I spent about an hour in hysterics after hanging up with the midwife. I didn’t think I would recover from being told no to the induction. I called and asked to talk directly to my OB and when she called me back she was willing to agree to schedule to have me induced. The big but in the conversation was that I still had to wait two weeks. I was only at 36 weeks and we couldn’t guarantee proper lung development until 38 weeks. I have asthma – properly functioning lungs are a necessity I get – but it wasn’t any easier to wait. I wasn’t going to have to do it alone though. Starting the same day she put me on bed rest and ordered daily visits from a home health nurse.
I don’t even know what the cost of daily home nurse visits were in 1996 but I’m sure it’s much more expensive now. The reason I don’t know what the cost was is because I was lucky enough to have insurance that wasn’t attached to my own job, which was important because I was now out of work. I don’t even remember leaving my job, or talking to anyone about the fact that I was going to be attached to an IV pole in my apartment for the next two weeks. I just know that I was at home, being hydrated through IVs, and crying a lot. Like most women in this country I was planning on working until I delivered. I tried my damnedest to make that the case for me, and there was no notice when the situation changed, which happens a lot with complicated medical situations. There’s only so much you can control.
The day of delivery was much easier than the previous 38 weeks of pregnancy but I was still treated as the young, single mom who didn’t know what she was doing. I was started on Pitocin only after the main nurse did an exam and told me we wouldn’t be having a baby that day. I had no idea what she meant since I was in a labor and delivery room for that exact purpose. Found out that evening from my OB that nurse actually called her and tried to get her to agree to send me home. I wasn’t physically ready to have a baby, she said. Lucky for everyone at the hospital that day, my OB told them not to send me home before she saw me, because they wouldn’t have been able to get me to leave if they’d tried.
A little while after they started the pitocin drip, I started having intense contractions. There was no easing in to it – they were extreme and continuous – and maintained their rhythm throughout the day. And then my water broke only a few hours in, and that was a freaky moment I wasn’t quite prepared for because I was still being treated like what I was expecting was impossible. I called for the nurse and told her my water broke. Her response? “You water isn’t going to break on it’s own, we’re going to have to do that for you. You’ve probably just peed.” and she left. I had to send my ex after her as it continued and soaked the bed and pooled on the floor. I was a grown adult who knew she wasn’t peeing, but even that was ignored. She didn’t even check me. I – the pregnant human – wasn’t smart enough to know what her body was telling her, according to this nurse. Humiliating.
There’s no need to outline the next twelve hours in detail. I felt bad for my ex. His only assignment during the thirty minutes of actual delivery was to hold the bed pan I was throwing up into with every other push. Don’t ask me how I was still puking, but there we were. We had to stop delivery when it was discovered the cord was wrapped around my baby’s neck to the point that he was being strangled by the delivery process. After several minutes of quick work from my OB, we were lucky to be able to get him unstuck. When it was all over I had a healthy, 8 pound 15 ounce baby with ten fingers and ten toes and perfectly developed lungs. He even scored a perfect 10 on his Apgar tests. I was exhausted. Relieved. And starving.
When it was all over and my room was being cleaned up, baby was being cared for, charts were being updated, one of the delivery nurses approached me with the paper ribbon from one of the monitors. “Why did we start your pitocin so high?” she asked me. Me. The twenty year old who had just done delivery for the first time. Me, who barely knew what pitocin was. I had no idea why my pitocin was high, but I can still hear her reiterating the point – They started you really high. Immediate contractions, explained. Water breaking, explained.
After 24 hours me and my newborn were released from the hospital. I had everything but the expensive Merrel hiking sandals I’d splurged on before the delivery date. They were my size, not the size 11 slides I bought at Payless. Their wide velcro straps were adjustable and perfect for my swollen feet, but they were never seen again after that morning. It remains a mystery. One thing that didn’t remain a mystery for long was what my newborn’s delivery expenses were going to be. Considering the number of issues during my pregnancy, delivery was relatively smooth and that was the luckiest thing to happen yet during my 38 week ordeal. His bill was right around $1,000. Granted, it was $1,000 I didn’t have, but I knew it could have been so much more. I was thankful to only be on the hook for a grand.
