Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry was determined to make an immediate splash, which she did by making her mother’s water break at five o’clock in the morning on September 11. Olive’s due date was September 5 so technically she was a week late, although obviously the due date is an artificial construct of a society that wishes to control this most uncontrollable of events. But this artificial due date would come to influence Olive’s birth in a profound and terrible. Because she was “late” she was not allowed to be delivered in a nice quiet birthing center suite with a big tub and a double bed, kind of like a cheap room in a Ramada Inn redone by Laura Ashley. This was the first in a series of maddeningly arbitrary decisions which were forced upon Olive by the hospital which made her life, and all our lives, so much more difficult, and seemed solely motivated by fear of litigation rather than the safety and well-being of Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry. So Olive had to be born in the madness of the delivery room of the hospital proper, and by the time she was born, the hallway was sick with contracting cervixes, and babies were practically flying out of uteri.
Olive’s mother basically felt nothing out of the ordinary for the 18 hours after the breaking of her water. Unbeknownst to her cervix was having a series of teeny tiny mini-contractions. I don’t know who Braxton or Hicks are, but I hope one day to have a contraction named after me. Having both seen so many movies and television shows where a pregnant woman’s water breaks, and then she has to frantically give birth in the back of a taxi, Olive’s mother and father were confused when the water so monumentally broke, a tsunami of fluids gushing willie and nilly, and then … nothing. They went to the hospital, they were examined, and were told to go home. So Olive spent the night in her mother on the day the water broke.
The next morning Olive arrived again at the hospital, and she was checked in in utero. The mother and father could not understand how this could be labor. Laughing and cracking jokes, thinking about next year’s line of mismatched socks and chilling with friends and family. Then a woman came into the hospital who was also very very pregnant. But she wasn’t laughing and cracking jokes. Pain flashed furiously out of her face as her body wracked. She was flushed and cramped, wet with mad perspiration, insane pain beaming put of her eyes. Clearly, Olive’s parents thought, there’s labor and there’s labor.
Olive’s mother was now hooked up to machines, prodded and probed, jabbed and stuck, measured and examined. A microphone was placed on her belly, and Olive’s heart was broadcast out of a speaker, while numbers appeared on a screen, and a printout spit from a computer, all synched to the heartbeat of Olive.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
The one constant in the whole birthing process was the heartbeat of Olive. Rocksteady, pounding, it was magnificent and inspiring. Through the thick and the thin, the pushing and shoving, the tears and fears and panic and triumphant, you could’ve set your watch by Olive’s heartbeat.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
And so they all assembled: Olive, her mom, her dad, her mother’s mother, her mother’s godmother, her dula and her midwife, with a series of nurses, technicians, doctors, drug dispensers, and the occasional cleaning person making cameo appearances. The contractions were displayed on the graph, next to Olive’s heartbeat.
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
They were small and irregular, these contractions, especially when contrasted with the heartbeat of Olive. And they stayed that way for many hours, while everyone chatted, yacked, laughed and swapped stories. It was like a party in a really depressing apartment without any music or alcohol. When Olive’s grandmother and grandfather left the contractions suddenly intensified. Olive’s mother’s eyes glazed, a dazed trance dancing on her face, her breath short, all of a sudden she wasn’t participating in the happy banter. And there on the contraction graph, a huge spike, the line jumping straight up all the way off the paper. It lasted for 30 seconds maybe, but it seemed so much longer, because it was so intense. I lived through many earthquakes in California, and that’s kind of what it was like. An earthquake. Thirty seconds takes a month and a half to pass. And then it was over.
“Now it’s Active Labor.”
This new phase of quaking just kept going on and on and on and on and on and on, until time lost all meaning. But Olive still wasn’t coming out, and no one quite knew if her mother’s body was ready. No one knew, of course, that Olive was a behemoth. The midwife didn’t want to give an internal exam, for fear of infection, due to the fact that the water had broken so long ago. At the suggestion of the dula, Olive’s mother had been working diligently for months on the Big Ball, perfected a series of exercises which loosen the hips and pelvis. During this contraction marathon, she balanced furiously on the Big Ball, huffing and puffing and working her way through the spasms that wracked her body, telling everyone that Olive seemed to be sinking lower and lower and lower. Although at the time no one referred to Olive as Olive. Olive’s mother and father did not know Olive’s gender until they saw it. They had decided on the name Olive quite early on, but they had struggled to find a male name. Turns out they needn’t have bothered.
Finally, after too many hours of too much contracting, the midwife decided to determine how close Olive’s mother’s body was to being ready. Turns out it was not very ready at all. And by this time Olive’s mother was whipped into exhaustion, from over-exertion and powerful pain. She would start shaking, sometimes a leg, sometimes both, sometimes her whole body, violently involuntarily shaking. It reminded me of runners at the finish line of a marathon shaking uncontrollably, having lost control of their body.
