Five years ago when I was experiencing postpartum depression with Leta I was actively seeing a therapist to try and talk my way up and out and through the darkness. This therapist is by far the best one I’ve ever seen, and I’ve recommended her to almost everyone I know. Have a hangnail? GO SEE THIS THERAPIST. She’s just totally no nonsense, out with it now, and will tell you exactly what you need to hear even if you don’t want to hear it. I cannot count the times she has rolled her eyes, shaken her head and said, “Well, Heather, if that wasn’t the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. Is it me, or do you just get dumber?”
One of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was to hire a babysitter for a few hours a week so that I could take some time for myself, and that’s exactly what we did. Jon put an ad in the paper and we interviewed several potential candidates, and WOWEE was that ever an experiment in trying to keep our jaws from falling off our faces and bouncing on the floor. Some of the people who responded to the ad were just total nutjobs, people you would not trust with your pet rock let alone your infant, and I’m not even kidding, one woman casually mentioned that her sixteen-year-old daughter was pregnant and her eighteen-year-old son was in prison. BUT THAT’S NOT EVEN THE END OF IT. I guess she was excommunicated from the Mormon church because of some horrible indiscretions THAT SHE’D RATHER NOT TALK ABOUT. When all we asked was, “Tell us a little about yourself.”
Turns out that we hired the first person who responded to the ad, a delightfully fresh-faced eighteen-year-old named Katey who could speak in complete sentences and didn’t have a criminal record. I think I’ve mentioned her on this website a couple of times (let’s see, here and here and here). I even thank her in the acknowledgements section of my book for giving me the time that I needed to find the mind that I had lost. We loved how well she handled Leta, and Leta absolutely adored her. She worked for us for two years and then, well, I’m not going to get into too much detail, but things ended and there were tears and I think someone may have lost a limb and then there was that call from the president of Guyana and I had to go into hiding. The end.
And then about a year ago as my book deadline approached and my schedule starting getting crazier and crazier we realized that the only way anything was ever going to get done was by hiring someone to help out. So in June of 2008 The Blurbodoocery decided to hire its first employee, an assistant, and since I’d made amends with the government of Guyana through several months of arduous negotiations involving lawyers, heavy artillery, and one very cooperative Norwegian pole dancer (don’t ask), I called up Katey and asked if she’d like to quit the job she was working and come work for us. I may have actually pleaded, bribed, cried and/or clung to her leg. She agreed on one condition: that I pay her money. And I was all SOME PEOPLE! Can you believe the nerve?
And she’s been every bit the perfect employee we thought she’d be, managing everything from the schedule of my book tour to keeping our business lives organized to handling press inquiries. And you may be wondering why I haven’t yet mentioned her? Why has it taken this long? And here’s where I remind you about that one time I got fired for talking about work on my website. Remember that? Yeah, well, I’m still pretty tender in that area and think you should be very careful when you write about work on the Internet, whether you’re the employee or the employer, and since this was my first time being on the employer end I was all NO WAY NO HOW. Even now as I write this I feel like Elmer Fudd tiptoeing through the forest, like I’m about to step on a bomb or something, and what if Katey reads this, calls me into her office and says, “We need to have a talk.” And next thing you know I’m being walked to my car with all my belongings in a cardboard box.
All of this was a roundabout way of getting to the part last August when one afternoon she comes running into my office with a freshly-peed on pregnancy test, a spare one I’d had lying around, one whose box and instructions I had long thrown away. And her hand is shaking so badly that I can barely make out what line is going in which direction, and she’s all IS THIS POSITIVE?! And I’m all HOW SHOULD I KNOW, WHERE ARE THE INSTRUCTIONS? And she’s all ARMSTRONG, IF YOU WEREN’T PAYING MY SALARY I’D HIT YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH THIS THING.
So we immediately google pregnancy tests, and I look at her and she looks at me and I’m all I SURE HOPE YOU DON’T GET A SCREAMER.
That was six weeks before I got pregnant, and so here’s where we take a moment of silence to honor Jon and what he had to endure for the following nine months as he basically lived with two pregnant women. Double the complaining and bitching and neurotic pacing over the weight gain. Seriously, how do polygamists do it? I mean, at least Jon could drink. Polygamists not only do it willingly, THEY DO IT SOBER.
Anyway, Katey casually mentioned one day that she was thinking about trying to have a natural childbirth, and I was all, oh honey, that’s what we all say. And then we get hit with that one whammy contraction and realize that God made epidurals for a reason! Because I know so many women, myself included, who think in our first pregnancies that we’ll just “see how things go.” And that if we’ve overestimated our threshold for pain we’ll give in to the possibility of pain relief. Ha! No, let me restate that: HA! There is nothing in life that you can really compare to the pain of labor, NOTHING, so the “idea” of your threshold for pain is as useless as a piece of shit.
And I may have actually said those words to her. You know, because I’m encouraging that way. And then I finished that sentiment with YOU’RE TOTALLY FUCKING INSANE.
Except Katey did what many of us did not do during our first pregnancies: she prepared! She researched! She hired a doula! And not once did she mention any of this to me, not once did she ever try to preach to me or change my mind, and there I was shaking my head in my brain thinking THERE IS NO WAY she has any idea what she’s in for. So you can imagine her surprise when one day about three weeks before she was due she got a text message from me that said, “Hey… um… yeah… so… I think I want to try and have a natural childbirth.”