My pregnancy was a lot to handle. I was told by my OB after the fact that I’m not physically built to have babies, and I believe her. I made it through it because I started with the mindset that this was what I was doing. As my pregnancy got more and more difficult, I was able to convince myself my Wonder Woman strength, and if nothing else my stubbornness, would carry me through. But this only worked because I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted to be a mom. I didn’t set out to get pregnant but once it happened it was my conviction to have a child. My personal choice. No one forced me to go through with it. No one could have forced me.
As we stare down the apparent reversal of Roe v. Wade, it’s hard not to think on my experience. The truth that so many ignore is that my experience is not unique. Pregnancy is a complex medical situation that can have life altering, life ending, complications. It’s also ridiculous to ignore the impact the 9 months has on the rest of your life. Your ability to get up in the morning. Your ability to maintain a work schedule. Your ability to afford the care you need. Not to mention the complicated process of recovering after delivery. Depending on if you have a vaginal birth or c-section, recovery varies. Some women bounce back quite well. Others face medical complications. Many face emotional and hormonal complications by way of Postpartum Depression, which we didn’t even want to talk about in 1996, and we barely want to talk about today.
To talk about pregnancy as a medical condition instead of a miracle ruins the Disney-esque fairy tale we use to describe it to ourselves as a community. People don’t want to talk about it as a medical condition, but pregnancy isn’t nine months of communing with bluebirds in your windowsill with frilly, gender-revealing bows on your belly. It can just as easily be nine months of debilitation and expensive medical bills, regardless of how much effort you put in to getting pregnant. Thinking back as I’ve been putting these together it is the dismissiveness that stands out. The comments strangers were comfortable making because I wasn’t a stranger, or a young woman, I was a pregnancy. I only had to dodge a few belly touchers, but it was impossible to dodge the comments.
“Good god, little girl, when were you due? Yesterday? said a strange guy one day at an ATM. I hoped his day was also ruined when I burst into tears and told him I had 3 months to go, then left without getting my cash. The apartment manager who had an available unit I could afford but told me to my face he did not rent to unwed mothers didn’t have any remorse for his discrimination. I was a single mom after all, and we all know what that means, right? The stigma of being a single mom in this country is intense and maybe for another time, but it came back to me as I was writing, and it’s important to note because for many girls and women it’s an inevitable part of being pregnant.
The numerous times I was judged and mistreated, or worse; ignored, by professionals is not foreign to unwed mothers. The “Adults” who did not see me as one because I was pregnant. The attempts to let me know this was my punishment for the “sin” I’d committed by having sex. That is many pregnancies in this country. Too many. To continue to treat pregnancy as a simple process girls and women should all be comfortable agreeing to, regardless of their readiness, is not only contrary to medical science and sociology, it’s plain cruel. And cruelty to women is just not something I can rationalize, let alone support.
Getting to the third trimester of my pregnancy was trying, but I have to include that normal, happy pregnancy things did sometimes happen. I had a baby shower with friends from high school and friends from work, which meant there was all sorts of cute baby stuff piling up in our shitty little apartment. My mom did her fair share of adding to that pile for her first grandkid. We were batting around name ideas (unnecessarily, because I’d already decided long ago.) and I put diapers on Coke cans. It’s hard to say how things were between my ex and I at this point, because we didn’t actually spend a lot of time together.
I was still struggling to work, trying my hardest to show up every day. He lost two jobs by this time and was looking for a third, but most often he was with friends I didn’t know, hanging out in places I didn’t know. He would usually be gone or leave shortly after I came home from work, and he would come home well into the early morning. There were fights and arguments and tears, but it was what it was at that moment. I turned my focus to trying to figure out what help I could qualify for to cover the upcoming delivery costs the baby would have that wouldn’t be covered by my insurance. Baby Your Baby was running commercials pretty much hourly, and I started there.
I know it’s a trendy to assume that every single mom is living the easy life collecting all the free money that’s out there, but I can tell you straight up that’s not every case. It didn’t matter who I called or what I said, at the time of my pregnancy I couldn’t qualify for any help at all. See, minimum wage in 1996 was $4.75 an hour. I was rolling in dough, making $6 an hour, but my ex at one point was making $10! Granted, it was a very brief point, and it was no longer the case, but it had happened, and that meant he was capable of making that again. So, as far as these agencies were concerned, we didn’t need any help, he just needed to make $10 an hour again. With all the people I spoke to, not once did I feel like there was any concern on the other end. To them I was just another irresponsible single mom dealing with what I deserved. I tried until there was nothing left to try, and then I never tried to get help again.
