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December 02, 2007

Going into Labor

Pregnant2_2 It seems everyone around me is pregnant. OK. Not everyone. But at least ten women I know are expecting. All live in New York City. All work outside the house. About half are about to experience their first labor.

My first went something like this: “Honey,” I said to my husband through clenched teeth and curled toes, “Go the hospital. Get me drugs and bring them back, now.” I’d gone into active labor around midnight soon after the hospital nurse sent me home telling me I wasn’t ready to give birth. Six hours later, I turned to my husband and with all seriousness said, “I’m not pushing and you’re not cutting me open so you and the doctor better figure out a way to get this thing out.”

It was a far cry from my favorite delivery story, the one I’d clung to as a single woman. That one went something like this. “My wife went into labor and as she was putting on her sweatpants to go to the hospital the baby started coming out.” “What did you do?” I asked the husband. “I bent down and caught the baby,” he said matter-of-factly.

Sure, I had read all the books and attended all the classes. I had taken copious notes and asked loads of questions, like “How do you know when you’re in labor?” Somehow the answer, “You’ll know,” didn’t resonate with me.

The night I went into labor my mind shut off and my body took over daring me to question its motives, its strategy. I stopped timing the contractions and told my husband to get some sleep believing one of us should at least be fresh in the morning. Chills spread through me chased by fever. I sat. I stood. I kneeled. I prayed. I dozed. I moaned. The pulsing, pushing, panicked initiation into motherhood.

>When we finally reached the hospital at 6:30 the next morning, the doctor said I was seven-and-a-half centimeters dilated. That’s what he said. What I heard was, “half a centimeter more and no epidural, nothing, nada, zilch, you’re going it alone.”

Well-intentioned people will tell you, over time you forget labor. As proof they point to the high rate of second and third children. But you don’t forget because labor is when everything changes. For me, it was the moment I realized, this tiny being who had shared every second of my life for more than nine months, this tiny being who challenged me to figure out whether it was a foot, or elbow, or heel or hand sweeping across the inside of my belly, this tiny being that got hiccups and smiled in the sonogram, this tiny being was making its way out. Never again would I be able to place my hand on my stomach and know exactly where my tiny companion was.

Delivery in TheFreeDictionary means not only “the act of giving birth,” it means “the act of giving up; surrender.” What I was giving up and  surrendering I realize, was my life as it existed. My internal compass had found a new direction. That day, after many, many hours of pushing – when there were moments I truly felt like giving up – I delivered a beautiful baby girl. I surrendered. I became a mother.

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