I apologize to anyone offended by this, but I've always found detailed birth plans sort of silly. Oh, I can understand having a certain set of preferences about how one's baby is to come into the world, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who want to make a commitment to, say, laboring without drugs. Or refusing an episiotomy. Or embracing (or declining) any of the numerous variations on childbirth modern medicine has introduced (or made more difficult to access).
But if infertility and a complicated pregnancy and an emergency delivery have taught me nothing else — Jesus, can you imagine the final exam? — they have imbued me with the belief that getting all lathered up about exactly which version of Pachelbel's Canon is playing during active labor is, well, sort of silly.
I've said it here before. My only real birth plan at the moment can be summed up in four words: Live baby, live mother. But as this pregnancy continues, I have begun to indulge in a modicum of "what if"-ing. What if I actually do go into labor at the appropriate time, neither before nor past the baby's extract-by date? What if that labor progresses to its natural culmination, instead of the C-section I more-than-half expect? What if, despite my suspicions that something has to go wrong, nothing actually does?
Here is how that'll all go down.
I am 38 weeks along, and out having dinner with Paul when I feel the first contraction. We explain to the waiter that we can't linger. The restaurant owner hustles over, wreathed in smiles, and comps our meal. He offers to box up the remains of our entrees. I laugh dismissively. "Take your brown rice," I command, "my good man, and shove it." (I have just checked my blood glucose. I am pleased to see that I am metabolizing like a mofo.)
I call my mother, who has fortuitously arrived that very afternoon for a monthlong stay. Charlie has just dropped off to sleep, sinking into his bed with a sigh of contentment, trailing off in mid-sentence as he murmurs, "I love my dad and ma—" She instructs us not to worry, either about Charlie's welfare or the eight loads of clean laundry I've queued up for folding. "Won't take a moment," she tells me merrily. "I'll get to it in a trice, right after I've finished organizing your junk drawer. Now do you like your spare batteries alphabetized according to type or manufacturer's name?"
After checking to make sure the bag I've packed is there — toothbrush, check; comfortable yet flattering yet practical loungewear, check; favorite pre-pregnancy jeans to wear when my figure miraculously returns mere hours after delivery, check — Paul and I get in the car for the drive to the hospital. Strange, I don't remember having had the car's suspension augmented to make it feel as though it glides without friction over the 26 miles between home and hospital. It was probably done by the same unknown angel who repaired the jagged tear in the vinyl of the driver's side armrest, and vacuumed up the crumbs of a numberless warren of Annie's wheat bunnies, and diddled the stereo connections so that the front passenger's side speaker once again emits a signal. I barely have time to marvel over how much better "Eminence Front" sounds before we've arrived.
I am met at the door with a wheelchair, a cold caffeine-free Diet Pepsi, and the director of hospitality, who asks whether I'd prefer a room with a view of the mountains or the lake. He apologizes profusely that there are not enough patients currently in house for me to be assigned a roommate. I forgive him. In gratitude he steers me to a corner room with both mountain and lake views.
My doula, Carol Smillie, arrives. She assures me that if she needs to be called away during my labor — say, to oversee the breathtaking two-day makeover of the ugliest room in my home — her fully qualified associates Charlie Dimmock and Cat Deeley will be readily available to step in. That is, if Charlie's not busy running her chainsaw in the service of my garden, and if Cat can tear herself away from the rippling abs of a pack of attractive twenty-somethings long enough to direct her supportive warmth and attention to mine. (Graham Norton, the fourth member of their team, is unavailable, as he is busy performing critical aeronautical research [YouTube]. Oh, and do you like how I gave myself something called abs?)
I eat something great, high on the glycemic index — I don't know, pad see ew? And lots of it. Hey, pancreas, don't look at me! Doctor's orders. I'll need my energy. But don't worry: I am saving the giant chocolate milkshake for later. (This proves to be a smart move, as the hospital's ice machine subsequently breaks down. The labor nurse apologizes that she cannot offer me the customary tiny paper cup of ice chips, but because of my foresight I'm covered.)
At no time does Paul annoy me in the slightest. But then that is not surprising, as I remain at all times perfectly rational, good humored, and considerate of others. I have heard tell of women who snarl at their partners during labor for daring to offer encouragement. Not me. Nuh-uh. I appreciate and respect your efforts, I tell Paul with a single beatific look. I do not bite him, not even a little, when he ventures a comforting pat.
Labor progresses uneventfully. All signs are promising. Blood pressure, normal. Proteinuria, absent. Platelets, numerous. Liver, making no obvious attempts to leap out of my abdominal cavity into the nearest medical waste bin.