Getting denied the help I knew I was going to need was devastating, and the stress only added to the stress I was already dealing with. From the looks of it, the only help we were going to get was the sample cans of baby formula my aunt scored for me. I had no idea what my baby’s side of the delivery cost was going to be, but plenty of people were ready to share their nightmare stories of difficult deliveries, preemies, etc. and their $50 doses of Tylenol, and $20 cotton swabs. I knew that I would be required to stay in the hospital for 24 hours, and all we could do was hope that everything during delivery went smoother than pregnancy. If not, those costs were going to be on me.
Visits with my mid-wife continued to stress me out as well. By the time I delivered I’d gained 54 pounds, and that weight gain was a constant issue in my appointments. Eventually, I was so huge and swollen that I just didn’t care anymore what she said. I bought size 11 slide on sandals for my size 8 feet, just to find something that fit. We were dealing with a hot Utah summer, and our apartment had no A/C. I spent my evenings wrapped in a bed sheet, sitting in front of our only room fan, and eating ice chunks. I kept bags of ice in our freezer because drinking water was usually harder to keep down than eating it. Yes, I was still constantly, unexplainably, throwing up. We weren’t doing tests to find out why, though, because they’d already told me to just stop gaining weight.
One day in July, at 36 weeks, things started to feel different. My body had been sending out alarm bells all day, but I was trying to ignore it. To this day, I hate feeling like I’m giving into panic. I hadn’t eaten for at least that day, and even my ice was starting to make me nauseous. By evening, things were feeling scary. And when, after only ice, I started violently throwing up, I knew I needed help. Life didn’t include cell phones at this point, so I called a few friends looking for my ex and when I couldn’t find him, I gave in and called my mom. That night at the ER was so traumatic that I still remember all of it. From the coldness of the nurse who got me set up in the room, to the faded scar on the top of my right hand from her carelessly pulling out my IV. At least it was covered by insurance. If not, who knows if I would have given in.
To most of the nursing staff that night I was a whiny girl whining about being pregnant, and that was made obvious by the way they interacted with me. Mean Nurse #1 was not impressed when I came back from the bathroom without a urine sample. I explained until I was blue that I had been throwing up since the beginning but over the past 24 hours it had gotten worse. I explained I was trying to survive on ice and that was making me throw up. I was throwing up ICE. It made sense to me I couldn’t pee, but she ordered a catheter to get a test. My guess is she was going to prove I was trying to hide drugs, never mind that wasn’t part of my own history.
The catheter was excruciating, and pointless. They couldn’t get anything from my stressed, dehydrated body, just like I told them they wouldn’t. There wasn’t anything to get. I remember telling the ER doc, who was actually nice, that I couldn’t do this anymore and hearing him agree. He was the first medical professional to say I needed to be induced. He told me that night that I needed to talk to my OB because I needed to have this baby before we both died. Yup. That’s where we were. They sent me home and I called my OB first thing. I was in tears, recalling the ER experiences to the midwife. I told her that I needed to be induced and have the baby because something was very, very wrong.
“Oh, no, we’re not going to induce. This is your first pregnancy and sometimes they’re hard, but you don’t want to be induced. You’re not even due yet.”My Midwife
To be continued…
Throughout my first trimester everyone kept telling me that it would get better. They insisted the morning sickness that had turned into all day sickness would ease up. Eventually. At least I was working again. After getting laid off from the call center, I went to work at the carousel at the mall. Sounds easy, right? I thought so too, but once you factored in the pregnancy it was anything but easy. The reality is being on my feet, lifting little kids on and off the carousel horses for eight hours a day was exhausting. When you’re only 5’2″ some of those kids were half my size and I was lifting them all chest high! I knew I needed to find something else.
My lucky job break came by way of my mom. It was another great advantage I was privileged to receive. It was an office job, over minimum wage, and I’d be working with my mom and many other women I already knew. I was related to more than just my mom. She’d even managed to help my ex get a job in a different department of the same company. He was working there before I was, actually. He wasn’t my ex at the time either. There was a reason I used ‘unwed’ in the first segment rather than single. I wasn’t exactly single, but I don’t think anyone thought we were in a relationship that had any hope.
