Discovering your voice through personal essay or Is That My Uterus in that Taurus?
One of the most frequent questions I’ve gotten since starting this blog is about the off-handed comment I made in the About section about giving birth to my second son in the car. Many of you have asked for more details on that story. I originally wrote the story in Feburary of 2009 on my personal blog. Not only was the crafting of this personal essay therapeutic when it came to processing my emotions about delivering my own baby in a moving vehicle, but it served as a wonderful stomping ground for discovering another writing voice.
Thousands of book have been written about discovering your voice as a writer. It is my firm belief that different venues call for different voices. Your voice in an article about the latest production of Hello, Dolly! will sound much different than your voice in a press release about a fly fishing product line launch. Part of the fun of writing in such diverse fields is mastering new topics. At cocktail parties, I can rattle off details about professional organizers, canine tooth decay or performance art in which dancers interact with handmade paper birds. I can also write about these same things with a variety of voices – honed for particular audiences or customers. Personal essays force you to get in touch with your authentic voice – the one who doesn’t answer to a paycheck. When it comes to crafting fiction, it pays to have a variety of voices upon which you can draw. Not only does this variety allow you to infuse your characters with personalities of their own, but it gives you the confidence to find the perfect voice for telling the story that you want to tell.
Believe me, if you stick around to one day read my historical fiction work-in-progress, it will not be told with the same voice as the Uterus/Taurus essay. The bottom line is that if you don’t write personal essays, give it a shot. Approaching the page with a no-holds barred attitude might allow you to add a new voice to your repertoire.
And now on to the essay…I’ve put it after the jump in case you’re one of those people who aren’t up for other people’s birth stories. I personally love them, but that’s the mother/birthing war hero in me. I won’t be offended if birth stories aren’t for you! Happy writing!
Is That My Uterus in That Taurus?
June 9ish, 2007: My last appointment with the world’s best OB/GYN ever. Cristee is pregnant with her own child and delivered a few weeks before my due date. We have introductions with one of her partners who will take over my care while Cristee is away. I like him and feel comfortable about the fact that he’ll be doing the important stuff.
It’s a tough week following the appointment. This second pregnancy has gone smoothly, but I’ve been much more emotional and much more uncomfortable this time around. Maybe it was the way it kicked off with a bang – 14 weeks of morning sickness. Scratch that – all-day, round the clock sickness. I couldn’t even pick up a copy of Gourmet magazine without running for the toilet. Those 14 weeks set the tone for a long 40 weeks ahead.
And if it is possible, this baby is even more active than his brother was. He must be practicing Tae-Bo or in training to be a young David Beckham in there. And true to form (like his mother and his brother) he has body-wrenching hiccups – A LOT! You can actually see my belly jump in rhythmic movements when his hiccups start. But I only have three more weeks according to my due date, so I can make it, right?
June 16, 2009: My second appt with Cristee’s partner. Pretty routine. He checks and I’m 2 cm dilated and about 75% effaced. That makes me feel good, that we’ve had some progress. I’ve been spending my sleepless nights on a forum called Mothering.com. I don’t know why reading about other people’s birth stories and about their crazy rashes or weird cravings is comforting, but it is. I guess it makes me feel like I’m not the only one in the world going out of my mind with impatience.
The other reason I chose this forum is that I’ve decided to attempt to have this baby without the drugs. You will remember from the birth of my first son, I loved the drugs. The epidural was a happy thing. But, I started taking a pre-natal yoga class during this pregnancy. My instructor keeps talking about breathing and focus and ohms and the white light to help you through child birth naturally. I’ve never liked the idea of drugs anyway (my body doesn’t react well to them) so I’m easily swayed by this line of thought. I told my husband that I wanted to try it without the drugs, but would feel no shame or disappointment if I changed my mind mid-stream. In retrospect, people, be careful what you wish for!
June 17, 2009: We’re taking a tour of the birthing section of the hospital. This is a different hospital than the one where I had our first son, so we wanted to get the lay of the land. The birthing rooms are amazing with jetted hot tubs and CD players for music. It literally looks like a spa. There are even leaf patterns stamped into the ceiling’s acoustical tiles. Something about a focal point during labor. Hmm…maybe that will come in handy later.
