So. The end of the story. I’m not sure how to even begin this, and there’s a part of me that wants to go: there once was a lady who got pregnant and then 40 weeks later there was a baby. The End. Except, then my monitor would be covered in tomatoes and trash and whatever you can find to throw at me, maybe a handful of pebbles or a brick, something substantial to cause a lot of pain, because you’ve been patiently waiting for this part of the story. But WHAT IF THERE ISN’T AN END TO THIS STORY? What if one of the rumors I read somewhere was true? THAT I MADE IT ALL UP. THAT MY BELLY WAS A PROSTHETIC AND MARLO IS A ROBOT.
Note: turns out robots have stinky poo. WHO KNEW.
That’s some prosthetic, eh?
As I’ve been reading some of the responses to this story so far, I think I have to begin this part by saying that my decision to try to have a natural birth is in no way a judgment on how you or any other woman gives birth. In fact, it is just the opposite, and I hope that by sharing this with you that maybe if you’re pregnant or even thinking about it that you’ll just do a little reading and research and find out that you have options. That’s it. That’s really all I’m trying to do. YOU HAVE OPTIONS. And even though Marlo didn’t come into this world via a c-section, if she had I think I still would have been just as transformed by my experience because of the work I did to get in touch with me, with my body, with OH MY GOD THIS IS SO GROSS I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M GOING TO WRITE IT, with my womanhood.
VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA VAGINA.
There. I said it.
I just did a lot of work this time, and I don’t know what else to call it: work. I read and studied a lot, I searched for videos and other stories, and OOOH PLEASE DON’T THROW UP BUT DON’T SAY I DIDN’T WARN YOU, I meditated and visualized. Yuck! I know!
I spent a lot of time alone, just me and the baby in my womb, thinking and feeling and getting ready to welcome her to the world. I studied pain management techniques and reached far down inside my gut to prepare myself for the ultimate experience a human being can have: giving someone life. Which is why I cannot abide it when someone compares a root canal to giving birth when they say, well, you take pain medication for a root canal, why wouldn’t you for labor? Do you not see the absurdity in that? Comparing the birth of a human being to a tooth?
(Stepping off soap box now. It was very uncomfortable up there at that altitude. Feeling dizzy. Where was I? Right. VAGINA.)
Marlo’s due date was June 14th, and nine days before then my mucous plug came out. In fact, I twittered about it, meaning I told the over one million people who follow me on twitter that a giant wad of snot came out of my vagina:
The fact that I knew that a million people would read about my mucous plug DID NOT STOP ME FROM WRITING ABOUT IT. This is what Jon has to live with. Please send him flowers.
Many people wrote to tell me that this meant I was going to give birth RIGHT THEN. Or at least within the hour, right? Maybe later that day? And then I didn’t go into labor right then. Or even that day. Or even that week. And in the middle of all my positive visualization my Hamilton brain took over and started going, YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO GO INTO LABOR. Also, you’re going to die. And your hair is ugly.
I had to physically push all these negative thoughts out of my brain because people were sending me stories about women who had gone, like, 18 days past their due date. 18! OH MY GOD! Can you even believe that? Men, you don’t understand this, but that number is just incomprehensible. Because once you go A SINGLE DAY past your due date you are suddenly unable to count past one. What comes after that number? Nothing, right? Because I can’t go another day. I cannot walk, and my face is retaining so much water that I cannot lift it off this pillow, it is so heavy. Wait, two? There’s a number two? TWO?! THEY NEVER TAUGHT ME THAT IN KINDERGARTEN, THOSE BITCHES!
And suddenly you think, that’s it, I’m going to be pregnant forever. Ask any woman who has ever been pregnant and they will tell you that they have had that thought. And then followed that thought with a giant bowl of chocolate ice cream. And then some uncontrollable flatulence.
And then on Saturday, June 13th, the day before Marlo was due, I woke up, went to the bathroom and passed another mucous plug — turns out they can regenerate themselves! like starfish! — except this time it contained a tad bit more blood. I know, I know, you do not want to hear another word about my mucous plug WHY AM I DOING THIS TO YOU? Why? WHY?! Because I’m number twenty-six! THAT’S WHY.
