Number One

The first time you do something, you don’t have hindsight. You can read every book you can find on the subject and research and study. Or you can talk to others who have done it and ask about their experiences but in the end, you just have to do it. And only then do you know if you can do it.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was both ecstatic and terrified. Most women turn to their mother for guidance but mine had died many years before. So I turned to books for answers. I also asked my sisters and some female friends who had given birth and I quickly learned that everyone has their own journey and they have plenty of advice to give and horror stories to share. I was determined to do it according to the book because that’s who I am.

My pregnancy went well. In fact, I felt better and healthier and happier than I had many years prior. I glowed, inside and out. I am not a tall person, so as the baby grew so did my girth. By the time I was eight months along, my co-workers were concerned I was going to have the baby in the office. I assured them that wouldn’t happen but they weren’t as confident as I was.

I had planned on working right up until the moment of my first contraction but about three weeks before my due date I started getting overly tired. My doctor was concerned that I would go into labor and be too tired to deliver the baby. I hadn’t even thought of that! So I started working half days and that helped. Then my manager (a mother herself) suggested that maybe it was time for me to go on leave. I was making everyone too nervous. So we agreed my last day in the office would be Friday, September 13, even though my due date wasn’t for another week. When that final work day came, I was ready to be done. But the project I was working on still needed a couple more days of work so we agreed I would work two days at home, turning in the last of the work on Wednesday morning. And that’s exactly what I did.

When I stepped into the office to deliver my finished work on Wednesday, September 18, 1985, people were happy to see me but eager to get me out of there before anything happened. Everyone wanted to know how I was feeling. It was a sticky, humid, muggy day and I was miserable being out and about. I felt tired and I was frustrated with a kink in my back that had been pestering me since the night before when I had gone to a meeting and had sat on a very uncomfortable metal chair for a few hours. I knew nothing about back labor, but my coworkers knew all about it. Once I said I had a kink in my back, they practically pushed me out the door.

My husband usually worked the second shift but that day he had to go in earlier for a meeting so when I got back home, there was no one there. I was exhausted, so I laid down to rest. I was watching TV but didn’t fall asleep. At 2:30, the first pain came. I had experienced a lot of false labor so I didn’t get too excited, but I couldn’t overlook the fact that this pain was different from any of the others. This was my first baby and everyone had insisted that I would be in labor for a long time, probably eight hours or more. So I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and since this was my first, I had no experience (or hindsight) to tell me to hurry along. Fifteen minutes later the pains were intense and paced at five minutes apart. I remember thinking things were going a little faster than I had expected but because of all the false labor I just wasn’t convinced. By 3:00 the contractions were even stronger and three minutes apart. With the consistency, I decided this was the real thing and I called my husband at work. We agreed I would call the clinic to see if I should come in and get checked.

It was Wednesday, my doctor’s day off, so they scheduled me for a 4:00 appointment with another doctor. I called my husband back and gave him the news. He wouldn’t be able to make his commute back home in time to get me to the appointment, so we decided I would call a family friend for a ride. I did and he said he’d pick me up in fifteen minutes. There were several things I wanted to do but it took me all of that time just to get clothes on. I had to stop every time a contraction hit. But I did finally get dressed and our friend arrived and off we went.

The family friend was so nervous. He was driving super fast and I had to tell him to slow down a couple of times because he was making me nervous. When we got to the clinic, the doctor examined me and said I was indeed in labor but I wasn’t dilated very much so it was going to be a while. He suggested I might want to go home and spend a few hours there before being admitted to the hospital, but I didn’t want to do that since I would be home alone. I called my husband again to tell him it was the real deal. He left work and our family friend said he’d stay with me until my husband arrived.

By 4:30 I was prepped and in bed with a fetal monitor wrapped around my belly. The nurse said that even though I was having contractions I wasn’t progressing much and would probably be sent home when my husband arrived. I was so disappointed. At 4:45 my husband walked into my hospital room just as I felt warm liquid between my legs. I thought my water had broke but I had only lost the mucus plug. The nurse said that was progression and they would not be sending me home after all but she insisted it would be several hours of labor before the baby would arrive. I felt nauseous and I felt a little bit of panic. I had been so tired the last few days. Would I have the stamina to go through many hours of labor and deliver this baby?

Around 5:00 the nurse came in and told me she had called my doctor to let him know I was being admitted. He was headed to a church dinner and said he’d come by later when that was over, to check on me. He agreed with the nurse that it would be several hours, so he figured he’d come by about 10:00 and would be around to deliver the baby.

