“Hey, Mom,” Delia yelled from the other room. How many times in the past 17 years had I heard those words? The nurse and my sister said she shocked the hell out of them by crying “aay ma” just after being born, although it would be later that day before she called me mom for the first time.
I waddled into the doctor’s office and looked around for an empty chair that would hold my nine-months-pregnant body. There were two open and the one by the window looked the sturdiest. Unsure, I slowly lowered myself holding the arms until I could feel the fabric brushing my behind. “Ms. Little,” the nurse called. All that work for nothing; now I had to get up.
“How are you feeling?” my doctor asked a bit too cheerfully as she pressed her cold stethoscope against my belly. My inner voice answered, “It takes me an hour to shower and dress, I pee every five minutes, I’ve gained 50 pounds and I haven’t seen my feet in three months. How the hell do you think I feel?” But my actual voice answered, “Great. Just fine.” Coward.
We eased into friendly conversation as she started the examination and I lay back looking forward to seeing my daughter’s latest escapades. Last week she was sucking her thumb. Suddenly, my doctor’s smile vanished and her eyebrows rose and knitted together, “Excuse me for a minute.”
My eyes opened to two sets staring back at me. It’s never a good thing when you have two doctors staring at you. “What’s wrong?” Silence. “Is my baby okay?” Silence.
“We want you to go to the hospital.” Finally my doctor spoke. “We can’t find the baby’s heartbeat, but that could be because she’s already in the birth canal. We think its best you get to the hospital so we can get you hooked up to a monitor.”
It was the middle of January, but my forehead was damp. I took a deep breath and headed up the stairs to my apartment. “Mom,” I cried to the familiar voice on the other end. “They’re sending me to the hospital.”
I guess he drew the short straw because a male doctor met me at the hospital. “Are you comfortable,” he asked. I leaned back against the pillows and pulled the covers up to my neck. I was cold and hot at the same time and shivered in the thin hospital gown they made me put on with the opening in the front. “Let’s take a look,” he said.
I heard the rubber glove snap as he grabbed the covers. I assumed the position, eyes on the ceiling. “Not quite there yet. Any questions?”
“Can I eat?” All that worrying made me hungry. Honestly, I lived in a perpetual state of hunger – which accounted for my enormous girth and anxious cashiers and fellow customers urging me to go ahead of them in the supermarket checkout line.
“I guess so,” he answered.
On cue, my sister-in-law Linda walked in. Forgetting the pleasantries, I blurted out, “Can you get me a turkey sandwich, chips, and a raspberry Snapple?” Without a word, she turned and left. She returned 15 minutes later with a huge turkey sandwich and a 32-ounce raspberry Snapple. I tore off the plastic wrap and dug in; total bliss ensued until, “I’m here to insert your IV,” the nurse said. Are you kidding me – NOW – you have to do this NOW, my inside voice screamed. “Is this really necessary?” I barked.
She ignored me and tied a rubber band around my left arm and started tapping and pushing on my veins. Ten minutes later, I had track marks from my wrist to my elbow. “Hey! You’ve got one more stick and that’s it!” I said, spewing bits of turkey. “This isn’t wildcat drilling for oil!”
She rolled her eyes and went about her business and I went back to my sandwich. No sooner than she left, two very perky female doctors came in, ponytails swinging and rubber gloves at the ready. I headed them off. “My doctor’s already been here,” I firmly stated. I wondered if they roamed the maternity ward searching for fresh meat.
Again, I was alone with my sandwich until… “You’re eating!” my younger sister hissed as she sped into the room. I guess she was pissed not to find me in the throes of labor.
“Mom told me to get down here and be with you. I almost got a ticket.” My baby sister, Lillian, (affectionately nicknamed “Leadfoot Annie” by our father) normally made the 1 1/2-hour trip from Easton, PA to the Jersey Shore on the weekends in 40-45 minutes. I was impressed she’d done it today in rush hour traffic.
Further chastisement was halted when a nurse entered pushing a fetal monitor. “We’re running behind,” she said matter-of-factly. “We have to get you hooked up.” She roughly pulled the sheets down and pushed my gown open exposing my pregnant belly. She squirted on a cold gel and started strategically placing electrodes on my enormous middle. She’d done three when she stopped. “Before I put all of these on do you have to go to the bathroom?” She eyed my 32-ounce Snapple.
“No,” I replied, taking a big swig.