I walked back into the bedroom to tell Jon about this special little visitor, and then when I sat back down on the bed I felt what seemed to be a menstrual cramp. Nothing too painful, but noticeable enough to clutch at my stomach and go, gehhhhh. That’s right, gehhhhh. What? Was I supposed to come up with something more sophisticated? There I am forty pounds heavier than normal, I’ve just passed a wad of bloody snot into the toilet, and suddenly I’ve got a stomach ache. I think gehhhhh was totally appropriate.
And then five minutes later I feel another menstrual cramp. This goes on for, oh, seven hours? Eight? I can’t remember, only that I was certain it meant that I was going to take an enormous crap. That’s just my track record. During the last week that I was pregnant with Leta I thought I was going into labor three different times, and each time Jon would break out his watch and time the contractions, and we’d get all excited, like BABY BABY BABY, and then BOOM, I’d go take a poop and everything would stop. And then Jon would walk around shaking his head going, dude, I just spent four hours of my life counting down to my wife’s bowel movement.
So I really didn’t think much of the cramps, and continued on with my day as if everything were normal. We all got dressed and showered because my extended family had scheduled a dinner for all the adults that night at Outback Steakhouse. Yes. Outback Steakhouse. I mean, Applebee’s wasn’t available, and The Olive Garden was much too out of the way. And we’d been to Chili’s just last week. Am I being a snob about this? I certainly am, only because I think that BRANCHING OUT A LITTLE BIT wouldn’t hurt. And one of the bullet points at the top of the list of things I want to do before I die is see my father eat a piece of raw fish. And then not spit it out into his napkin. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK.
Anyway, there were like ten of us, maybe? All sitting there around this huge round table in the middle of Outback Steakhouse eating mashed potatoes and ridiculously large slabs of meat, when suddenly my cramps become a bit more noticeable. Before there were all, hi! I’m a cramp! Nice to meet you! And then suddenly they’re all HELLO. I AM HERE. DO YOU LIKE MY FANCY BLOUSE?
I have to put down my fork several times because I’m so uncomfortable, but I’m still in denial and have made sure that I know the quickest route to the restroom so that I can take that crap I’ve been waiting to have ALL DAY LONG. And when the server comes over to refill my water I grab her arm and go, “Do you know how to deliver a baby?” Because I thought it was funny! I mean, it’s not like I was in labor or anything! These cramps don’t mean anything! Wait… I can’t see so good, let me grip this table to steady myself, and Jon is all, dude, are you okay? And the server is all OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD. Except she was Mormon so really it was more like OH MY HECK OH MY HECK OH MY HECK.
My mother looks at me and tells me that it’s going to happen tonight, and I assure her that she is delusional. Doesn’t she know that I’m going to go 18 days past my due date? I READ ABOUT IT ON THE INTERNET. No, really. If it happened to that woman, it could happen to me, and wait a minute…. HELLO CRAMP. YOUR BLOUSE IS LOVELY.
Anyway, I promise this is going somewhere. It’s just, I’ve had a lot of coffee. Whoops. Did I just admit that on the Internet in front of millions of judgmental women? YES. I AM DRINKING COFFEE WHILE BREASTFEEDING. Also, Marlo sees me naked. Regularly. HURRY. TURN UP YOUR NOSE.
The cramps continue at that slightly elevated pace for the next few hours, and when we get home and climb in bed I have Jon google Braxton Hicks contractions, and when he reads me what he’s found I have convinced myself that what I’m experiencing is exactly that: these cramps weren’t getting longer or much stronger or closer together. False labor. So you know what I do? Do you want to know what number twenty-six does in this situation? Because I’m not sure you’re going to be able to handle the brilliance of what I’m about to tell you. No, really. Get ready for this. Are you ready? Yes? Get this:
I take a sleeping pill.
I am not even kidding. An over-the-counter sleeping pill that is perfectly safe to take while pregnant, but a sleeping pill nonetheless. SLEEPING PILL. TO MAKE ME DROWSY. And here’s where this whole story turns into a Ben Stiller movie. And I’m apologizing in advance because if I were reading this I’d want to punch me in the face, too.
