“Hey Mom,” Delia yells from the other room. How many times in the past 18 years have I heard those words? The nurse and my sister said she shocked the hell out of them by calling for me just after being born; although it would be a few hours later that day before I heard it, and she called me mom for the first time.
I waddle into the doctor’s office and look around for an empty chair that will hold my 9-month pregnant body. There are two open and the one by the window looks the sturdiest. Unsure, I slowly lower myself holding the arms of the chair until I can feel the fabric brushing my behind.
“Ms. Little,” the nurse calls. All that work for nothing; now I have to get up.
“How are you feeling,” my doctor is a bit too cheerful while pressing her cold stethoscope against my belly.
My inside voice answers, “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 outside voice answers, “Great. Just fine.” Coward. We ease into friendly conversation as she starts the examination. I lay back eagerly looking forward to seeing my daughter’s latest escapades via the ultrasound machine. Last week I got to see her sucking her thumb.
Suddenly, my doctor’s smile vanishes, and her eyebrows rise and knit together, “excuse me for a minute.”
My eyes open from a silent prayer to two sets staring at me. It’s never a good thing when you have two doctors staring at you. “What’s wrong?” Silence. “Is my baby ok?” Silence.
“We want you to go to the hospital,” finally my doctor speaks. “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’s the middle of January but my forehead is damp. I take a deep breath and head up the stairs to my apartment. “Mom,” I cry to the familiar voice on the other end. “They’re sending me to the hospital.”
“Harold,” she yells my father’s name into my ear.
Hot tears stream down my face. “There might be something wrong with the baby,” I blurt out.
“What?” she screams into the receiver.
Shut up, I want to scream. Shut up and listen. But, I don’t. I just sit here like an idiot crying. “I have to go mom. I have to get to the hospital.”
“You can’t drive yourself.”
“Well how else am I going to get there?”
“I don’t know; can’t you call someone. Linda, call Linda.”
“Linda’s working mom. I’ll be ok. I just have to get there.”
I had to get out of there. Holding the railing and my suitcase for dear life, I edged my way down the stairs.
I guess he drew the short straw because the male doctor from the practice meets me at the hospital. “Are you comfortable,” he asks.
I lean back against the pillows and pull the sheet and two blankets up to my neck. I’m cold and hot at the same time. I hate having to wear the thin hospital gown they made me put on with the opening in the front.
“Let’s take a look,” I hear the rubber gloves snap. I assume the position, eyes on the ceiling. “Not quite there yet. Any questions?”
“Can I eat?” All this worrying’s made me hungry. Honestly, I live in a perpetual state of hunger; which accounts for my enormous girth and the anxious cashiers and fellow customers urging me to go ahead of them in the supermarket checkout line.
“I guess so,” he answers.
On cue, my sister-in-law Linda walks in. Forgetting the pleasantries, I blurt out, “Can you get me a turkey sandwich, chips and a raspberry Snapple.” Without a word, she turns and leaves. She returns fifteen minutes later with a huge turkey sandwich and a 32-ounce raspberry Snapple. I tear off the plastic wrap and dig in.
Total bliss ensues until, “I’m here to insert your IV.”
Are you kidding me – NOW – you have to do this NOW my inside voice screams? “Is this really necessary?” I bark.
She ignores me and ties a rubber band around my left arm and starts tapping and pushing on my veins. Ten minutes later, I have track marks from my wrist to my elbow.
“Hey! You’ve got one more stick and that’s it! I spit, spewing bits of turkey. “This isn’t wildcat drilling for oil!”
She rolls her eyes and goes about coaxing the IV below my palm and I go back to my sandwich. No sooner than she leaves, two female doctors with perky blond ponytails bobbing in unison come in, rubber gloves at the ready. “My doctor’s already been here,” I firmly state before they can get their perky greeting out. They nod and dejectedly walk out of the room. I wonder if they roam the maternity ward searching for fresh meat.
Again, I’m alone with my sandwich until, “You’re eating!” my sister hisses as she slides into the room. I guess she’s 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 makes the 1 1/2-hour trip from Easton, PA to the Jersey Shore on the weekends in 40-45 minutes. I’m impressed she’s done it today in rush hour traffic.
A nurse pushing a fetal monitor into the room halts further chastisement. “We’re running behind,” she says matter-of-factly. “We have to get you hooked up.” She roughly pulls the sheets down and push my gown open exposing my pregnant belly. First, she squirts a cold gel on me and then starts strategically placing electrodes on my enormous middle. She’s done three when she stops.
