In the car, I noticed that it was a beautiful warm day as we crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge, blue sky, warm for January. The Hudson stretched out for miles and miles. And then I’d have a contraction and I could focus on nothing but the pain. I kept telling Kevin I just wanted the drugs. Though it felt to me like something very extreme was happening to my body, I still feared that I would get to the hospital, they would tell me I was a whiny little baby—that what I’d been experiencing since 1am was nothing, little mini cramps. “You thought that was real labor? Wow. Just you wait.”
I waddled into the hospital, grossly pregnant, water dripping down my legs. Kevin and I approached the security guard.
“I’m here for-”
“Floor six,” he said, after taking one look at me.
I recognized one of the nurses at the desk.
“I took a class with you,” I said. This was the nurse who’d told our class about the wussy woman who made a huge scene when she was in early labor.
“Oh really?” she said.
“Excuse me,” I said and squatted on the floor to have a contraction.
It took a little while to get setup in the room. The nurse asked me questions about my medical history, hooked up an IV, took some blood samples and encouraged me when I had a contraction.
When she finally checked me out down there, she seemed perplexed.
“Huh,” she said. “That’s strange. Just hold tight, I’m going to get a second opinion.”
“Yup,” the second nurse said. “You were right. She’s fully dilated. She’s ready to push.”
I’d gone through the whole labor at home with no medication. Apparently, they thought I seemed too calm to be that far along. I let a wave of relief wash over me once I realized that the pain I’d been feeling was the real deal, not just the beginning stages.
Pushing was the hard part, the last six miles of the marathon. I lay on my back on the hospital bed, my legs up, spread open, knees bent, feet pressed against a metal bar, and with every push I squeezed and yanked at a sheet that was tied to the bar.
I remember little snippets of what was happening around me, the nurses telling me to grunt when I pushed, Kevin feeding me ice chips and apple juice through a straw and wiping the sweat off my forehead, everyone cheering, “C’mon Sara, you can do it Sara, push now, don’t hold back!” But all of the noise and commotion was in the background. I was present for my pain, possibly the most present I’ve ever been in my own body.
I closed my eyes, breathed and tried to muster up the courage to push when I felt a contraction coming on. My throat hurt from screaming. My arms were sore from yanking the cloth. My body ached, burned and shook. The breaks between each contraction were bitter sweet. I could rest for just a beat, but the anticipation of the next oncoming surge was awful. I did not want to have to push anymore, I just wanted to release, take a little nap and let the contraction wash over me. It didn’t work like that. The contractions were so intense now, so sharp and so immediate that it actually felt better to push.
I pleaded to the nurses, to the baby and to the heavens, “Please, get this baby out!”
The nurses set up a mirror so I could see everything. “Look, there’s her hair!” they said. “Look down and see your baby! She’s almost out.” I didn’t want to look. Honestly, it was a war zone down there, and they’d been telling me I was almost there for the last two hours.
“Is she going to come out soon?” I said to the nurses, defeated. “Can’t you just pull her out?”
“It’s up to you,” one of the nurses said. “Only you can do it. You have to give it everything you have.”
I wanted to punch her. “I know,” I said. “I am giving it everything. I’m trying really, really hard.”
The truth was that there was still more I could give and I knew it even though I didn’t want to admit it.
“It’s either you the doctor,” my midwife said, meaning I had to push her out soon or else the doctor would step in for a C-section.
I had worked at it for nearly three hours. I thought it would never end; this baby’s head would be stuck there forever. Until the end of time, I would be pushing out a baby like Sisyphus who was doomed to haul a boulder up a hill for all eternity.
Eventually, my midwife decided that I needed Pitocin to speed things up and make the contractions longer. They never got to sixty seconds and so I only had time to push two or three times. She wanted me to get a fourth push out of each contraction. She also told me to wait to push until she gave me the go-ahead. I was starting too soon and missing the peak.
At some point, I knew that the end was near which gave me an adrenaline rush. Everyone was yelling louder. “Push, push, push, Sara, you’re almost there, she’s coming, she’s almost there, give it everything, c’mon, good job, push!”
I took in deep inhalations and went to town.
Out she came all 9lbs 9 ounces of her. The pain and effort were over. They laid her on my chest while Kevin cut the cord. I didn’t cry. I reached out my arms and thought, “Just hand me my baby. Just give her to me.”
I didn’t know until later that Kevin had looked on terrified as they pulled her out of me, blue, her cord wrapped her neck. He watched as they uncoiled her and handed her to me. He said the color flushed back into her little body as soon as her skin touched mine. My midwife also told me later that she’d tied a knot in her cord – she must flipped around in there early on – and her spine was against my spine, making this a posterior labor which is apparently very painful, hence the pain in my low back. All of this, along with her large size, were risk factors. “Is she named for anyone?” my midwife asked. I told her Nora’s middle name was for my grandmother, Rosalyn, my father’s mother. “Well, she was watching over Nora today,” she said. “You were very lucky.”
Nora stopped crying when I held her. She was perfect, everything about her, her big strong lungs, her blue eyes, her button nose, her cone shaped head (which eventually rounded out, thank goodness), her imperfect ear. She nuzzled into me. Her body was warm against mine. I nursed her for the first time, although nothing came out, but I felt this was natural. Here she is. She is my daughter.