HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FIRSTBORN:
I found my tombstone. According to Google, I died again two days ago. Does someone know something I don’t?
The first time I died was March 5, 1974. Natural childbirth was all the rage back then. A good mother was expected to breathe through her pain, not complain, and deliver her baby without IV medication or neural blocks. I attended childbirth classes at the hospital so I could learn how to be a good mother. I went alone. I had asked my husband to go but his response had been, “Are you stupid or something?” There was no reason to be so mean.
My belly grew to an immense size. I gained sixty pounds. I was uncomfortable sitting in a chair, standing to cook dinner, leaning over to mop the floor, or hauling in groceries from the car. My doctor suspected I had a condition called polyhydramnios, too much amniotic fluid in the uterus. Ultrasounds were only available to those who had money. My husband packed his leather wallet deep in his hip pocket.
He was ashamed of my belly. He called me “Henrietta Hippo” and said, “Whatever you do, Bitch, I don’t want people to see us together.” There was no fear of that when he walked in one door and pushed me towards another on the rare occasions we went somewhere together.
My due date arrived and departed as both my baby and belly grew. Maybe my child didn’t want to be born. Maybe he or she knew how short and traumatic childhood would be. My pregnancy stagnated into a permanent state of residency. I could barely breathe.
During a dinner with the Mister and the Missus, my husband’s parents, a spasm began in my lower back. I kept the news to myself and tried not to squirm until well after they had retired to their room. We lived with them in their house. This living arrangement was not my idea. It was theirs.
My husband dropped me off at the door of Mesa General Hospital so he could park the car. The lot must have been full because I didn’t see him again until well into the next morning.
I was admitted and stripped of my clothes. My dignity went with them into a white plastic bag as the nurse watched me undress. My blue gown was missing its ties and had a huge gaping hole in the back. I felt vulnerable, afraid, and near panic when this same nurse approached me with a bag of foamy liquid attached to a long skinny hose. It was a soap suds enema. If its purpose was to humiliate me, it worked. I was then scrubbed and scraped with hot water and a rusty razor. I felt like a scalded pig. Labor should be a time of hope and joy. Instead, it felt like abuse.
Breathing through the pain worked until the contractions were two minutes apart. By the time my husband returned and poked his head in the door, my screams had churned my throat raw.
“Please, I need something for the pain!”
My doctor came into the room with a syringe but left when my husband ordered him to go. “Don’t give her anything. She’s being a drama queen.” My husband looked at me and added, “You’re such a wimp.”
I was left alone to cry.
Almost thirty hours after labor started, I couldn’t tell when a contraction ended and another began as they merged into one. My body convulsed in pain. I writhed and moaned. There was a great gush of warm, sticky red liquid. A river pour from the cart and onto the floor. Hands without voices grabbed my legs, arms and belly, and shoved me onto a cart. They ran it down a long hallway over thousands of speed-bumps, and into a different room. Feet sloshed through fluid on the floor. Alternating spasms of cold and fire shuddered through my bones.
I heard a distant voice pray, “Mercy, please,” then realized the voice was mine.
My doctor brandished two silver forceps spoons, maneuvered them through my pelvis and onto my baby’s head. He lifted his paper bootied foot, placed it on the edge of my delivery bed, and pulled.
I couldn’t breathe. My heart no longer beat. My soul sought safety from agony and separated away from who I used to be. The new me wasn’t bound by form. It was weightless and free. I felt peace without pain and soared past shelves stacked with paper-wrapped surgical instruments, stacks of IV bags, and rolls of plastic tubing. I floated upwards into a far corner of the room. My husband’s fists, his cruel words, and his emotional abuse would never find me here. I thought of staying for a while but I looked down and saw that my baby needed to be born. I would give up the serenity in my new world in order for her to survive. I was the only one who could give her life. I slipped back inside.
As Long As I Breathe is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a misogynistic religious cult,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.
Joyce A Lefler is the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.
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