When I went to bed at 1:00 am, I was pretty sure the cramps in my stomach were from an overindulgence of Super Bowl Sunday chips n’ dip. When I woke up at 4:00 am Monday morning, I was pretty sure I was having a baby.
By the time we got to the hospital, I was puking between every contraction. As far as I could remember, spontaneous pain vomiting hadn’t been covered in the two-night crash course my husband and I had taken on giving birth. All I could remember from the course now was the weird Russian guy who sat next to us taking the class with his wife, complaining about how all women complained too much—and that the nurse said that I was supposed to say “Hee Hee Hoo” when the pain got really bad.
“Hee Hee Hoo,” I moaned as I threw up for the eighth time in one of the triage rooms. “Hee hee hoo—epidural,” I said pathetically. It was only 9:00 am. I’d caved in and called for the pain meds pretty damn quick.
The nurse murmured words of encouragement as she searched for a dehydrated vein to hook up my IV. Then she readjusted the fetal monitor on my belly for a moment—then readjusted it again. And then again.
“Everything OK?” my husband asked nervously. The nurse said nothing and walked out of the room.
A few seconds later she returned, followed by no less than 12 doctors, nurses, med students and assorted staff. One of them slapped an oxygen mask on me.
Another fiddled with the monitors. Another spread my legs wide. This didn’t seem entirely normal.
“Is everything OK?” I repeated, expecting to be immediately soothed.
“We’re having trouble finding his heartbeat,” the nurse said in a tone that sounded like she was trying way too hard not to freak me out. “Can you turn over on your hands and knees?”
And so began my first experience with the “mommy strength” instinct. I went from paralyzed “hee hee hooing” on my back to immediately jumping up and flipping over like Nastia Liukin. The drum-and-synth crisis music from “ER” started playing in my head just as a dreamy, young, Noah Wyle-esque doctor’s face popped into my range of vision.
“I’m Dr. St. John,” the face said with a delivery that would have made a great promo cut for February sweeps. “We need to get you into the O.R. right away.”
“Dr. St. John?” my cynical comedian mind thought. It sounded like a fake Hollywood character doctor name. I was totally dreaming. This wasn’t really labor. This was just another one of those labor anxiety dreams I’d been having for weeks. Once I’d dreamt I missed the birth entirely. Another time I’d dreamt I was there for the birth but accidentally squished my baby like a deflated football as soon as I picked him up. Another time I dreamt I’d given birth in the middle of the woods and immediately lost my baby in the trees. This was just one of those dreams, I told myself.
Once I was in the actual operating room and “Dr. St. John’s” arm was inside me up to his elbow, however, I was pretty sure it was for real.
“Am I having a c-section?” I asked. “Is this a c-section?”
But it wasn’t. It was just a scare. My baby’s heart rate normalized, and the staff asked me what music I’d like to listen to while “Dr. St. John” did some electrical work on my hoo-ha, attaching a fetal monitoring wire to the top of my unborn baby’s head to keep closer track of his heart rate.
“David Bowie, please,” I said, politely.
“Heroes” flooded the room.
It had been a pretty terrifying moment, but my baby’s diva fit bumped us up in line and scored us a spot in one of the big fancy labor rooms right away on what was apparently a very busy morning at UCLA Hospital. I also learned that the stress from the O.R. visit had caused my baby to poop meconium all over my placenta, so I mentally congratulated myself for being too cheap to shell out the $300 bucks to have a hippie entrepreneur come to the hospital and collect it and turn it into placenta pills. Even hippie entrepreneurs agreed you just shouldn’t eat a pooped on placenta.
I got my epidural around 11 am and for the next five hours of my life I felt like I could have won a hip-hop dance competition while simultaneously negotiating peace in the Middle East. After 39 weeks of abstaining from all substances (OK, that’s a lie, I had a glass of wine on Thanksgiving and Christmas) the epidural drugs had me jammin’ like a Studio 54 junkie on her first night off the wagon.
At 4:00 pm, I started sweating and shaking like Ewan MacGregor in his “Trainspotting” withdrawal sequence. The doctors announced I had likely contracted Corioamnionitis—a bacterial infection that meant both me and the Baby Peanut would have to be on antibiotics for days after birth.
Then finally, at 5:30, it was time to push. The first hour of trying to squeeze out my 8.5 pounder honestly wasn’t all that bad—sort of like trying to push out a stubborn poop. The second hour was the most painful thing I’ve ever gone through in my life—including that time I got rejected for a part in a commercial where I was asked to twerk in the downward dog yoga position.
“It’s OK if you need to scream horrible things at me,” my sweet husband repeated throughout the process. But I didn’t. I’d been cursing like a sailor and barking orders at him for pretty much the entire pregnancy (fine—our entire marriage), but suddenly, in the face of excruciating physical pain, I became downright cordial.
“Hee hee hoo,” I sang sweetly. “Hee hee hoo….”
I fantasized about floating on my back in the ocean off the coast of Mexico, reciting the Buddhist loving kindness meditation as thunder clouds gathered in the sky.
“May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be free from suffering. May I be hee hee…May I be hoo…May I be free from hee hee hoo…”
I kept my eyes closed for most of that last hour, trying to focus. Whenever I popped an eye open to glance at my husband, he gave me a look that said: “I’ll totally cook dinner for you for the rest of our lives cause what’s going on ‘down there’ is NUTS.”
Two nurses helped me pull my legs back up over my head as I pushed while a doctor, a midwife and a medical student observed my vagina with the attention I’d grown to deeply crave as a failed Hollywood actress. Sometimes when I pushed they looked disappointed. Sometimes when I pushed they looked impressed. Then I reached the point of no return—that profoundly unpleasant 10-15 minute window when my baby’s head was half hanging out of me but I was still supposed to “relax” and save my energy between contractions.
“Holy SHIT,” I heard my husband exclaim after a particularly painful push.
The pressure eased up a lot.
“Push again!” said the midwife.
And then he was out—a tiny, wet, mushy little person in the world.
I reached down for him crying: “Johnny! Johnny! I love you!” I was sure I was crushing him as I dragged him towards me and plopped him down on my belly.
It was the best night ever—even better than the previous evening’s potato chip and onion dip binge. And if you know me, you know that’s really saying something. I really love onion dip.