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I am lying in a used bed and something is devouring my kidney. No—something is preparing my kidney for consumption, slapping a spatula on it and pressing full weight, like I'd prepare hamburger meat for a McDonald’s-patty-look-a-like-grilling. Slap! Press. And again.

I wrench my husband’s hand, whisper hoarsely, It’s got my kidney. He feeds me an ice chip. I’m thinking, I don’t think It’s supposed to get my kidney???, and then I berate myself for calling my unborn son It. A nurse assures me in standard hospital-worker trill that the kidney slapping is simply part of the contractions I’m experiencing—a goofy sidekick (side-slap) pain to heroic pain. I’m thinking, Liar! These contractions are period cramps on speed, so big and important they’d never tolerate sidekicks. I assumed contractions would feel like getting stabbed with an ice pick, not at all like something familiar, but no matter how many mothers tried to fill me in, what isn’t surprising about giving birth?

Slap! Press. Ow.  

I am the only woman in the maternity ward given an epidural that didn’t take (surprise!). As a result my legs are 300 pound beached seals, but my abdomen spews lava. My husband feeds me another ice chip. When I experience an uber -period-cramp-contraction his face is in mine, his green eyes mesmerizing explosions as he commands me to breathe. The Sybil is here and she suggests breathing with sound. I try, exhaling with an emotion-packed eeesh and find that sound helps (surprise…). Eeesh, I say. EEESH! The cheesy ‘Arizona Spa’ CD I picked up at Target, its mournful wooden flute notes backed with electronic strings, is helping, too. Between contractions I focus on the flute and think But why my kidney, kid? Slap! Then it’s time to breathe again.

Dr. Epidural has been summoned to the OR and refuses to return to fix what he will later defend like this: It’s because she’s so tall. I should have started the epi lower.

Eeesh. Slap! Eeesh. 

My blood pressure has been spiking since midnight. By the following noon, my contractions stabilized at two minutes apart. Three hours later, my contractions are still two minutes apart, but my cervix is stalled at two centimeters. Two out of ten. And my blood pressure is schizophrenic. My doc is not pleased. She is flat out prescribing the C word because of the P word. Pre-eclempsia. If I progress to the E word, I could have seizures. For the first time since the contractions really started hurting, my eyes tear up. I ask my doc what I’m doing wrong. I had a stellar pregnancy, especially for a woman over forty, passed the vital tests, but I’m failing at natural childbirth. I tell her natural childbirth runs in my family. I tell her I want to go through the pushing thing, even if the epidural never kicks in and I continue to experience mutant period cramps. I ask her how Pre-eclempsia could happen. It’s because I’m forty-two, right? I ask my doc and Nurse Nightmare gasps and clutches her throat. Oh my god, you’re forty-two? she cries. My doc just shrugs and says no one can predict these things. I’m conflicted and scared—I skipped the info about C-sections in What to Expect When You’re Expecting because I was convinced the C word would never be a part of my birthing reality. I even left the C word off the Birthing Plan my husband and I submitted bashfully to my doc. Why, why didn’t I read the chapter? Everyone is staring at me, waiting for me to decide, Nurse Nightmare, coming down from her shock, nodding the answer she approves of. I’m the one on my back battling mercenary period cramps. I’m the one with It in my belly refusing to move and I have to decide whether to C or not to C? I’m just a smalltime, forty-two year old (tall!) poet with one lowly chapbook and a half-written novel to her name. I’m no brain surgeon. I have writer’s block! And plaque! What the hell do I know? My husband and the Sybil tell me they are for the C section. Suddenly, eeshing from another Slap!, so am I. Eeesh—doitdoitdoitdoitdoit!