There’s only one small glitch in the tour. Being that this is a new birthing wing, they have these rooms called the triage rooms. They inform us that many mothers get to the hospital long before they are actually in full-blown labor. Looking back, that was definitely the case with me for my first delivery. Women who aren’t ready to have their own L&D room can hang out in the triage rooms…with other laboring women. The first thing that I tell K when we leave the hospital is that I have NO intention of hanging out with a bunch of other pregnant women who might be in labor. I’m fat and grouchy and uncomfortable enough…no need to share the love with others! A word to the wise, please be careful when you say, “I’m waiting until I’m absolutely positive that I’m in labor before we go to the hospital so that I don’t have to hang out in the Birthing Purgatory.”
June 20, 2009: Another appt. with the doctor. Things look good. A little more dilated, a little more effaced.
“This would be a good weekend to have a baby. I’m on call,” he says.
Point taken. I’ll be sure to ring down to my uterus and make sure the baby knows he has a 48-hour window during which he needs to hurry up and get busy, otherwise we may have someone we don’t know delivering him. I know that there are hundreds of women every day who have doctors that they don’t know deliver their babies. But, over the years I’ve learned that when in stressful situations (like childbirth), I prefer the comforting face of someone that I already know. I’m not that comfortable with strangers getting all up in that bid-ness.
June 20 (later in the day): I’ve been reading a lot on the mothering forum about natural ways to start childbirth. If we’re really going to get this party started this weekend, I better start trying some of these things. I go to the store and buy an entire pineapple. I eat 3/4 of it in one sitting. Something about the enzymes in fresh pineapple is supposed to kickstart things. I drink a cup of raspberry leaf tea. I attempt this crazy acupuncture ankle massage that I found online. Hmm..not much going on. I tend to have Braxton-Hicks contractions for the last four weeks of my pregnancies, so I don’t get too excited about twinges here and there – knowing that most likely after a big glass of water or lying down, things will calm down in there.
June 21, 2009: My mom calls with a question, “If you’re already 85% effaced and only a couple of centimeters dilated, what happens when you start to dilate?”
I have to mumble a little bit because my mouth is now coated with crazy sores from ingesting pineapple for 3 straight hours yesterday. My smart-ass response, “I guess the baby just falls right out!” Again, a warning for all of you sarcastic know-it-alls out there, the Gods of Irony might be listening!
June 22, 2009: I spent today packing for the hospital They always tell you to be prepared, and if my Morse Code tapping is doing any good at all, the baby knows that he needs to vacate the property this weekend. The thing I’m most excited about this time around? The CD player. I can’t wait to hang out in the jetted tub listening to CDs and trying to reach my Zen-like place. I have a whole CD case filled with Sarah McLachlan if I’m feeling like singing, Yo-Yo Ma if I want some peaceful cello music. Even a little Bob Marley is we need to feel a little laid back. I’m ready to face this natural child birth head on.
I go to sleep around 10:30 tonight. Once again, saying a prayer to any God that I’ve ever believed in to help with getting labor started. But, I’m not hopeful. We’ve had countless nights of false starts this week.
1:00 a.m.: I am awakened by what feels like a contraction. Hmmm…this could be something. But don’t get excited. Go back to sleep.
1:20 a.m.: Hmmm…there’s another one.
1:40 a.m.: Another one. This could be good. Oh wait, it’s time for the concretized intestines to start emptying. To keep it clean and brief, for those of you who don’t know, many women in labor need to “clean out their” systems before delivering. There are many weeks of food stuffed into a very tiny place between your stomach and the baby.
No one warned us about this during pregnancy #1, so in spite of the fact that we were safely at the hospital, the whole Potty Parade (PP) between the hospital bed and the bathroom freaked us out a little bit. We had heard that second deliveries are usually a bit faster, so I joked when I got pregnant the second time, “Maybe we should take a pot in the car. I don’t know what we would do if the Potty Parade kicked in while we were en route to the hospital.”
2:00 a.m.: Still having the contractions and still on the Flushing Float of the PP!
2:30 a.m.: Now the contractions are coming much closer together. K decides to jump in the shower to wake himself up for the drive to the hospital. We start timing the contractions. They’re still six minutes apart, and you’re not even supposed to call the hospital until they are four minutes apart. In retrospect, maybe they should change this four-minute scale so that there are urban estimates and rural estimates. Had we been using the Rural Contraction Scale, perhaps things would have been different. But the contractions are strong enough, I suggest we call my mom to come over and call the doctor to see if we should head for the hospital.
