Marni Asplund-Campbell, editor
[p.65]After I had my baby, I saw around me differently. I had this urge (and have indeed done so a few times) to walk up to women and say, “Now I know!” All the children I see around me, and everyone I see, I think, “Some woman had you.” It was thoroughly liberating.
I went to the Certified Nurse Midwives and it was an excellent choice for my interactive personality. I felt as if the women talked with me, not at me. I felt in control, but at one point I realized that the baby was just going to come, whether I liked it or not, and just about then I felt scared.
During most of my hard labor (I got into serious labor at 11:00 p.m., to the hospital at 3:00 a.m., and delivered at 10:00 a.m. the next morning), I had options to try other than just lying in bed, and I found that sitting in the shower was very soothing. At one point the midwife gave me a piece of candy and, to help me through another stage in pushing, grabbed a towel and asked me to do a tug-of-war with her. Things like this may seem silly now, but at the time they were techniques I needed. Especially since I delivered without medication.
My parents were coming for my due date to help us and I had decided I wanted to have both of them there for the delivery. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, and so we left ourselves open for changes in the plan. At one point my dad was actually consoling my husband, Bryan, in the corner while I was surrounded by women at my legs and near my face, I think it eased tension because my dad is really funny, and when I was taking breaks, he told good jokes. So for me it was a great experience. It brought us four and eventually five, including daughter Anna, closer together. One other funny part has to do with the monitor. Everyone somehow turns all their attention to these damnable machines and I hated it. At one point Bryan was watching the contraction [p.66]through the wave of numbers and said, “Oh Steph, this is a big one.” Out of sheer frustration and anger at that contraption, I yelled, “NO DUH, BRY!” Everyone got a good laugh.
My first child, a son, was born when I was seventeen. My obstetrician was and still is a good friend, but the first time I went to see him, I went because he was an old friend of my young husband’s family. “The whole family sees him.”
I would never claim to have been “passive,” but as a seventeen-year-old I was somewhat pliable where my doctor went. As my due date neared, he talked to me about the delivery in general, mentioning that it would take place at the Dee Hospital in Ogden, Utah. I hit the roof.
Historically, the Dee Hospital had been a tuberculosis hospital. But after TB was under control, it was converted into a regular hospital. I had been born at the Dee in 1944. But my ear always to the ground, even as a kid, I’d caught wind of a serious outbreak of staph infections at the Dee. Several mothers as well as some newborns had contracted staph there. I told my doctor, “I’ll have my baby in the street before I’ll go to the Dee!”
The other hospital in Ogden was Catholic-owned and -operated St. Benedict’s. I told my doctor that I intended to give birth at St. Ben’s. He smiled and said, “Well, you know, Arlene, I have several patients due around the same time as you. I have privileges at St. Ben’s, of course, but I prefer to deliver at the Mormon hospital and all my patients go there. If I deliver at St. Ben’s, I could miss other deliveries at the Dee.”
I snapped, “I don’t care—as long as it’s not my delivery that you miss!”
And so on a late Friday afternoon I went into labor. I remember it was a Friday because my sixteen-year-old husband was the star of the high school basketball team and they had a Friday night game. He yelped at me, “Trust you. You would have a baby on a game night!”
And I didn’t. Not that I need have worried: I would not have that child until twenty-seven hours later, in St. Benedict’s, my doctor at my side almost the entire time. But as my husband careened his little white [p.67]MG up the hill towards the hospital after that game, as I stared ahead of me at that foreign, to me, neon cross glowing from the hospital, my husband hissed at me, “If that baby is a girl, you can call your parents to take you back home because I won’t have either one of you!”
As I rode up in the elevator, sitting in a wheelchair, a white-habit-wearing nun beside me, I was hit with the most powerful sensation I’d ever had to that stage of my life: this was the first thing that had happened to me that I could not control in some way Or another. Panic! I said to the nun, ‘‘I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want a baby at all.” And I was serious. I wanted to get up from that wheelchair and run back down that hill and away from that hospital, and it felt that if I ran fast enough, I could escape. The sweet-faced, soft-spoken nun, stroking my hair, said, “It’s too late to change your mind, dear. But you’ll be fine—I promise.”
There were screams from women up and down the hallways, wending from other labor rooms into mine. I heard women screaming in pain and in anger. “If you ever lay a hand on me again:’ I recall a woman shrieking at a husband, “I will kill you!” My doctor talked to me with his mouth right up to my ear, to drown the screams out. “You’re doing fine, Arlene. I’ll stay right here with you. Don’t be afraid and don’t hear anything beyond you and your own room. Shhh …”
And I remember all the meals that were served, meals I didn’t get. I was starving and weak and knew a breakfast then a lunch had passed along hospital corridors, avoiding me.