I’m in an episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, which I watched way too much of in the ninth month. I remember all of Addison’s worst case scenario pregnancy ER’s as I’m wheeled to the operating room, hostile lights flicking by overhead, a herd of labcoats surrounding me, masked, capped strangers quipping gibberish, my arms laid out in crucifix formation, then strapped down (in case I have a sudden, inexplicable urge to touch my own stomach), my hair shoved into a cap. An oxygen mask glides over my face. I ask for it to be removed because I’m going to barf. The crowd around my abdomen makes the first incision and suddenly my husband and the Sybil are with me, stroking my cheeks, squeezing my dumb, glacier hands. They wear standard ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ intern gowns, caps and masks. Doped as I am, I note the attention of my cheerleaders flicking from my face to what’s going on behind the curtain obscuring my stomach from me. The second their eyes—all soft and mushy and reassuring—leave mine, they bug out with revulsion. But knowing my husband and the Sybil have a watch on my insides is comforting. That burning smell isn’t, though. I close my eyes, thinking, At least It let go of my kidney.

My doc quips: He’s turned the wrong way.
Before I can panic, a voice shouts: Got him!

A baby is crying—a sobbing that is obviously pissed off. Everyone is saying: He’s huge! A nurse brings him around the curtain so I can have a peek before they take him for clean-up.  

I’ve given birth to a toddler. 

A red-faced kid is screaming at me as if I should do something. I’m afraid to blink—if I do the kid will be a grown man telling me he’s ready to move out of our condo. My husband is beside himself, exclaiming that watching my son come into the world was like watching a rabbit being pulled from a hat. It was amazing, unbelievable, a trick-of-the-sleeve, he babbles through his mask. With frantic jerks of my head I order him to follow our irate son to the clean-up area. My husband runs off. The Sybil stays with me as my abdomen is stapled.

A shout from nether regions of the operating room: Nine pounds, one ounce! Commotion from those at the operating table, from Dr. Epidural lurking somewhere behind my capped head. Everyone is making impressed sounds. At my final pregnancy check-up, my doc predicted my baby was around seven pounds. Now, as she staples me, she says he was ‘hiding’ his true size all this time. How could he do that? the Sybil asks, reading my pleading face.

This is my doc’s answer, delivered with the final staple: Because she’s so tall. 

My husband’s mask is pressed to my lips. He is weeping. A nurse wields my son over me. A perfect face with a perfect pink mouth and precious nose and his eyes fast shut. I want to weep beautifully like they all do in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. I can’t take it in. I’m supposed to bond with my baby right now, but I’m too doped up, immobile as a cadaver.   

All I can say is: ooh-moo, which, translated, means: I realize you’ve known me for about two seconds, but I would so appreciate it if you would please find it in your wee heart to forgive me for not bonding with you, my priceless newborn son. 

I’m being wheeled out of the operating room. My son is also on the stretcher, between my sheeted legs. Somebody put a stripy cap on him, the only part of him I can see. I don’t take my eyes off that cap. I’m thinking, He’s all aloooone! I will my legs to comfort him. Hey! Right leg! Pay attention! Left leg! I realize you're numb, but come ON.
In the recovery room, to my joy, my son is introduced to my right breast. Finally, contact with my baby! He latches on immediately, the epitome of a La Leche League poster infant. That’s my boy! As he suckles noisily, I notice that he is so much smaller now, not a toddler at all—just a tiny little tiny little tiny little bee… 

In the post-partum room I’m all lines and drips. They feed me ice chips and morphine. I still can’t move my legs. I can, though, keep the baby at my breast. I’m very, very good at this. The Sybil uses her index finger to make sure his wee nose isn’t blocked by my balloon boob. I hope the morphine isn’t lacing the colostrum. I try to tell this to my dazed, blissed-out husband, my true partner in crime and harmony and he interrupts me to whisper that he can’t believe we’re parents. We gaze at our baby. My god—he has hair! Ears! Nostrils! The Sybil takes pictures of the new family. She predicts I’ll definitely receive some poems from this birth stuff. Hee-owm, I respond, which, translated, means: this incredible wee wunderkind human being is a poem, man, a living poem, man, oh wow, wow, wow.  

And then I know, I know for a fact that it’s true what they say about miracles—absolute, heard-it-on-Oprah, yadda-yadda cliché, but true. 

They breathe. They wail. They exist.

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