Not three minutes after taking that sleeping pill I get hit with a contraction that knocks me to the ground. TO. THE. GROUND. Those cramps go from NO, REALLY, I GOT THIS BLOUSE ON SALE! to MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON A MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!!!!!!!!!!
And then three minutes later, another one. And then three minutes later, another one. Jon starts timing them, and we soon realize that denial is not just a river in Egypt. I’m not quite sure what to do because I had planned on going 18 days past my due date, so I call my doula and ask her what to do. She says to call the hospital, and I do that, and when the doctor on call that night calls me back she says, “Is this Heather?” and I go, “This is – WAIT, CAN YOU HOLD ON A MINUTE? BECAUSE THE LOWER HALF OF MY BODY IS TRYING TO SEPARATE ITSELF FROM THE TOP HALF.”
And I’m not even kidding, she laughed at me! She laughed! AT MY PAIN. And I should have been mad at her, but for some reason the tone of her laugh was comforting, and she goes, “Why are you not in the car on your way to the hospital RIGHT NOW?”
Oh god. I’m going to have my baby in the car! A car baby! We’ll name her Toyota! That’s not weird at all!
It’s total chaos in the house at this point, Jon is stuffing clothes into bags and calling everyone involved, the dogs are like WHAT’S GOING ON, ARE THERE TREATS INVOLVED? I’m groaning like a moose being shoved head first into a wood chipper, and then we have to wake up Leta! Leta! My daughter! My beautiful child! Oh wait, what about her sleeping schedule? If we wake her up will she ever go back to sleep? Can you even believe I’m having thoughts like this when I’m about to give birth? There I am worried about my kid’s sleeping schedule and if messing it up is going to wreck our lives! Clearly I am not on the right meds!
Somehow we make it into the car, I don’t remember how, only that as Jon is putting our bags into the back I get hit with a contraction and have to put my head down on the hood of the car. And I’m moaning so loud that it’s causing the whole car to vibrate. And from the back of the car he goes, “Heather, now calm down. You need to be calm.”
Did he just say that to me? OH NO HE DIDN’T. And I’m not going to admit publicly what I screamed at him just then because those words would cause the entire Internet to explode. A fire would spread from that endless string of obscenities from this website out into the world and next thing you know everyone is on the phone to their Internet provider asking why it is broken.
And then the car ride. You know, one of the last places you want to be when you’re in labor is in the front seat of a moving vehicle. It’s not fun. Not one bit. Especially when the five-year-old that you just woke up from a princess dream is sitting in the backseat crying because Mommy is screaming. This is what that car ride looked like:
Leta: “What’s wrong with Mom? Is Mom okay? Is Mom okay?”
Jon: “Mom is fine, it’s just that sometimes—”
Me: “Hi! I’m Fine! Look! Look at me! I’m fine! Weeee! Having fun! Totally fine!”
Leta: “Okay, but—”
Jon: “You see, Leta, when Moms have babies—”
Me: “WEEEEEEE! Totally fine! See! Look at me! Fine! I’ve never felt more fine!”
Jon parks right in front of the hospital, and I try to run as fast I can to get through the door before I get hit with another contraction, and there I am. I am that woman. I am that woman stopping, grabbing on to whatever she can find and moaning the ugliest moan you have ever heard. I grabbed the wall, I grabbed the edge of a desk, I grabbed the door jamb, and the woman at the desk had the audacity to ask me to fill out a piece of paperwork. And it took every molecule in my body to ask nicely, please, would it be okay if my husband who is seconds behind me with my daughter, could he do it? Pretty please? I mean, in all the preparation I had done to have a natural labor, I managed to miss the part about being able to write legibly during a contraction.
Thankfully my mother and stepfather have arrived at the hospital just in time, and as my stepfather leaves with Leta someone walks up to me with a wheelchair and says that they’re here to take me to my room. Um, no. There is no way you are going to get me into a wheelchair at this point, that sounds like the most awful thing in the world. Just awful. Suddenly everything is awful. I’ll just walk, thank you very much. And well, that walk was what I imagine it feels like to stare at the end of a long plank hanging off the edge of a pirate ship. Let’s just say that I got to know the wallpaper along the walls of that hospital REALLY well as every few steps I’d stop, turn my head into the wall and dig my fingernails into my thighs. And here’s where I explain how I coped with the pain:
Have you ever seen one of those yard ornaments where a constant stream of water flows over a ball of some sort? They’ve got a giant one at the Hogle Zoo here in Salt Lake City, and I didn’t even know that I was going to have this sort of vision, but suddenly I’ve turned myself into that water ball at the Hogle Zoo, and the contraction is the water flowing over me.