“Before I put all of these on do you have to go to the bathroom?” My eyes follow hers to my 32 ounce Snapple.
“No,” I reply taking a big swig.
Buzzzzzzzzz. “Yes, what do you need,” a voice crackles in response.
“I have to go to the bathroom and I need help.” My 32 ounce Snapple is gone and I’m ready to bust.
“Didn’t I ask you if you had to go before I put all these on,” the nurse points at the electrodes. She helps me swing my legs to the ground and stand up. I grab the IV pole as she bends down and unplugs the fetal monitor.
Wrapping the monitor cords around my neck she barks, “Ok. Let’s go.”
Clutching the IV pole with one hand and attempting to hold my gown closed with the other, I roll into the bathroom.
I slide down onto the toilet and my hand caresses the cords wrapped around my neck. Water and electricity don’t mix; and as thoughts of Looney Tunes characters with smoke coming out of their ears float around my head, a drop of pee hits the water. Plop, plop.
No smoke. Plop, plop, plop. No twitching so I let her rip. Ahhh! Relief.
Just as I’m about to flush, a chilling thought paralyzes me. What if all that fluid isn’t the Snapple? What if I stand up and…? Unexpectedly, a strong contraction propels 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 catches the nurse’s attention. “You ok in there?”
Finally she rushes in and steadies the two machines and helps me over to the sink. Panting loudly, I support my belly on the edge of the sink and let her wash my hands.
As the nurse settles me back into bed and readjusts the electrodes, she seems even more pissed; if that is possible.
6:00. I squint to see the clock on the wall in the semi-darkness of the room. I’m wet. I must have wet the bed; the peevish nurse will be none too happy. A sharp pain slices through my body; jolting me so badly my teeth chatter. I’m doing my best to hold back the rushing river between my legs.
Buzzzzzz. “Get the doctor!” I scream. “My baby’s coming!”
A composed female voice replies, “Oh no honey, you’re fine. I see you right here on the monitor and everything is ok. The doctor is sleeping and I don’t want to wake him unless it’s an emergency.”
Before I could respond, several sharp pains hit leaving me breathless. Panting heavily, I wish I’d taken those stupid Lamaze classes.
Buzzzzzz. “My baby is C-O-M-I-N-G!” I scream, enunciating each syllable of the word.
Again, the same patronizing voice responds. Defeated, I let the remote slip from my hand and onto my belly.
Several seconds later, another contraction hits. I scramble for the remote and hold 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’m aware of rushing footsteps and the room lights up.
“Oh my God, she’s crowning,” the doctor calls over his shoulder. “Why wasn’t I called earlier?”
“I told them to call you.” That’ll teach you to patronize me.
“Get ready,” he commands. “On the next contraction, I want you to push.”
push my back into the bed, raising myself on my elbows to get into position when one of the nurses pushes me down. Talk about holding a grudge. I try to sit up again, and she pushes me down – AGAIN. Now I might be pregnant, and in labor, but I’m no punk. I point at her, “push me again and it’s you and me!”
They all stop momentarily and stare open-mouthed at me. I have no further opportunity to throw down the gauntlet, because another contraction hits and the doctor orders,
I did. Three times. Relief!
Wailing fills the air and someone says, “Would you like to see your new daughter?”
I barely have time to count fingers and toes before they whisk her away.
Later that afternoon as I come out of my Demerol haze, a bassinet rolls into my room. Expelled from the nursery, Delia loudly protests her innocence.
“She’s the loudest, the dirtiest and the hungriest,” the nurse alleges.
Two black eyes stare at me from the bassinet. They seem to be saying, “so you’re the one I’m stuck with.”
At that moment, it doesn’t matter that I changed the diapers of three younger siblings.
This is different. Very different. As the black eyes bore into me, I become aware of my appearance. Perhaps she’d feel more confident if my hair wasn’t all over my head. Slowly rising and walking towards the bathroom, her tiny voice shatters the silence, “aay ma.”
I stand perfectly still, remembering the time 5 months ago when the first fluttering of life stirred inside of me. I wonder if it will happen again. It did and louder this time.
“Aay ma. Aay ma,” she yelps.
I stumble over to the bassinet and lift the loosely swaddled bundle to my chest. With tears in my eyes I answer, “Yes, my love. I’m your mommy.”