It was 2:30 AM and I was exhausted. My body shook uncontrollably. My mother had warned me about it earlier. I was ready for it to happen, but I wasn’t ready for it to happen before I gave birth. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get the shaking to stop.
“Breathe, Michele. Practice what we learned during Lamaze class. Do your hee hoos.” TobyJoe began to breathe. I thought about my favorite yoga instructor Kyra and everything she taught me about relaxation. I followed his lead. After about a minute of hee hoo-ing, my body stopped shaking. But as soon as I thought about it, it would start up all over again. From that point forward, I decided to go about things as mindlessly as possible.
While I concentrated on my breathing, the doctors and nurses filed into the room. It was like something out of broadway play. They were so well rehearsed, so organized, the finest ballet dancers haven’t ever been so in sync. Some wheeled in equipment, others brought in clean towels. Each person had a specific role in this organized production. Not one person ran into another, they just reacted, or acted. Before I knew it, a mess of people were all around me. Dr. Kauffman, my 7-months pregnant doctor, sat down at the foot of my bed. My husband stood at my right knee, my mother up near my head. The doctor who talked me into staying 27 hours earlier stood by my left knee. Still others milled about the room waiting for their cue. Someone had opened up the adjoining room – the room where Emory would be cleaned and warmed. They were ready. But was I?
Earlier, I had been told that it would take me three hours to push. I prepared myself for that. I asked the nurse if I could have a Pedialyte ice pop for strength. I wondered if the ice would feel good against my heartburn as well. Toward the very end, the heartburn became unbearable. And the pain made me nauseous. I looked at the clock. It was after 3. The baby would be with us by dawn. I hoped.
I saw a bolt of lightning from outside. “Was that lightning? Is it storming?”
“It’s really bad out there. There’s thunder, lightning. It’s torrential.” Someone assured me.
It was a perfect backdrop, the greatest of encores, for that particular performance.
Everyone took their position. The doctor instructed all the newcomers (my husband and my mother) what their roles were. The woman at my left knee told me what I had to do and when I had to do it.
The last 45 minutes I spent pregnant exist in my memory in pieces. I don’t recollect things in any definitive order. I know that it took me a few times before I understood how to push. At first I was afraid to push too hard because it felt like I had to take a massive crap. (Which is exactly what’s supposed to happen.) Between contractions, I grabbed an ice pop or the oxygen mask. But nothing became more glorious than sucking on that damned ice pop. It was my reward for every other push. The oxygen was a have-to. I ate two popsicles before getting Emory out. They were the best things I had ever eaten.
If the birth of Emory had consisted of only the last couple of hours I would have had the greatest birth story tell. I had an epidural, sure. But the right hand side of my body felt everything. I mentioned before that this became a blessing in disguise. It ensured that I work harder because it hurt. And since I had feeling, I also knew when each contraction was coming before the machine beeped letting the doctors know.
I had worked myself up over labor. And it didn’t end up being that hard for me. It didn’t hurt as much as I would have thought. (Although, I am sure had I been totally epidural free, it would have hurt a whole lot more.) I had prepared myself for something terrifically difficult and painful. And it simply wasn’t. When it came time to push, I had something to focus on, something real. I was no longer a spectator of my own labor; I became an active participant in the production.
It took me 45 minutes to get Emory out. I think we counted 9 pushes. That included the amount of time it took to get the hang of it. For me, the pushing part of labor wasn’t difficult at all; it was the induction, the wait, the failure to get things going, the hunger, the heartburn, the wait again, all of that proved very trying and difficult.
On push 8 in room eight, the doctor asked me if I wanted to look at Emory, whose head was almost completely outside of my body. I said no. But then my mind turned on again and it sent me a message, “Do this. How often do you get to see a human head poking out of your vagina?” So I did. I looked down. And that’s the first time I saw Emory.
He looked just like you’d imagine, which is to say freakishly weird and alien. He looked unreal. His head was a little beat up. But he was alive and well and it was only a matter of time before I was to hold him.
Push 9 was the last push. I felt him come swooshing out along with a lot of other stuff I won’t talk about. They held him up. I looked at the umbilical cord, which was shockingly beautiful. It looked like blown glass – a piece of perfectly purplish spiral-blown glass.
“Do you want to cut the cord?” Dr Kauffman asked Toby.
Emory was freed from me by the man who helped me create him. He was wrapped in a blanket and then immediately placed on my belly. There wasn’t a tear in sight or a sound in range. He just looked up at me with those great big dark eyes.
“You are perfect. You are perfect. Hello, little person! You are perfect! It’s so nice to meet you! Hello!”
And then he was gone again.
The room looked like something out of an episode of CSI. It was that messy, like, over the top messy, staged even. Blood was everywhere. It was a mess. Earlier, one of the nurses made Toby lay on some sheets. She had joked about what she had seen on the floor of that very room. We laughed at the time. But, wow! Was she ever right. It looked like someone had died a gruesome death. There were clots, red towels, red gauze. The characters that had filed in so perfectly earlier were now covered head to toe in blood. Until that moment, I had no idea how much birth could resemble death. Replace tears with smiles and gasps of shock with gasps of joy and you have birth.
As they stitched me up, I fell back into my pillow and I looked toward the window again. I let out a sigh. The city was being beaten by thunder and struck by lightning. A tornado touched down in Brooklyn for the first time in a century. The subway tunnels flooded. Millions of people were rudely awaken by that storm.
And in a room on the 4th floor of a hospital along the East River, my son Emory was making his first appearance on a stage called life.