Milan’s Birth, Spring, 1975
So, it begins. I lie awake in the dark; the first firm squeezing
of my uterus has wakened me. I lie in bed with my heart
pounding. Labor has taken me by surprise; it is a full week
early. I am astounded. Another squeeze comes. I look at the
clock. Twenty minutes apart. I get up quietly and walk around to
see if the contractions stop. I pace around our bedroom loft. I
look out the window to the trees, shadowy in the soft moonlight.
I am tingling with anticipation. Today I will meet my child.
I lie back down and try to sleep. I try to ignore my excitement
and the strong squeezing. John is curled up on his side, facing
away from me. I feel my belly mound in rhythmic waves. I lay my
hands over the stretched, paper-thin skin of my abdomen. My
child within stretches his foot out to deliberately push my hand
aside. This is his game. I manage to grab his foot through my
skin; he immediately jerks his foot away and rolls to the other
side. He tentatively sticks his foot out in the new spot, teasing
me. I pinch it again. He retreats quickly. This makes me smile. I
am so in love with this child and I haven’t even seen him yet.
In mid-afternoon I drive through a late-spring snow into town
to my ob-gyn’s office to be checked. I know the prenatal nurses
14 Carol Leonard
whisper about my appearance. Sanctimonious wenches. It has
been a long, harsh winter in the backwoods of New Hampshire,
and we heat our home with a wood stove. I am wearing my heavy
winter boots and smell like gasoline from the chainsaw. I notice
I have wood chips in my hair. I see they have written “Mountain
Woman” on the front of my chart. This makes me grin.
I hoist myself up into the cold metal stirrups, and I lie with
my legs splayed. One of the bitchy nurses snaps on a pair of
latex gloves, squirts on some K-Y Jelly, and prepares to examine
my cervix. She doesn’t speak and does not bother to warm her
hands. She plunges her fingers into me, and her eyes widen in
surprise. She says I am already five centimeters dilated and wants
me to go straight to the hospital because of the bad weather. I
decline. I opt to go back home.
I go back home because I don’t really want to hang around
in a sterile institution, waiting for labor to kick in. I also go
home because tonight we are having a fabulous dinner party
for the men who helped us build our new house. I love these
guys. They are both committed bachelors and very baby-phobic.
But they are incredibly hardworking, funny, intelligent friends.
Together, we all have built a beautiful handmade home in the
New Hampshire woods.
The dinner party is frankly ridiculous. The contractions
shift gears and are now coming every five minutes. I try to be
nonchalant and charming. Every five minutes I tense, catch
my breath, and try to fake a sickly smile. I begin squirming
uncomfortably in my chair, as I feel that my bottom could—very
possibly and at any minute—turn shockingly inside out. I try
to breathe unobtrusively, but my nostrils are flaring. I grit my
teeth, and my eyes start to water.
Every five minutes, the guys stop eating and hold their
collective breath. They stare at me in horror. Robert looks as if
he may retch.
Michael says, “Shouldn’t we boil water or something?”
Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart 15
I go upstairs and call my neighbor, Talie. Talie has had three
babies, all born at home with a local doctor. I don’t know about
the home-birth part, that seems kind of sketchy to me, but she’s
a pro at childbirth. The story about Talie that I love the best is that she was shopping in the IGA grocery store in Bradford when her water broke right in the condiment aisle. Talie was so embarrassed, she grabbed a jar of pickles and smashed it down on the floor in the middle of her puddle. "Clean up in Aisle Three" booms over the loud speaker.
Now I need her seasoned wisdom. Talie tells me to lie down and concentrate
on the intensity and that I will intuitively know when it is time to
go. I lie down. I throw up green beans and roast chicken. Now I
know. Definitely time to go.
John and I fairly fly out of the house, leaving the guys
standing there helplessly. Their eyes are wide, and their mouths
are dropped open.
“Good luck,” they mutter.
“Do the dishes!” I shout victoriously as our car careens down
Thirty minutes later, when we can see the lights of Merrimack
Valley Hospital in the distance from the highway, I get my first
real wave of serious labor. That sucker hurts. Without warning,
the contractions begin coming every minute. This is no longer
fun, nor funny. I am gripping the dashboard of the Peugeot. I
find I am panting like a dog. Yup, this is serious pain. Not pain,
like if you broke your leg, or pain without a pattern to it, but real,
genuine pain nonetheless. The insides of my nostrils are getting
hot from panting. Beads of sweat drip from my forehead. I am
seriously wondering how I am going to get out of the car once
we get there.