I also remember that I had not cried a tear or called out once through all those hours, until just before my doctor decided to take me into the delivery room. I began to weep quietly: “Maybe there’s no baby at all,” I sobbed to my physician. “Maybe I’ll just be here forever, in pain and for nothing …”
Two hours in delivery and he said, “You have a son!” I cried almost hysterically, tears more of relief than of joy: a boy. Now I wouldn’t have to call my parents to take me and my baby home.
Jacob was conceived in a minivan on a camping trip, three years after Jessie was born. Jessie was a terrible baby. She cried all [p.68]the time, all the time. The only reason I didn’t send her right back where she came from was because she was a girl (we already had two boys) and having her at home made her unique. Otherwise I’d have returned her and asked for a refund. So when I knew I was pregnant with Jacob and I knew, I never took a pregnancy test for this one—right away I started talking to him and to God and saying, “I need this baby to be a good baby. Be peace, baby. Be a peaceful baby.”We went for long walks up and down the foothills in northeast Provo and I just talked and talked and talked. He was quiet and peaceful in the womb—so much so that I worried a little. But the midwife—who had delivered Jessie, and who was struggling herself with a late-life pregnancy—assured me he was just quiet, that his muscle tone was good, and that all was well.
I went into labor on late Wednesday night. Thursday I called both Brigham Young University and the Waterford School, where I taught part time, and notified my husband and sat around watching television (which I never do) all day long. I can’t remember when the midwives first came over. As with my first home birth, there were several lay midwives and their apprentices. When Jessie was born, we had eight assistants bustling about. My husband’s main impression of that first home birth was of efficiency—even with all those women in the house, order reigned, and after Jessie was born everything was clean and tidy and the women were gone within an hour. My main impression of that first home birth was that, as labor progressed, Diane (the “mother” midwife) walked and talked with me, and when I had a particularly hard contraction, as I was pacing my bedroom, she held me and whispered in my ear till it was over.
It was Friday late afternoon before the midwives needed to come. I was in labor all that time, but not hard, and Diane kept calling. I think she came over once to check me, but she said Jacob wouldn’t be born until Friday evening. Which was exactly what happened. She’d done the same with Jessie—had said, “This baby will be born around 8:00 tonight, and will weigh around seven pounds, and I think it will be a girl,” and she was right on all three counts.
So late in the afternoon the midwives started arriving. My friend Aida also showed up to take care of my other three little children. The evening wore on. The midwives prepared herbal teas. They massaged the pressure points on the sales of my feet, as [p.69]well as my perineum. They talked me through contractions—and for the first time I suddenly knew how to make noise to help contractions. I groaned and groaned, and the midwives and the assistants cried, “Yes, yes, that’s it, you sound good, very good.” My children were afraid, however, so Aida took them downstairs and entertained them.
We had a tape in the boombox of Fresh Aire (Mannheim Steamroller). It played for five hours straight, and I hardly even heard it.
About 8:00 the phone rang. It was Diane’s husband: her baby, who had been born with multiple problems and was prone to seizures, was having one. With tears in her eyes, Diane leaned over me and begged forgiveness, but she felt that I was in good hands, and she would call one other midwife to come over and preside in her stead, if I could let her go see to her own child (who died a few months later). Thus it was that a complete stranger assisted at Jacob’s birth-someone who had never seen me before in her life.
But the first thing she asked after she came into my bedroom and assessed the situation—full dilation, strong contractions, very close together—was whether I’d had an enema. When I said I’d tried to administer one to myself earlier but it hadn’t seemed very successful, she marshaled everyone to help me. I was given the enema, and out came the baby, then and there. My husband and three assistants picked me up to get me back to the bed, they sort of flung me horizontal, and the baby slid out slick as you can imagine, two breaths and there he was. My husband had run downstairs to get the other children so they could see the baby being born, but they were asleep, so it took him and Alda a few minutes to wake them, and by the time they were back upstairs Jacob was resting on the bed between my legs and I’d checked his sex and the length of his fingers and the gray umbilical cord lay there throbbing. My husband got to cut the cord, as he had Jessie’s, but he missed the actual birth, which was something we were both a little sad about. The children stood around in awe, and my second boy was too shy to hold his slimy little brother, but the other two couldn’t wait—the assistants wrapped him naked in a blanket and they held him reverently. Jacob was a little bit gray—it took him a while to find out he was out of the womb—and I said, “Cry, baby!” till he did. Then we put him to the breast and he lay between us all night long, [p.70]never making a sound.
He was the quietest child we had. He lay in our arms as if listening to the universe. When I brought him in the shower with me as he grew, he lay quiet along my front—never squirmed or fought. But it wasn’t because anything was wrong (he’s a great little skier these days, with plenty of eight-year-old energy), it was because he knew I needed a peaceful baby.
What was remarkable was the encouragement and accurate assessment of the midwives; the way I could go with the contractions both in my groanings and in my pushing, as I had never been able to do with my other three births; and the way Jacob responded to my talking to him in the womb.