have hit a ten on the pain scale. The problem is, I think it’s a ten at the time, but it’s only going to get worse. In retrospect, I’d call it an eight. They have a chart on the wall for non-native speakers, with cartoon faces expressing varying levels of pain. “Tiene un terrible dolor!” says the face under the number ten, which is weeping copiously. I can still speak, so I don’t think I earn a ten.
I call to husband and he tilts upright from the couch, with a sputter like someone caught sleeping under an office desk.
“Should I call the nurse?” he asks, bending over me. My glasses are wedged in a crevice between the mattress and the bed frame. My fingers pick at them—maybe if I can see sharp edges I can tame the pain. It’s so fierce and so incessant that I can’t catch a breath. (Already I have forgotten it; it seems dull now, like cotton wool.) My only sane thought is that this is an absurd outrage. How completely over the top! I really don’t think it needs to hurt this much to be effective, and Mother Nature has made a very bad error.
“Yes, call the nurse.” Maybe I’ve made it to four centimeters now, and I can have the epidural. That’s all I’m counting on.
Right around then—but it might have been a while still—Doctor H2 arrives for her morning rounds. Again, I see her upside down, a dark and kindly shape framed by light. She goes to check my cervix, and I don’t feel a thing. I don’t remember how she gets there or where her hands go or anything.
“Well,” she says, like she’s been told a good secret. “You’re at nine centimeters. You’re going to be ready to push in a few minutes.”
“Epidural?” I might have croaked. At least I did so silently. But I know the painful answer. The window of opportunity for the epidural has closed for good. By the time an anesthesiologist is alerted and arrives, the baby will be breathing his first breath. Ouch, au natural! That’s not what I intended—it’s sort of like twisting a 180 degree turn while canoeing through a particularly rough set of rapids. Best to just turn your head downriver, plunge your paddle in, and stern your way through backwards. I’ve done that. It worked then.
Almost immediately a panoply of nurses rushes in and out of the room; I sense wheeled things being pushed hither and thither. There’s a general bustle right outside my range of vision. I can focus on a circle in front of me about two feet in diameter. Beyond that it’s all a blur.
That’s when Nurse Helene arrives. I meet her at an odd juncture of pain and anticipation, and I don’t have any idea what she really looks like until the next day. She’s more a voice and a presence. That, and a bulbous nose shaped like a root vegetable. She’s there suddenly, fussing around me.
Nurse Helene’s personality falls somewhere between a Nazi and Mother Teresa. It’s okay to love her, because she changes your disposable underwear and super-industrial phonebook-sized maxi pads after delivery—as many times as they need to be changed. A droplet of blood on the bed padding? Underwear change. Shift in room temperature? Underwear change! Patient looking fidgety? Change the undies. I was eternally grateful for her administrations to my nether regions.
But then, she had a bad habit of putting her face close enough for me to count chin hairs and nattering away in a know-it-all fashion. And she had a really, really bad habit of grabbing me under the chin like an irate grandmother while she lectured and blithered at me. This earns her a bus ticket to Hades in my book.
The next few minutes—or maybe it’s an hour—pass rapidly. I feel an intense pelvic pressure and tell Nurse Helene I have to go to the bathroom, but it’s hard to even make it there. She tosses a blue hospital chuck on the floor and bids me to squat there and take care of business. (Some scraplet of dignity prevents this horrifying outcome.) I don’t know where to go or how to arrange myself to accommodate the pain. In a creeping effort to escape it I crawl up on the bed on all fours and scream. Yes, this is a ten. Tiene un terrible dolor!
“Screaming like that won’t do anybody any good,” chides Nurse Helene. I can’t see her because I can’t even lift my head. And I definitely can’t connect my fist with her chin, as I’d like, considering I can’t see her. Instead, I scream even louder. She tucks her head in close to me, like a bird, and squawks at me to quiet down. Bony fingers reach out and grab me by my chin. Ack! My response is to scream even more furiously. In fact, I consciously decide to scream as loud as I possibly can. A small part of me thinks uncharitably: “Get an earful of this, you motherfucker nurse!” I hope everyone down the hall can hear me. I hope those women at one centimeter are quaking in their laundry-thinned nighties. Nurse Helene backs away with a “tsk”ing sort of sound.
Doctor H2 decides to nip my operatic performance in the bud by asking me to get in pushing position. I lean back on the bed. She breaks my water; a hot rush. It happens very fast. The doctor takes my right foot and plants it on her hip. She directs Husband to take the left foot and do the same. For a second a “Who, me?” expression flits over his face, but he quickly does as asked. So much for any ideas of him staying up near my head while the “action” happens discreetly below.
Doctor Halpern explains that when a contraction comes on, I’m going to push. Okay, good. I feel the first one rising, like a wave in a dark sea. It starts somewhere deep in my back and hums its way to the top. Then I start to push. I get about three good pushes per contraction.
For some stupid reason they want me to hold my breath during the pushes, but this is so counterintuitive I don’t get it at first. I want to puff out. They shake their heads. No. I keep trying, but I still think it’s impossibly stupid.
Nurse Helene’s face appears about an inch in front of mine. At this distance I can’t get a read on her features; she’s mostly nose. I see beady eyes glittering above the nose. And then—everyone’s worst nightmare—she starts to count to 10! This seems so clichéd that it should be funny, but its not. It’s very bad indeed. I wish fervently that this nurse would descend down a chute into the bowels of the earth, where she would be prodded repeatedly with hot devilish sporks dipped in acid.
I’m very bitter about the counting nurse, but my hands are busy gripping the bedrails and I don’t have the energy to throttle her. I keep trying the moronic breath-holding technique, and at some point I finally catch on. (It’s quite strange how, when in pain and in the presence of medical professionals, one will accept such directives.) For some reason it seems to help. The doctor announces that the baby’s head is actually in sight.