Neither my husband nor I wanted to learn the sex of our baby before it was born. He wanted something to be “surprised” about, and I have never liked to know the ending of a story until I get to it. That said, my husband has 12 siblings, only two of them girls. His brothers are pretty light on the x-chromosomes too, so I knew the odds were slim for me to have a girl.
Here’s where we were wrong. For my husband’s concerns about monotony, it turns out babies are less predictable than you’d think. For instance, held at the right angle, a two month old can actually project poop up to two feet. Also for beings who can’t crawl they can roll off a bed pretty quickly. For me, the self-styled brilliant geneticist, the surprise came in a pink hat.
My doctor decided to induce labor one morning when the fetal heartbeat had slowed. We scooted to the hospital, watched them strap belts on my belly and, just as the nurse was preparing to administer the Pitocin, looked on in perplexity as the fetal monitors started bleeping.
You just had a contraction,” the nurse said.
“Did you induce me already?” I asked.
“No,” the nurse paused, looking confused. Then she shrugged and pressed the plunger, sending a dose of lemony liquid into my I.V.
Well, OK. I thought, preparing for the Big Pain, the sweaty swearing session where I got to call my husband bad names for doing this to me. A couple of hours later I was practicing Lamaze breaths to overcome a mild menstrual cramp. I read six chapters of a novel and gazed out the window at the East River. Occasionally someone would come in and tell me to breathe more so my baby’s heartbeat would speed up, but for the most part it was an uneventful afternoon. Then my husband mentioned he’d like to go see a movie while I waited.
“You’re joking me, right?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said unconvincingly.
At 2:00 pm the nurse said if I wanted she could bring in the anesthesiologist for an epidural.
“Definitely!” I said, with the anticipation, if not the actual experience of bone prying pain. A short time later a teenager with a big needle helped me role onto my left side so he could poke me in the spine.
“Breathe, breathe,” said the nurse, and soon the amplified heartbeat kicked it up a notch.
They rolled my body back onto the pillows and asked if the epidural was working.
“Well,” I said, “The pain is dull now except this one spot.”
“Hmm,” said the boy with the big needle. “That sounds like a hot spot’. We’d better give you another dose. Sometimes parts of your body can block the medicine.”
I was still not in the sweaty pain stage, but recalling Meryl Streep crying and swearing at Jack Nicholson in Heartburn, I wasn’t taking any chances.
“Yes! More, more!” I said, until they had given me three doses of epidural. Still, the hot spot remained until a new anesthesiologist arrived and rolled me onto my right side. I could feel the drug drip into the right side of my body; soon my whole lower half was numb. The contractions came in muffled like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “Mwa-mwa mwaaa, mwa mwaa mwa mwaa.” I hadn’t seen my pubic bone in four months and now I couldn’t feel it either.
The obstetrician came in, strapped on her gloves and got into position at my feet.
“Good, good,” she said, taking measure. “You’re going to be ready to push soon.”
Ah, I thought. This is it.
“Just wait till I tell you and push as hard as you can.”
“OK,” I said bravely. “Should I get the squatting bar now?”
“I don’t think you need that just yet,” she said.
A bit disappointed, I brought my knees up and prepared to bear down.
“OK,” she said, “Now!”
I pushed almost as hard as I could, mindful of my sister’s bloodshot eyeballs after the delivery of her second child. It was like screaming in a dream. I knew my muscles were doing something but felt nothing.
Three more of those, and the baby was born. I’ve survived more difficult kickboxing classes.
The doctor held up a startlingly long baby with a cap of curly black hair. She said something that neither my husband nor I registered.
“Wait, what?” My husband said, peering over my knees at the baby.
“It’s a girl!” said the doctor.
“Hey, I said. “Let’s do that again!”
About five hours later the drugs wore off.
“Son of B*ch!” I cried, hobbling to the bathroom.
“MotherFFFF” I squealed, as my baby gnawed her way through her first nursing session.
My husband came into the hospital room the next morning as I was panting my Lamaze breaths.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Hee-hee-hee-hee heeeeeee. Who-who-who-who whoooo”, I said. “You’d better stand back.”