Rocky had orders to attend retraining at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi. The movers came and packed up our household goods and we drove down to Mississippi from Minot. It was the end of February 1985. I was seven and a half months pregnant. We still only had one car: my beat up old AMC Hornet, John. Looking back on it now, we were out of our minds to trust that poor car to get us to our destination almost 2000 miles away. We brought Aragorn and Spock with us.
We left Minot just before noon. Rocky only wanted to pay for 1 hotel room, so the plan was for each of us to drive six or seven hours, get a hotel room in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and then repeat this the next day, hoping to arrive at Keesler in the early evening. Rocky took the first shift and drove to Fergus Falls. Then it was my turn. I had never driven anywhere outside of Minot/Ward County. I didn’t like to drive–I never have and still don’t. I was driving as we neared Minneapolis. It was about 5 pm.
I drove through Minneapolis in rush hour traffic, white-knuckling the steering wheel, afraid to let go so I could wipe my sweaty palms. I was so frightened and tense I started having contractions. Rocky (who had a 2-year-old daughter) assured me they were ‘only’ Braxton Hicks, and anyway there was nowhere to stop, so I had to drive until we could find a rest stop.
Braxton Hicks contractions are also known as ‘false labor.’ Think of them as your body practicing for the real thing. They can be intense and painful, but not as intense as the real thing. They never become regular and will go away if you change position or walk around. I could do neither. I was already frightened; driving while my body practiced giving birth was agony. I drove through/past Minneapolis and pulled over as soon as I could. Then I got out of the car and walked around until I stopped shaking. I told Rocky I was done driving and got into the passenger seat.
I refused to drive for the rest of the trip. I just felt that surely my navigator-Rocky-could have found an exit for me to calm down and breathe as soon as the Braxton Hicks began. Rocky kept insisting the contractions weren’t real labor so they weren’t a big deal. I offered to periodically squeeze his gonads while he was driving through rush hour traffic and we could compare experiences. He said it wasn’t a fair comparison. We arrived at Keesler furious with each other. But before we got there, we had another day of driving.
We spent the night in Des Moines, sneaking the dog and cat into the hotel so we wouldn’t have to pay the pet deposit. We woke up in the morning to rain. Rocky decided to take Highway 61 to St. Louis, shoot down through Memphis and continue for as long as it took to get to Biloxi. But it rained all day. Missouri was nothing but hills and driving rain. It took us most of the day to get to Memphis because the car started losing power. We drove slower and slower until finally Rocky decided to stop and get a motel room. When we turned off the car in the parking lot, neither of us was sure it was going to start in the morning.
The car did start the next morning, but it was clear poor John was on his last legs. Now I was having Braxton Hicks because I was afraid the car was going to die and leave us stranded in the Mississippi woods. I kept my contractions to myself. Rocky was raging at the PoS car and the rain and anything else that came to mind. By the time John limped into Biloxi, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining like there had never been rain at all. We turned off the car and John never moved under his own steam again.
My feet were so swollen, I could barely walk.
Rocky hadn’t booked us into the TLQs because you had to pay for them. Instead, we stayed with a guy he’d worked with in Minot. We slept on a fold out loveseat for 2 weeks. I was now 8 months pregnant. I could feel the bed supports through the mattress. My back was in agony. Rocky got a ride to work/school with his friend until we got our own house in base housing. Then we needed a car of our own so Rocky sold John and came home with a 4-speed Ford Fiesta. I didn’t know how to drive anything except an automatic. Rocky decided I needed to learn to drive the car RIGHT NOW, in case of emergencies.
We found an empty parking lot and my lessons began. Rocky explained to me about rpms and gears meshing and clutches and all sorts of things I didn’t understand. I kept stalling the car. Over and over. The car would rabbit hop forward a few jumps and stall out. Rocky started yelling that I was going to ruin the clutch cable. He had told me how the gears worked, why was I so stupid that I couldn’t get it? Of course, when I got tense again, the contractions started up again. It is nearly impossible to figure out how a clutch works when your abdomen keeps clenching and sending shooting pains down your legs. I got out of the car and started to walk home.
