The cup that should’ve been mine by virtue of having been born female was placed out of reach for many years. I found out before I married that my path to motherhood would not be any easy one. My body had betrayed me, it didn’t function in the way that evolution had designed it to. But I didn’t worry about it at first; John and I still had a lot of growing up to do so we delayed trying for kids.
After 6 years of marriage we decided the time was as good as it ever would be so we tried. Nothing. I remembered what the doctor had told me but thought that my desire to have a child would be so strong that I could bend my body to my will. I was wrong. There followed years of treatments. Drugs that made me sick and moody, shots that made my skin and muscle burn as if they had been injected with fire, tests that filled my womb with dye and bathed me in x-rays. Three years passed and my womb bore no fruit but disappointment and sadness.
Then, during our brief sojourn in Chicago, a fragile ray of hope broke through the darkness. A newly minted doctor, also named Jennifer, wanted to try a new treatment. Another drug, I had my doubts but I was willing to try. The pills were huge and made me violently ill at times. I would’ve given up but the need to have a child made me push myself beyond my endurance.
It was worth it, all the pain, and all the sickness. My body began functioning the way it was designed to; I may be the only woman to take joy in cramps. Periods! Huzzah!
In early July of 2001, I began to feel things I never had experienced before. I was nauseated, my breasts hurt. A girl at work told me I might be pregnant so I stopped and got a pack of tests on the way home. I took it, I peed on the stick. There were two lines!
The next morning I took the second test in the pack, the second line was now faint. I began cramping severely and bleeding profusely later that day, at work. I called the doctor, but nothing could be done so I stayed at work. The next day I felt too sick, too pained, to go to work but I had no choice, I would’ve been fired if I hadn’t gone in anyway. (This is why I know that this country doesn’t value women or children.)
We watched the July 4th fireworks from our dining room window in our apartment because I was too weak from blood loss to venture outside. I had been to the doctor; he told me that the miscarriage had been complete. We had to wait six weeks before trying again. We dutifully waited our six weeks and then went at it like it was our job.
The second miscarriage nearly broke me. The ultrasound told the horrific tale, no embryo, but my body hadn’t expelled everything. I checked into the hospital to have the remains of the pregnancy, and my hopes, removed. Before I went back to work on Monday I called my boss. I wanted no flowers, no cards, no tears, no hugs. I wanted to forget that I had ever been pregnant in the first place. I knew that one gesture, one kindness, would send me flying into a million jagged pieces, human shrapnel. They mostly respected my wishes and I began to settle back into my routine, damaged but steady.
The next day was September 11, 2001.
My personal grieving was subsumed in the national paroxysm of shock and grief and horror. Life felt precarious and dangerous. Too dangerous to bring a child into the world. I drew that desire back inside and didn’t even breathe it to myself.
Months passed as months do. We began to try again. Winter began to melt into spring, new life was blooming in a changed world and new life bloomed in a changed me.
I was more cautious, more reticent. We told very few people in those first months. My boss was the first person outside immediate family that I told, and only because I was now considered high-risk and had to go to the doctor every week for a while.
My sister was also pregnant at the same time. And she had been through all of it before so she was very supportive. I’m very grateful to her. (She had my niece 6 weeks before we had our son.)
We found out we were having a boy because after so many shocks and twists on the way, I wasn’t in the mood for any more surprises. We had a due date of December 8th. I knew that due dates were guesses and that babies keep their own schedules, regardless of our plans. We went to the classes, we read the books, we watched the shows, we prepared ourselves as much as we could.
I still had the due date in my head and didn’t expect to have a baby nearly a month early. But some part of me knew, some cavewoman instinct kicked in. In mid-November I went into a frenzy of nesting. I washed everything, packed my hospital bag, made Hubs paint the nursery.
In the darkwatch early morning of November 18, 2002, the contractions began in earnest. I had been having contractions for two days and didn’t recognize them as such. It wasn’t anywhere near my due date! (I’m an intelligent woman, I swear.)
I had been sleeping on the sectional for a few weeks because I couldn’t get comfortable in the bed so I waddled back to the bedroom and tried to wake the hubs. “Honey, we’re having a baby today,” I said to him at about 4 in the morning.
He grumbled a bit, said OK, and rolled back over. A sense of calm inevitability had settled over me and I trudged back to my couch. About an hour later John tore into the room and breathlessly asked, “Did you say we’re having a baby today?” I told him we were indeed. He saw that I was calm and calmed down as well. He decided to eat breakfast and take a shower. (Something told me not to eat anything but I had already taken my shower.)
My water broke rather dramatically while he was in the bathroom. That’s when the contractions began to hurt. Chaos ensued. One frantic phone call to the maternity ward (Hubs) later and we were on our way to the hospital. Hubs wanted to drop me at the ER but I was having none of it. I refused to be separated from his side and walked the long corridor to the maternity ward.
The nurse at the desk tried to put me into triage to evaluate me to see if I really was in labor. Hubs told her that my water had broken; I was in a place beyond words. Instinct had again taken over; ration and reason were pushed aside. I needed to get that baby out of me, RIGHT THEN. I could only breathe and growl, I looked at her with death in my eyes. Her eyes widened and she said, “Let’s get you in a labor room.”
I labored for about 6 hours without pain relief. Finally around noon, they gave me an epidural. I immediately fell in love with the anesthesiologist and asked him to marry me. He just smiled and patted my hand. I don’t think I was the first laboring woman to propose.
Hubs’ boss showed up some time after that because he didn’t really believe us. Good thing he got there after the epidural or he would’ve been subject to a profanity-laced tirade the like of which the world has never heard. Bastard didn’t even bring flowers.
After approximately an eternity (5 hours) of no progress, the baby and I both went into distress. My doctor was hesitant to push a C-section, so he said we could labor longer if we wanted but he really recommended the surgery. I couldn’t take any more so I agreed. Within moments a paper was shoved into my hands and I signed it. Moments after that my gurney was being pushed at a dead run down the hall.
And then I was alone with my doctor and the nurses and my new fiancé, the epidural man. They were very quiet but focused and driven. I could feel their tension and I knew my child and I were in danger. Finally, Hubs was brought in and sat down on a stool next to my head. I felt and saw nothing and heard only brisk and efficient voices, my own breathing, and reassuring words from Hubs. Then the most blessed sound rang out, my son’s outraged cry at being subjected to such an indignity! I got to see him, briefly, and then Hubs and our son were quickly escorted out while the doctor and nurses put me back together.
A sense of urgency and foreboding still hung heavy in the OR. My child was safe but I wasn’t out of danger yet. I remember cold enveloping me, as if I was slipping underneath icy waters. I began to shiver violently and the anesthesiologist called for blankets and heaters. He covered as much of me as he could without violating the sterile field. And then I lost consciousness.
I awoke in a recovery room still covered in blankets and still as cold as the grave. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law were waiting in my room when they wheeled me in. Later they told me that they were scared to death when they saw me. My skin was grey and there was no light in my eyes. I believe that I came so close to death as to touch its hem. But I fought like hell, my doctor and nurses fought like hell, and here I am on the occasion of my beautiful son’s 12th birthday.
So when I hear people complain about western medicine and “big pharma” and the overuse of C-sections, I just shake my head. In another century, without all those things, my child and I would not have survived his birth. So, thank you western medicine, thank you to my doctor and nurses, thank you hospital, thank you modern anesthetics.
And most of all, thank you to my son. Thank you for making me your mom.