Getting Pregnant With Michelle Tea: I Had A Baby
Readers of Blog, I’ve done it again — after begging you all to come prancing through my pregnancy attempts with me, dragging you through my miscarriage, clinging to you through my pickle-guzzling first trimester and then — poof! — I put on the vanishing cream and was gone.
I’m sorry to anyone who felt abandoned. Basically, being pregnant was totally exhausting, and I spent my entire second trimester doing something I never do — napping. Napping makes me feel like I stayed up all night on speed and my life is falling apart. Why else would a person need to sleep during the day? It’s a sign of depression, or being a resident of Portland.
Once I did a reading in Portland and asked the audience how many of them had taken not one but two naps that day, and a not insignificant amount of people raised their hands. I myself had taken two naps that day, so I was unsurprised.
But aside from visiting Portland and crashing from crystal meth, I don’t nap, so my second trimester was a new landscape of totally justifiable day sleeping. And porn. My hormones were so out-of-control crazy I swear I would sit down at my computer fully intending to blog about my pregnancy and then find myself on PornTube watching a video of a blindfolded woman tied to a giant block of ice and I was just, like, transfixed.
PornTube has everything. I found a whole subset of porn that fetishizes ballerinas, and then one where women pretend to be giant floppy dolls. After exploring these new landscapes, I would be more exhausted than ever, plus vaguely disturbed at how compulsive I was behaving, how utterly controlled by hormones I am, and I would need to sleep it off. So no blogging during the second trimester.
Which is a shame because I really wanted to share this picture with you. It is a picture of me at bedtime, wearing a snore strip on my nose plus my mouth guard plus a wrist brace because my pregnancy carpal tunnel flared way up.
What was hard to capture on film was how thoroughly I sweat the bed each night, how I eventually gave up on wearing any sort of pajamas and just wound my body around my perpetually damp Snooglie pillow, naked but for a wrist brace, and tried to not wake myself up with my own snores. They had long since driven Dashiell from our marital bed, though before she bolted, she was kind enough to make some audio recordings of my guttural, monstrous, truly otherworldly snores so I would understand why she had to sleep on the pull-out couch for the remainder of my pregnancy.
Once I hit my third trimester, I was canceling shit once a week, having people fill in for me at events I’ve never missed in over a decade. I was very, very happy being pregnant — I actually miss it sometimes, the crazy sensation of a little person swimming inside me, the free seats on the bus, the kindly way the world smiled at me, a totally new way of experiencing having a body, the giddy shock at seeing my belly get bigger . . . and bigger . . . and bigger, my little mermaid tattoo stretched into a giant sea creature across my stomach.
But though I was happy in my state, it was a state best enjoyed from the comfort of my living room, whilst clutching a pint of Steve’s Brooklyn Blackout ice cream, which I ate basically every day for a month straight.
With the aid of a truly empowering, super deep Mindful Birthing class, I was ready to take on childbirth and push this little dude through my vagina. Dashiell and I went shopping for a doula. The first woman we interviewed came highly recommended by graduates of our class, but in our house she sort of absent-mindedly juggled our drink coasters and seemed super bored, saying things like, “Yeah, I guess I can take you on.” Perhaps it was time for a new occupation, change it up a bit? I didn’t like feeling like I was putting out a person I was paying like a thousand dollars to help me through one of the most important moments of my life, so we passed.
The next doula we interviewed was actually a doula duo, a pair of the blondest, youngest most beautiful young doula women ever to coax a baby from a womb. Solo, either one of them would have been a bit jarring, as they straight-up looked like models. Together, they were a spectacle. One even had a British accent, and the other looked like she rode her horse over from Connecticut.
I couldn’t tell how this would work for me in childbirth. Like, did I want these gorgeous creatures anywhere near me while my perineum was being split apart and I was howling with a primordial pain, the likes of which I’d never known? No fucking way, right?
But maybe their beauty would be a balm, like a walking bouquet of flowers, something to meditate upon. It ultimately didn’t matter — though they were charging as much as the old-timer pro doulas, they had less than a year’s worth of experience, something they tried to compensate for by handing me printouts of shit I’d already googled to death on my phone. They also tried to sell their partnership as a two-for-the-price-of-one bargain, talking about how most doulas get so exhausted during a long labor that the quality of service dips when you need it most, but that they would relieve one another when they got sleepy, promising a fresh, doe-eyed doula at all times.
This made sense, but I couldn’t help but think that they were weaklings. Give me a tough-ass doula with stamina to match my own, both of us delirious and sweaty and crazed with birth. Who wants a pretty little pony doula trotting into your birthing room all showered and rested when you have crossed over into some sort of endurance zone known only to prisoners of war and people squeezing out babies?
Our doula was like a cross between the intense PFLAG mother from Queer as Folk and a woman reading auras at a psychic fair. In other words, she was perfect. A Libra with a halo of stylishly frizzy cherry cola curls, she was probably in her 60s, wore groovy sunglasses, had some Celtic tattoos, and was a shaman.
