It was supposed to be natural. I’d gone with my husband to childbirth education classes, learning to pant for relieving pains. The pregnancy was uneventful–I was twenty-eight years old and in good health, I walked to classes, ate well, gained only about 12 pounds. Today more would be recommended but then, in the 1970s, my doctor applauded me.
Suddenly as I sat in bed one evening after my husband had gone to sleep, working on my last paper for my last course in my Ph.D. program, it occurred to me to take a shower. It was probably 10:30 p.m. I was 41 weeks pregnant. It was a warm, clear October night.
As soon as I was dried off and returned to bed, lying in as comfortable a position as possible, I felt a huge wave of pain. This is it, I thought, if I was even capable of thought. The pain was all-encompassing, imperative. Someone was pounding at the door.
Waking my husband, I urged him to help me dress and grab the bag already packed. He had to help me down the flight of stairs and out to the car. Luckily the University of Minnesota hospital was only about seven blocks away. In the elevator up to the right floor, I felt as if I was one column of contractions. Will I even be able to stand up, I must have said, because he recommended I slump down.
After that, it’s a blur. I was fully dialated–cervix open, eyes not. The contractions were coming maybe a minute apart. All the natural childbirth “panting” lay like a deflated garment beside the gurney. They were wheeling me to the delivery room. But wait! The doctor had been at home, in bed, five miles distant. Did I care? Coherent thought was impossible. I was squeezing my husband’s hand so tight he later showed me the deep indentations still visible above his wedding ring. I can almost hear my screams.
Some kind of medication slowed me down and dulled the pain. How long it took until the doctor arrived, I have no idea. Maybe 20 minutes. I remember a white-masked face suddenly appearing above me and the words, “You can push now.” My daughter was born just after midnight. Six pounds nine ounces, APGAR (if that’s the right abbreviation) score, 9. Ten is perfect.
That night she was born, October 5, summer ended. When we left, five days later, it was cool, wet autumn. Welcome to your home state, daughter.
I stayed in the hospital five days, unheard of today, when young parents are sent out to the world, supposedly ready to cope in 24 hours. I would have hated that. All my oomph had gone into delivery. Afterwards, I was limp, shaky and very tired. Since it was the University of Minnesota hospital, in the days before it merged with Fairview, my doctor attended me trailing a string of medical students and residents. They stood just beyond clear vision, a semi-circle of white-robed savants, stroking their chins and murmuring. All male!
The nurses got me through. All that pushing? They dealt with the hemorrhoids, the difficult first feedings. They ushered in my occasional visitors. I had no family in town. My parents, my husband’s father lived on the east coast along with aunts, uncles, cousins. Only the North Dakota relatives lived closer by, and they waited until I came home to arrive with treats, flowers, good wishes. At the hospital I was very grateful for the few friends from our little town-house complex who came to sit by my bed. I was very much still in bed.
Then, contemplating returning home, I urged my mother to visit from South Carolina. It was unprecedented. We were rarely easy with each other until she became an old woman
and allowed me close, needing the warmth of companionship and help organizing and directing her bevy of home-health-care providers.
But for the week after I left the hospital with my daughter, my mother was a godsent. Miraculously, she did not attempt to take over–her deference to my husband, “the doctor,”
no doubt helped. She kept very busy, doing all the household chores, scrubbing the bottoms of my Revere-ware pots to shiny copper. And occasionally she held the baby. I have an adorable photo of them perched on the piano stool, my mother with a fanciful scarf tied around her neck bends over the baby, that little lozenge of hungry flesh. They are for one short moment, a perfect pair.
Now, looking back, I realize that I probably duplicated her own first delivery–me–except for one important particular: she and my father had to drive to Pittsburgh from Wheeling, West Virginia where he’d found a job. It was wartime. Their “midnight ride” became the stuff of family legend. If I’d had to make such a trek, my daughter would have been born in the car. I thank heaven we avoided that. As it was, she might have entered the world in an elevator.