I know. Go ahead and tell me to shut up, that is the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard.
I turn to the woman leading me to the room, and I go, “Can you give me a sec? I’m a yard ornament.”
We FINALLY get to the room, what, two years later? And I’m changing into a hospital gown just as my sister arrives. And between contractions they check to see that I’ve dilated to four centimeters, which is good, but not great. Means I’ve got six more to go, and OH MY. THE PAIN. There is a lot of pain. Pain, pain, pain, and I thought I was going to want to walk around and sit on a ball or drape myself around Jon’s neck, but the only position that feels good is to lean down and bury my head into the bed. And that’s where I stay for I think an hour. I don’t know how long because when you’re in that kind of pain time turns into a mystical, ethereal wind chime with pointy-eared fairies and stars on it, and it starts to speak one of those languages in a Tolkien book, and I keep looking up from the bed between contractions and asking, “Is this real? Am I really here? Is this really happening?”
OOOH, LOOK! IT’S DOOCE’S BUTT ON THE INTERNET:
And that’s the closest I will ever come to a scandalous sex tape.
Within that hour the other two members of my labor party arrive, my doula Aubrey, and our assistant Katey, who told me that in writing this story I have to mention how I kept yelling at everyone about my toe. Fine, I’ll tell the toe part. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, KATEY?
I don’t know if you remember, but I broke my pinky toe in late April, and it screwed up my life more than I thought it would, it being a damn pinky toe and all, and the Hamilton part of my brain kept thinking, uh oh. What if it doesn’t heal by the time you go into labor? Can you handle the pain of a contraction and a broken pinky toe AT THE SAME TIME? CAN YOU? ANSWER ME!
Turns out it did heal, but while I’ve got my head buried into the hospital bed and I’m groaning through a contraction, imagining the water flowing over me, HELLO, I’M A YARD ORNAMENT, I keep thinking that someone is stepping on that toe. That damn pinky toe. And I keep yelling out, GET OFF MY TOE! When, guess what? No one is anywhere near that toe. No. Where. Near. It. But I am adamant. And angry that no one believes me, so I keep screaming it, GET OFF MY TOE! GET OFF MY TOE! When someone finally gets a clue, gets down into my face and assures me that they have found the person who was standing on it and have swiftly beheaded said offender. Now can we move on, Heather?
I don’t know who it was that assured me that the toe area was clear now, but thank you!
Also, I yelled at my mother for tapping my leg. And I cussed while doing so. She wanted me to tell you that she, The Avon World Sales Leader and devout Mormon, did not take “motherfucker” personally, you have to forgive people when they’re in that kind of pain.
My doula Aubrey has given everyone a job, and even though I thought I would not want to be touched during labor it turns out that that’s all I want. And I’m gripping someone’s hands while someone pushes on my back while someone rubs the back of my neck. OH! And I almost forgot! We brought an iPod deck and we’re listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows on repeat! God! That’s one of the most important parts! Because while the contraction rolls through my body I’m concentrating on the lyrics to the music, and who knew! It totally took my mind off the pain. Sort of. Not really. But kind of!
Okay, now it’s getting really bad, and I’m having two contractions back to back, a three minute break, and then another contraction, and when I describe where most of the pain is, the nurse, who by the way was such a rock star, someone who coached me through all the way and never gave up on me, she suggests that the baby may be posterior and that I get up on all fours on the bed to try and get her to move. This is important because at this point I cannot get off that bed, it just doesn’t sound good to me. In fact, all I want to do is lie on my side and bury my head into the plastic handle of the hospital bed. And that’s where I stay for the rest of the labor, my eyes closed, someone pushing on my back, someone pushing on my legs, and my hand gripping and pushing on Jon’s hand.
