Thursday, July 24

Anthropological Motherhood ~ the Beginning

Part Four

Gestation presented itself at a time when ultra-sounds were so wholly unreliable a witch doctor swirling turkey feathers in New Guiena could have done better. We were still enveloped in the ageless, happy mystery of not knowing who exactly would be introduced to us somewhere around the 40th week. There was no anxiety about shopping for pink or blue as young couples do now. My mother had given us a white and yellow bassinette from Sears. It was waiting, ready, with a neutral blanket. We placed a duckling-print doll-sized t-shirt (pre-“onesies”) and yellow booties inside, and instantly the waiting seemed more tolerable.

Years behind more patrilineal-tolerant Europe, America was at the very beginning of allowing fathers into the delivery room. They would be trusted to do so only after passing a mandatory 6 week birthing class sponsored by the hospital. The material presented by an unmarried 23 year old RN was dismissive of the more objectionable aspects of birthing. There was a lot of emphasis on the new Lamaze breathing and stretching techniques using gentle words like ‘support’, ‘relax’ and ‘visualize’. I thankfully concluded the bloody horror stories my mother-in-law detailed to me during my entire pregnancy must be gross exaggerations of an otherwise very routine, well-rehearsed human experience.

Labor began on February 6th 1978 with text book perfect symptoms. I timed contractions for an hour while our little clock radio with the flipping cards clicked away the early morning minutes. Beginning labor was a gentle, prodding sensation that gave me a marvelous and thrilling sense of knowing; knowing that today my long and difficult wait would finally be over. I felt other-worldly, like a lovely, ripe Supreme Being who – with an omniscient gift of revelation, generously bequeathed that knowledge on the one I loved as if it were my exquisite gift to him alone. I opened my mouth, and the sacred words issued forth; “the baby is coming today,” I said.

By the time we were driving to the hospital in our Ford Torino station wagon with the wood paneling on the sides, feelings had changed. David stopped at a 7/11 that no longer exists on the corner of 12th Street and McDowell and raced inside to buy film for his camera. Omniscience long gone; sheer panic replaced it with a roar. I had been cruelly betrayed by that waste-of-time prenatal class.

A wheelchair and a labor room later, I solemnly realized I would not live to see my child. I thought about my funeral and how tragic it would be that this young mother was lost. I could see David (the grieving husband) shaking hands with people too stricken to speak. I would fail my life’s purpose at the very moment I might have obtained it! Too utterly terrified to express my fear, I wrestled with the pain like a trout thrashing on the end of a line. A screaming trout.

David attempted massage techniques from our prenatal class, but I could not tolerate it. I yelled at him not to touch me. I could hear other women screaming from either side of the long, linoleum tiled hall. These echoed cries could not have been more frightening. Promised pain-relief never arrived as our stupid class assured us it would. Labor was progressing too fast; I was past the point of safely receiving medication and must face the monster of hard labor a natural. It arrived with primal ferocity.

At one point I felt a hand holding mine. My eyes squeezed tightly shut, I gripped that hand so hard I could feel my fingernails cutting into it. The contraction over, I opened my eyes to thank David for holding my hand. But a thin, grey-haired nurse was smiling at me in spite of the abuse. She brought her wrinkled face closer to mine and said with gentle finality, “your baby will be here before noon. You will be all right. It’s almost time, dear.” I glanced at the clock. I could go a little while longer. This was the first time I began to believe I might survive after all.

The delivery room was a whirlwind of motion, cold air and brilliant florescent light. David whispered encouragement in my ear and snapped pictures. A young nurse was urging me with crisp instructions. A couple more waited nearby. A young intern was poised and ready. Being the center of attention was rather meaningless. In fact, nothing mattered except the task at hand. I had never worked so hard in my life. Labor had removed every other sensory perception; the whole world was focused on my debut as a mother.

At 11:29 AM the doctor pronounced, “It’s a little girl!” I said, “Robin Marie...”, the name David had picked from the Nantucket Sleighride song by Mountain ever since he was in High School. The immortal Lesley West sings: ‘Don’t cry, little Robin Marie...’ And she didn’t. After a brief towel rub, she was placed in my arms swaddled tightly in the warm, stiff hospital-issue receiving blanket. Her eyes were open, and she was sucking her teeny, angel-like fingers. She was breath-taking.

The old nurse had been a Prophetess. I had crossed ‘the valley of the shadow’ just as millions and hundreds of millions of other women had done before me in an ancient and deeply exquisite super-natural rite of passage. There would be no funeral. The yellow and white bassinette waiting at home would have a tiny, lovely occupant. We who had been two, were now three.


Yaj said...

That brought back memories! Very well done, as usual. I almost feel like I just had a baby... AND, I am so glad to hear you did not know the gender beforehand. One of my pet peeves is the current trend of knowing everything before it happens. I think there should be some mystery and anticipation. Should grandchildren come along, I do not want to know ahead of time what to expect. Keep me in the dark! Let me be the doting one who buys the yellow and white bassinet.

And, hey, I'm jealous to know that some guys got gowns and hair nets! I never got a hair net! I never got a gown! I have to admit to Dave, it's a good look ... well, on some guys.

Cynthia said...

I love the details you write about - the clock radio with the flipping cards and the station wagon with wood paneling.
It's amazing what we do and don't understand about labor and delivery before we go through it. And it's amazing that we do it voluntarily a 2nd and 3rd time.
Good writing.

Heidi said...

All I can say is thank goodness for epidurals!! :) I agree with Cynthia that is amazing we go through it multiple times - I'm saying that having had drugs for the painful part. :) Then there's recovery, new baby, no sleep...:)

two forks said...

oh great - more talk of how scary child birth is... i've already requested an epidural as soon as i pee on the pregnancy stick but i've been told that cannot be arranged.