Toby’s Birth Story: The Last Important Piece
Just as suddenly as the room was filled with people, suddenly, it was not. And even though I was the center of attention, and even though I was floating in the apathy that is an epidural, I felt like I’d missed something here.
Like a swarm of crawling ants, all on one spot for one particular reason, and then, all the sudden, they scatter, like they all have one mind. And then one ant skitters across the empty spot that they once crowded, intent on some task.
Or like a star at a hairdressing station, parked in front of a mirror: there’s someone doing her makeup, two other people doing her hair, and someone else discussing her jewelry with her. Someone in line to tell her what to wear, and someone else to make sure she stays hydrated. And then, they’re all gone because someone announced that the coffee was there until some minion runs in to hand her a script, and then runs off.
Well, that minion, in my case, happened to be my nurse. Who told me that they’d all decided to just lay off and let Toby chill out and de-stress. Then she asked what every other nurse had asked: can I get you anything? And when she was done, for an hour or so, I sat under a relaxing layer of warm towels, trying to get my limbs to stop trembling. Shifting from side to side to get Toby to ease into the right position for coming out. Trying to breathe deeply through an oxygen mask, which appeared in that panic mode.
All of that effort paid off, and the flow of people began again. But their attitudes were different: confident, calm, competent. A doctor came in, whom I didn’t recognize. He was from the same clinic I’d been attending for the last nine months, but after a half an hour of assessing and stretching my skin, he told the nurse that he was scheduled for an operation. So a shift of doctors occurred, to a doctor I did recognize: she’d covered once for my normal doctor and did a routine checkup. I thought her caring and capable as well.
The shift of nurses also changed, and the new nurse recognized me.
She asked, staring into my eyes, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
In the daze of anesthesia, I said, “I… think so. Let me think.”
And while I thought, she put me into the birthing stirrups, legs up like a frog ready to hop; the epidural made me feel highly cooperative, even more so than I already am. I eventually figured it out, the previous connection between us, after she told me how we were going to work through contractions: deep breath while she counted, then hold it while I push to another set of counts, and then exhale sharply.
After each contraction was something I hadn’t encountered: we all sat around for several minutes, waiting for the next contraction. During one of these waiting periods, in the spirit of trying to figure out how I knew this nurse, I found myself telling her where I was from, where I’d lived, where I went to school. We figured out that she was an RA in the dorms in Cedar City; she was also a women’s group leader for our student-oriented congregation.
One of this nurse’s jobs was to watch the monitor and feel my belly to tell us all when the next contraction was; another one of her jobs was to lift my right leg so my thigh was against my side. I couldn’t do either task because of the epidural; occasionally, I could feel something that could be a contraction, but most of the birth was done to the tune of the nurse’s cues.
It did sound like a tune, occasionally, and Just’In had a job, too, even though he didn’t want one; he lifted my left leg in sync with the nurse on my right leg. He also tapped out the beat of her counts onto my leg, unprompted. I was grateful– after awhile of holding my breath, I couldn’t hear the last of her counts because of the blood rushing in my head. He even included three quick taps at the end to indicate the exhale, since I couldn’t hear her prompt, either.
Just’In was holding my calf and my foot, but he stood with his side to my side, face to my face; he told me from day one that he didn’t want to see any blood, didn’t want to cut the cord, didn’t want to watch the exit. But he still had a part. Which makes me happy.
At the beginning of each contraction, the nurse would say, “Deep-breath-in-and-push: go-go-go.” And the doctor, under a large version of the light dentists use, said, “Big-one, make-this-one-count.” Add counting and tapping and breathing and we were a genuine band, with small talk between each stanza. Sitting around as if we were in a meeting, waiting for someone to show up, or waiting for the movie to start.
So to this tune, the work continued. And while flexing my thighs and pushing in the general area where I was supposed to push, I felt very little. What I did feel was unidentifiable, since I’d never done this before. And somewhere in the middle of it all, a nurse came in with a guy in scrubs like hers, introduced him, and asked if he could watch. He was a nurse-in-training and wanted to do this sort of thing.
The epidural spoke, “Sure, bring anyone you want in. It’s one big party!” His job? He took a few pictures of us when it was all done.
The rest went as portrayed in the movies, except that a bloody, squirming, yowling thing got plopped onto where it used to live, otherwise known as my flattened belly. And there, with my knees still up, in a hospital gown, with lots of strangers in the same room, something happened.
My heart exploded. It was the only way to make room inside me for this very large thing that was before me. The debris from said explosion leaked out through my eyes, and as this new, wee thing was whisked away, and as I was carefully stitched up by a focused and skilled doctor, I asked Just’In for pen and paper.