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Upon waking for another round of fetal monitoring around 5 or 6 AM, my husband began reading to me from Eleven On Top, the latest comedy-crime novel by one of my favorite authors. He had purchased the book, per my suggestion, as a little token of his appreciation for the work I’d be doing on our daughter’s inaugural birthday. That day dawned slow and hopeful as the hospital, too, came awake, carrying a chorus of nurse’s voices from the desk across the hall, along with the smell of slightly burnt bread in the toaster.
Exploiting all available forms of media, we took a break from the book to listen to a CD of Lewis Black’s comedy and flip through the television channels as we waited for the arrival of the midwife-on-call. The TV beamed over photos of a second round of bomb attempts, this time undetonated, that were wreaking confusion all over London. All around us, the world turned, but my husband and I watched each other awkwardly in a sterile pink room that stood still.

The fetal monitor, to which they hooked me up once per hour, indicated a low heart rate, but that didn’t come as a surprise. A week earlier, I had been sent by my midwife to the hospital for a non-stress test that showed the same thing. The midwife on duty that day was not concerned, saying that the baby must just have a low baseline by nature. Nobody seemed too concerned now, either; or, if they were, they weren’t letting on. So we waited, and the mood was early-morning quiet and anxiously reserved.

The midwife’s first order of business when she arrived around 8 AM was to approve breakfast. My little feast arrived in the form of gelatinous egg and cheese on a croissant. Chris took out the video camera and recorded for posterity my ruminations on whether or not the greasy slab would actually stay down when the contractions came on. I had every hope for an unmedicated birth, but the reality of the pain and each twisted turn of events was only naïve speculation at that point.

Our “birth plan,” was shot to hell almost the moment the midwife walked in and saw the results of the fetal monitoring for the first time. “This heart rate really has me worried,” she said as she rocked slowly and contemplatively in the wooden chair across from my hospital bed, watching the low line creep across the computer screen. “I think we’re going to have to put you on an IV and give you some oxygen. We’ll see if that helps the baby out. We’re going to have to keep you on the monitor from now on. You’d better put on a hospital gown.”

I looked down at my comfortable black nightgown and mentally crossed “No IV” and “Intermittent fetal monitoring only” off my birth plan. My husband asked if I could just drink a lot of water instead of receiving fluids through the IV, but that, apparently, was not an option. A cumbersome clip was attached to my finger to record my own heart rate as the IV went in and the plastic-y smelling oxygen mask went over my nose and mouth. This, I thought, sucks. The midwife’s internal exam put me at 2 centimeters’ dilation, which is roughly where I had been for the past couple of weeks.

The fluids and oxygen seemed to help as the baby’s heart rate rose from the low hundreds to the 120s. The midwife was encouraged enough to deal another blow to my birth plan. “Since you aren’t really progressing on your own, I think we’ll start you on Pitocin to see if the baby’s heart rate can tolerate contractions,” she said. I sunk deep into the bed to which I was confined by needles, clips and tubes. My husband patted my hand. He knew my first love was the written word so he voiced his sympathy by picking up where he had left off in his reading of Eleven on Top.

The nurse hooked me up to a bag of Pitocin and upped the dosage several times before it had any effect. When the contractions began they came strong and close. The first two were less than five minutes apart. Each contraction was a long tightening with a distinct center that was almost separate from what built up to it and what came after. That center was excruciating but short lived. From the very beginning I wasn’t able to speak through the hard hills indicated on the monitor, cringing at first, then moaning. The contractions felt huge, but the jagged rise and fall looked so small on-screen. I knew it wasn’t going to get better, and I wondered how bad worse would feel.

The tension was in my shoulders and, strangely, in my ankles as I stretched out my legs and flapped my feet up and down as if trying to kick out the strain. I was further aggravated by the finger-clip that kept falling off and the tubes that made any movement more laborious and less rewarding. Despite the impediments, I took the midwife’s advice to shift from one side to the other and then to move to the chair beside the bed. My husband sat in front of me, taking my two hands in his. Occasionally he would massage my head or back, but it was never long till I would grunt my displeasure and he would have to try something different. We were two very talkative people with the sudden inclination to stay silent. The constant beat of the baby’s slow heart filled the room and made my head pound.

I didn’t necessarily want my husband to do or say anything, but I was fierce in my desire to have him there. When he got up to go to the bathroom for what seemed like the millionth time, I was the one who was pissed. “How many freaking times are you going to go to the bathroom?” I demanded. “Would you just stay here?” Though the bathroom was part of the labor room we were confined to, and was only about three feet from my bed, I couldn’t bear to have him behind closed doors. If he had a typically wise-ass response to my irrationality, it was lost in the wave of the next contraction.


Anonymous Roxie Carol said...

Your poor husband must have tried so hard to make you happy. And he must have felt like nothing he did was good enough. You're so lucky to have a guy like that.

11:03 PM  

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