The doctor wanted to cut into the belly of Olive’s mother and yank her out. It had been too long since water had broken, and if something went wrong he and the hospital would be libel. Olive’s mother said, No, please don’t cut me. Her father said , No, please don’t cut her. But the clock was ticking and the doc was a picture of institutional fiduciary grimness. Olive’s dad got so mad he wanted to punch the doctor in his smug face. Her dad managed to repress that impulse.
The dula and the midwife took the great white doctor aside and they had an animated discussion.
The image of the scalpel cutting into the flesh and Olive being ripped out made everyone edgy, tweaky and manic, especially since people hadn’t slept for such a long time and were freaked by the possibility that after all this, the baby could die.
After much deliberation and discussion, the doctor split and the dula and the midwife returned looked very happy with themselves. Something was inserted somewhere to try and make the process happen more quickly. This seemed to have little effect.
After more deliberation and discussion, it was decided that a drug would be injected to induce labor. And a pain relieving epidural seemed clearly in order.
The Anesthesiologist marched in. Crisp, meticulous and immaculate, a pin would look sloppy next to him. He seemed to have a spotlight shining on him. He wheeled in a large metallic box, like a magician, and laid out all his tools on its flat surface. I once worked as a fruit picker, with migrants. The way they attacked a fruit tree was a work of art. They didn’t seem to be moving that fast, but everything happened so rapidly you couldn’t follow it. It was surreal. That’s what the anesthesiologist was like. He had a small needle inserted near the spine of Olive’s mother so quick you thought your eyes were deceiving you. Then he threaded what looked like a metallic fishing line into the hole. Or I’m assuming he did, I didn’t see it happen, all of a sudden it was just there. I don’t even think the man spoke a word. Then all of a sudden, like the Lone Ranger, he was gone without even waiting for Thank You.
Instant relief bathed the grateful face of Olive’s mom. Her face was drained of pain, fear, tension and anxiety. The contractions kept coming thick and heavy, although Olive’s mom was bearing them much more easily. But still her body was not ready for Olive to come out. So Olive’s mother slept, gathering her strength. Recharged and revived, the inducing drugs working away, the epidural was discontinued. It was time.
This is where things got freaky. The midwife actually reached her hands into the womb and started manipulating things inside Olive’s mother. You could see Olive moving around through the thin skin, thrashing and kicking as she was sucked downdowndown into the canal as her heart beat:
BOOM BOOM BOOM!
59 hours and 45 minutes since the start of labor, the body was finally ready. The grandmother and the godmother and the husband and the dula and the midwife prepared with the mother for the final push. With the midwife’s fingers expertly manipulating inside the body of Olive’s mother, the pushing began again. Three to each contraction.
On and on it went, with each contraction the midwife exhorting, imploring, encouraging the mother to keep pushing even when she could push no more, three pushes, with the breath held, then release and sink into the bed.
Suddenly there it was. A miracle. The top of the head. Even though it was clearly visible it was completely unbelievable. Even though you knew it was going to happen, it was incomprehensible. Even though you understood what was going on, it was ununderstandable. Even though it was impossible, it was actually happening.
The grandmother wept and wept, as she helped, great tears of joy and release, and the godmother kept saying just the right things at just the right moment to relieve the tension. The dula was here there and everywhere, supplying what was needed even before it was asked for. The husband whispered in the ear, and supplied the oxygen. And the midwife was like the captain of the team, organizing, letting everyone know what they should do in a commanding yet gentle voice, always knowing what to do, with her hands deep inside the body of the mother, moving and rearranging and allowing life to enter the world.
A third of the head was pushed out and then went back in again at the end of the contraction. And then there it was again with another contraction and push, the whole head, even as they watched they kept asking themselves:
“How is this happening?”
The midwife started yanking on the head with what seemed like, to the interested observer, shockingly violently aggression. The father had a sudden vision of the midwife ripping his daughter’s head right off, the poor headless baby flailing its arms, while the horrified head looked on.
But no, the midwife’s magic fingers slid Olive right out of her mother.
A collective gasp filled the room. The mother was overcome with relieved jioe de vivre and unspeakable metaphysical physical soul opening exhilaration and awe.
Suddenly there she was:
Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry.
Alive, laying on her mother’s chest, still attached by the cord to the inside. The midwife and dula rubbed Olive with sweet vigor. Olive’s tiny yet huge lungs filling with air, and she gave out a small surprised cry, like: Wow, I’m really here!
The father cried copious tears overflowing with a love that he had never felt. He saw Olive learning to talk and walk and read and going to school and learning to drive and falling in love and getting married and having a baby of her own, eternity in an instant, infinity in an infant’s eyes.
And that is how, after almost 60 hours of labor, Olive Annabell Maureen Sterry came into the world weighing a whopping 9 lbs. 2 oz at 2:19 p.m. on September 13, 2007.