Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Birthday Story

Birthdays in my family are often celebrated with cake and a retelling of the story of the actual birth. In my case, because of a wrong turn, I was almost born in the parking lot of the YMCA.

My youngest, Ava, had her second birthday today and although she’s too young to understand, I kept up the tradition.

“Congratulations on turning two. You were almost born in the back of a minivan, on a road in Trenton, somewhere between a pizza joint and a liquor store.”

I’m exaggerating.

She was actually almost born at the dermatologist’s office.

It’s very hard to get an appointment with my dermatologist and having contractions seemed no reason to cancel. Besides, I was worried they’d charge me for a missed appointment.

The evening before this fateful day I had spent pacing around the bedroom, pausing only to stand next to my sleeping husband and wonder when, if ever, I should wake him. When morning came, I asked him to put our bags in the car, “just in case” and then proceeded with the day as usual. I’d convinced myself that the contractions would take a hiatus for the workday and return again that night. It was illogical but oddly practical.

I had a lot to do.

First, I needed to tie-up an annoying situation with my health insurance company. They’d rejected a claim for lab work. Nine months of prenatal care does not a pregnant lady make, evidently. I still needed to prove a medical necessity for the tests that were needed guessed it---I was pregnant.

After an hour on the phone with a surprisingly nice agent, taking occasional breaks to “catch my breath,” or “grab a chair,” I told her I had to go. She gave me her fax number and I promised to send some documents later that day, or as soon as I got out of the maternity ward.

It was a bit before 10 am, so I loaded myself into my minivan. Given my condition, this was a multi-step process. My mom was in town, renting a house down the street, and I called to tell her I was probably in labor, but I had to go to the dermatologist and would call her in about an hour.

“Why don’t you swing by and get me,” she said, wisely.

The drive was short and only once or twice did I let go of the steering wheel to yelp. She politely suggested I let her drive.

“No,” I said. “That would just be silly.”

I waddled into the doctor’s office in my prettiest maternity dress and pearls. I’d read somewhere that doctors treat patients better who are dressed well. (And, my dermatologist looks a bit like a balding Tom Hanks.)

I thought reading last year’s Field & Stream or a thumbed-through People Magazine in the waiting room would be calming, but sitting still had become nearly impossible. I ended up squirming and standing, wanting more than anything to seize the coat rack and crack it in two, or perhaps bite it until it splintered.

“Excuse me,” my mother said to the receptionist. “I don’t mean to bother you, but do you think the doctor can see my daughter soon? She’s in labor.”

I’d like to note that this line works very well. I highly recommend for those in a pinch for time and are in fact, about to give birth.

We were next.

It was clear from my dermatologist’s expression that he was more comfortable removing moles and injecting Botox than delivering babies, but he was as professional as ever.

“It’s these skin tabs,” I said, pointing to either side of my eyes. “I’ve been sleeping on my side because I’m pregnant, and I think that’s what caused them.”

Irrational prioritization must be contagious. He promptly removed the skin tags. I think he numbed the area before, but I don’t remember. To be fair, a Seismosaurus could have stepped on my foot and I don’t think I’d have noticed.

“You’re all set,” the receptionist said, as we walked past her desk. The co-pay, clearly, could wait.

Before we left, I called my midwife. It was actually my mother’s idea. I think her exact words were, “For once in your life, Sarah, do something someone else tells you to do.”

“What does it feel like?” my midwife asked when I reached her.

“You know that feeling when they tell you to push?” I said.

“Get to the hospital.”

My mom drove this time and I lay down on the third row of the minivan and called my husband.

We agreed to meet at home and he’d drive us all from there.

Somewhere along the way, between a moan and groan, my mother made a left turn and said she was heading straight to the hospital. My husband could meet us.

I stood, and held onto the backs of the seats.

It was then that I noticed the pizza place on the left side of the road. We’d driven past it a few weeks before when we took our daughter to her Siblings Class at the hospital.

We were going the right direction, at least. My mother had practiced this route on an earlier visit to town and the chaos of the moment had not shaken her memory.