As part of prepping me for labor, I had to do a brief vision quest where I sat on a huge, puffy recliner, blindfolded, and was hypnotized until the spirit of Great Motherhood was revealed to me in the form of a turtle. It made sense that the Great Mother would appear to me as a turtle, for I have spent many summers on the Yucatan watching sea turtles lug themselves to the show, laboriously digging a nest with their little turtle flippers, then laying a bunch of Ping-Pong turtle eggs into it, then lumbering back into the sea, dragging their vaginas behind them.
One problem with the natural childbirth plan was my baby was breech. The clock ticked, days passed, and he stayed that way. I did crazy headstands off the couch, built trembling ramps of pillows to lay slanted on, begged the baby to flip, held my phone playing Hole’s “Malibu” down by my crotch while laying a bag of frozen vegetables on the baby’s poor head in an attempt to make his present position uncomfortable and a head-down pose alluring. I got acupuncture. I even subjected myself to an ECV, a hideous procedure wherein you are given a shot to relax your uterus and then three full grown adults put their full weight on your pregnant stomach, lifting the baby up inside you and attempting to twist it around with their hands.
This is one of the worst things that ever happened to me, but I sort of breezed through it thanks to the hypnotic power of my doula shaman. She stood at my head, rubbing my temples and telling me to breathe while I put into desperate practice all the meditative mindfulness techniques I learned in the hippie birthing class.
The doctors said they never saw anyone breeze through it like I did, and it is true that Dashiell looked much more hurt by the experience. But she had seen it happen, the three doctors looking like they were trying to pop the giant zit of my belly, while I kept my eyes closed the whole time so I’ll never know how terrifying and grotesque it looked.
I made my peace with having a C-section. At least my vag wouldn’t get blown out, right? I mean, lots of women prefer C-sections. They both seemed equally bad to me, so who cares.
At shaman doula’s urging, I decided to wait to go into labor naturally, resisting the annoyed medical personnel who tried to get me to schedule it a week before my due date.
Time after time they were skeptical and confused as to why I wanted to experience labor, even though it seemed like, duh, I’m pregnant, why wouldn’t I want to experience this whole thing as much as possible, and besides if you do a simple Internet search you can learn that going into natural labor, even with an imminent C-section, is good for your hormones and for the baby’s lungs.
I managed to hold off the doctors until the week after my due date, when I capitulated after being in fake labor for days, getting sent to the hospital only to have my cervix violated, insulted, and then sent back home.
So the first time I was supposed to have my baby I went out into the waiting room where you get cell service to call my mom and my sister and Dashiell’s mom and Dashiell’s sister and to text message some friends letting everyone know it was happening. Dashiell ran home to walk Rodney the dog and was on her way back when I returned to the triage room and learned that they were in fact sending me home. The one operating room was in demand with a bunch of emergency C-sections, and since I was fine I could be spared. Okay fine.
I woke up the next morning ready to have my baby. I hadn’t eaten since 11 p.m. the night before. I could even have coffee, but who cared? I was so excited and nervous. It was literally the last day of Libra; we were getting this kid in under the wire.
Though me and Dashiell’s entire immediate family are Scorpios, and though some of my best friends are Scorpios, and though there is a compelling argument for a Scorpio child just being more interesting than a Libra, the very next day was a solar eclipse with four planets moving into Scorpio and that is just too big a burden for anyone. Sun, moon, Mercury, and Mars in Scorpio plus a solar eclipse plus Mercury retrograde plus testosterone? Did I want to raise a serial killer? I did not. Even my Scorpio sister agreed that it was too much.
Which is why I dug my sock-footed heels in when the doctor came into my room again that next day and asked if I would again come back the following morning. I was in a butt-less hospital gown, an IV port already jammed into my arm, stuck there with bloody tape. No fucking way am I having a C-section during a solar eclipse with four planets barreling into Scorpio (and also FUCK YOU to the girl who always comments that nobody believes in astrology and I should shut up — lots of people believe in astrology and you should shut up!). Anyway.
They said they could take me around 5 p.m. and, no, I could not eat or even have a sip of water. So I hunkered down on a hospital bed and drifted into a caffeine deprivation fugue state.
Here’s the plan: Dashiell comes with me into the operating room — well, not right away; I have to go in by myself and get my spinal, which is inserted into my body by a student even though I had pleaded in my birth plan to please please please not have students doing things like sticking needles into my spine.
But whatever — it’s not a birth plan; it’s a birth intention. Without really telling me the morphine started flowing, which I noticed by becoming, suddenly, really fucking high, it felt amazing. There was Dashiell, in scrubs, her head leaned down by my head, kissing and speaking to me in hushed, excited tones.
I knew that there would be a sheet draped across me, protecting me from the grisly slight of my insides cut open, which no one should ever have to see, but I always imagined it as a delicate little block of white somehow strung up across my belly button. In fact it was like a giant blue tarp and it was about an inch from my face. My body was tilted up at an incline and my arms were stretched out like Christ on the cross (they had honored my birth intention of not strapping them down).
The doctor made little cuts into me and asked if I could feel them, and not only could I not feel them, I didn’t even fucking care because morphine is so wonderful.
