“Nurse! Hand me the scalpel, please, it’s 9:00 and my dinner is waiting!”
Nurse hands scalpel to doctor, and my first live birth, my first son, Aaron, comes screaming out into the ice-cold delivery room air.
“Nothing wrong with the lungs on that one!” the doc declares, as he rises from his chair, gloved hands dripping blood, a streak on his cheek marring his perfect-doctor look. He says nothing more, just leaves.
I ask the nurses to please leave the vernix — that waxy, whitish substance many babies are covered with at birth — but they have already cleaned off half of it. I request that they smear what’s left over onto the clean parts — it’s well known to be just like lotion, softening the skin. They will not.
Swaddled tightly, he is handed to me to see if he will latch onto my swollen breast. They give him five seconds. Thankfully, one thing in this night of errors goes right. He latches beautifully. My never-exposed-to-babies breast starts to object after a few minutes — it hurts!
“You’ll get used to it, dear,” older nurse fake-consoles. It feels like he’s ripping the skin off my nipple. The slightest touch feels like a stab to the core of my engorged breast.
We lived on a hill top out in the foothills of the Trinity Mountains in northern California. To get there, it was a 26-mile rough ride on dirt logging roads. Thankfully the county kept it pretty well-maintained, or it would have been a wreck of ruts and potholes, made worse by the daily logging truck runs.
The road down the hill to our place, however, was another matter, especially on this day, after a 3-foot snowfall.
I had awoken at dawn, my belly yanking itself this way and that — I knew this was The Day.
I was so tired. No one had ever told me hauling around a huge ball of baby and fluids in one’s belly for weeks on end could tire you out so much. Extreme edema only made it worse. I could barely sit in a chair with such tightly swollen legs and ankles.
The pulling and yanking in my belly was becoming constant. Twice in the week before, I’d had full days of Braxton-Hicks — false labor — but something was different about it this time.
I had desperately wanted a home birth. But something told me no. T insisted on going to the hospital.
It had snowed heavily all night. Thick, fat, wet snowflakes, the kind that don’t melt off by noon. I knew if I was to get there, I’d better get going now.
T helped me get dressed and ready, in full-on snow gear and stuffed-to-the-gills baby bag.
Our track out to the logging road was a couple miles long.
The traction moving forward in our 1946 flatbed Chevy truck was non-existent in any weather other than full sun. When it looked like snow or rain, T walked up the hill to our halfway-out parking spot, and turned it facing downhill so he could back it out. I know — strange. But such things are regular occurrences when you’re young with no money to speak of, even to fix such fundamental things.
We slogged up the hill, T going first to make knee-deep tracks in the fresh snow that I could follow in.
My huge, heavy belly and bulky baby bag slowed me down. I felt the yanks get more insistent. I fell further and further behind. My vision narrowed. I focused on keeping my breath even. I knew if I panicked I could end up birthing this kid right there in the snow.
T finally came and grabbed the bag, guided me the rest of the way to the door of the truck, helped me climb from ground to truck-step to high seat, and off we went.
Backwards. Up the hill. Around sharp curves. Pushing snow that got deeper and deeper the higher in elevation we got. Getting out to shovel. For a mile. Looking back, I can hardly believe he managed that drive. It was a masterful feat.
The main road, even as late in the day as it was, had not been plowed. A snail could have moved faster than our crawl through the thick snow. Drift after drift hid sharp drop offs and treacherous ditches along the side.
26 miles felt like 26 months. We had no heat in the truck. We were frozen stiff by the time we reached the hospital.
We must have looked like scruffy refugees from the far north — nurses and admin people would barely talk to us.
At last we were admitted. I was heaving three minutes apart by now. They put me in a little pre-delivery room, and asked if I wanted a pain killer.
I said no thanks.
They insisted I get it anyway. I was too weak to object, and T didn’t raise any fuss. My flimsy hospital gown was rudely pulled aside, my bare butt exposed, needle inserted before I could yell no, no no!
I started crying. I’d so wanted a natural birth! No drugs, no episiotomy!
Well, never mind the no-drugs. They gave me Demerol. It did nothing at all for the pain — I’m sure nothing short of putting you out would make it so you can’t feel the agony of nature’s own process. It shunted my mind over to the side, so it was like watching my life go by in a crooked mirror. Horrible.
I cried more.
They wanted to shoot me up with some calmer-downer, but I told them I’d sue them to hell and back if they did.
When contractions were under one minute apart, they transferred me to the delivery room. I know it’s to keep bacteria from forming in great huge amounts, but the cold in that room was far worse than my feet had felt trudging up the hill through the snow.
They wanted to tie my hands down. Again, I objected, promising not to rend and tear anything apart in the process of delivering this kid.
It was quick! The doc came in, saw I was not quite ready, and demanded the scalpel. Made a huge cut, blood everywhere. Out popped baby; cut sewn up; off the doc went to his late dinner.
So much for a natural birth.
But look what I got! The most beautiful, wide-eyed son you could imagine. Head full of deep black hair. Red, scowly face looking just like my father. The next moment looking just like T. The next, me. He went through transition after transition over the next couple of weeks, until he settled on his own handsome face.
Hard to believe he’s now in his fifties, with two lovely girls of his own!
Despite the pain, the snow, the trudge, the callous treatment, it was well worth it.
text and image © Angela Treat Lyon 2023