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.