“It’s happening, it’s really happening,” Dashiell and I whispered. “I love you.” She was both very close and very far but impossibly intimate, and then I heard our baby cry.
“Oh, my God,” I said, “Go to him, go to the baby, go,” and Dashiell kissed me and was gone. I was in a crazy state of awe at knowing there was a baby out there, that it had been inside me and was mine. I was also becoming sort of sick. The faraway feeling kept growing, like time and space were stretching out in front of me. Oh, my God, there is my baby’s face. His lips are so red, they are rubies, they are fairy-tale lips.
“Say something to him,” Dashiell said. I had no idea what to say to the baby.
“Hi, baby,” I said. “Hi, Atticus.”
Dashiell and the baby were whisked away to the nursery and shaman doula was shuttled in to take over taking care of me. I mean, everyone was taking care of me, right, but none in this intensely focused, personal way.
“I’m going to throw up,” I said, suddenly totally vomitous and not even caring, what with the morphine. A man took a little blue sock of sorts with accordion folds and held it under my mouth. I could hardly even twist my head to the side and puked down my face. Who cares, I felt great, I had a baby.
I mean, I felt great and also I felt like I was possibly really sick and should be worried. But I couldn’t be worried, not with the morphine, not with a team of people who were all being paid to worry about me while I blissed out on the best freelapse of my life.
“She isn’t looking good,” the shaman doula was alerting my team.
“She’s losing blood,” I heard someone say. No big deal. I mean, I’m in an operating room, surrounded by surgeons. If I was going to lose a lot of blood, this was the place to do it.
I was rolled into my recovery room, where the alarm at my lost blood continued. Suddenly there was a flock of doctors all fussing around me, and one of them rolled in an ultrasound machine, to see, he told me, if any tissue was accidentally left inside me. Did I nod? Did I say okay? I remember asking for my glasses and shaman doula putting them on my face.
She had gone into a small trance before all this happened, to talk to the baby, and she learned that his spirit animal was also a turtle and that he wanted to be near the water always, to feel the current. She’d also seen a dragonfly. Did that mean anything to me? My mother believed that my grandfather sent dragonflies to tell her he was thinking about her in the great beyond. I told this to the doula in a weak croak.
The doctor said my womb was clean, but if I didn’t stop bleeding they were going to have to do a transfusion, was that cool? Totally.
They gave me a shot to stop the bleeding, and around then I noticed I was wearing these giant boots on my legs that were giving my calves a fabulous massage. Even though I knew I was possibly dying I felt pretty great and also couldn’t take seriously the thought that I might die because that was just not how this story was supposed to go.
So when Dashiell then walked into the room holding our brand-new baby all bundled in her arms, looking beyond alarmed at the sight of me and the rush of doctors, all of them hurriedly herding her out of the way, I rolled toward her and gave her the thumbs up, with a big smile.
I just needed her to know that I knew I was going to be fine even though I also knew that I could maybe die. She didn’t really respond to my thumbs up as she was too distracted by the sudden realization that I might actually die, so I did it again and maybe again until she acknowledged it with a small, scared smile. And obviously I was right and I totally didn’t die.
For three nights Atticus slept in Dashiell’s arms in the hospital, staring at his Baba with an intensity that seemed far too alert for someone so recently born. He remains that way — focused, intense, alert. A good baby, one that doesn’t really fuss too much, though we’re trying not to label the basic having of emotions “good” or “bad.” He does scream like we’re murdering him when we change his diaper.
There isn’t room enough here to talk about what has changed since I came home from the hospital. Everything is totally different, yet the days have an ease, a sleep-deprived, delirious ease.
When the baby cries you feed him, or you change his diaper, or you bounce him on the big orange fitness ball or walk back and forth, swinging and humming and shushing. When the baby doesn’t cry you put him on a blanket and wag a toy in his face, you put him on his belly and watch his neck get strong, you lay on your back and put him up high on your knees and watch him look at the world, his little turtle neck extended.
You read him The Snowy Day and Princess Smartypants and The Big Red Barn and also Happy Punks 1–2–3 and A Is for Activist. When Atticus was born, I thought the love I had not only for him but for Dashiell — a new, searing, scorching, unbearable love, why had no one told me about this? — I thought this love would kill me, how could I bear it? It was so beautiful it was a pain inside me. I couldn’t watch television because cruelty is so casual, it’s everywhere, and I couldn’t bear it, the pigs tails in the basket on Chopped, the blast of gunfire on that movie, whatever, I couldn’t bear witness to it with this love in my heart.
And we’re all going to die, I couldn’t help thinking, again and again. It was the hormones, the terrible vanishing of them; we’re all going to die someday, the three of us, how could that be when we are here right now, so powerfully bound by this powerful love? The hormones have righted themselves, more or less, but still my eyes well up as I type this.
And now I have to go, because the baby in the monitor is starting to flip and twitch and kick his feet like a baby whale kicking the water with his tail. He is stuffing his perfect hands into his perfect ruby mouth because he is hungry and I, his mother, must feed him.
This piece originally appeared on xoJane.
Michelle Tea’s most recent book, How to Grow Up, a memoir, is now available everywhere.