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Free air—a birth story

As I noted in last year’s birthday tribute to our third child, Sam, he was born at lunchtime—a fact he proudly shares with everyone when his birthday arrives. He is eight today.

This little footnote in his birth story fascinates him, but I find it fun to revisit the events that led to lunchtime. Maybe someday he’ll be interested in the rest of his journey into our arms?

Sam was due on July 14, 2000. I hoped he’d come a week or two early because being nine months pregnant in mid-July is a festival of sweat and swelling. My babies like to be well-done, so it was a futile and foolish wish.

On the morning of July 12th, I had a regular OB appointment. I was dilated and effaced slightly. When the doctor offered to sweep the membranes, I said sure, not believing it would do anything. I had the same “vigorous exam” with Aidan and Ryley multiple times, but it never worked.

It never worked because Dr. S didn’t do it.

After he was done, I was hanging from the light fixture, which doesn’t sound difficult until you realize it was the standard in-ceiling florescent panel. Aidan, who had just turned three, and seventeen-month-old Ryley were there to witness the moment when their new brother’s home was invaded by the latex monster. He came in, overturned a dresser or two, opened the mail, and left the refrigerator door ajar. I had been ransacked.

We left.

At 4pm that afternoon, it was time to pick up my husband from work. Those were the days when we only had one car, so I often drove him to and from work—about 45 minutes round trip, twice a day. After picking him up, we were going to my uncle and aunt’s house for dinner in honor of some cousins who were in town for a few days.

When I went out to the car, I noticed the right front tire was low. I loaded the kids in the car and drove to the gas station for free air. When I bent down to unscrew the tire cap, I felt my first contraction. I gave all the credit to the heat, the stress, the fact that I was kneeling on gas station asphalt praying the air would hold. After filling the tire, we took off down the highway.

By the time my husband came out of his building, the tire was low again. We went to another gas station and filled the tire on the way to my uncle and aunt’s house. I had several contractions during the twenty minute ride.

My aunt let Bennett’s Barbeque do the cooking that night. There was quite a spread of ribs, barbequed meats, corn, beans, fries, cole slaw, potato salad, and apple pie. I loaded my plate with a little of everything and sat down. Contraction. Gnaw on a bone. Contraction, don’t mind the sauce all over my face. Mmmm, corn. Contraction. WhooWEE, this is spicy sauce! Contraction. After about an hour of regularly contracting, I thought I better pay more attention and time them. We were all stunned to find out they were every five minutes apart.

We excused ourselves. Everyone was wildly excited that I was in labor whilst chowing down on baked beans and pie. It’s honor for someone’s uterus to attempt to expel another human in one’s kitchen. I think they were secretly disappointed nobody had to fetch shoelaces and newspapers. Sam had other ideas.

When we got to the car, we noted the tire. Low again. We drove to a gas station and fed the voracious black beast. It was a long trip across Denver and we worried about making it safely to our house, where my hospital bag had been languishing in a dust bath for several weeks. Plus, part of me was in great denial about my testy innards. I told my husband I wanted to try to rest before I committed fully to the hospital. If you’ve even been sent home from the hospital because your labor has been declared false by a tight-mouthed nurse, it’s something you want to avoid again. With Aidan, I had to make the walk of shame (complete with overpacked bag and pillow) out of Labor and Delivery more than once.

Once home, we put Aidan and Ryley in their pajamas and tucked them in bed. I changed into my jammies and tried to lie down, but I was becoming very uncomfortable. After only about twenty minutes, I conceded that it was The Real Thing and we needed to go now. But first, we would have to take the kids to my in-law’s house. My husband placed the call letting his parents know their two little houseguests would check in that night.

Thankfully, they met us in the driveway and carried the sleeping kiddos inside so we could make a speedy getaway. It was a very uncomfortable ride. We had to stop to put air in the tire. Of course.

I was amazed at how quickly things moved once we were at the hospital. The third baby makes the L&D nurses take you seriously, I noted, because they showed me to a regular birthing room rather than the triage room for all the iffy ladies. I was gowned and decorated with shiny tubes and big brown elastic straps around my belly. My contractions were promising, my cervix was melting, and I thought I’d have my new son in my arms by midnight.

The pain intensified enough to consider asking for some sort of pharmaceutical help. With Ryley, I managed my pain by using the whirlpool tub and didn’t need an epidural. I thought I’d try the water first, to see if it helped. I told the nurse, who was glad to fill the tub in the room and I eagerly slipped into the water. I felt relaxed, immediately. I felt good. I felt sleepy. I felt…nothing?

Um. What happened to my contractions?

My labor came to a smoking halt in the tub. The nurses shook their heads. The doctor shrugged her shoulders. It was suggested that I get out of the water and see if the contractions cranked to the very necessary level of intolerable. They hoisted my water-logged body out, dried me off, and I returned to bed wearing a fresh gown. We waited.

Midnight had come and gone long before this point. My contractions returned, but they were sporadic and weak. The doctor thought breaking my water might get them going again, so she pulled out the little hook and snapped Sam’s window open for good. Everyone in the room was hopeful. After another nod to waiting, it became apparent that strategy wasn’t going to work. Pitocin peeked around the curtain and said, “Hi, I’m here to help.”

Come on in! I just didn’t care anymore. I was tired and full of beans. I felt it enter my arm like liquid glass.

My uterus immediately snapped out of dreamland. It wasn’t long before I was inquiring into the whereabouts of the local anesthesiologist. He arrived, I dutifully curled my back, I drank in the sweet, sweet relief and passed out for several hours. Nurses came and went, vitals were taken, but I barely noticed. I don’t think I have ever been more relaxed in my life. The lights were off. I was having a really nice time.

Then I shifted a little and felt an odd pressure. I buzzed the nurse and told her something was different. She peeked under the sheet and saw Sam’s noggin. Buttons were pushed, lights were snapped on, the warming bassinet was prepared, receiving blankets were unfurled, the doctor gowned, the legs (just mine) were placed in the giddyup position, the back of the bed was moved upright, a well-aimed mirror appeared, and I pushed twice.

It was lunchtime, and there was my boy, my Sam, utterly sweet and worth the wait.

My husband stayed with us through the day and overnight. Early the next morning, when the sun was just rising, he went out to the car only to discover a completely flat tire. He had to put the donut on the car in the hospital parking lot. He had the tire patched. After Sam had been home for a week or so, we bought new tires. Several weeks later, we finally got another car.

The hours leading to Sam’s birth were cobbled together, like our travels around town on the last day we were a family of just four. But we kept going, kept praying, kept moving forward. The stops were more frequent than we anticipated, but we still got there.

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