Cramps. “It feels like really, really bad cramps.” That’s how my friend Debra described the labor pain that she experienced and what I should expect with my first child. Debra, one of my best friends, had given birth on August 13, 2000 to her first child. My due date was late August/early September 2000. I never really had a firm due date because I wasn’t sure of the exact date of my last menstrual period. It was coincidental and helpful that Debra and I were pregnant with our first child at the same time.
Debra’s description of labor didn’t help me one bit. I never got cramps. Growing up my mom would tell me that I’m lucky to never experience the painful abdominal contractions that many women endure monthly. So as childbirth neared, the expectant pain was nothing I could prepare for.
By early September, my obstetrician told me I was past due. Nothing I did helped to induce my labor. At a visit to Dr. Ronald Nimmo on Tuesday, Sept. 5, he said my cervix started dilating. A woman’s cervix must be dilated to 10 centimeters before active labor – the pushing – begins. We went over the stages of labor and he told me if I went into labor overnight to call him then go straight to the hospital; if I didn’t go into labor by morning, I should check into the hospital at 7 am.
I was scared. I didn’t know what to expect. Suppose I went into labor overnight? Suppose I didn’t? You mean I’d still have to interrupt my sleep for a 7 am check in!? There were no contractions during the night. In the morning I decided I wanted to go for one last swim. My boyfriend Vibes advised against it. We needed to check in at 7 am and we didn’t have the time, he said. I told him I needed to feel myself enveloped in the cool buoyancy of the Caribbean Sea. So we went to Magens Bay. The air was cool. The sun had risen over a dewy morning. It was so nice! Vibes kept reminding me that we needed to hurry up. Against better judgment I submersed my entire body in the water, saturating my newly-done box braids. We had to hustle back home so that I could shower before heading to the hospital.
When we reached the hospital, about 90 minutes late, the friendly intake staff told me they had been waiting on me and welcomed us. Vibes gave me an I-told-you-so look. The only thing I could think of at the moment was that my hair was wet and it was making me cold.
I followed the nurses’ instructions putting on the hospital gown, getting hooked up to the IV and those things. When the doctor did his rounds a few hours later and examined me, I was still the two centimeters I was the day before. When he said: “I can give you something to help you out,” I obliged.
The contractions started coming! The nurses kept offering me pain meds, but I was determined to have a natural childbirth. The contractions kept coming stronger. When I told the nurses I was ready to have my baby they said I was a private patient, so I had to wait until my doctor came back. What! I was ready to have the baby and they were telling me I had to wait! When the doctor finally came back for his afternoon rounds around 5 pm and examined me. I was still two centimeters! After five hours of contractions I was still dilated at two centimeters! Dr. Nimmo said he would give me something to stop the contractions. It was only then I realized my labor had been induced. Earlier when he offered to “give you something to help you out,” he meant an induction. I was totally upset. I never wanted to be induced. And I was hungry.
The contractions slowed within a few minutes and I was ready for dinner. When I told the doctor, he explained that once someone was admitted to the Labor and Deliver unit they couldn’t eat. Who the hell came up with that stupid rule! Now I was furious! “So I can’t eat anything,” I asked the doctor. He told me I could have as much ice chips that I wanted. If looks could kill, Dr. Nimmo would be dead.
The plan was that I would get my rest, and more than likely I would go into active labor overnight. The doctor allowed me to walk the halls while he was there. But as he was leaving he suggested that I rest. So I did. As soon as he left I told Vibes to go buy me some food. Vibes told me no. I was shocked. My wishes were his commands throughout my pregnancy. And now he tells me no? I asked him if he wanted me and the baby to starve. He still wouldn’t get the food. This was getting ridiculous. I was in labor all day and now I was starving. And my usually defiant boyfriend was on the doctor’s side.
I was totally frustrated! I decided to stop talking to Vibes. I buzzed the nurse and asked her to help me out of the bed so that I can walk. She said she couldn’t, Dr. Nimmo had ordered bed rest. I didn’t understand. The nurse explained that the doctor ordered me on bed rest so I had to remain in bed. This was beyond ridiculous! I reasoned with her that just a few moments ago I was walking up and down the halls. She didn’t budge.
This was torture. Starving. Bed rest. And I had to lie on my left side only. I don’t remember much about the rest of that night. I made up my mind I wasn’t talking to anybody!