Since everyone was telling me that I was going to be in labor for several hours, I told myself I needed to relax and focus on my breathing exercises. I kept thinking I would need to pace myself since the labor would last most of the night. Basically I had three different breathing techniques and I wanted to stay with the first one for as long as I could, saving the other two for the really bad stuff to come. Contractions stayed steady at two minutes apart and they would last about a minute each. By 7:15 I felt the urge to push. The nurse checked me and again told me I still had a very long way to go. Fifteen minutes later I had to go to the bathroom. My husband and I argued about it. He didn’t want me to get out of the bed. The nurse came in and said it wouldn’t be a problem at all and helped me get to the toilet. As I sat there, I was overcome with an urge to push. I had to groan to keep from pushing and the sound that came out of my mouth was unlike any sound I had ever heard before. The nurse literally pulled me off the toilet and she and my husband carried me back to the bed. She wanted to check to see what was going on and took one look and said, “Oh my God!” and ran out of the room. I had no idea what her panic was all about, but I found out later that the bag of waters had not broken and so the baby was inside it and my body was pushing all of that. The bag was black in color, so the nurse must have seen a frightening sight.

So I was back in the bed and the nurse had run out of the room. I didn’t have time to think or react to being abandoned because the mother of all contractions slammed into me. I had no choice but to move onto my second breathing technique and even that was ugly. I truly was terrified that I wouldn’t endure a full night of labor, especially when another contraction came right on top of the other one. And then another one of those animal-sounding groans came out of my mouth and another doctor, who was a couple doors down checking on one of his patients, heard it and came running. He knew exactly what that sound was and he came into the room yelling at nurses to break down the bed and get ready to deliver a baby. Not a single one of the nurses was ready.

At that point everything became a blur. Relief swept through to my soul that I was not going to have to endure that kind of pain for several more hours. Nurses worked in a flurry getting the doctor what he needed. My husband was curious and he wanted to see the baby being born, but instead he saw the black amniotic sac stuck to the baby’s head as it was coming through the birthing canal. The doctor slit open the amniotic sac and a ton of fluids gushed out and the baby was sucked up into the bag. A baby’s head gets misshapen as it comes through the canal, so all my husband saw was a black lizard head. I couldn’t see anything, but I could see my husband’s expression and it wasn’t good. And my panic went up ten notches when he quickly moved away from watching the baby being born and came and stood right by my shoulders. Then the doctor was yelling at me to not push. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but then someone said the doctor needed to get the cord free of the baby’s neck, so I did everything I could (which wasn’t much since nature was in control) to stop pushing. And then my first baby, a daughter, was born, at 8:11 p.m.

In the end it wasn’t anything like what I had prepared for and nothing like what I had read in the books. It was a birth none of us would forget. According to the nurse, I dilated from zero to ten in a span of fifteen minutes, something she had never known was possible. From start to finish my labor and delivery lasted less than six hours. We were the talk of everyone in the hospital, including other mothers who hadn’t been so fortunate and who had endured several hours of labor. My doctor arrived about a half hour or so after the baby was born and examined us both, declaring my baby perfect. He had had no idea my labor would go that fast and he told me then that if I had any more children I should expect the labors to be quick. Little did he know…

Later that evening my husband left to go celebrate and spread the good news, so it was just my precious daughter and me. She was wide awake, studying me as I held her, so I began a conversation. I told her of our home and her dad and a little about me. I promised her I would do my best to give her what she needed. And I talked about my hopes and dreams for her, and why I wanted to bring her into this world. I remember the moment clearly. And I get to cherish that memory forever.

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Number Four

September 12, 1993. I was the mother to three children (the oldest was one week shy of eight years old), with another baby expected any day. All girls. My husband worked the overnight shift, which caused the majority of parenting responsibilities to fall on me. A normal day saw him getting home from work about five in the morning, so he slept until about one in the afternoon. By then my day was half over and the younger kids were down for naps. Supper was always at six, and my husband headed back to work at seven-thirty. By that time each day I was exhausted. I’d put the kids to bed and go to bed myself. This day had been like all the others before it.

Asleep in my bed, something wakes me up about one-thirty in the morning. I roll over and watch my cat pacing back and forth across the foot of my bed. This is odd. Still getting the sleep out of my brain, I start to ask myself why the cat is doing that and before I can finish the thought I have the answer. I’m in labor. Except I have no pains. There are no signs of imminent birth. I’m just fine. But Millie Cat and I have a history. I know her and she knows me. If she says I’m in labor, I’m not going to stick around to argue the point.