Everyone is quietly rooting me on, saying things like, you’re doing so good! You’re doing this! Keep it up! And I don’t know, those are just simple little words, but you have no idea what they mean when you don’t know if you’re going to live through the next contraction. I didn’t know if I was going to live, and just hearing their voices, the positivity in their words, it was like a giant rope attached to my chest pulling me out of the ground.
There are a few moments between contractions when I open my eyes to see Jon’s arm, and I can barely describe how comforting it is. I can’t see his face, my vision is so cloudy with pain, but I can see his hand and arm. And I guess at one point everyone in the group changes positions to get at better angles on my body, and suddenly I look up and I can’t see the hairy arm! Where’s the hairy arm! GIVE ME BACK THE HAIRY ARM!
He jumps right back into place and I immediately push into his hand with all my strength, and here’s where it gets all spiritual and shit. Sorry, but it happened and it was real and, no, I don’t go to church, but I imagine that what I felt then is why people do. By this time they’ve broken my water and I’m dilated to an eight or whatever, it just didn’t all really matter right then. I seriously didn’t care how far along I was or how much longer it was going to take. Everything at that point vanished, and it was just me and Jon. The two of us. Two tiny spots of light. My hand in his.
They tell me that suddenly I stopped groaning during contractions, and all I can remember is going deep inside Jon’s palm where I could crawl up into a ball to go to sleep.
That’s where I remained when suddenly the doctor tells me to roll over. It’s time to push. I had no idea. NO IDEA. Really? We’re already there? WE’RE THERE. And suddenly I’m jerked out of Jon’s hand and thrown right into a wall of pain so magnificent in its awfulness that I really do think I’m going to die. This is what it must feel like to be eaten by a shark. You always wonder about that, you know? I think I know now.
And thus commenced the longest twelve minutes of my life. I know. ONLY TWELVE MINUTES. Can I just say right now that it felt like twelve millennia? In my head it seemed like she was not ever going to come out of my body, and then suddenly, after years and years of pushing through a pain so horrific, so nightmarish that for days afterward I would think that a contraction was coming on and I’d brace myself for the impact of the eighteen wheeler headed straight for my gut, her head came out. And her eyes were wide open. And she looked straight at the Avon World Sale Leader.
She’s here! She’s here! Everyone is cheering, and there I am thinking that it’s all over, although that eighteen wheeler is still dragging my body down the freeway. And the doctor goes, “Now one more push to get her shoulders out.”
HUH? HUHHHHH? WHAT?
Um, no. NO NO NO.
I’m done. Y’all can just pull her out. It’s your turn.
So. SO. I close my eyes, grab Jon’s hand one last time, and scream like I have never screamed before. I mean, it was a Leta scream. Do I even need to say more?
And suddenly, she really is here, all of her, all ten fingers and toes and Mike Hamilton eyes, and the refrain throughout the room is WHOA! LOOK HOW CHUBBY! And WHERE DID SHE GET THAT DIMPLE!
When Leta was born and they put her on my chest, my first thought was, “OH MY GOD I GAVE BIRTH TO MY HUSBAND.”
When they put Marlo on my chest it was, “OH MY GOD I GAVE BIRTH TO MY FATHER.”
I got to hold her there, newborn, for almost an hour, and I won’t lie, even though she was cute, she could not distract me from the pain of having the placenta removed and being stitched up without any drugs. That part was hard, I mean, really, really tough. But…
But. Here’s the big but. Once the stitching was done and they moved the bed so that I was sitting up, I guess the hormones kicked in, or maybe it was the sharp contrast of going from that amount of pain to none at all, but I was totally high. Like, ten lines of cocaine high. HIGH. And that feeling was so strong and lasted so long that for two days straight all I did was stare at that baby and fall madly, deeply, ferociously in love.
I did it. I totally did it. And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be able to have this experience, that nothing went wrong. That they didn’t have to intervene. I know that. I know there was a lot of luck involved. I know how lucky I am.
But I’m also so damn proud of myself for conquering this challenge, for doing the work and having it pay off, and having lived through that kind of pain, having gone into that place inside Jon’s palm, I now have a new perspective on life. Yes, on life. It’s just changed everything, I can’t deny it.
She changed everything.