Wednesday, January 12, 2011
27 Years Ago
A mother never forgets the birth of a child. Stephanie was my first, and I was young and terrified. After watching my mother have many illnesses and hearing tales of her difficult deliveries, I didn't know what to expect. Since I'd had a miscarriage the year before, I ended up at an obstetrician who specialized in high-risk pregnancies. Really I would have done almost anything to not have my baby on the Marine Corps base where Paul was stationed. They'd had an unusual number of infant deaths in the past few years, and I didn't want that to happen to us. So instead of living near the base with Paul, I lived with his parents in Kitty Hawk, NC, and I saw a civilian doctor in Norfolk, VA.
I was due to have her around Christmas time, so my mother came up for a visit and did everything to bring on labor that she could think of. She made me walk and do household chores and climb the stairs over and over; she finally resorted to getting me to drink 2 oz. of castor oil, mixed in some orange juice but nonetheless slimy and disgusting. Nothing worked. I never even got a tummy ache from the castor oil, though she did. We were funny like that--joined at the hip, almost.
She returned home after the holidays, still no grandchild. By that time, she had one of each: a granddaughter (by my older sister) and a grandson (by my older brother). She was on pins and needles, ready for this one to come. The doctor reassessed me and said that I should have her by January 6 (my uncle's birthday). By this point, Paul was driving up (about 4 hours) each weekend, hoping she'd come along. We kind of knew she was a "she," though one can never be too certain that "she" isn't a boy who is hiding something. We erred on the side of caution and got neutral colors in the layette, though, since we were young, poor, and unsettled, we didn't have a nursery to outfit and paint. We got a bassinet, receiving blankets, and that sort of thing. Lots of diapers. Most of the time we barely had two nickels to rub together, because as a PFC, he didn't make much money. I worked up until my 7th month, but then the money got very tight. I just knew that I wanted to have children early and while he was in the military with free medical care.
It wasn't until around the 10th when the doctor agreed that we'd better bring on labor, since nature wasn't doing it. Little one was sleeping in! It was settled that I would check into the hospital on the evening of the 11th and be induced on the morning of the 12th. My mother-in-law and her friend Phyllis drove me up to Norfolk (about 2 hours from Kitty Hawk) and basically dropped me off. I have never been so scared. Paul would be unable to leave the base until Thursday morning, the day she was set to be born. I was afraid she would arrive before he did.
They did all the horrible prep early the next morning and started an IV. It was my first IV, and I remember begging them not to put it in my hand. My hands were always delicate and small. They ended up putting it in my forearm. I'm not sure that was a whole lot better, but at least my hands were free.
I had done all the requisite Lamaze classes and had learned the breathing and the relaxation and such, but I was having trouble relaxing through the prep. It was a difficult morning. The pains were bearable, and I insisted I would not need any kind of pain medication or sedation. I'd done everything "right" during the pregnancy, paying close attention to all the rules and doing everything for my precious baby. Though I'd smoked and enjoyed an after-work beer or two before I got pregnant, all that went out the window. In fact, smoking was over with for me then. I never took it back up, because I didn't want to set a bad example for the kids. Paul continued to be a smoker until 1994, but I quit cold turkey.
When he arrived later that morning, the pitocin drip had been increased a couple of times. The real pains were beginning, and at some point, it was as though I was in one long contraction. I was essentially getting so fatigued that I would pass out as the contraction abated and wake up in the middle of the next one. From what I've been told, I was sweating a lot (despite the frigid temps outside and the cool but cozy birthing room), forgetting to do my Lamaze breathing, and moaning even when I fell asleep. To make matters worse, my body was fighting the whole thing. I got to 4 cm dilation and stopped there. I remained at 4 cm for many hours.
Having been induced at 5:30 a.m. and seeing as it was coming up on 12 hours, the doctor began to talk to me about getting an epidural. He felt that if my body would relax, things might progress. I refused. I was terrified of getting a shot of any kind in my back. Paul was sent to the dining hall to get something to eat, since he'd been all day at my side with nothing but water or soda.
The doctor came back a couple of times to talk to me, and I was in sad shape. Finally, when he began to see fetal distress, he told me that I had no choice. He was going to bring in the anesthesiologist to do the epidural, and he was going to get ready to perform a C-section. Even in my exhaustion, I felt like a complete failure. Not only couldn't my body go into labor on its own, but it also couldn't follow it through once it got going. Facing down yet another fear, I curled up in the fetal position and allowed the catheter to be threaded into the epidural space between vertebra. My dream of a perfect labor and delivery in the sweet little birthing room was blown all to hell. They would soon be taking me into an OR.
When the numbness took hold, I finally began to relax. A nurse came in once more to check things out before they wheeled me down to an OR. Et voila! I was at 10 cm! The nurse paged the doctor to my room. Another nurse hurried to the dining hall to get the papa. Only minutes passed until the end of the bed was lowered so that the doctor could set up shop. I was exposed for the whole world to see, and Paul was seated next to me munching on french fries with ketchup.
Much ado and pushing went on. Pushing is remarkably hard when you can't feel anything below the waist, so in the end, the doctor had to get what Bill Cosby referred to as the "salad spoons" (forceps). At 6:38 p.m. on January 12, 1984, Stephanie Nicole Pavlichek entered the world screaming at the top of her lungs and pink as anything. She had a delicate fuzz of blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. When we looked each other in the eyes, it was like we were old friends, and I knew her name was perfect for her.
While she was taken off for all the things that await new babies, a staffer came in to ask whether I'd like champagne with my steak dinner or whether I'd like the pain pill instead. I opted for the champagne, of course, since I still couldn't feel anything below the waist. The hospital made it a policy to treat all new moms and dads to a steak dinner after the blessed event, so papa had another meal that evening around 8 o'clock.
My little one's screaming started up every time she was taken away from me, so sometime around midnight, a nurse brought Stephanie in to remain with me the rest of my stay. She seemed happiest to be near me or on me. After we got home, she would settled for me or her dad, but someone had to be holding her or touching her to calm her down. She was a high-strung baby who didn't sleep through the night until she was six months old. In fact, she would usually only sleep a couple of hours at a time. My life definitely changed when she was born.
Had I known all the pain she was in for in this life, would I have still had her? That's a rhetorical question that has no answer. I wouldn't wish any of that pain on her, of course, but to never have known her? My life would have been so boring, so drab! She was my angel and my devil. She was light and dark, sweetness and vinegar. She challenged me, but she loved me - and oh, how I do love her! From the afterlife, she comes to us in dreams or in thoughts that could only be put in our heads by her. I like to think that now she is talking to angels and that she is safe in a way I could not keep her safe. Though I wish like anything that she was here with me instead of running through heaven, I like to think of her sitting on a cloud somewhere, enjoying watching us all going about our lives down here. I like to think of her whole and happy, no longer suffering the way she once did. She never really had a chance to live out the lives we all seem to take for granted.
My hairdresser today was telling me how one of the other hairdressers was upset because she was turning 25. Naturally it made me think, "Huh. Stephanie got to live 2 months and 22 more days after her 25th birthday." When someone whines about turning another year older, particularly those of us in our 40s and beyond, I think, "Enjoy it! You never know when it will be your last."
I may get a little cake for Stephanie's birthday, since I didn't have birthday cake on my own birthday. I'll share some of hers. I think it would do Sean and I good to have a slice and think of her. She would have been 27. But she only got to 25. Raise a glass or light a candle, if you would. I miss my little baby girl every single day, but I'm so glad I got to be her mom. See that picture above? She was 10 there. She had just gotten an award at school. She was SO SMART! I hope she died knowing that her momma loved her.
Peace - D