Second Day of Labor
By morning I felt a bit of calm because I knew my mom would be flying in first thing from St. Croix. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my mom. She initially felt I was young to have a baby. But I already had a degree, a full-time job, some savings, no debt and lived on my own. I was overjoyed when she arrived. Surely she would be compassionate. Surely she would tell my doctor and nurses I needed to eat and to walk. Seeing her brought a smile to my face. I filled her in on everything that had happened. My mom brought an unbelievable comfort when I needed it the most. Then it happened:
“Betty!” Dr. Nimmo exclaimed when he saw my mom. She had been a nurse at the Roy Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, where I was in labor, for about 15 years before moving to St. Croix. Everyone loves my mom. And I would soon find out just how much. Dr. Nimmo hugged my mom and they chatted a bit. Soon Vibes, who the nurses sent home for some rest the night before, showed up. That was a perfect time to voice my complaints. I was starving and wanted to get out of bed. The doctor agreed that I could get out of bed. Food, he said, I couldn’t have. My mom agreed. What! I began my protest. Vibes just watched as I argued with the doctor and my mom that I was pregnant had not eaten for a day. Finally Dr. Nimmo said I could have some sports drinks and hard candy. The sugars would provide energy for the labor, he said. Vibes headed out to get them.
And so it started. One by one all of my mom’s friends heard that she was at the hospital and began showing up to see her. One of the first was Denise. “Bettttyyyy!” Denise exclaimed when she saw my mom. The hugs, kisses and laughter ensued. Then Denise turned to me:
Denise: Nanyamka, how are you doing?
Me: *groaning* I’m in pain
Denise: Yea, that’s how it is with your first child. Just hang in there. We’re here for you.
Then she was back to the giggling catching up with mom. And that’s how it went all morning with my mom and her friends. Because I had to lie on my left side, my back was turned to the door. So many of her friends’ faces I saw only briefly when they came around to see me. While it seemed like the entire nursing staff at the hospital came to see my mom, I wasn’t allowed to have visitors in Labor and Delivery. But my friends kept calling. They kept demanding: did she have the baby? Was it a boy or girl? After a while the nurses seemed to be annoyed with their phone calls. “Can you take this call,” one of the nurses said to my mom. “I keep telling them I can’t give out patient information.” The contractions kept coming. Against what I had planned, I accepted pain medication when the nurses offered.
It was after 1 p.m. Dr. Nimmo was getting concerned. He told me if the labor didn’t progress, he would have to do a cesarean section. I protested. He explained that the baby’s vitals were fine, but I was in labor for over a day, partially dilated, couldn’t eat and if I remained in that state I could put both the baby and myself at risk. I signed the surgery consent forms and he allowed me to walk the halls. Both my mom and Vibes felt a cesarean section was an option. I didn’t! Nor did my dad, who was on St. Croix, but had been calling regularly. Vibes didn’t want to put me or his first child at risk with a prolonged labor. I could sense the fear in my mother as we weighed the options. She too had rough childbirths and had a cesarean section to deliver me.
I told everyone that could listen that I was not having a cesarean section. Ms. Maria Rivera, the mid-wife on duty sympathized with me. At the time I was dilated about five centimeters and the contractions were regular – as they had been all day. She told me that she’s not my doctor, but if I allowed her, she could help me. I had heard that line before. The induction didn’t work, I reminded her. She said no, she would massage my cervix so that it could dilate. I agreed. She said relax, suck on your lollipop (one of the hard candies I was allowed to eat), and by the time you are finished with the lollipop you’ll be ready to have your baby. I was unsure, but my options were few.
Ms. Rivera went to work while I sucked on my lollipop. Sure enough, as I had finished my lollipop Ms. Rivera announced that her work was done. When the doctor checked me, alas, I was dilated to 10 centimeters. It was time to push!
Dr. Nimmo assembled the team. It was a tight fit in my room with the doctor, nurses, Vibes, and my mom. Just as I had learned in Lamaze class, I pushed on the doctor’s counts. Vibes held one leg and my mother held the other. The doctor was down the middle. I pushed for about 30 minutes. But the baby didn’t come. The doctor gave me a 15 minutes break and I resumed pushing. I was annoyed with Vibes who was all up in my face screaming “push, push!” After about 30 more minutes of pushing – still no baby. The pain was excruciating and my back felt like it was splitting down the middle.