Rocky told me to get in the car; I refused. When I had finally walked out the contractions I told him I was done trying to learn. It could wait until after the baby was born. He finally agreed so I got in the car and we drove home. Melissa, the wife of the guy we’d been staying with called me the next day to see how I was doing getting moved in and ready for the baby. I told her about the disastrous driving lessons and how angry I was that Rocky had sold MY car and then bought a car I couldn’t drive without consulting me. She showed up after lunch and took me for a ride.
Melissa found an empty parking lot and parked. She told me to think of the clutch and gears as a seesaw I was balancing with my feet. The trick was to find the balance and change gears at that point. She told me to put my hands on the dash, close my eyes, and listen while she drove. She said you can both hear and feel when the car reaches the point when you have to change gears. We drove around the parking lot in silence while she switched gears. Then she started saying ‘now’ when it was time to switch. Finally, Melissa asked me if I was ready to try. She promised she wouldn’t yell.
Ten minutes later I drove us back to my house.
I never told Rocky that Melissa taught me to drive. After the baby was born and Rocky took me out for another lesson, I magically drove right on the first try. I’m sure he still thinks he is a wonderful driving teacher.
The day before the baby was due, I was making dinner and I felt something ‘give.’ I took a step and felt wetness. I told Rocky I thought we needed to go to the hospital. When we arrived I told the nurse I thought my water had broken. She asked when I was due. I told her I was due the next day and she laughed and asked if It was my first baby. I said it was. She told me babies never come on their due date, first babies are always late, and if my water broke, I wouldn’t ‘think’. I would KNOW. She sent me home, telling me that sometimes babies kick the bladder and little accidents happen.
I was feeling tired and not at all hungry, so when we got home I put on my PJs and went to bed. I sat down on the edge of the bed and when I swung my leg up onto the bed, I felt something give again. This time, it was no mistake. I hadn’t had ‘a little accident’. The sheets were wet. Back to the hospital we went.
The thing is, there is no ONE way to begin labor. Sometimes the waters don’t break and have to be broken by the doctor at the hospital. Sometimes the waters break and there’s no mistaking it: everything is soaked. But sometimes, you just kind of spring a leak. Which is what I had done earlier at dinner time. And when I got into bed the leak got a little bigger, but everything was basically fine as long as I was still. But every time I took a step: splash. Rocky carried my bag and walked me into the hospital. Step-splash. Step-splash. The nurse took one look at me and got a wheelchair, fussing at Rocky for making me walk.
So there we were, in the hospital. Remember all those Braxton Hicks contractions? I should’ve been ready to go. But nothing was happening. They broke my water for good and all. Nothing happened. No contractions. They decided to give me pitocin and that started the contractions. There was only one problem. The pitocin gave me double contractions. See, a graph of normal contractions looks like this:
But my contractions all looked like this:
And I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. So I would breathe through the first peak and then relax instead of continuing to try to manage the pain. Then the second bump of the double contraction would come and catch me by surprise and I couldn’t regain control. So it was “breathe, breathe, breathe, relax, SCREAM, relax. breathe, breathe, breathe, relax, SCREAM, relax.” The doctor reduced the pitocin dose. My contractions stopped. Increase the dosage, double contractions. There was nothing to be done. I stayed on the pitocin. I entered the hospital at about 5 pm. Nick was born 24 hours later, at 5:05 pm. Almost 24 hours of “breathe, breathe, breathe, relax, SCREAM, relax. breathe, breathe, breathe, relax, SCREAM, relax.” About 10 hours in I begged for pain medication. I was told demerol would only ‘take the edge off’. Rocky told them I wanted to have a natural childbirth. No demerol was produced. About 11 hours in, Rocky told me to quit screaming because I was hurting his ears. The nurse invited him to leave; he opted to stay and shut his mouth. At about 12 hours, I started screaming nonstop and demanded pain meds. Taking the edge off was better than nothing. Instead of demerol, they gave me an epidural and I fell asleep on the delivery table.