My mom zips over and I get the doctor on the line. He says, “Come on down the hill and drive safely. See you soon!” The contractions are bringing me to my knees at this point. Once I’ve worked through one, I can continue grabbing bags and giving my mom instructions about our oldest son’s breakfast, etc., until the next one.
The last thing that my mom says to me before we head out the door is, “Are you going to make it to the hospital?” What? Of course I’m going to make it to the hospital. This is just the beginning of blissful hours of a meditative state, you silly woman!
3:20ish a.m.: We hop in the car with one stop in the driveway for a contraction, and we’re off. Now, let me paint the picture. I’m in the front seat, with my seatbelt on and my maternity jeans, and flip flops. It was at this point that I realized that perhaps two people live inside my head. The next 40 minutes were narrated by not one, but two voices, inside of me.
Voice #1: “I can’t believe this is actually going to happen today. It’s been such a long 39 weeks. Let’s go.”
Voice #2: “Holy crap! Kevin, you need to get moving. This really hurts – like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
Voice #3: (The out-loud voice that K could actually hear) “Moan, groan, moan, groan. Moan, groan.”
The minute the car starts moving, the contractions start coming one on top of the other.
V#1: “I thought there was supposed to be a break in between. They always tell you there’s a break in between. Just focus on your breathing.”
V#2: “Breathing…what breathing? I can’t breathe at all. There’s no time for breathing.”
V#3: (The out-loud voice) “Arrgggh. Uggh! Please make the car stop bumping.”
At this point, I close my eyes. I feel like if I can focus all of my energy on getting through the pain, I’ll be okay until we reach the hospital and I can get the epidural. Somewhere around the exit ramp to the highway, I start to get a little overwhelmed with the pain. My eyes shoot open desperately hoping that we’ve made it farther than we have.
V#1: “Don’t forget your focal point. That should help. No autumn leaves on the ceiling of this Taurus. Maybe you can use the digital clock on the dashboard. Squint your eyes and focus on that.”
V#2: “Natural childbirth? Hah! Where’s the epidural when you need it? And that light on the dashboard? Yeah, you try focusing on it when you’re writhing in pain.”
V#3: Too loud to describe
I remember something that I’ve been reading on the mothering forum. It’s something called the birthing song. You’re supposed to just let go and vocalize. It helps the pain to verbalize. Now I’m balancing with my feet in the footwell and my elbow up on the console in between the front seats (i.e., with my mouth as close to K’s ear as it can possibly get).
V#1: Okay, I know you’re not a big screamer, but let’s try out that birthing song thing. That might help.
V#2: Here’s goes. Moooooooooo-muahhhhhhhhmoooooooh!
V#1: Wow, that’s really loud. Maybe that’s hurting K’s ears. Maybe you should stop.
V#2: Stop? I just got started. Screw K’s ears.
The noise that came out of my body can only be described as something emanating from a Godzilla-sized Holstein who hasn’t been milked in 36 days. I wouldn’t call it anything resembling a song, that’s for sure. But, I have to admit lowing like a cow really did seem to help for a few minutes.
I’d like to take a short break to discuss the inadequacies of the Ford Taurus. Most cars made after the year 2000 (this particular car being a 2005) were made with something lovingly called Oh-Shhhh-ugar handles. Those flip down handles immediately above the passenger seat that you grab white-knuckled when your husband takes an exit ramp at 60 miles per hour. However, the Ford Taurus does not have a passenger seat OS handle. Kevin has one above his seat, but he’s not the one who needed it. Although he was saying Oh-Shhhugar at various points throughout this process. If the Ford Taurus had one of the aforementioned handles, my loving husband would still have an intact right eardrum today.
3:50ish a.m.: We’ve made it onto I-70 (the busiest highway in America). We’re driving 85. I keep looking at the speedometer.
V#1: Please don’t drive too fast, we’ll crash!
V#2: My God, man! Can’t you make this thing go any faster?
V#3: Still lowing like a Guernsey.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember an earlier comment that I made rather offhandedly about a pot? I start to feel this unbelievable pressure as if we might be needing that pot. You get my drift. I even remember saying to K, “Maybe would should have brought the pot.”
I reach down into my maternity jeans. Let’s be honest, this is not one of my finest moments in life, but I’ve told the story so many times, I’m sort of over the embarrassment of it all. I don’t know what I would have done had the Potty Patrol been visiting. I think it’s a once in a lifetime experience to think that you’re going to be catching your own Shhh-ugar! Thank goodness (and unfortunately, all at the same time) there was no need for the pot. What did I feel when I reached into my jeans? That’s right…a head.
