It’s like those wind tunnel-money games that you see at fairs and such where people try to snatch at the twenties and ones whirling past them in a vortex. The moment they grab for one of the flying greenbacks, it’s halfway around the tube on the other side. Words can be like that, when life is whirling all crazy-like. Have you seen someone try to cheat by forming a dam with their arm against the side to corral the cash? Here’s my attempt to corral the words that have been flying right past me and around me this week.
I awoke the day after Christmas with mild contractions; they soundlessly tightened and coiled and released and barely registered discomfort. They were unremarkable in and of themselves, except for their regularity. I puttered about the house, putting away the Christmas chaos, washing diapers, and all the while my abdomen went through these silent waves of tightness and release.
We alerted Dustin’s mother that “this may be it” and dropped the children off at her cozy home. Then we ran some errands and decided that we should have a date before the baby came, and settled into a booth at our favorite Mexican place. What says “help labor along” like really good spicy guacamole? And Mexican Coke?
The Contraction Nazi, also known as my dearest Dustin, kept a lap timer running and if I didn’t have a contraction within five minutes of the last one, he shot me a disapproving glance. We had a lot of laughs over our guacamole. I felt too pain-free to go to the hospital to be checked, so we headed to a local park to walk and see if they’d get stronger. Ah, the hilarity of being fully ripe. We phoned the midwife and asked what we should do. It’s never a clear-cut answer; I’ve had labors 10 hours long and labors three hours long. She said we had an open invitation to come in, so we did, but felt foolish walking in there without some verifiable, legit pain-wincing in my face. “You’re too happy to be in here”, laughed a nurse, but when they checked me and I was five centimeters dilated, they took me a little more seriously.
Off to walk the halls. Still no pain and contractions that stretched to eight minutes apart at times. We really didn’t want to do the walk of shame; back out the lobby, still pregnant, dragging an unopened suitcase, sheepishly going home. I prayed, I prayed for God’s mercy and for pain. They checked me again and I was at six centimeters, though the baby was high up. They admitted us and I was so relieved. There is something about going to the delivery room and seeing that little heated bassinet just waiting there in the corner that makes everything seem right and ready.
The contractions became much more business-like. The kind you breathe through and make you smile tight and have just an edge of pain to them. Circumstances in other deliveries made using the jacuzzi tub not an option, but this time I gladly could make use of it. I lowered my body into the swirling water and instantly relaxed.
I am a fish. The last one out of the pool, the ocean, the river, you name it. I even like washing dishes because of the way water feels slipping over my hands, the way it sounds dripping and splashing. The cool of it or the warmth of it. I take a soak in our bath nearly daily. I breathed deep; so very much at home. I wouldn’t leave that warm tub for two and a half hours!
Floating there, the hum of the jacuzzi, the jets pushing against my back, my legs, my shoulders, I was suspended, at peace, even as the contractions became more pain than pressure, somehow it seemed that the water carried it with me. I was not marooned out in the open air on a hospital bed. I was cocooned, held in a warm embrace. Cushioned. The hours passed easily, until just the end.
A groan was pulled out of me. The water couldn’t carry all of this. My heart knew fear as the pain took my breath away. I arched my back out of the water, I looked at my husband with fear in my eyes. Things were changing and the pain had suddenly entered my cocoon with a ragged edge. My water broke and the pain knifed deeper.
It’s a panic-filled feeling, being at the mercy of unrelenting sharp pain that barely fades before building again. I grabbed at one hope and asked for my husband to tell them I needed an epidural. NOW. I had wanted to have a natural birth, but I couldn’t imagine even a half hour of contractions like the ones that were currently gripping me. “Help, SAVE ME!” my body screamed.
I could barely walk to the bed (with good reason as you shall soon understand), having two contractions from the tub to there that left me on tiptoes and howling, my legs crossing over themselves protectively (also with good reason). Contractions one on top of the other, no breathing room between, clenching my husband’s hands and by now, scream-groaning LOUDLY. I pleaded: “Isn’t there ANYTHING you can give me?”
They assured me that they were going to “get me comfortable”, but they all knew there’d be no time for that. There were smiles of knowing going on when I wasn’t looking, and they told me sweet lies to keep me hopeful. The nurse and midwife stepped out to “see about the epidural”, leaving one newbie nurse in the room. My scream had a new ending to it all of a sudden as a push gripped me. I did not push, my body did. It could no more be stopped than a sneeze could. I felt my body opening around something and yelled out the obvious, “THE BABY IS COMING!”. The nurse peeked under the sheet and her eyes widened. Baby was crowning.
We were at a local Eastern Orthodox church a few weeks ago, enjoying an Advent service, when one of the ladies in the choir chanted “Lord have mercy” forty times. We were amazed as the repetition went on and on. It seemed a thing impossible to do without the words getting all confused and jumbled. But as I lay there with a large head splitting me open and the pain all bright and fiery, I think I did more than forty “Lord have mercy”‘s all in a gush. And He answered, oh and how.
She raced to the door to get help, but my hollers had alerted the midwife (from down the hall, for shame) that things were moving quick. She burst in and one push later he was here, whooshing right out much to my surprise and relief. I was astonished, flat-out bewildered, and I brought that slippery, wonderful baby boy up on to my chest and began a five minute litany of “I can’t believe it-I can’t believe it-I can’t believe it-I love you, baby-I can’t believe it”. It was so fast. So furious. So natural. The water carried most of my pain, and a few long minutes I carried it, and then, mercifully, birth.
This year Eastern Orthodoxy has taught me two useful phrases and my life has vascilitated between them like a pendulum: “Lord, have mercy” and “God provides”. One a petition, one a recognition of God’s sustenance and faithfulness. Living with these two sets of words has kept me living open-handedly to God, trusting Him more with the unknowns and the unexpecteds. It is a good place to be; like in the water, cushioned from the blows, carried through them, experiencing pain but not being consumed by it.