I kept telling everyone that I needed to squat. Or I needed to be on my knees. The doctor gave me another break from pushing. The baby had already crowned. Everyone could see a tiny bit of the head, but the baby won’t come down. As I was taking this second break from pushing I overheard a nurse telling my mom. “She ain’t really pushing. It’s the Demerol, it has her drowsy.” And my mother nodded in agreement. I was so pissed off! I had pushed with all my might! But I didn’t have the strength to respond with anything else but the rollong of my eyes.
The doctor told me we would try the pushing again and if the baby didn’t come we would go into surgery. I begged him: I need to go on my knees in a squatting position! He gave a command. The next thing I know the nurses had transformed the bed, putting up rails around the head of the bed. They helped me to a kneeling position on the bed, using the rails for support. I felt relief in my back immediately! Then I started pushing without the doctor’s count – and Vibes noticed. He started telling me I needed to wait on the doctor. Schupees! Whatever! Soon Dr. Nimmo’s commands to push caught up with me. After this third round of pushing, the doctor checked me and said it was time.
“The baby is coming. Let’s get her in delivery,” Dr. Nimmo said. I was confused. The baby was coming and I had to be moved? They put me to lay on my back and wheeled me out of my room into the most sterile-looking room I had ever seen – there was stainless steel and white tiles everywhere. Someone explained that it was the delivery room. In the delivery room I got a strange urge – I needed to vomit. Before I could fully explain it, the nurses had a basin to my mouth. I felt like I had lost all control of my body. The contractions kept coming.
The doctor instructed me not to push. Again, I was confused. I had waited two days to deliver this baby and now he was telling me not to push? Dr. Nimmo said that it was important for me to follow his instructions so that I didn’t hurt the baby or me. He said he was going to make a small incision to help the baby come out, but first I would feel a little pinch as he numbed the area. I wanted to push so badly, but Vibes gave me that look. Dr. Nimmo made the incision quickly and I was back to pushing.
“Push with all your strength!” Dr. Nimmo said. And I did, screaming at the same time. I glimpsed at Vibes for a split second and he looked like he would faint. The head came out! Instant relief! I stopped pushing. Then Dr. Nimmo started the count again. With a few more pushes I had given birth to my first child!
“It’s a girl!” everyone screamed. “Congratulations!” were ringing in from everyone in the room. And I exhaled. It was 5:25 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7.
As Vibes cut the umbilical cord, I was worried that he would pass out. They brought me my baby girl and I took her into my arms. At that moment I felt a love like I had never before felt toward another human being. Then they pulled her away. “We have to clean her up,” a nurse said. “We were only showing her to you.”
At that time I wanted to tell Vibes to keep a close eye on our daughter. I didn’t want any switched-at-birth mishaps. But no one could find Vibes. Dr. Nimmo told me I wasn’t done yet. I had to deliver the placenta. A few moments later I pushed it out. Dr. Nimmo began the process of stitching me back up. I could feel every stitch! I tried to close my legs and pull away from the doctor. A nurse told me “you want the doctor to do a good job, right? You need to open your legs.” I obeyed. The entire lower half of my body felt numb with pain.
Everyone was asking for Vibes so a nurse left the room to find him. “He out there crying,” the nurse said when she returned. “Give him a chance to catch himself.” The nurses all laughed.
Shortly after delivery I got a burst of energy. I started telling my mom of all the people she needed to call to tell them the baby was born. I started telling Vibes to look for distinct marks or features on the baby so we could always know she was ours.
“Rest,” my mom had told me. “You did good. Now rest yourself.” The nurse told me they would wheel me into a recovery room where I should rest for a while. I told her I wanted my daughter.
“She is fine,” the nurse assured. “She has her father and grandmother watching her.” All of a sudden I felt very cold. I started to shiver. The nurse covered me up. I was still cold. She told me she would get some warm blankets that just came out of the dryer. That did the trick. Being the daughter of a well-loved nursed served me well then and throughout my stay in the hospital.
Then, as if a switch inside of me had been flipped, I instantly felt tired – totally exhausted and drained actually. And I fell asleep to recover.
Editor’s note: As I fulfill my life’s purpose to “tell the story” I’ll soon be writing biographies, memoirs and other pieces that will require people to be open and honest with me about very personal aspects of their lives. I decided to share a very intimate part of one of my biggest transformational experiences – childbirth. If you have enjoyed this personal part of my story, I hope that you will trust me to share the story of others with you. No part of this story may be reused, reproduced, or otherwise copied without direct written approval of the author Nanyamka Farrelly.