John and I manage to make it to the receptionist in the lobby
of the hospital, although John has to drag me the last half of the
way from the car. The receptionist informs us that because it is
still a half-hour until midnight, we will have to pay for a full day.
John and I look at each other. We don’t have medical coverage.
I decide that I’ll be damned if I’m going up to the maternity
ward before midnight and get billed for it. I stay in the lobby.
I huff and puff and pace, waiting for the clock to tick away. I
begin to get tremendous pressure in my butt. I groan and squat
down, pretty unconscious of my actions at this point. The other
16 Carol Leonard
lobbyists peer over their magazines in abject fear. At 12:01 am, I
accept the offered wheelchair and am escorted up to Merrimack
Valley Hospital’s maternity ward.
A night nurse wheels me down a long, beige-tiled hall and
into a large, beige-tiled room with several curtained-off, highrailed
hospital beds. I catch a glimpse through a crack in the
curtain of the woman in labor next to me.
“Jesus, Joseph, and Mary! This is all your fault!” the woman yells
over and over, like a litany.
I am about to make a snide comment on the woman’s catholic
choice of labor-coping mantras when I am engulfed in the worst
pain known to womankind.
“Holy crap!” I yell.
When I can breathe again, I find myself repeating my own
personalized mantra during contractions.
“Oh, shit! Oh, dear! Oh, shit! Oh, dear!” I wail.
“Jesus! Joseph and Mary!” screams from the other side of the
This proves to have a strangely comforting effect, a technique
not commonly taught in Lamaze class.
I am ordered to hoist my rock-hard belly up onto the rock-hard
bed and to spread my legs in order to be “prepped”.
Prepping consists of shaving off all my pubic hair and giving
me a high enema so that “we” will be “clean” for the doctor, as
the labor nurse so delicately puts it. The labor nurse is an older
woman, and she is chewing gum. The old nurse examines me
and looks quite pleased. She announces that I am already eight
centimeters dilated. “Only two more to go! Good work, young
She instructs me to use the adjoining bathroom, if I need it.
If? With seven gallons of hot, soapy water in my rectum? She’s
kidding, right? She says to be careful not to soil the bed sheets
and leaves the room and closes the door.
Within minutes the enema is becoming unavoidably insistent.
Lady’s Hands, Lion’s Heart 17
I try my best to make it to the loo without leakage, shuffling in
between whopping contractions. I am semi-successful. Now, I
am sitting on the throne, reassessing my predicament.
Here I am, panting on a rusty toilet in a harshly lit, drab,
concrete room, shitting my brains out.
I am thirsty, very hot and sweaty, kind of dizzy, and I am all
There is a woman shouting desperately to the Holy Ghost in
the next room.
I am about to experience one of the most profound and
meaningful acts possible in my entire lifetime.
What the hell is wrong with this picture?
And how come no one has even checked the baby? Maybe
because it’s late at night and they are short-staffed? And what if
my baby is born in this jailhouse toilet with nobody else in here?
Labor certainly is an interesting process. I am in awe that
my body knows exactly what to do; it is functioning like a finely
tuned machine. I am feeling pretty proud of myself, but with
the next contraction, I do believe my bottom is history. My yoni
is excruciating, on fire. This is impetus enough for me to drag
myself out of there and back up onto the scaffolding of the bed.
The Jesus woman has been taken away.
Now the pain is overwhelming. I can’t move. I can’t even
swear. Forget the breathing, Jesus. I lie here as wave after wave
of crushing spasms wash over me. I gape at the ceiling. Oh,
my god. I can’t handle this. This is truly unbearable. Then …
a remarkable thing happens. I separate from myself. I realize
that I can give my life to bring my child through, that I will
willingly die to be his gateway to this world—my love for him is
that strong. I stop struggling. I feel myself surrender and open
up. I start to push. I push in big, involuntary, moose-call pushes.
The old nurse runs back in. John is allowed in after filling out
all the necessary payment forms.
~ Carol Leonard, Copyright 2008, Bad Beaver Publishing