During the second trimester I ballooned in size. That I kept gaining so much didn’t make any sense to me because I was still throwing up every day. Every. Day. I felt like an unwilling bulimic. I wasn’t expecting a lecture when I complained about how sick I was to the midwife at my OB’s office, but that’s what I got. I was gaining too much weight and I needed to stop. I told them about the constant puking, the constant exhaustion, and they put me through some tests. Everything came back normal. I wasn’t dealing with gestational diabetes, so as far as she was concerned, I was just eating too much. She suggested I mix Pedialyte with regular Coke to help with the nausea and, of course, stop gaining weight. That’s all I needed to do, apparently. Stop gaining weight and I wouldn’t feel so sick. Got it. I cried…
After the Pedialyte and Coke prescription, I felt that everything I was doing with this pregnancy was the wrong thing. I was doing what they told me to do and I was still sicker than shit every day. I was going to work, dealing with comments about my size on the regular. “Are they sure you’re not having twins?” one co-worker asked so many times I threatened to push her down the stairs. Not to her face, of course, but I thought it very violently. I was thankful, actually, to be a part of a team of women because I knew I wasn’t really carrying my weight at the workplace. I was missing hours, or days, quite regularly. One fun morning I “went home sick” but spent an hour in the bathroom before I could actually leave the building. I sat on the floor in the handicap stall, waving my hand over my head every few minutes to reactivate the lights that shut themselves off. If it wasn’t for the fact that they all loved my mom, I probably would have lost that job as well, way before I did.
Not being able to perform at work wasn’t an easy pill for me to swallow. I started working at sixteen because I wanted to work. I’d had many different jobs since my sixteenth birthday, and I never wanted to be that team member. I wanted to carry my own and do a good job. Being pregnant prevented me from doing that and that turns into guilt and embarrassment that you stack on top of everything else you have going on. And I had A LOT going on. See, I wasn’t just pregnant and unwed, sick and financially struggling. I was also hiding a drug problem. Not my own, my ex’s.
I tried to hide a lot from my family after I moved out with him. I knew right away that I should have stayed in my parent’s basement, but shortly after the new year he and his friends got evicted from their apartment, so I needed to make sure he had a place to live. I quite naturally fall into the caretaker/fixer role in life, and this relationship brought that out hard. He wasn’t using when we met, and I wasn’t aware there had been a drug problem in his recent past until his friend told me after he realized we were getting serious. I’m pretty sure the stress of trying to live together and the pending parenthood was too much for him. He relapsed shortly after, and I stayed quite firmly in denial.
This isn’t a bash of the ex post. I gave him the option to leave the night that I told him I was pregnant, but he didn’t want to leave at that time. He probably should have because we wouldn’t have moved in together and that was our first big mistake. His employment status became very unreliable, and he left jobs without my knowing more than once, so budgeting was difficult. The financial struggle was crippling and forced me at times to ask for help, which was as hard as being pregnant. But I’m going to stress here the importance of the fact that I had people to ask for help from. It would have been unimaginable to go through what I was going through in the middle of my pregnancy without the help I had. To face it all alone would have been terrifying. I kept a brave face, at least I think I did, but by Easter of 1996 I was so sick, the size of a house, not getting any better, and I was scared.
To be continued…
This is going to be a long one, folks, so get comfortable. Those who know me IRL shouldn’t be too surprised by my need to share. I think I’ve always been a bit of an overshare-er, but there’s a purpose to this story. See, for those that don’t know me IRL, I became an young, unwed mom in the mid 90’s. I graduated high school in June of 1994 and my son was born July 1996. As people argue over a woman’s right to choose, the reality of single motherhood gets brushed away, but that reality is important to understand. It is hard. In the grand scheme of things I had it easy. I am white. I was healthy. I was on my parents insurance although that only covered my own medical costs and wouldn’t cover baby, and my family didn’t shut me out. It was still fucking hard.