To my surprise, I'm feeling nothing I would describe as pain. Oh, sure, some women might think it hurts to have your entire body seize up in the grip of a spasmodic contraction. But I experience it more as, oh, kind of like a sneeze. That's it, a delicate kitten's sneeze. The pre-pregnancy kind, with no appalling stress incontinence to speak of. A quiet eh-cheuh that enchants all who hear it. Cuuuuuuuute!
My water breaks in a torrent. How lucky that I happen to be standing in the shower at the time, carefully arranging my spa-grade toiletries in orderly ranks!
As Carol makes wordless soothing noises and swabs me dry, a sound from the corner draws our collective attention. It is the promising whissssssh you might associate with opening a jar of vacuum-packed peanuts, but it is coming from a TARDIS that had somehow escaped our collective notice. Amid a billow of unscented opalescent mist, a figure emerges. It is my obstetrician. In contrast to other, lesser doctors, mine has ignored such artificial strictures as on-call schedules, long-planned vacations, and the confines of time and space as we understand them to come, no matter what, to my side in this, my hour of need.
My obstetrician is Prince, circa 1983. You know, the dirty one. The 1999 one, not the Jehovah's Witness one. I am happy to see him, though I do wonder in passing how he manages to get his purple spangled tailcoat sterilized between procedures. Do sequins autoclave?
But no time for pondering, because then we are on in earnest. I don't know how much time elapses — very little, I would assume, since this has all been going so well so far — but with a single glance at my calm but focused face, without ever needing to approach my vagina at all, Dr. Prince can discern that it is almost time for me to push. He positions himself between my chastely draped legs. With a suavely worded compliment for my pedicured toes, he assures me that nothing compares 2 me, that he would die 4 me, that I am not, in fact, much 2 fast, and that this — squawwwwk — is what it sounds like...when dooooves cry. (He pauses here to do that dance from the "Little Red Corvette" video. His agility is amazing. Not for an instant do his Cuban heels skid uncontrolled through the gore of human birth.)
Three pushes later — I could do it in two, but I always find odd numbers more aesthetically pleasing, don't you? — and our son is born. It's kind of amazing how clean and not even remotely slimy he is. He immediately pinkens, carols happily to herald his advent, and, when immediately handed into my care, nestles against my breast with a sigh of satisfaction.
Dr. Prince, having intuitively concluded that there has been no trauma to my pelvic region, again without even a momentary glimpse of my pristine pudendum, says his farewells, prepares to return to his own time, and promises to dedicate his next album to me. Knowing as I do that it will be the seminal pop/funk opus Purple Rain, I ask for the royalties — you know, for the baby. He magnanimously agrees, and slips into his TARDIS. With a smoldering look, a flutter of the collar of his spotless white poet's shirt, and a puff of that same opalescent mist, he is gone. I make a mental note to thank my excellent insurance company for providing his exemplary services, free of charge to subscribers in good standing.
And there is Doula Carol, solicitously handing me my milkshake. Paul holds the sleeping baby while I tidy up, back on my feet, in the shower in record time. A whisper-thin pantiliner will be necessary, of course, to protect my handsome new jammies from the light spotting I will experience for only the next couple of hours. And I don't forget the nursing pads, since my milk has come in well within an hour of birth. With Carol's assistance I arrange myself comfortably in the adjustable hospital bed. (While I was luxuriating in the shower, she has had the foresight to replace the scratchy hospital linens with high-count long-staple cotton, and the hospital foam-rubber pillow with the feather-and-down ones Paul thought to bring from home.)
I check my post-milkshake blood glucose. Normal. My gestational diabetes has vanished immediately upon delivery of the placenta. I knew it all the time, I tell myself smugly, and check to make sure there's a big bag of brown sugar within easy reach of my bed, in case I need a little snack in the night.
Carol takes her leave, promising to stop by our house to spread the good news. Paul hands me the sleeping baby, then prepares to bunk down for the night in a real bed — none of those too-short fold-out armchair death traps in my plan! I snuggle into my plush blanket and my clean sheets, the new snoozing baby tucked safely against my side, and reach for the television remote. Although this hospital offers a full complement of cable networks, and a remote that actually lets you punch in numbers instead of flipping sequentially through every...fucking...channel, it is the fact that they have also provided a TiVo that really makes it a top-flight medical facility. I watch a hair-raising episode of Babies: Special Delivery on the Discovery Health Channel, fast-forwarding through the commercials; whisper, "Suck it, pre-elampsia"; and drift off into a peaceful hours-long sleep.