It was, to quote Fanny Brice, like pushing a grand piano through a transom window.
It was the hottest day of the summer, July 3, 1985, and the hottest night. I spent the day at the pool with my mom and my three year-old daughter. I knew somehow that it would be that night, even without the predictions of my then-sister who predicted that I was going to celebrate the Fourth with my own little firecracker, so I did not have fried chicken or carrot cake for supper, just a little rice. The cat my mother-in-law gave me jumped on my stomach around 9:00 p.m. while we were watching “Terms of Endearment” and that did it. I called Dr. Rosen after I had gone upstairs for a shower because I knew it would be at least 48 hours before I got another one. He said to go to the hospital around 5:00 a.m. Right. I snorted when I hung up the phone. It rang again 15 minutes later.
“I forgot who I was dealing with; go to the hospital now. I’ll meet you there. And thanks for ruining my Fourth of July.”
“Don’t cry to me; you said this wasn’t going to happen for another week!”
I went upstairs to kiss my daughter while my husband loaded up our ugly green station wagon. Of course, it would be the only time she had ever wet the bed. So there I was at 11:00 at night, changing pajamas and sheets, when my mother found me.
“Are you crazy? Why am I here? Go!” She grabbed my daughter and tucked her into my bed; my husband would find them snuggled together the next morning.
We pulled out of the driveway round 11:30, our suburban neighborhood so quiet that I almost heard the lights switch on and the blinds go up at our friend’s house across the street.
“We woke up Kim and Al.” My husband observed.
“I’m going to kill you,” I responded. I had just seen the gas gauge: empty. “You didn’t think to fill the car up on your way home from work? Everything will be closed tomorrow; it’s the Fourth of July!”
“We’ll make it, there’s always some in reserve.”
But gas was now the least of my worries as the first contraction ripped through me. Giving birth hurts like hell. But as soon as they put your newborn baby into your arms, you forget the pain. That’s a good thing or else you would kill that baby that almost killed you and never have another. The human race would have been over almost before it started. You don’t remember the pain until you are in labor again.
The first contraction bitch slaps you into the terrifying realization that you are going to get killed…again. My response was to clamp my knees together, push my feet against the dashboard and pant as we crossed the Twin Bridges. My husband nervously looked over at me, patted my knee and said, almost condescendingly, that it would be all right. It is a testament to the love I felt for him and my survival instinct not to kill the driver of a car speeding along the highway at 60 mph that I did not rip his right arm out of its socket. I am not a placid and uncomplaining woman when I am in labor.
A few moments past midnight, we careened into the ER parking lot at St. Peter’s. My husband, the putz, jumped out of the car, grabbed the overnight bag and headed for the brightly lit entrance. It was then that I noticed the full moon, hanging low in the hazy July night sky. Crazies will be out tonight. And I’m one of them. What was I thinking? I stumbled out of the passenger seat, and holding onto the car, made it to the front bumper before the mother of all contractions hit. I clutched the front fender and summoned the strength to call out the name of the savior I no longer believed in: Jesus H. Christ! It was enough to get my errant husband’s attention; he came back and almost carried me across the parking lot.
We snagged the last wheel chair at the ER entrance. The aging security guard laconically observed that a lot of pregnant women had been coming in that night. “Happens every time there’s a full moon or a holiday,” he said as he held the door for us.
Upstairs, it was a madhouse. I sat on the edge of the bed in one of those ever so attractive hospital gowns while my husband took photos and an innocent intern took my information.
“What makes you think you’re in labor?” My husband, seeing the gleam in my eyes, backed away from the bed.
“Hook me up to the monitor,” I said through gritted teeth.
He started to say something, but then he, too, saw my eyes. “Okay, let’s do that.”
Yeah, I was spiking through the peaks that were hitting about every 90 seconds or so. That was enough for Dr. Teenage Boy to get me set up with an IV and the monitor. Then they looked up the gown and nurses and interns went running. The next voice I heard was Dr. Rosen’s sardonic “I was right. Last one only took four hours. I knew you weren’t going to make it till morning.”
He had given me a lot of drugs during my pregnancy to stave off the effects of allergic bronchitis; I was still convinced my baby was going to born with two heads. His early arrival in my room heightened not relieved my anxiety. I clutched the front of his polo shirt. “Is this baby going to be okay?”
“Yes, everything is fine.”
“You’re here and in my room, not the delivery room” I shot back accusingly.
“You were eight centimeters when they called me. Didn’t they tell you?”
No, they hadn’t. But, Dr. Rosen started yelling at everyone and I was soon whisked into delivery, while he and my husband went off to don scrubs. By the time the nurses had me on the table, the two most important men in my life were back, in matching green cotton pajamas.
No drugs. That is what I had decided for my first baby and, the pain forgotten for over three years, I had not planned on drugs this time either. Until the next contraction hit and didn’t stop. I begged my doctor for general anesthesia or at least morphine. Why is it that doctors laugh at you when you are in agony? His response was to tell my husband to hold my shoulders. Like that was going to help.
“If my legs were not strapped into these damn stirrups, I’d kick that smile right down your throat!”
The next two hours were spent in a tug of war between my son and my doctor. My plans for a peaceful, quiet delivery in a darkened room filled with the soothing strains of Mozart and Bach were completely upset by some mad woman screaming like a banshee to “get the damn thing out!” The labor was unrelenting; there were no lulls and no pauses, only continuous peaks. But, still no baby.
I was pushing so hard that I broke every blood vessel from my knees to my nose, and some in my eyes. Just after two o’clock in the morning, as I was pleading for a C-section, I saw a look pass between my doctor and my husband. A grim look followed by my husband’s hands slipping from the small of my back, to my shoulders, no longer supporting me but holding me down. Before I could snarl at him for the thousandth time, my doctor reached inside me and grasped my son by his shoulders, pulling him free. My eyes crossed as a scream and a baby were ripped from the very depths of me.
“It’s a boy!” The triumphant cry rang out. My husband was hugging me, laughing and crying at the same time. Nurses were bustling around me and I could feel my doctor’s busy hands, finishing up, making some repairs. But I couldn’t see my baby. I could hear the buzz of conversation and no one sounded alarmed but I couldn’t hear my son.
I couldn’t tell if I was shaking from fear or from the O+ factor, but the nurses tucked the blankets tightly around me, chin to ankles, to warm me and secure me. Dr. Rosen bent over me and whispered, “You did great and he is fine. Stop worrying, they’re just cleaning him up.” He squeezed my shoulder and smiled as my husband laid my son on my chest.
“Say hello to Benjamin.” His words were caught in his broad smile and tear-stained cheeks. “Say hello to our son.”
Masses of dark curly hair peeped out from under his little striped cap. Long dark lashes curled wetly on his cheeks. He was beautiful. Our little prince, heir to his father’s name and our mixed heritage. Our little firecracker, our own personal cause for celebration that July 4th and the 27 that followed thereafter. Hurrah!