Fluid, surprisingly warm, gushed down my legs.
I glanced at the porch floor where a small pond was forming between my flip flops. Here we go again, I thought. Our last labor and delivery ever.
“Watch how high we can go,” my older daughter said from the swing set.
The younger one squinted and slammed her feet down. “What, Mommy? Why’s your face all funny?”
I toed the splat on the porch. “Someone bring me the phone please.”
“My dad’s in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer,” my husband said, “and I have someone here in the office with me. You’re sure it’s really right now?”
I snapped my fingers at the girls, motioned for them to follow me inside. “As I recall, the last baby came twenty minutes after my water broke.”
“Be right there.”
The labor and delivery nurse glanced at her watch.
“You could stimulate your nipples, since you seem to be stuck.”
My eyes bulged. “Excuse me?”
“Stimulate your nipples. It makes the body release oxytocin which can move labor along. Just slide your arms inside your gown. No one’ll know.” She busied herself tucking the sheets around me.
“Can you close the door at least?”
Before she left, she pointed to the control panel near the bedrail. “That’s the call button if you need me. Don’t forget, stim—”
I pressed my finger to my mouth. She chuckled and eased the door shut behind her.
I had my birth plan for my little guy all figured out.
Though it was cool the way I could walk to the bathroom immediately after, for my third and final labor and delivery, I told my doctor, “Please write in my chart, ‘Patient wants drugs upon entering hospital.’ In all caps, please.”
“What do you mean I can’t have an epidural? It’s in my chart. In all caps. Look it up!”
The nurse took my pulse. “Because, sweetheart, the gals in the hall said the anesthesiologist has a more emergent situation right now.”
My molars clacked.
“What is more emergent than a baby emerging from my body through an opening the size of my palm?”
The nurse’s hands were like nervous butterflies in the air between us. She inched backward toward the door, promising to page my doctor. Again.
That’s when I began speaking in tongues, or so Tony says. I blame the Mardi Gras documentary on television. I remember focusing on the drums—their primal Boom! Boom!—and then my head flopping side to side, to match their rhythm.
With each thrash, I chanted. “I want drugs. I want them now.”
When I heard the door squeak, I watched through slitted eyes as a person, at least, I thought it was a human, came at me, an object cupped in their hand.
“How about some Nubain, honey?” It was my nurse. “It’ll take the edge off, help you relax.”
I whimpered in agreement as the current contraction peaked.
Prick. Ow! Warmth. I collapsed against my pillows. “Oh! That’s nice.”
The nurse’s teeth flashed white as she swabbed my arm and applied a round Band-Aid.
“Hey, Tony Bear, lookie here. I’m the queen of Mardi Gras. See? I’m on a tissue-paper-and-chicken-wire parade float on Bourbon Street. Want some beads? They’re so shiny.”
My nurse deposited the needle into a red plastic box on the wall. Plink!
“Wait, don’t throw it away. Some more, please?” When she denied me, I stuck my tongue out.
After she washed and dried her hands, she relocated to the bench at the end of the bed and nudged my knees apart. “You’re almost ready now. I’ll call your doctor. Again.”
A half hour later I bellowed, “I want more Nubain now!”
A lanky med student peeked out from behind my doctor’s back. “And I want Doogie Howser, the boy wonder, to get lost.”
“Be nice,” my doctor said. “He’s just observing. He won’t touch you.”
I growled. “Is he old enough to hear cuss words?”
The med student cowered as my doctor squeezed my ankles. “You ready to push?”
Another wave of pressure lifted my hips off the mattress. “Can’t you just grab the head and yank him out?”
“Stop holding your breath,” my doctor said. “Breathe. That’s it.”
When the fire started down below, I headed for my pillows. “Will whoever has their hand on my— Dang it! I can’t say the word because Doogie—”
The doctor stood. “Keep pushing! You’re so close!”
The med student crouched beside me, his gum-minty breath cool on my cheek.
“Ma’am? Do you want me to pull the mirror down so you can watch?”
“Ew! No, I do not.” I hissed.
A fresh, more urgent pain arrived so I heaved myself forward once more and shoved hard, forcing everything inside of me toward my feet. The skin on my face stretched tight. And I was burning up. The hospital sprinkler system would trigger any minute, surely it would.
“Someone fan me,” I panted. “Fan my face. Where is Nurse Nubain? Get her back here this instant!”
The pressure in my groin suddenly dropped. I struggled to sit up.
“What happened? What’s going on? Is the baby okay?”
“We have a head!” the doctor sang out.
My nose drained, then my eyes. When the stretching sensation returned, I arched my back and gripped the bedrails. Dang it, dang it, dang it! More flesh of my flesh slipped out.
“We have a baby, a perfect baby boy,” the doctor said.
Everything in me softened as if I had no bones. I hung in the moment, listening to the pounding in my ears slow.
My doctor brought my son to me, still slick with his white icing of vernix. “Tell him, ‘hello,’ Mom. Quickly though. We need to give him oxygen because he’s a little blue.”
As I stroked my son’s face, tears splashed onto my cheeks. “Hi, Sweetie. It’s me, your mom.”
The med student tiptoed over. “Gosh, he looks exactly like his dad. It’s as if you had no part in making him at all.”
I wanted to choke Doogie, really, I did. But more than that, I wanted to hold my little guy. A son after two daughters. Our family was complete.