So this is what I’ve been up to: giving birth, better known as simultaneously vomiting into a bag and gushing blood and amniotic fluid out of your vagina onto a hospital bed as you lie on your side butt naked in front of your husband and a roomful of strangers.
CHILDBIRTH HURTS. OH MY GOD IT FUCKING HURTS. I HAVE NEVER FELT SUCH PAIN IN MY LIFE AND ANYONE WHO TELLS YOU IT’S “EXTREMELY UNCOMFORTABLE” OR FEELS LIKE “CRAMPY STUFF” (MOM) IS FUCKING LYING. IT’S PAIN. PURE, UNADULTERATED PAIN. PAIN PAIN PAIN. PAIN.
Before giving birth, I confided to SJ that no matter how many birth stories I heard, I told myself, They’re exaggerating. I didn’t really believe it. I didn’t! How bad could it be? I thought. So many people I knew had gone through it, and for the most part they’d lived.
So this is what birth feels like:
- You bite the inside of your cheek. It hurts. A few minutes later, even though you KNOW you’ve bitten your cheek and you should be careful chewing, you bite the same swollen part, and this time it hurts like a bitch and now you’re angry. Then someone walks by and stabs you in the vagina.
- You’ve been waiting hours to buy concert tickets online, keeping three browser windows open and refreshing your screen surreptitiously as you work at your job, and finally it’s your turn. You enter all your information as the timer counts down, but no matter what you do the screen returns an error. First, you have to create a new account, but the password you enter isn’t valid, so you have to change it, twice. Then you can’t enter dashes in your phone number, so you take them out. But since you’ve refreshed your screen, the site has erased your password, so you have to enter it again. Your frustration mounts until finally the timer runs out and the screen boots you out of the shopping cart and you’ve wasted two and a half hours of your life and you still don’t have concert tickets. Then someone walks by and stabs you in the vagina.
- You get pregnant with a stranger. Nine months later, someone stabs you in the vagina again and again until finally, 30 hours after your water breaks and you can no longer open your eyes and it hurts more to scream and you realize you can’t go on withstanding shattering contractions every three minutes for an indeterminate amount of time, you murmur to your doula, as she holds a shower nozzle gushing warm water over your naked body in a darkened hospital bathroom, “I want an epidural. Don’t try to talk me out of it,” and when she tells you how strong you are and tries to help you stick to your birth plan, with its extremely detailed list of demands for the hospital staff so you can have an intervention-free birth, you scream, “I’m not that person!”
I can tell you when it got bad.
Late the previous night, while I was still laboring at home, SJ learned that our doula, our backup doula, and our BACKUP backup doula were all at births. NONE OF THEM WAS AVAILABLE. (Our original doula, a total badass, eventually came to the hospital directly from a previous birth — and then went to one afterward.) I’d been begging SJ to take me to the hospital for two hours, and after encouraging me to continue laboring at home à la my extremely detailed birth plan, he finally contacted the last-minute recruit our doulas had called in.
SJ answered the door to a sweet, quiet, Mediterranean-looking woman wearing earth tones and a lovely scarf. I sat on the edge of the couch in the darkened living room, swaying through another contraction as I turned up the voltage on the TENS unit (a battery-powered device that zaps you through inputs you stick to your back, since that sensation distracts you from the pain — for a while but NOT FOREVER THE WORST PAIN OF YOUR LIFE IS COMING AND NOTHING WILL DISTRACT YOU). The woman sat beside me. When I had another contraction, she rubbed my arm. SJ sat in front of me on the floor and rubbed me, too. Everyone stared at me with an overabundance of present-ness and sympathy.
You’d think it would have made me feel good. But something in me turned, and what I thought was: Why does this situation feel familiar and why do I need it to fucking stop right now.
The woman, a stranger, murmured soft, soothing things. SJ, my partner, looked deep into my eyes and repeated a mantra about puffy white clouds. The contractions, which had hit an intense yet steady rhythm, slowed.
“Do you want some water?” SJ asked. “Should I bring in some incense?”
Ooooooh, I thought. FUCK FUCK FUCK. Strangers in intimate settings. The rubbing. The touching. The intensity. The offers of water, the darkened room, the incense. Little fluffy clouds. No, no, no, no, no!
At first I tried to make a joke about it. Between contractions, I said, “This feels like being in a room full of people doing Ecstasy.”
But joking didn’t help. After a few more contractions, I said, “I’m sorry. I haven’t done drugs in more than ten years [MOSTLY TRUE FOR MOST DRUGS] but this is giving me a bad feeling.”