She drove on steadily. “It’s a green light,” she said, speeding through.

“It’s a green light,” she said, again, coasting through a yellow.

We passed a liquor store and I knew we were close.

She pulled up to Triage and opened my door.

I crawled out and limped into the lobby. I think someone put me in a wheel chair and pushed me to the elevator. All I remember was walking myself to the desk at the maternity ward and introducing myself.

“I’m having a baby,” I said, still in my fancy dress and pearls.

I was not screaming. I learned later that if you want the folks in maternity to take you seriously, you really need to scream.

Luckily, I almost collapsed.

I made it to the room with a midwife—not my primary one, but one I’d seen before and liked.

She asked if I wanted to wait for my husband to arrive.

“Hell, no.”

My mom arrived five minutes later with my suitcase.

My husband arrived ten minutes after that.

After another minute or two, so did the baby.

When they put little Ava on my shoulder I felt I did not deserve to hold her. This precious thing had asked to come into the world and I had spent every minute of the day checking off my to-do list.

It was a bit more complicated, of course. I had gone to the hospital twelve hours early for my first daughter, and spent an uncomfortable night hooked up to a monitoring device and tethered to my bed. A jaded nurse had administered her own dose of Pitocin (which induces labor), claiming the doctor had misspoken when he gave her directions. The contractions I felt as a result were not the best to use as benchmarks for my second child—part of the reason I thought I had more time than I did the second time around.

And, there is truth to the fact that I wanted to squeeze every minute out of the time I had before this second child was born. She was making an appearance three weeks, early. I’d only finished the academic year teaching a few days before. I needed time to get things done—especially the things I’d either forget to do, or never find time for, like paying bills and going to my own doctor’s appointments. I didn’t know then that the first three months of baby number two are infinitely easier than the last month of pregnancy while trying to keep up with child number one.

But, most of all, I panicked. Labor is a tidal wave. A woman can have the best company and the best practitioners, but she can’t control the force of nature.

I’ve never been good at letting go of control. My kids have made me better at it. In fact, the three hours before Ava’s birth are probably the last three hours in which I forced my schedule over her own.

Seven months later, when Ava’s little body was covered in eczema, I called my dermatologist.

It was January and the receptionist said his first available appointment was in March.

I’d suspected this. And, my mom told me to play my ace.

It’s not what I’d usually do, but Ava was in bad shape. It had been a long haul with allergists and steroid cream, and no luck.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” I said, thinking of that day in June, “but I’m the one who almost gave birth in the office.”

There was a laugh, and then some small talk. And, then:

“How about tomorrow at one?”

The doctor gave Ava a miracle lotion (Eletone) and her skin cleared in three days. And, my guilt over spending the morning of her birth at the dermatologist’s office has significantly eased.

I wrote this post on Friday, Ava's actual birthday, but am posting it on Sunday, Father's Day. Happy Father's Day to the dads who read this blog, and of course to two very special readers--my husband, Tom, and my own wonderful dad---Dad.
Ava (now two) sitting on her daddy's shoulders....a good place to be.


Sonja Milbourn said...

Few things are more fun to share than...labor and delivery stories, Sarah! I remember my own mother, in the labor room with my husband and me, exclaiming, "My goodness! This feels just like a party!".
The effects of that epidural I'd requested at 4.5 centimeters were working quite nicely.

Tim Morrissey said...

Riveting and entertaining from beginning to end! You are a tremendously gifted story-teller.

Liz said...

What a great story and a great gift to Ava that she will know the story of her birth.

Cathy said...

Great story, Sarah! I have heard parts of the story of Ava's birth but didn't know all of the details. Loved this post!!! And good for your mom for keeping her cool and remembering the way to the hospital.

Fran said...

you've got such a strong support system to safely permit yourself to lose a little of that control that is so hard for all of us to let go of. thank you for another terrific story! happy Birthday Ava!! happy father's day, Dads.

Darla Dixon, Artist said...

I just want to say congratulations for being recognized for your blogging!