By Esty Schachter
Web Exclusive - June 2007

woman laboring in hospital bed
"Do you want some juice?" My baby may have been on his way out, but the hospital staff was offering me refreshments.

I was in labor, in one of many triage rooms in a Boston city hospital, about to give birth to my second son. I had spent the day walking around our apartment building with my husband, Jon, contractions coming and going with no real pattern. When my water broke and I could no longer speak in full sentences, the doctor on call for my practice told me that I might as well come in, but he sounded unconvinced.

The triage nurse was similarly doubtful. "We're not sure your water has really broken," she said, and asked if I wanted some juice. I said I wanted to push, but no one except Jon seemed to hear me. That's when I should have realized a vital bit of information: quiet women in labor will not get attention. Labor is simply not the time for restraint or subtlety. I should have said, "Juice?? I'm about to have a baby here!" But I didn't. So I lay there on the triage table for fifteen minutes, just me and Jon in the room, until the doctor came in to "take a look." I clearly remember what I did to pass the time. I reviewed my list of "Reasons to Live." Of course, Jon and my son Elie were on it, right at the top, but so was the letter I had just received from a friend and hadn't yet had a chance to read. Yes, I thought to myself, in more pain than I had ever experienced before, I should try and live through this so I can read that letter.

When the doctor finally arrived and indeed looked, he did the double-take I have now come to recognize, having quietly delivered my first son as well. The doctor leaned in, pulled the lamp closer, and then announced to the nurse, "Let's move, she's good to go!" In my case, this meant that my body had already told me all I needed to know: I was fully dilated, baby's head showing, quite ready to push.

"Just don't push, whatever you do," the doctor said, as somebody else steered my gurney out into the hallway, and off we went, careening though hospital corridors while staff members asked "High risk?" and nurses shouted "No, good to go!" The first room they tried for was already in use, so we reversed course and headed down to another room, where a group of hospital personnel were enthusiastically watching a football game. They were quickly shooed out, and another dance ensued. The doctor instructed the delivery nurse to connect an IV. The nurse expressed her concern that the baby was coming too fast for that. The doctor told me not to push. The nurse leaned close and said I should do what nature told me to. The doctor insisted on the IV. The nurse was too short to hang the bag. The doctor hung the bag, and asked the nurse if there was anything else she needed him to do. I am a social worker. I was very tempted to tell them they would need to take their issues outside, but I figured I would be needing them both, and soon. The pressure and contractions were now intense.

The nurse continued to speak to me with encouraging words and a gentle tone. Finally, the doctor readied himself for my delivery, turning to Jon and saying, "Hold this." "This" was my leg. During our last delivery, Jon had stayed close to my head, offering his support and strong presence. This time, he was pressed into service as a human stirrup, a job he hadn't quite prepared himself for. With just three pushes, our son Ari was born. As the doctor placed my beautiful baby on my chest, I looked over at Jon. He was gone. Immediately, all attention in the room went to the floor, where Jon was kneeling, queasy from his new experience with the life cycle. They offered him juice, which he refused. "I'm fine," he said, and the nurse responded with, "They always say that. Drink the juice." Meanwhile, Ari and I cuddled on the delivery table, as Apgar scores were recorded, and footprints were taken. Jon recovered, and joined me in looking at our new little boy. A little while later I was wheeled to my room, and as I rode past the nurse's station, the crowd of nurses there gave me a round of applause. I had delivered my baby forty-five minutes after arriving at the hospital. I waved to them, queen of my very own quirky parade.

All in all, it was a wonderful birth. I delivered a healthy baby, whose umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck until the doctor eased it away. But while I felt forever indebted to the doctor who delivered my first child, I felt none of the same tenderness for the Boston doctor. I didn't care for his brusqeness or the way he treated the delivery nurse. For her part, the nurse in her gentle way reminded me that I was capable and in control. She is who I thought of then and think of still as having helped me and my husband give birth to my son.

I learned a few things from my labor and delivery. First, I had always wondered how it was that women had babies in taxi cabs, or in the case of one of my friends, on the bathroom floor. Now I knew. Things hardly ever happen quite the way we expect them to. Second, I realized that while serenity is a virtue in most situations, I had found one circumstance where a little volume, perhaps with a few expletives thrown in, may have moved things along. Still, by the end of that day I could look back on a quick delivery and a great story, and most importantly, a lovely baby asleep in my arms.

The truth is, I hadn't expected to learn just how strong I could be. It came as a surprise, but it shouldn't have. I know my body. I know myself. Juice or no juice, you will too.

Esty Schachter lives in Ithaca, New York with her husband and two sons. She is the author of Anya's Echoes, a middle-grade novel. Her poem, "Milk" previously appeared in Mothering.