Buzzzzzzzzz. “Yes, what do you need,” a voice crackled in response.
“I have to go to the bathroom and I need help.” My 32-ounce Snapple was now gone and I was ready to bust.
“Didn’t I ask you if you had to go before I put all these on,” the nurse pointed to the electrodes. She helped me swing my legs to the ground and stand up. I grabbed the IV pole as she bent down and unplugged the fetal monitor. Wrapping the monitor cords around my neck, she barked, “Okay. Let’s go.” Clutching the IV pole with one hand and holding my gown closed with the other, I rolled into the bathroom.
I slid down on the toilet and my hand went to the cords wrapped around my neck. Water and electricity didn’t mix and as thoughts of Looney Tunes characters with smoke coming out of their ears floated around my head.
A drop of pee hit the water. Plop, plop. Several more. No smoke. Plop, plop, plop. No twitching so I let her rip. Ahhh. Relief. Just as I was about to flush, a chilling thought paralyzed me. What if all that fluid wasn’t the Snapple? What if I stood up and…?
Unexpectedly, a strong contraction propelled me off the toilet sending the IV pole one way and the monitor another. The racket of me being torn in different directions with cords flying every which way finally caught the nurse’s attention. “You okay in there?” She rushed in and steadied the two machines and helped me over to the sink. Panting loudly, I supported my belly on the sink and let her wash my hands. Finally, I emerged from the bathroom. As she put me back in bed and readjusted the electrodes, the nurse seemed even more peevish; if that was possible.
I squinted to see the clock on the wall in the semi-darkness of the room. I was wet. I must have wet the bed; the peevish nurse would be none too happy. A sharp pain sliced through my body and my teeth chattered. A rushing river was between my legs and I was doing my best to hold it back. Buzzzzzz. “Get the doctor!” I screamed, “My baby’s coming!”
The voice answered me back through the remote, “Oh no honey, you’re fine. I see you right here on the monitor and everything is okay. The doctor is sleeping and I don’t want to wake him unless it’s an emergency.”
Before I could answer, several sharp pains hit, leaving me breathless. I wish I had taken those stupid Lamaze classes, I thought as I panted.
Buzzzzzz. “My baby is COMING!” I screamed, enunciating as best I could. Again the same patronizing voice answered. Defeated, I let the remote slip from my hand and onto my belly. Minutes later, buzz…buzz…buzz. I held the button down. “Get that ***** doctor in here, my baby is coming!” (I normally don’t curse, but enough is enough).
Still reeling from my rant and racked with pain, I became aware of rushing footsteps and then the room lit up. “Oh my God, she’s crowning,” the doctor called over his shoulder. “Why wasn’t I called earlier?” He glared at the nurses.
“I told them to call you,” breathlessly adding my two cents and receiving dirty looks in exchange.
“Get ready,” he instructed. “On the next contraction I want you to push.”
I pushed my back into the bed, raising myself on my elbows to get into position when one of the nurses pushed me down. Talk about holding a grudge. I tried to sit up again, and she pushed me down – AGAIN. Now I might be pregnant, and in labor, but I was no punk. I pointed at her, “Push me again and it’s you and me!”
Everything stopped as they all stared at me. I had no further opportunity to throw down the gauntlet, because another contraction hit and the doctor commanded, “Push!” I did – three times. Relief! Wailing filled the air and someone said, “Would you like to see your new daughter?” I barely had time to count fingers and toes before they whisked her away.
Later that afternoon as I came out of my Demerol haze, a bassinet rolled into my room. Expelled from the nursery, Delia loudly protested her innocence. “She’s the loudest, the dirtiest, and the hungriest,” the nurse alleged.
Two black eyes stared at me from the bassinet. They seemed to be saying, “so you’re the one I’m stuck with.” At that moment it didn’t matter that I changed the diapers of three younger siblings. This was different. Very different. As the black eyes bored into me, I became aware of my appearance. Perhaps she’d feel more confident if my hair wasn’t all over my head.
Slowly rising and walking away, her tiny voice shattered the silence, “aay ma.” I stood perfectly still just like the time four months ago when the first fluttering of life stirred inside of me; wondering and willing it to happen again. It did, and louder this time. “Aay ma. Aay ma,” she cried. I stumbled over to the bassinet and lifted the loosely swaddled bundle to my chest. With tears in my eyes I answered, “Yes, my love. I’m your mommy.”