My body continued to labor in double contractions without me. I woke up when the epidural wore off and immediately started screaming again. I was given another epidural. This time I didn’t fall asleep. But the baby went into distress. The doctor and nurses told me the baby needed to be born now and I needed to push. I pushed for an hour. The baby’s heartbeat returned to normal, but he still wasn’t born. At 23 hours, his heart rate plummeted.
I was told to push. I refused. The nurses were begging me: just one more push, just one more, and your baby will be here. I told them they were liars; they’d been telling me ‘one more push’ for hours and yet here we are: no baby. I refused to push. I didn’t have to-the epidural had numbed me from my chest down. They tried to reason with me: if I wouldn’t help them, they’d have to perform a C-section. I screamed at them that I didn’t care; I was done. Get this baby out of me. “Get it out! Get it out! Get it out!” I did NOT hold my breath or beat my fists on the floor, but yes, I threw a tantrum. Nick was delivered by forceps 24 hours and 5 minutes after I entered the hospital. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. He’d had a bowel movement before he was finally born and had breathed it in during the birth. He was whisked away to NICU before I could see him.
Rocky and I couldn’t agree on a name. The ward nurse told me I couldn’t take him home until he had a name. I told her that was utterly false. Once I finally got to hold Nick, I wouldn’t put him down. The same nurse told me I couldn’t hold him all the time; I was going to spoil him. I agreed with her. I told her my 6 pound boy was an evil mastermind, plotting world domination starting with convincing his mother to never put him down. She wasn’t amused. Since I’d been pushing for so long, things down below were in iffy condition and they inserted a catheter. I woke up in the night in excruciating pain and hit the call button. My favorite nurse answered and when I told her I was in pain, she yanked back my blankets and said, “Well, what do you expect? Your catheter tube is twisted and not draining.” She jerked it out of its knot, sending jolts of pain up into my bladder, which blessedly released its contents. That woman definitely needed to find another profession.
After three days, we took Nick home. Joyce and Jerome showed up a day later. Joyce would take the baby out of his crib when he started crying, so I could sleep. I’d wake up anyway when he’d start shrieking. I told Joyce to bring him to me when he woke up so I could nurse him. She told me babies need to be fed on a schedule or they overeat and get fat. I told her BOTTLE fed babies are on a schedule because you can tell how much food they’re getting. Breastfed babies should be fed on demand. She disagreed. I asked her if she’d breastfed any of us kids. No. Then do it my way. My baby. My rules.
She and Jerome started taking Nick to Denny’s while I napped in the afternoons. That stopped when they took me with them one day and the waitresses told me how much Nick looked like his parents: Joyce and Jerome. They thought I was the older sister. Joyce had told them all Nick was hers. I wouldn’t let them take Nick anywhere without me after that. Joyce and Jerome stayed for two weeks and then we were finally alone at last, free to settle in as a family.
Then we discovered Nick had colic. I had been assured that colic is an old wives’ tale, but I can testify that it is not. Colic is prolonged periods of intense crying and screaming in an infant that is otherwise healthy. Nick wailed for hours, refusing to eat, unable to be comforted, screaming until his face was red and his little body was tense and rigid. The pediatrician said he was hungry, that I wasn’t producing enough milk, and told me to supplement with formula. Nick projectile vomited the formula and screamed for hours. I stopped giving him formula and took him to a different pediatrician who diagnosed colic, said there wasn’t much to be done but endure. Sometimes car rides help. She said to cheer up; colic usually goes away by the time the baby is 3 months old.
In the meantime, Nick screamed nonstop for 3 hours every night. Like clockwork from 6 pm to 9 pm. I rocked him. Nick screamed. I walked with him. Nick screamed. I bathed him. Nick screamed. I swaddled him. Nick screamed. I tried to feed him. Nick screamed. Rocky would tell me to shut him up. I would ask, “Why would I shut him up? I LOVE listening to him scream. In fact, I’ve been pinching him for the last hour.” Rocky wasn’t amused. He also wouldn’t take the baby. On Nick’s three month birthday, he stopped screaming. The colic was gone. He grew fat and happy.