August 29, 2006

The Birth of Richard Roland


I had a lot of morning sickness with my first baby.  Actually, I had so much morning sickness that I  weighed slightly less when I checked in for his birth than I had before I was pregnant. At one point an elderly doctor I was seeing before I signed up for the clinic gave me the straight scoop:  I would score some pot, take exactly one toke before each meal, or he would have to put me in the hospital on IVs.  That, he explained, was what they had done before marijuana was illegal.

I then signed up for the county hospital clinic, since I was unmarried and broke.  We all had appointments for 8:00 a.m. and sat to wait on backless wooden benches.  By noon my back would be killing me; if I hadn’t been one of the earliest to sign in when they opened at 8, I would have to come back after lunch (they were closed from 12 to 1) and wait longer.  Lots of us were waiting by 7
for an 8 o’clock sign-in, in the hopes of only wasting half a day.  Because I had a bicornate uterus (sort of conjoined uteri, capable of being pregnant in both at once, with weeks or months between due dates!), they insisted that I come back once a week for a check-up.  Supposedly this was so that whichever doctor was on duty when my child was born would have examined me.  I found out when I went to a private physician for my second pregnancy, that wasn’t it.  I was going to a teaching hospital and I had an extremely rare condition; they were bringing in every medical student in the San Francisco bay area to examine me for experience and education.  Twenty-one years old, convent educated, and every week another group of four or five young men were looking between my legs.

In addition to throwing up every bite I ate, I also fainted a lot.  One week while they were taking blood at the clinic I fainted and the blood re-entered my arm, leaving a huge, painless bruise.  Two days later I fainted in the middle of an intersection, and as I went down I heard a man say, “not even 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and drunk already!”  That one left me with skinned knees and elbows.  Actually, I looked like nothing less than a battered wife, now that I think about it.

The first time I went into false labor, they had me stay in the hospital for a couple of hours and then sent me home.  The second time, because it happened late, they had me stay overnight.  In the morning, as I was sitting, episode over and waiting for a doctor to come in and release me, a young intern stopped by and asked if I was doing alright.  When I told him I was, he seemed puzzled but then realized that I didn’t know that Kennedy had been shot.

When my roommate, Dick, came to check me out, I was wearing my blue dress with the sailor collar and belt and had my hair braided to keep it from tangling while I was in bed.  We were waiting at the nurse’s station, and the nurse came up and said, rather sternly, “Children under 14 are not allowed on this floor.”  As I stood there, trying to figure out how I was supposed to be there without
the baby, Dick explained that I was 21 and checking out after false labor.

Although I had mistaken the false labor for the real thing, when I did go into labor, there was no mistaking it.  It was a completely different level of sensation.  The doctor came to check on me, and turned out to be the only medical professional on the west coast who had never examined me. I told him that we had records going back for five generations in my direct female line and no one had gone over four hours of labor.  He explained to me that my mother meant intense labor, that my family had lied to me to keep my calm and not frighten me, and that since this was my first child, I would have a good 36 hours of labor.  And that’s why, less than two hours from my first twinge, Dick (who by this time was my husband) stuck his head out the door of the labor room and called to the doctor, “I can see the head” and the doctor had to drop his cup of coffee and catch Richard.

When Dick called my mother to tell her, she answered the phone with, “boy or girl?” because she had been having labor pains all day – actually longer than I did.

Richard was born just after midnight on December 6, 1963.  The hospital, being county, wouldn’t let me eat until breakfast, and I was starving.  Dick snuck out and smuggled a cheeseburger and milkshake to me by ripping a hole in the lining of his pea coat and slipping them in.

The best part was holding Richard.  He was five pounds and seven ounces; and after a short labor, he wasn’t all red and his head wasn’t misshapen.  He was a lovely baby.  He was also the only white baby in the nursery, and his full head of white kid hair looked absolutely bald.  Those were the days when nursing was discouraged, and I had no idea how to go about it.  But, being in a dorm with seven women who had nursed all of their children was wonderful.  They all gave hints and clues. They all thought I was so funny.  When the nurse tried to tell me that I had no choice but to sign permission for a circumcision, “it’s against the law for you to take him home without it” I stated fiercely that no one was mutilating my child and that if the law said it had to be done they wouldn’t need my permission. 

And yet, I had to be taught how to breast feed and to call him by name, rather than baby. I think that the consensus was that “white women are strange, aren’t they?”  I didn’t care; they taught me how to nurse him.  They all thought that for a bald little thing he was a lovely baby.  They could laugh at me all they wanted.  They, after all, did know much more about what they were doing than I did.

Joycelyn is a 64 year old parenting specialist currently working with teens to prevent underage drinking. She lives in Alaska and writes on her blog Maya’s Granny about whatever strikes her fancy, including politics, memories, family, friends .  .  .

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