“Did you have a bad experience?” the doula asked.
“Yep,” I said, thinking, One divorce and one two-year spiral into eating disorders but NBD.
“Let’s make this a good trip then.”
I got up and left the room, walked into the office/nursery/guest room, turned on all the lights, and lay down on the bed. Two contractions came fast and furious, and I moaned through them both. Then I gathered my courage, swallowed my bizarre and apparently ingrained urge to remain polite under the most painful of circumstances, walked back into the living room, and sent the doula home. (She was completely understanding and, in fact, instead of going home went to a friend’s house to wait for us to call.)
An hour later I was gripping the hallway handrail in the Labor and Delivery Department of the Redwood City Kaiser, wearing a hospital gown completely open at the back and feeling amniotic fluid gush down my leg and pool in my right shoe. When the contraction subsided, I opened my eyes to find a nurse kneeling in front of me, wiping blood from the inside of my leg. Much better, I thought.
So here’s the thing: It’s hard to reconnect with a snarky blog, because for me, snark doesn’t exist anymore. The nearly eight-pound human who slid out of my vagina the next day and then immediately calmed on my chest as I bawled my eyes out and repeated what I’d said to him in the womb — “I got you. I got you.” — has zapped up all the cynicism, sarcasm, and snark and left me dangerously incapable of doing nothing but posting baby pictures on social media.
Except life never stops providing material.
After the delivery, SJ and I stayed in a recovery room for two nights. When they wheeled me over there in the bed I delivered in, I hadn’t slept more than 10 minutes at a time for 33 hours. I had a stitch in my vagina and a couple of hemorrhoids. My uterus was cramping constantly, but especially as I breastfed, as it tried to recover from the birth as well as some sort of laceration that had had the midwife scrambling as I dripped blood post-delivery. I’d had a catheter up my urethra for 11 hours. My right leg, which I’d been able to feel partially after the epidural, was completely numb. Also, I was vacillating between crying deliriously and laughing deliriously, gazing at my newborn son and joking with SJ, sobbing and laughing so hard I had to hold my innards with one hand. And until, on the second day, the nurse told us we could hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door, so many people came in and out of the recovery room that I still wasn’t sleeping more than a half hour at a time.
On the morning of the third day, when SJ had gone to fetch the car and I was lying in the bed in a stupor, breastfeeding, the shift supervisor came by to see how my stay had been and to give me exit instructions.
“You can’t walk,” she said, smiling broadly as she stood at the end of the bed. “We wheel you out in a wheelchair, and you have to hold the baby.”
I nodded and stared at her, glassy-eyed, thinking, I’m not allowed to walk and I have to hold the baby because of a potential liability issue for the hospital. But I can barely walk anyway, and you’re booting me out of here. FUCK THE AMERICAN MEDICAL SYSTEM AND THE WAY IT TREATS POSTPARTUM MOMS.
“Oh!” she said suddenly. “I should get you a gift bag.”
“A what?” I said, thinking, Why isn’t SJ here to hear this?
“We have a gift bag we can give you,” she said and ducked out of the room. I lay prone until she returned with a canvas bag with Kaiser’s “Thrive” logo on the outside. She stood awkwardly propping it up at the foot of the bed.
“You can use it for your groceries,” she said. “There’s a bathrobe in there, too.”
I nodded at the bag, exhausted, while she grinned at me. And kept grinning. Slowly, I realized I was supposed to thank her.
“It’s washable,” she said, still smiling. “The bag. You can put it in the washing machine.”
“Thank you for the washable tote bag,” I said. “I guess I’ll be leaving now with my son.”
For this Nicoise-ish salad, you need:
- 1/2 dozen eggs
- 2 Roma tomatoes
- 1/4 lb. green beans
- 1/2 lb. new potatoes
- Olive oil, salt, rosemary, and thyme
- 1/4 pint olives, any kind you like
You need to:
- Hard-boil the eggs, but not too much. I bring the water to a boil, then turn it off, let the eggs sit for about 10 minutes, and then transfer them into an ice-water bath to stop them from cooking. NOTE: Pasture-raised eggs, although ridiculously expensive, are the healthiest and most tasty eggs commercially available.
- Chop the tomatoes.
- Steam the green beans, but not too much.
- Toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, rosemary, and thyme and roast at 400 degrees until you can slide a knife through the largest one, about 40 minutes.
- Put the olives in a ramekin.
- Arrange on a platter like so.
- Eat, motherfucker, because you’re breastfeeding now.