Both of our girls were born in January and as their birthdays approach, it’s a time for me to look back and think about what I was doing almost 2 and 6 years ago, respectively. Our younger daughter’s birth was pretty uneventful. My mind and body knew what to expect and although it was no day at Canyon Ranch, it wasn’t quite the epic, traumatic beat down that the birth of our first daughter was. If there’s one major turning point that transformed me into a “servant” to my girls, it was my first pregnancy and subsequent labor and delivery. The scars, stretch marks, and deflated breasts after childbirth forever branded me as Sarah’s, and later, Katie’s slave for life.
I don’t remember much about my first pregnancy. The nine months were a blur of OB appointments and many, many trips to the bathroom. As a side note, for all of you ladies who let me cut in line so I could pee first, God bless you. I do remember getting bigger and bigger. I remember shoveling food in my face with joyful abandon. And I remember being sober. Very, very sober. Especially through all the holiday parties, which I suffered through buzz free with both pregnancies. Eight months pregnant, and I was surrounded by drunkards (one of which was my own dear husband), trying to pretend that the story they were telling me at midnight was still as funny as when they first told it to me at 7 o’clock. And it probably would have been hysterical if I had been doing keg stands like the rest of the crew instead of guzzling yet another glass of sparkling water with a sad little lime as a garnish. But really, that was about the extent of my pregnancy pain. All in all, my pregnancy was very non-eventful and stress-free.
Heading to the hospital to deliver Katie
On the night of January 20th, 2006, I started to have contractions. Chris was out, and I was at home by myself. I noticed some regular pains in my abdominal area and at first, attributed it to my smorgasbord of sloppy joes, potato chips, kimchee, and jalapenos. But as the pains grew more regular and frequent, I realized I was in labor. We called the doctor who advised us to wait till the contractions were closer together. I tried to distract myself with a shower, reading, and a little television. As the night wore on, I even tried to sleep, which was virtually impossible. My husband snored with the gusto of a high school marching band while I laid next to him, heart racing, counting my contractions. Finally, around 4 in the morning on the 21st, we called the doctor again and were told to come in to the hospital. I quickly made myself a turkey sandwich (in times of crisis, I turn to the sandwich), and off we went.
I had never stayed in a hospital before and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I was not expecting, however, was the bullet-proof glass or having to be buzzed in by the front door security person after showing proof of identification- as if my screams and beach ball sized stomach were not enough of an indication that I needed a doctor STAT! This was not how I imagined my blessed journey into motherhood would begin. At this point though, my contractions were fairly intense so I could have cared less if the Unabomber himself had checked me in. Anything to get closer to the drugs.
Ahhhh, those drugs. To borrow from Martha, they were a good thing. Maybe too much of a good thing since after getting them, I lost any and all feeling to the lower half of my body. This included the ability to move my legs. And they stopped my contractions completely. By 9 am, I found myself hooked up to all manner of monitors, needles, and tubes, but with no baby wanting to leave the comfort of her womb. A little Petocin kick-started things again but it wasn’t till 3pm that I was ready to push.
3pm. It had been almost 12 hours since I had last eaten. I was acutely aware of the fact that my last turkey sandwich had, although satisfying at the time, failed to sustain me after about 8am. If you know me at all, you know that I am an eater. If I miss a meal, I get what my sister-in-law calls, “angry hungry.” I will take you out for a Slim Jim and a gummy bear. And this is when I am NOT in labor. I wanted an uzi every time the nurses offered me a cup of ice chips. And, I should also mention that in the basement of my bullet-proof, heavily guarded urban hospital was a McDonald’s. Yes, a McDonald’s. In a hospital. And we wonder why we have a national healthcare crisis. But that’s neither here nor there. What is relevant is that my loving husband slunk away sometime around 11am (hour 6 without food for his laboring wife) to have lunch at the Golden Arches. He slithered back in, looking as though I had just caught him being serviced by a cheap prostitute, and reeking of Eau de French Fries. Apparently, our marriage vows to be there in good times and bad lasted sometime after the first missed meal but before the second.
So 3pm, starving, partially paralyzed, and ready to birth me a baby. I push and push and push. And push and push and push. My overly successful epidural combined with my small hips and the large head of my baby girl resulted in a virtual stalemate in my uterus. Chris, expecting to be more of a non-participating observer, found himself supporting one of my useless legs and spending the majority of the time averting his eyes.
A mere 3.5 hours later, our baby girl is born. Those first emotions after your baby is laid on your chest are indescribable. There is, of course, overwhelming love. I loved this little bean instantly. She was a tiny elfin version of me and Chris, so helpless and so sweet. Both he and I cried tears as we met our little Alison/Sarah/Samantha (our top three names for the shrimp) for the first time.
After the overwhelming love is a panoply of emotions, all competing for attention. Joy, gratitude, pride, awe, relief, pain, exhaustion, hunger. I wasn’t sure which to address first. Well, yes I was. I promptly requested a PB&J and damn, it was good. I don’t think the realization that we had brought a new life into the world hit me at that point. The panic came later, after we left the confines of the hospital. But for those 48 hours in the hospital, we reveled in our newfound three-ness.
