My whole life my mother assured me that childbirth was nothing like it is in the movies. Women didn’t really scream bloody murder as they are giving birth. That was all Hollywood drama. I was raised believing that it was a beautiful miracle, and not at all like those scenes of people screaming like their insides were being torn apart. I’ve been there. It’s just like the movies.
My high school friend Priscilla and I moved in together and had a good thing going for a while. We were pushing 40 but that didn’t stop us from being the kind of fun girls who stored multiple bottles of vodka in the freezer and didn’t own a wine-rack (because it wasn’t sticking around that long.) We kept ourselves amused with salsa dance classes, underground restaurants with no signs, and hanging out at rooftop bars in Venice Beach. We were the kind of Los Angelinos who went wine tasting in Malibu and then hit up a burlesque dance class just to prove we could. And a year later, here I was in the delivery room, holding her hand as she pushed a little human being out into the world.
At 4am I left our apartment in my pajamas and headed to the hospital where Priscilla had been for a week, trying to keep her premature little girl in the oven. Miss Valentina had her own plan; a sinister plan that involved 20 hours of torturing her Aunty Jo . . . I mean mother. Thankfully the Starbucks across the street knows that they serve the hospital community and I was able to procure supplies at 4:30am. Somewhere around labor hour 18, Priscilla was clinging to the side of the bed cursing like a sailor so I found the cute anesthesiologist in the hallway. He was surprised that the 12 hours of epidural and half hourly doses of narcotics weren’t doing their job. I suggested that he should not overestimate her pain tolerance. He came into the delivery room and looked at his little charts while the patient gave him her best death stare, breathing “who who heeeeee, who who heeeee.” The conversation lagged so I broke the silence by announcing that I’m never having sex again. I meant it.
After 20 hours of labor and quite a few doses of narcotics, Priscilla decided that all of this (meaning the watermelon descending through her vagina) would stop if she could just block the Pitocin drip. Pitocin is a drug they give to women who have been screaming in pain for 20 hours to make the labor progress. Stopping it at this point was not an option but that didn’t deter Priscilla from clawing at the tubes like a crazy person and trying to pinch them shut. My tolerance also reached an all-time low.
And then all of a sudden it was time. When you register at a hospital they ask you to write out your birth plan so that the nurses know what you want. My birth plan was, “Stay away from the business end.” I was doing quite well, holding her hand and gently dabbing her forehead with a cold wash cloth. Then our nice, sweet nurses who had been patient with Priscilla’s low pain tolerance disappeared and the Labor Nazi arrived. We had been in the hospital for a week trying to delay this premature birth and we had met some lovely nurses that Priscilla really liked. However, when it was go-time a woman we had never met marched in and said, “Alright Priscilla, we can do this your way, or we can do it mine and have this over in 10 minutes.” After a whole day of horrible labor, we both hated her instantly and that was all the motivation Priscilla needed. She focused that death stare on the new enemy and pushed like her life depended on it. These people knew what they were doing.
Things were not moving fast enough so Priscilla said to me, “Can you see her?” I hesitated for a moment. Running a reconnaissance mission to the business end was not in the birth plan. But I got over myself and peeked at the little mass of black hair that was arriving. Then the Nazi Nurse positioned a pair of scissors to “make room” for the baby and I immediately scurried back to my post at the safe end. I never ever want to see anything like that ever again.
A few minutes later there was a little, pink thing screaming her lungs out, which was music to our ears. The Intensive Care unit was rushed in to clear out her lungs, which created 20 minutes of drama we didn’t need, but by 1am, little Valentina was cuddling with her Mom, and Aunty Jo was ready to pass out.
In retrospect, it was probably the best thing a single, childless woman facing menopause could experience. I can honestly say that it is nothing I ever want to experience for myself. It was the longest 20 hours of my life and none of it was happening to me. The moment that little girl appeared was a magical moment that made me cry. I don’t deny watching a life coming into this world is an amazing thing. But I also have the memories of her mother losing her mind and having her vagina stitched back together. But there is a little human asleep in a bassinet on the floor and I’m excited to see where this life is going to take us.