To My Daughters

1999 08 05 before cropOff the top of my head tonight … Having a baby is work. It really, really hurts. Can’t nobody push that baby out but you. But it is doable. Women have been doing it for thousands of years. And, we often have more than one. But there are some things I thought I’d mention.

Your anesthesiologist (you know, the doctor they want you to pre-pay) won’t show up until you’re an 8. (That’s out of 10, my young ones.) He’ll saunter in in his cowboy boots and southern boy drawl and say “Sorry ma’am; couldn’t get here sooner…” just as your doctor decides you’re having a c-section and you can’t have drugs until they get you to the operating room. Oh hang on. That’s Caleb’s story from Oklahoma.

Today, we’re going on about Gwyn. I was going back through our photos circa 1999. A good year in many ways. My last pregnancy and by far the worst, as counted in pure pain. Six blood transfusions, three of those in-utero. (Which also hurts. Looking at the needle hurts. And for some reason I always turned down the Valium. I’m not sure why.)

I had an otherwise healthy pregnancy. Take a look, I think I look happy, 1999 08 05 before 2maybe even glowing a little. I always enjoyed being pregnant. I never complained about being “fat.” It’s a special time in your life, don’t ruin it by being miserable.

I have a few things I want to mention. One, your father is a doctor but does not do well in the delivery room with me. Thank God he never actually serves as my doctor. It’s bad enough having him on the sidelines.

With Gwyneth, he said utterly inane things like:

“Epidurals don’t just fall out.”

“I just delivered a seventeen year old without meds and she wasn’t crying.”

I’ve got two words for you. Real. Doctor.

No, make that five: I want a real doctor.

The epidural had fallen out, never took completely anyway, and I had that thing we optimistically call back labor.1 Four babies, and only one was turned the wrong way, thank you God. Had she been first, she’d been last. If you think having babies is painful, twist that baby the wrong way and see nine months of good memories fade to black as every contraction slams the little urchin against your back . Get her out; reach in there and get her out.

Minutes before they wheel me to the OR, my anesthesiologist rushes in, takes one look, and says (God love her): Her epidural fell out. She flipped me over and gave me a spinal block and within thirty seconds I was in love. (The next time I saw her was on the elevator. I hugged her.)

The next thing I want to mention is that you can go into the hospital looking fairly chipper. You will leave looking larger. There is a reason: to add insult to injury during labor, they pump you full of fluid. Nice. You’ve got this new baby and want photos but you look pale. And tired. And swollen. Pushing is hard work.

It bears repeating.

1999 08 07 gwyn

Let’s compare and contrast with the above. This photo is totally embarrassing, but illustrative. Two days after birth and I look like death warmed over. And notice. I’m in a nightgown and hospital robe. I know you think I’m some place private. Oh no. I just didn’t care. We’re at “How to be a good sibling” class. With other people present. No idea how I got down there in this state of undress.

Gwyneth was a very sick baby. I smile when people tell me, “My baby 1999 08 09 gywnwas jaundiced too.” No, not jaundiced. Rh blood disease. Dying. They let me stay in the hospital in a vacant room. Every day, every two hours, 24/7 I would go down to the NICU and feed her and speak with her and stroke her face. It was hell. When you have a baby, you’re supposed to get to bring them home.

Your father and I alternated emotions. I was in the throes of despair. He was trying to keep it together. Then one morning, he came through the door of my room, sat down with his head in his hands and said, “I think this is it. We’re losing her,” or some variation thereof. But just that morning, I felt this was the day it all turned around.

Six days, three blood transfusions, a consult with a French doctor, and several helpings of polar bear gall bladder extracted medicine, and our baby was coming home. It was an almost instantaneous reversal after that medicine. Amazing.

And yeah. I’d do it again. But I’d demand a real doctor.


1 Nothing can prepare a mother for the severe unremitting pain that accompanies labor when the baby is in a posterior position. Now you know.

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