Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Thank you, Elvis

At precisely 2:26 this afternoon on 2 June, I will celebrate an especially memorable occasion—the middle of a 24 hour Elvis movie marathon that aired in Lawrenceville, GA. I know that you can’t remember what you ate for lunch yesterday, much less what movie was playing on television nineteen years ago unless you, too, are a mother and happened to be giving birth in the midst of Blue Hawaii.

But, you weren’t in Gwinnett Medical Center that day because I was the only one on the labor floor on Saturday, June 2nd, 1990. Well, I wasn’t alone, of course. Tim was cruising the corridors somewhere after he’d been banished by the anesthetist for nearly fainting at the sight of the arm-length epidural needle. And, then, there was the sweet little L&D nurse who loved Elvis almost as much as she loved her vowels. As she fed me ice chips and narrated each painful scene of Elvis’s silver screen escapades, she was happy to articulate why “mama-nem didn’t thank thar wuz ever a more talented man in tha whole wide world.” I waited in a narcotic haze as she alternately monitored the King and the fetal monitor. “Hay—jew feel that one? You just had a big contraction—look at the print out tape.” And sure enough, the high peaks on the “receipt” which issued forth from the labor monitoring machine told me that something was happening. I only wished that my nurse would pay as much attention to my pelvis as she did to Elvis’s.

After twelve hours of active labor, fifty-two commercials, and twenty-nine rocking odes to love, shoes and other pop-culture minutia, my eight pound one ounce sedated and jaundiced bundle of boy considerately appeared in time for the obstetrical resident to miss rush hour traffic. My proud-new-mom delivery room pictures look more like I was a roady for the Grateful Dead than a happy mother of a healthy baby, but I was still considerably numb from the waist down, so putting together a coherent thought and a coordinated smile were hours away from happening.

An old aviation adage says, “any landing the pilot walks away from is a good landing.” Obviously, a cracked up plane is secondary to a human life. And, likewise, lest I seem ungrateful for an untraumatic birth, Nathan’s heavily medicalized arrival certainly could have produced far more severe complications, but it didn’t. I thank God for this. However, the interventions that were administered during labor produced an event that seemed to happen to us rather than were focused on us. Birth seemed to occur outside my body somewhere within the delivery room technology. My body didn’t experience the powerful ebb and flow of labor, the fetal monitor did. There was no perineal ring-of-fire to signal the climax of baby Nathan's long journey, nor irresistible urge to push, nor hoarse but trimphant bellow as my uterine muscles worked in a three-way effort to squeeze out my forty-two week miracle. Instead, I felt more like a passive, sweatless, and mute fetal host to a listless, gray product of conception than a mother of a “wonderously made” infant.

But something else was birthed on that momentous June afternoon so many years ago. It wasn't wrinkled, gray, or limp like my baby boy, but it was a living and vibrant intuitive "knowing" that birth could and should be different from what I had experienced thus far. It was the tapping on the shoulder of the centuries-old creative and God-rendered yearning to understand and embrace His pre-ordained reproductive plan. The plan that encompasses the intertwined dance of pain and pleasure, of work and reward, of physiology and spirituality all married together in a process called natural childbirth.

I owe my gratitude to epidurals, fetal monitors, labor narcotics, and Elvis for illuminating the truth of what a good birth is and what it is not--and to Nathan who survived the worst so that his siblings could enjoy the best. Happy birthday, Nathan!

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