Not that everything was all kittens, rainbows, and ice cream cones. What I knew of childbirth came from the movies and the birthing classes. Yes, I knew there was the possibility of hemorrhoids and I was pretty sure I’d end up having a episiotomy, but these seemed like such intangible concepts like nuclear fission or how Kim Kardashian got famous. Sure, you might yell obscenities at your husband and rant and rave, but afterwards, you are ok, right? So, so wrong.
Right after being admitted and clueless about what the next 14 hours would hold
Where to begin? First there is the sheer exhaustion. I am a sloth when it comes to exercise. My idea of an aerobic workout is speed-walking through the Nordstrom’s Anniversary sale and whipping out my credit card at lightning speed. As this is only an annual event, I remain steadfastly sedentary the other 364 days of the year. I was woefully unprepared for the beating that labor and delivery put my body through. In a society filled with hyperbole, surely we can think of a better term than “labor” for what women have to endure.
Beyond being a bone-tired wreck, my body had also been torn up, sewed up, and puffed up. It was not pretty, folks. Yes, I had hemorrhoids. Yes, I had an episiotomy. But, there was so much more. After three and a half hours of pushing, my poor v-jay-jay was stretched and distorted beyond recognition. The nurses would come in to change my padding and would all gasp and say, “I’m so sorry, hon.” It felt and looked like I had a penis. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this?!? Where was the literature on postpartum ginormous clitoritis?!? I felt I was doomed to live the rest of my life with the Elephant Man living in my pants (for the record, I was not). Would my body ever be normal again?!
I also naively believed that after I had delivered the baby, I would be able to fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes. I even packed a pair of my cute 7 jeans to wear for when I would jauntily skip out of the hospital, swinging my newborn in a baby basket. Imagine my utter despair and misery when I discovered, despite having delivered a 7 and a 1/2 pound baby, I still looked about 8 and a 1/2 months pregnant. And thanks to the super-epidural, I had yet to recover movement in my legs. Finally, add to this lovely train wreck of a sceneario, if you will, a catheter for the majority of my hospital stay. I saw a future doomed with cases of Depends, vats of Preparation H, closets full of maternity wear and granny underwear, and walkers with neon pink tennis balls for flair.
So, obviously, I had some major problems to contend with. When I ask my husband what he remembers about this time, he bitterly recalls the fold out chair he had to sleep on for two nights. Yes, clearly, that was the worst part of the experience. Isn’t perspective an amazing thing?
Despite all of the above, in retrospect, my hospital stay was a blessing. It was a buffer between me and the real world. Here was a place where you had trained professionals looking after you and your newborn. If you needed sleep, they would whisk away your baby so that you could sleep uninterrupted. They showed you how to nurse your baby, how to bathe your baby, how to diaper your baby, and how to swaddle your baby into something not unlike a Chipotle burrito. They brought you meals, helped you shower, and made sure you were regular. And, when you asked them to bring you an inflatable seat cushion ring (which immediately became my new BFF and I lovingly called my “Donut”) because sitting on your bottom was about as comfortable as being perched on a stack of Ginsu knives, they didn’t bat an eyelash. God, I loved Donut. I took Donut home with me and it was my constant companion until it popped a hole and deflated with a sad little whimper about a week later. I was inconsolable.
So yes, physically, I was not in what you would call “peak form.” Mentally and emotionally, I was in a daze. I had spent the nine months prior to January 21st poring over countless baby books, manuals, diagrams, websites, advice columns, and magazines. I consulted doctors, other mothers, my own mother, and one or two random astrology websites, to ascertain what to expect after the birth of our baby. Like the good Asian student I was, I immersed myself in research, study, and late night cram sessions. I familiarized myself with previously foreign subject matter such as harvesting cord blood, Ferberizing, and perhaps one of mankind’s most insidious of inventions, the breast pump. Engrossing myself in all things pregnancy and baby, I felt like I was in control.
I look back on those days and have to laugh at Jane, circa 2005. You poor, poor, naive nincompoop. There is no way to prepare yourself for how radically different your life will be after you have a baby. You can lull yourself into thinking you are prepared, but no, you really are not. Let me say that again, you REALLY are not. Sure, go ahead and buy the Baby Bjorn, the BPA-free baby bottles, and the McLaren stroller. I am not saying that these are not good, reputable products but buy them knowing what they really are: props. It’s like when you’re on an airplane and the safety announcements tell you that in case of an emergency water landing, your seat cushion can act as a flotation device. It’s just not adequate. A 14×14 square of foam is supposed to save you if the gigantic metal tube you are flying in 6 miles above the earth’s surface hurtles nose-down into the Pacific? Who are we kidding? We are all food for sharks and we know it. But yes, let’s just all nod and smile, and pretend that we can save ourselves.