I lay on top of the pale green sheets on the eighth floor of John C. Lincoln Memorial Hospital and stared out at the night. It was August of 1988 and the thunder raging outside the fourth floor window seemed a warning of things to come. Bolts of fire lit up the black sky with great crackling power, like the fiery pain shooting through my insides as the child trapped within fought to get out.
It was three weeks since my due date had come and gone. Three weeks of carrying my heavy load, both figuratively and literally, longer than I’d planned. I’d tried everything for those twenty-one days from hot, spicy food to hot, spicy sex and nothing had worked. All the doctor recommended walking; the high impact speed bumps in the parking lot of my apartment building; even the six hours spent exploring an antique mall had done nothing. Finally, in the wee hours of Saturday morning on August 27th, the pressure began to pulse in to tight pains spaced every three minutes. And it had begun.
I turned on my side and stared out at the window, counting the seconds from lightning to thunder and wondered if God would get me back this way. Perhaps he’d strike me down for all my wrongs and if he was going to do it, I wished he’d hurry because the pain was excruciating. A woman in the next room screamed every few minutes and I wondered if she too was wishing she’d swung into the 7-11 for a condom, one fateful night nine months back.
Every three minutes…every one hundred eighty seconds, give or take…every cell of my body wrenched in pain as my lower back and stomach clenched together, trying to expel the invader inside. I’d started out laboring at three minutes apart and now, about twelve hours later, my body had barely begun to progress. It was Saturday night. And things were still happening three minutes apart.
We’d come into the hospital that evening after a competative game of Monopoly during which I paused between rolls of the dice to breathe through the pain. We broke all the rules and stopped for take-out Chinese food on the way because I knew that upon arrival, it would be nothing but ice chips for me. A greasy eggroll seemed like a smart move at the time…maybe not so much a few hours later. My mother had advised against it from the back seat, but clearly, I had not recently listened to my mother.
It was daylight again when the doctor pushed a hook inside me and broke my water. Tepid fluid ran from my body and the doctor, in all his professional wisdom, said, “Uh oh.”
My water was green, he said. And because I was sixteen I thought that sounded about right. What other color would it be? But I was wrong. The baby was under stress, he told me. Stress…? I wondered. What did he think I was under?
Thirty hours in and my labor pains had continued…every three minutes. About six hundred contractions. But who’s counting.
Thirty-two hours. Thirty-three. Thirty-four hours from the first sign of labor, I felt the urge to push. And I did.
I watched the ceiling tiles disappear behind me as my bed was wheeled down the hall, into an elevator, and down another long hall into the delivery room. My mother and my husband of two months came along and I wondered, as we went, who looked more pathetic. The sixteen year old child about to give birth…the scared little boy trying to play man next to her…or the disapproving young woman watching from the side as she transformed into a grandmother overnight.
And then…I stopped caring.
For two hours, I pushed, my strength wilting with each un-progressive contraction as I struggled to expel what I would find out was a fifteen inch head from my narrow body. No pain medications were allowed, they said. It might hurt the baby. Screw the baby, I thought aloud. But nobody listened.
Ice chips melted lazily against my tongue, barely penetrating the thirst from which I suffered. With each contraction I rolled forward and pushed with everything I had. My body, not yet that of a woman, rebelled against the expulsion. It stretched. It contorted. It cried out. Until finally, thirty six hours into the ordeal, a child was born into the world. A child…born to a child.
Thick black hair covered her head. Wide green eyes looked up at me from her wrinkled face. Her head, smashed and distorted from so long in the birth canal, made her lopsided. They held her to me, still warm and covered in my body.
She was beautiful. She was mine. I held her close. And I said all the right things. But inside…I was screaming. Inside my child’s mind I wanted nothing more than for it to all just go away.
The nurses pressed her to my breast and I turned. I rolled onto my side.
And I told them to leave me alone.