V#3: OMG, I feel a head.
Kevin: A what?
V#3: A head!!!
Kevin: Don’t push!! Please don’t push!
K pulls out his cell phone to call 9-1-1. You’re probably asking yourself why we didn’t do this sooner. In spite of all of the pain, I never once dreamed that I would be having this baby in the car. There was one point when K said, “Only 11 more miles on the highway.” And I said, “I can’t make it 11 miles.” But I meant, I can’t stand the pain for 11 more miles. I did not mean, the baby won’t wait 11 more miles!
Things start to move really quickly at this point. K gets the 9-1-1 operator on the phone who immediately connects him with an EMT. Now the conversation becomes the standard stuff that you always hear in the movies, but never think happens in real life. “My wife is having a baby in the car. We’re on the highway heading to the airport.”
What, the airport? That part doesn’t happen in the movies. Yes, he did tell them that we were going to the airport. I think in all the confusion, “hospital” became “airport.” The EMT thought that K was crazy taking his nine-month pregnant wife to the airport. K was instructed to get his shoelace out of his shoe so that he could tie off the cord. I don’t think that the EMT realized that we were still driving. K is driving, holding the phone and trying to untie his running shoes.
Meanwhile, the voices were back.
V#1: I remember reading something on the Mothering forum about pushing against the pain. Maybe if I push the pain will stop. Wait, no. Maybe pushing isn’t a good idea.
V#2: Sounds good to me. Anything to make this firey pain stop.
My husband: No pushing!!!!!
V#3: I’m pushing!!!
K says that from the time he looked over his right shoulder to make sure he wouldn’t hit anyone in the right lane as we tried to exit the highway, to the time he looked back toward the road, I already had the baby on my chest.
The pushing was very nice. All I could think was that it would make the pain stop. And it did make it feel better. But, it also makes babies come out. Funny how that works.
I reached down and just grabbed him. He was slippery and warm and silent. I pulled him immediately up to my chest so that I could see his face. He was breathing but still silent. So I reached into his mouth with my pinky finger and and swiped out a mouthful of gunk. He cried. Just once, but he cried. I felt better. Terrified, but better.
I’m not sure how on earth I thought to swipe out my baby’s mouth, but not wrap him up in anything. Thanks goodness it was June, or his temperature would have dropped even more than it did.
We exited I-70 almost immediately after he came out.
V#1: I can’t believe I’m carrying this baby without a carseat.
I kid you not! I’m such a safety girl. I’m holding a 30-second old baby that is still attached to me, and all I can think about is carseats! What is wrong with me?
We pulled into a gas station right off the exit ramp and two ambulances and a hook-and-ladder fire truck pulled up within seconds. They took the baby from me and cut the cord. K was relieved that his shoelace didn’t need to come into play. And then they started carrying my newborn to an ambulance. A paramedic helped me out of the car. Another picture? Not a pretty one…my lily white behind is hanging out for all to see (jeans around my ankles) in the Conoco parking lot. At this point, there’s no modesty left in life. I traipsed over to the ambulance, climbed up on the gurney and they lifted me into the ambulance.
I remember telling K to get my shoes (there was a distinct moment, right about the time that V#1 was saying, “Oh that must be the water breaking because I don’t think that’s happened yet.” that my flip-flops started bothering me.) I was frantically kicking to get them off of my feet. We all loaded up into the ambulance and it was off to the hospital.
I’ll spare the rest of the boring and messy details. The bottom line was the baby was fine, I was fine and K was fine. The car? Well, that was another story. We had to find a Haz-Mat cleaning service to get my husband’s COMPANY CAR cleaned the next day. And my unbelievable bundle latched on and started nursing right away. He didn’t stop the whole way to the hospital.
The hospital? Well no need for that. We did get a good breakfast and a nice spa-like room for the rest of the day.
Why do I keep calling him, “the baby?” We are notoriously bad at naming our children. Maybe it’s the procrastination gene in both of us, but we didn’t name either of our children until the birth-certificate woman showed up to fill out the forms. We had lots of suggestions after the fact: Conoco, Taurus. One friend even suggested Carson (get it? Car-son), but we decided on a more traditional name. His initials are B-A-M, which seems rather fitting.