With my husband at work, I pick up the phone and call my sister who lives five minutes away. She asks me how far apart my contractions are. I tell her I don’t have any yet, but to just trust me. (She hates cats and I wasn’t going to tell her the cat is telling me to go to the hospital.) I get out of bed and get dressed, choosing clothes carefully since I know I’ll be taking them off in a bit. About ten minutes later I’m at the front door with my bag, waiting for my sister to arrive. My first contraction hits. It’s not awful, but it has strength and endurance. Silently it’s telling me our time is limited.

My sister’s husband pulls the car up the small hill in our front yard and parks it right outside our front door. My sister’s teenage son comes in the house (he’s the sitter for my three sleeping children), wishes me luck, and I head out. My sister grabs my bag and her husband helps me into the back seat of the car. Immediately I lay down on my left side.

And we’re off. On a normal night it’s a twenty-minute drive to the hospital. My sister asks about my contractions. I tell her they’re regular and strong. She completely understands the silence between my words and knows we cannot waste any time. Laying down, I have no idea what the night is like. So I’m frustrated and unnerved when my sister tells me we’re going to make a stop at the fire hall. Her husband is a volunteer firefighter and he wants to have a radio in the car with us. I don’t understand and want to argue but a contraction slams me into silence. My sister hears my groan, and tells me it’s a super foggy night and we need the radio. I won’t argue.

The stop at the fire hall lasts only a minute or so, but I can hear the ticking of my belly bomb and anxiety sets in. Another contraction slams hard and I’m afraid we aren’t going to make it in time. With my brother-in-law back in the car, we take off again, but at a slower speed than I want. My brain is in full labor fog now and my sister explains the intensity of the fog in the air. I want to shout out to hurry, go faster, but instead I take control of my breathing as another contraction slams me. I barely catch my breath and another one comes.

I hear my brother-in-law call on the radio, informing the sheriff’s department of who he’s bringing to the hospital. It’s a small community. This isn’t my first rodeo and they all know me by name. Police on night patrol position their cars at intersections so that we have clear passage when we come through. Still laying down, I have no sense of where we are and how much longer we’re going to be. I grow impatient with worry that we won’t make it in time. My sister reads my mind, and tells me it’s really hard to tell where we are because of the dense fog. I know the route we’re driving and I tell myself I cannot allow myself any fear about the wildlife that shares the road in the night. We reach a place where there is a farm house and barn right next to the road with a strong flood light. My sister has her bearings now and she tells me where we are. I can picture it in my mind’s eye and my worry becomes real. Contractions are less than two minutes apart now and we have another eight minutes or more to get to the hospital.

I force myself to get into my zone and I focus solely on my breathing. My sister tries to talk to me but I do not answer. I cannot. As we approach the city, more landmarks expose themselves amidst the fog and my sister offers encouragement. The police radio squawks updates of our progress on our journey as different officers report our passing by. My sister tells me the hospital has a gurney in the emergency bay waiting for us. Laying on the seat I begin to see city lights and I get my bearings. We are so close. I can do this!

Our car squeals to a stop in the emergency room bay and both doors to the back seat are thrown open. Good fortune in that very moment puts me between contractions, so I pour myself out of the car and climb aboard the waiting gurney, with no time to spare as another contraction slams into me. A nurse at my head and another at my feet start running, pushing the gurney at break-neck speed through the hospital corridors, and I hang on as best I can as we maneuver around corners, all while working through an intense contraction. The gurney comes to a stop outside the birthing room, and again good fortune gives my belly a pause.

I jump off the gurney and peel off my clothes, uncaring about any witnesses. I climb aboard the birthing bed completely aware that another contraction is coming and I’m not disappointed. A nurse I’ve never met stands at the foot of the bed, patiently waiting for the contraction to end. When it does she tells me that she needs to check me before I can push. Not a chance, I tell her. The contractions have just changed and now nature is taking over and there is no holding back. She begins to argue with me just as a pushing contraction takes hold. I focus on my breathing, trying desperately not to push, and I hear my doctor come in the room. He tells the nurse that there’s no need to check me. If I say I’m ready to push, I’m ready. Relief floods my mind and body. One push and the baby is born. The record shows she came into the world five minutes after our car pulled into the emergency entrance bay, forty minutes after Millie Cat woke me, on Monday, September 13, 1993, at 2:10 in the morning.

My fourth daughter. Healthy. Beautiful. Precious. Still is, twenty-four years later.