Her response was to call Jon and tell him that someone had stolen my phone and was texting her with it.
A couple of weeks later I get a frantic phone call from Katey’s mother at 7:30AM saying that she’s been at the hospital since midnight. She’d been having painful contractions all day, decided finally to head to the hospital, and when they took her blood pressure and found it to be dangerously high they put her on pitocin immediately to make sure labor continued. At this point I hear a noise in the background unlike any noise I have ever heard in my life, a combination of a growl, a roar, and a murderous yawping. I ask Katey’s mother if there is a lion in the room with them who is busily eating a rather talkative jackal while simultaneously groaning out a bowel movement.
Oh no, no lion, that’s just Katey in the background who has refused any and all pain medication.
Now, wait a minute.
She’s been at the hospital for how long? Almost eight hours. And how long has she been hooked up to pitocin? All eight of those hours. And how far dilated is she? A three.
A THREE? A THREE?
For those of you familiar with labor and delivery you will understand why I capitalized those letters and used seven question marks. For those unfamiliar you should understand that when you’re in labor and you ask the nurse how far dilated you are, there’s only one right answer: TEN. All other answers are wrong because it means you’re not done yet.
Katey had SEVEN MORE CENTIMETERS TO GO. SEVEN. One, two, three…. do you see where I’m going with this? And she’d already been in hard, uncomfortable labor for eight hours, and then a day of awful contractions before that… who knew how long this could go on. It could go on for days. Maybe years. She could be the first person in the history of the world to labor FOREVER. YOU NEVER KNOW.
So I’m thinking, hey, I’ll take my time, eat my breakfast, take Leta to school and obey all traffic laws on my way up to the hospital with the idea that when I get there she’ll have progressed a few more centimeters. Except thirty minutes later the phone rings. And I don’t recognize the number. And when I say hello the person on the other end doesn’t say a word of English for a few sentences and then goes, “NINE!”
And I go, “I’m sorry, but you have the wrong number.”
And Katey’s mom goes, “HEATHER! SHE’S AT A NINE!”
Turns out that when they broke her water she dilated six more centimeters almost instantly, and there I am throwing on clothes, running red lights, parking like I’m blind, and hauling ass from the garage to the desk at labor and delivery. I tell them I’m there for Katey Kendall, and I’m not kidding, all four people behind the desk whip around and go, “Another one?”
Turns out there are more people in Katey’s delivery room than there are in the city of Boise, Idaho. No, really. Like hundreds of them. Every person she ever thought about being related to? They are in that room. And when I open the door there is not a word being said, not a noise being made, it is as quiet as the pause between words in a prayer. I turn my head to see a sweat-drenched Katey lying on the hospital bed surrounded by her sisters, and without even thinking, in the middle of all that silence I go, “YOU ARE A TOTAL FUCKING CHAMP!”
I think this is what my therapist would refer to as me getting dumber.
Just then a contraction hits Katey, and like a well-oiled machine her sisters jump into action. They are all pushing on her body at different strategic points, and as Katey growls and mumbles and digs down into her gut to survive the pain, everyone else is calling out from different corners of the room, “You’re doing it!” or “That’s awesome!” or “Keep it up!” The cheering and pushing and growling continue for what seems like a couple of minutes, what must have seemed like eternity for Katey, and when it’s apparent that the contraction has ended, the room immediately sinks right back into silence. No one talks. Every single person is focused on Katey’s next move.
This goes on for another hour and a half, because even though she is dilated to a nine a lip has formed at the cervix and is refusing to budge. Katey is miserable, her hair is completely soaked with sweat, and you can hear that her vocal chords are shredded from all the groaning. At one point during a contraction she yells, “Please! PLEASE! JUST HELP ME!” And I want to cry, her mother is bawling, and everyone else is cheering, “You can do this! YOU’RE DOING THIS! HANG IN THERE!”
The rest of this story goes like many other birthing stories, because when it was time to push she pushed like a champion, and I happened to be one of the lucky ones in the room to have a view of the baby as she came out, first her head and then her right arm came flying out, like, “Ta da! Here I am!” And then everyone in the room started crying. They named her Lily Blanche.
But what I guess makes this story quite different than any other birth I’ve personally attended or seen is the reverence with which every single person in that room treated the experience. It was like church in there, and for the hour and a half that I witnessed it, I just couldn’t believe it. It almost didn’t seem real. And as much as it was Katey’s experience and everything that she had hoped it would be, it’s what she gave to the rest of us that I won’t ever forget. Because we all had to come together, all four hundred and eighty of us, for her. We all gained something incredible from forming that community around her.
And the courage that she showed, the endurance, the sheer power of getting through contraction after contraction, I was just so inspired, so touched to be so close to something so primal and raw and vulnerable as she was during those hours, so thankful that she let me be a part of it. And I knew I would never be the same person after having witnessed it.
I got home about an hour later, my face a mess of tears and snot, and told Jon, “I can’t wait to give you what that birth just gave me.”
Part three, the final installment, coming soon. Right now I’ve got a cute baby who is giving all her smiles to Jon, and that’s just not at all fair.