“I’m not even supposed to BE here today.”
That line–one of my favorites from the movie Clerks–kept going through my head as I checked myself into labor and delivery at the hospital last week. The words were incongruous, at fierce odds with the tears and snot that were running down my face uncontrollably as I hit “redial” over and over, trying to reach my husband or mom or, for that matter, anyone, to tell them I was in trouble.
OK, I’ll back up.
You’d think that by my fifth pregnancy, I’d have figured out that the whole “giving birth” thing doesn’t always go as planned. But I’d never had to think about the spontaneity factor–I’d been late and induced for each of my pregnancies. I never experienced the rush of my water breaking, or of excitedly driving to the hospital huffing and puffing through contractions, or of not knowing when my baby was coming. My baby would come on the date I scheduled induction with my obstetrician. Ta da!
This worked out well for me in the past, and as it happens, it’s in keeping with the kind of person I am. See, I’m the kind of person who thinks I would love someone to throw me a surprise party (ahem)…but when push comes to shove, I’d rather organize and plan the party myself. Moreover, I can’t imagine sitting back blasé, waiting to see what was going to happen on my birthday when I hadn’t planned anything. I would be Inspector Clouseau, trolling for clues as to said party, asking oh-so-casual questions every 10 minutes or so, such as, “If you were throwing someone a surprise party, where would it be and how should I dress for it?”
When I went to my 39-week obstetrician checkup last Monday morning, I assumed the appointment would mainly be to schedule an induction for sometime in the next week. I assumed I would have a week more of pre-baby time with my four kids and with my husband. I had interviews and lunches set up, to say nothing of trick or treating.
I went through the usual drill–peeing in the cup, blood pressure, etc. Then my obstetrician did the internal exam I like to call “Did she lose her car keys in there?” Ouch. And then she took out that machine they sweep over the abdomen to hear the fetal heartbeat.
Usually, it doesn’t take too long to find.
As I watched the expression on my doctor’s face change while she searched for the heartbeat, I started to feel scared. Finally, she found a heartbeat–but rather than the galloping beats we’d heard every time previously, it was more of a leisurely lope. Too leisurely.
“I don’t like that at all,” she said simply. “You’re going to the hospital now. We’re having this baby today.”
“But…I need to call my husband, and find someone to pick up my daughter at school in an hour and a half, and…”
“You can do that later,” my doctor tossed over her shoulder as she…was she running? Yes, she was. Her demeanor had changed completely: she meant business. “I’m calling the hospital. You need to get yourself over there now. I’ll meet you as soon as I can.”
Among my memories of the day my daughter was born will always be the thought of that drive to the hospital from my obstetrician’s office. I turned off the radio and drove through the sunny middle of the warm day. The only noise in the car were my sobs coming out in vomit-like bursts as I hit “redial” on my phone over and over, trying to get through to my husband or mother. I will remember pulling into an illegal parking space in the lot, feeling alone in a pit of fear that I was walking into the hospital alone to have a C-section to deliver a possibly stillborn baby.
I, the experienced mother of four, hadn’t spent much time envisioning my “birth story” for this child. If I had, though, it wouldn’t have been like this: alone and terrified.
None of this can be taken for granted: that you will get a chance to hug your other children before leaving for the hospital, that your husband’s cell phone will be on ring rather than vibrate, or that your baby’s heart will be beating.
Thankfully, I was met at the labor and delivery unit by an incredible nurse. She was up on the situation, she was calm, she was down to earth, and she was nothing short of a rock for me.
“You need to know that whatever happens, you will be OK,” she told me.
I’m still not sure that is absolutely true. If, God forbid, something had happened to my baby, I’m not sure I would have been OK. If I’d had to go through that long afternoon alone, instead of first with my mother and then my husband, I’m not sure I would have been OK.
As it turns out, the dip in heartbeat speed was something normal–had I not been at the doctor that day, it probably would have gone totally unperceived. There were a few more dips as I was on the fetal monitor, however, so the induction went ahead.
The story ends happily–shortly before midnight that day, after various dramatic twists and turns, with a vaginal delivery much quicker than everything before it–when my new daughter Aliza Madeline was placed, crying and living, on my chest with my husband standing next to me. Of course, as we all know that is also where the new story begins.
Each time you have a child, you are launched into a new cycle of joy and terror. There is a sensation of waves of pure joy from this gift that has been placed in your life–and avalanches of terror at the thought that this precious gift could be snatched away. The only way to meet these twin sensations, though, is with courage and gratitude. All we can do is to be grateful for the blessings and the love that propels that fear, and we can try our best to be brave in the face of whatever life brings.
And as for the moments when you can say a quiet Shehecheyanu and thank God for reaching this point and day? Nothing is more “OK” than that.