Some people supporting the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade say abortion isn’t needed because of adoption, and that whole idea of forced pregnancy makes me fume. A woman without the option to end a pregnancy is impacted by the pregnancy long before there’s a child to care for. Pregnancy is not as seen on TV, at least not for everyone, nor is delivery. The “Glow” people talk about pregnant women having was never worn by me. For some people pregnancy is months of debilitating illness. Some of us even end up on bed rest. Try working attached to an IV pole! Forcing women and girls to be pregnant should not be something one group of politicians can do.
I’ve been pro-choice my whole life, but in the fall of 1995 when I knew I was pregnant I knew I was going to become a mom. It was a decision I made quickly and for myself. And when I say I knew I was pregnant, I mean I knew. I was so sure that I showed up at the hospital to have a blood test. I wasn’t trusting this to a pee stick. When they asked about how late I was, I was honest – I wasn’t. Yet. But I was sure I was about 2 weeks pregnant. I even had dates. They turned me away.
After being turned away I was more determined to get the test, so I came back a few days later and lied. I mean, I was never one of those Every-28-days kind of girls anyway. Twenty eight days. Eleven days. There was no tracking that shit. The bottom line was that I knew I was pregnant and I just needed them to confirm it. They took my blood, assigned me a random number, and told me to call a phone number in a few hours for the test results. At that point I did what any other 19 year old would do; I went to the mall with a friend.
Wandering the mall I tried to come up with a game plan while my friend played her part trying to reassure me I was paranoid and it was going to be negative and everything would be fine. I was going to be fine, but I also knew I was pregnant. We went into a Hallmark store and I spent money I shouldn’t have on a stuffed polar bear there. I was holding that bear in it’s bag to my chest when I stood at the payphone at the mall and made the call. “Your test results are positive.” No shit. That bear became the first gift I ever bought for my son.
I think because I was already so sure that I was, getting the positive pregnancy result wasn’t that big of a shock. I wasn’t going to panic. I got pregnant the second week of November and got my results around Thanksgiving. If I could get through the Christmas holiday, I would tell my parents at the new year and go from there. Plenty of girls went months and months without anyone figuring out they were pregnant and I was sure I could do the same. I was wrong. It became apparent right away that I was not going to have an easy first trimester. My mom called it out one night while we were alone, wrapping Christmas presents together. I told her the same thing I’d told everyone else so far – I’m pregnant and it’s going to be fine.
My OB/GYN started me off right. I was given the injection for my RH factor. I was started on pre-natal vitamins that I couldn’t ever keep down, weighed, and given a due date. August 3rd was my first due date. I might not still remember that but it was my grandmother’s birthday. It also felt so very far away in this miserable pregnancy that I’d started. I panicked after a later visit pushed my due date out to the 9th, and then changed it to August 12th, my uncle’s birthday. I already didn’t think I could make it to August 12th.
I was working an early morning shift for a call center answering questions about at-home hair color, and taking classes at the community college to finish my criminal justice degree. Initially, I thought I could maintain both. I needed to work because I needed money. I also really wanted to finish school. I had plans for the police academy and an eventual detective position. Even though others were already saying that something was going to have to give, I spent a few weeks in denial about this part. I wanted to believe I was responsible enough to do it all.
Problems with my ambitious plan started right away because vomiting started to be an problem right away. The final straw was throwing up all over myself and my car on the freeway on my way to work. I missed work that day and the next. Fun fact: I’m a reactionary puker. Just hearing someone else throw up makes me dry heave. This was torture. Shortly after that I was laid off from my job. I’m sure my struggle mornings and the fact that they also figured out I was pregnant had a lot to do with it.
Now I was pregnant, unwed, and unemployed. After that I withdrew from school. The truth was I was sometimes too exhausted to keep my eyes open, and my “morning sickness” seemed to struggle telling time. It thought of itself more as an all day and all night kind of sickness, so I was having trouble in my morning and my end of day classes. I’d be a liar if I said that choice to quit school and change career plans wasn’t hard, but these were all my choices. Imagine having to go through this, completely unprepared, because people not impacted by your decision made the choice for you.
I was momentarily unemployed, but I was still trying to be positive and move forward. Even though my dad was bristly(we’re fine now, no worries), and I was sure some family members felt sorry for me, I had support. I had a (free) roof over my head without any threat of losing that, my groceries, or my insurance. I had no doubt that I was going to see this through and be a mom, but even at this point it was hard.
And I was only twelve weeks in.
To be continued…