Published on May 23rd, 2017 | by Emily Kramer1
AND WE HAD IT GOOD: An Accounting
In a slim drawer under my printer I have a collection of unpaid bills. $426.88; $297.29; $2,072.08. All costs related to the birth of my daughter, Olive, last year. Fuck you, I think to myself, when I so much as think about opening the drawer. Two thousand dollars? I should be suing you! Two thousand dollars.
*Call hospital and ask for itemized bill, I write on my to-do list at least once a week, but I never do it.
“I want to sue the hospital,” I tell my friend Abigail in the week following Olive’s birth. Abigail had three kids herself, one at home unassisted. “Ok,” she says, “but you can do that later. Now your job is to love your daughter.” “You know, I had a patient who didn’t sleep for three days after her labor,” said Gloria, my therapist. This did not surprise me. “More people should hold their healthcare providers accountable,” said Andrey, our doula. “Oh those fuckers,” said Jenny on her meal train visit; “they had me pushing for six hours.”
“I think the midwife lied to me about Olive’s heart rate dropping for three minutes,” I tell Andrey when she comes to visit a month later. She just nods and sends me a link to a website with resources for traumatic birth including the #breaktthesilence photo project, a Facebook album of women holding up handwritten signs that read: “I was given an episiotomy and Pitocin without my consent,” and “I was coerced into an unneeded c-section after being told my baby was 13 pounds. 24 hours of starvation. She was 8 pounds,” and “They said it was up to me, but the language they used left me no choice at all. My gut was telling me one thing but when someone tells you ‘you don’t want a dead baby, do you,’ you sacrifice yourself.” That last one sounded familiar.
“They wore you down,” said Gloria.
I tell Andrey that I’ll call the hospital and get my records but I never do.
“Are you ready,” asks the midwife, as she prepares the cervidil insert at the counter with her back to me. “Yes,” I say. “Actually no. I mean, it’s scary when the heart drops, isn’t it?” I ask. “It’s scary when the heart rate drops,” my friend Melissa, who just so happens to be an OB, had said to me when I called her from the admittance room earlier that night; “everyone runs in the room.” But no one had run. The midwife says nothing.
“What did you ask,” asks the nurse? “I was talking to Daniel,” I say. “I’m sorry I snapped,” I say. There’s an industrial white faced clock on the wall and I remember it was 11. Wait till 11:11 I think but I don’t. I don’t remember the midwife talking to me when she inserts the gel because she didn’t. It’s done before my boyfriend can get back into the room from the car. I don’t remember her saying anything before she leaves the room. She never comes back.
I remember every second of that that first night, the fetal monitor blaring in the dark and me in a robe unhooking and rehooking the cords to a fetal monitor every time I had to pee, my boyfriend on the couch in the room. I remember thinking ‘Stockholm Syndrome.’ I remember counting the seconds between contractions and only getting to three. I remember seven hours later kneeling hands and knees on the bed and begging God to get that thing the fuck out of me, not realizing that I could pull the insert out myself. I remember sitting on the toilet to pee and hearing the cotton applicator plop into the toilet like a dirty tampon.
I remember the OB coming in after 12 hours looking pleased. I remember him returning in another 12 looking less so. I remember him offering me a foley balloon and I remember saying no. I remember saying no to everyone and everything for hours and hours and maybe days, until I was crouching in the corner of a room by the entry curtain on a shearling rug we brought from home, while Andrey slept on the couch inside.
“You have to know whether you’re a dolphin, a cat, or an elephant,” said one doula in a prenatal interview, referring to different animal’s preferences to labor in group, one-on-one, or solo, respectively. I remember thinking, “I guess I am a cat.”
“You were a nightmare,” said Aron. If only he knew. Shortly after I kicked him out of the room I asked to remove the fluid IV portal. I spent an hour screaming NO while squatting on a yoga block with my best friend, Allie, behind me. I called for a nurse to check me and when she felt nothing I called for another. I stretched naked in the hallway with one leg swung over a banister. I lay naked on the floor on the bathroom clinging to Andrey. I told them not to tell me numbers.
I made up mantras. “You’ve done this before,” I whispered to myself in an unfamiliar tone; taken over like Sigourney Weaver’s banshee. I tried to channel the ancients, surrounding myself with an imaginary circle of women and a bonfire ceremony. I fixed at the face of Native American chief in my mind, his profile long and stern. I watched the big belly breath of an Aztec mountain move up and down, with the life of a pregnant woman’s womb. I counted the waves.
“I mean, I still ended up in a room with a bunch of people shouting at me to push,” said a friend of her labor. Indeed, I thought, and I remembered giving at the end, on my back, legs up and spread to the sides. Sometimes I think: “everyone saw the birth of my daughter but me,” and I wonder at the sight of her coming out of me, what magic it must have been.
At the side of the room were the instruments. Silver and laid out on a table. Flashy like, out of the corner of my eye. “Go to her Aron,” I said, when the OB insisted she find her first moment warmed by technology instead of heated by her mamma’s belly. Because I had read it in someone else’s story. How she couldn’t be with her daughter right away and sent her husband there like a body double. Then another person from NICU called in the room. “She isn’t crying as loud as we’d like,” he says and not to me. I’m desperately trying to track the voices but I’m still laid back. And then suddenly there’s this warm small thing latching to my breast. Soon after separated and swaddled and passed around. “Let’s just put this bad placenta business behind us,” says the doctor. Then we all roll to the recovery room, me in a wheelchair. It had surprised me that I couldn’t walk.
So many things from after the birth. The dungeon recovery room. My friend, Kristina, with pastries. My little Olive Lou on the rolling lucite bassinet beside me.
So many nurses urging me to nurse. And this small hot thing, slimy like on my chest. Hot because she was so much alive. The whole thing: the induction, the early contractions, the two nights of fighting them off had been unnecessary, but not for naught. “Let’s just get to know each other,” I whisper to Olive. And I make promises: I won’t let them do any tests while you sleep. I won’t let anyone put something in your body without your consent. We will leave as soon as we can.
My daughter’s toes are tucked into my thighs as I write this, one handed, with my thumb, into my phone. She is fine, she is healthy, she is a lady cat. But when she rolls away after nursing and her face is near the pillow, I roll toward her to listen. One two and three counts pass before the next breath and sometimes five but never more. I stopped counting, I think one night, and then the next night I’m back at it. One, two, three, four, five I count and hold mine until she breathes again.