I Had A Baby

He is seven paces in front of me when I realize he is too far away. The pain and fear take over my body, move toward each other, join into one awful spot in my back. I stand still, hoping nobody will notice. We have been through this routine so many times, moving wordlessly through the grocery store, dividing and conquering. For the previous three nights we have also been in labor all night long, not sleeping, squeezing hands when a new contraction starts, breathing together, he timing, me moaning if it gets that bad, occasionally crying or screaming or swearing, having the dog lean against my leg and breathe meaningfully as if to coach me along, and unfortunately, not really dilating. It is hell.

The contraction passes. I catch up to him. “Don’t walk away from me,” I say, allowing the panic to show on my face, hoping only he can see it. Being overly pregnant in public has its issues. People make jokes (are they jokes?) that they don’t want to be on an elevator with you, “just in case.”

He asks if we need to go home. “Nothing is going to happen,” I say, frustration creeping into my voice. “We know that nothing is going to happen. Just stay close to me.” We stand close together for several contractions throughout the store, choosing cereal, juice and pasta. In the space between the deli and the cheese I realize this is getting serious again. This isn’t the daytime labor I’d been hiding through conference calls that week, the kind where you can close your eyes, press your back against the chair and push your palms flat into the table. This is evening labor coming back, the almost-real deal, with contractions strong, long and close together. They play by the rules of when you are supposed to go to the hospital. And then I get nothing.

Standing in front of a display with ready-made dip I realize this isn’t going to work, although it — playing it cool, getting the groceries, having a baby — has to work. I am terrified. The pain is strong. When will this end? He stands with me, we try to make it look natural, I murmur that we are going to need to pick up some deli food for dinner to keep it simple, okay, I am indecisive and having contractions that stop us so it takes awhile but we do that, and then we leave.

In the car, I begin to cry. I have never loved my husband as much as this terrible moment. I was alone in public, but I could trust him, and so then we were alone in a bustling fucking grocery store, standing there, two statues waiting for the wind to blow.

Having been through three nights of it, the evening is, predictably, a nightmare. Some screaming, some crying, mostly resignation, a “k” coming out of my mouth or a squeeze from my hand when it is time to start the timer. By this point I am not ready to trust my body to direct us to the hospital unless there is a tiny hand sticking out of the cuff on my pants. I believe there is no way this baby is going to come fast, by the side of the road, although I wish.

By 3:45 a.m. we are downstairs with the lights on, “watching” a TV show to the extent that is possible. Finally I break down. We call the doctor again. He explains that he knows I have not been dilating, but less than five minutes apart and over a minute long is a big deal. (Believe me, it felt that way the last three nights.) The only way we can know is to go to the hospital. We draw out leaving as long as we can, and at 5 a.m. my husband suggests we just try lying down to see what happens. We haven’t slept since Sunday night. Exhausted, we lie there holding hands, squeezing them through contractions, breathing together, and then sleeping for the three or four minutes in between them. It is sweet, sad and intimate. The sleep is too precious, and we call the hospital and let them know we’re not intending to come over just yet.

Around 9 a.m. we call one of the OB-GYNs we have been seeing. I try to talk, and then burst into tears, unable to speak. He takes the phone for me and communicates our questions. It is time to go to the hospital for the third time in five days. Here goes nothing, I think.

Every time I see someone in the maternity ward I feel like we’re crashing a car into someone’s bedroom. There is a memory that continues to haunt me from 4:30 in the morning two nights before, a couple by the elevator.  Her husband trying to help. The sounds she made. The movement of her leg. The invasiveness of our presence, our pillows, our being sent home next to an illuminated elevator button not changing quickly enough. The day before, when we had been sent over for fetal monitoring after the doctor was concerned at a routine appointment and told us to be prepared for an induction on the spot, another woman had been standing by the entry desk. Uncomfortable and trying to play it cool like me. And with all three visits, exhausted and intense men darting out for supplies to bring back into labor and delivery rooms.

In the hospital, juice is served in a humiliating fashion, these tiny little cups that can never satiate you when you’re dehydrated. You need a straw and from the bed, attached to the monitors, the juice drips on your gown. Finally, this third day in the hospital, nurses sympathize with my totally terrible fucking “prodromal labor,” as I learn it is called. (Later, I will learn the total adventure was also back labor.) By this point I am swearing constantly, which I am assured is just fine to do. “Try to surprise us,” the nurses say. “We’ve seen it all.”

I have grown most familiar with the labor and delivery room beds. There is a digital LED clock moving needlessly slow in the upper right corner, drawing out the days. Fortunately upon arrival I am dilated 2.5 centimeters. I nearly cry with joy. We agree to induce labor around what would have been lunchtime if I hadn’t failed to eat the vegetarian sushi picked up at the grocery store the night before, and observe every other meal or snack interval following that. By 4:30 p.m. I am receiving pitocin, which will induce additional contractions on top of the ones my husband and I have been breathing through all day.

To speed things up, the doctor comes in and breaks my water after the pitocin begins to drip. It is a hot gush that keeps coming out with subsequent contractions. It is difficult to be bothered by the soaking and bloody pads I’m sitting on, because these contractions hurt like hell. For four hours my focus is so painfully narrow, on breathing and the pain. I start to get too frustrated and my husband knocks me back into shape. “Don’t get frustrated,” he says firmly. His eyes never stray, and when mine do he speaks up.

I need an epidural. In advance, I had planned to use pain medication only if I needed it. I need it. I tell a nurse that I need it at 7:30 p.m. and it doesn’t arrive until 9:36 p.m. Within five minutes my field of vision expands from the kaleidoscope that was the LED clock, my husband’s eyes and the pain. My nurse has light blue nail polish on. I compliment her. The epidural works. I can’t feel any contractions anymore, as strong as they are. We watch an episode of LOST on the iPad and then nap through the contractions until 2:36 a.m., when I wake up with a nurse standing beside me.

“Uh-oh,” she says. My husband is sleeping in the corner, calm on his face. Suddenly everything moves fast. The print out of my contractions shows dramatic lines strong and close together, whereas the fetal monitoring line has reacted in a way that makes the nurse nervous. She tells me so. I ask if she is going to slow down the pitocin. She says she has already cut it off. A doctor is in the room. I need to have the baby now. We are going to do an emergency cesarean section. My body is shaking uncontrollably. My throat begins to close. My husband wakes up and walks over. I cannot calm down. I am terrified. 40 weeks and six days pregnant. What if we lose her?

The shaking will not go away. The nurse says bodies do that sometimes when they are ready to go into labor. But beyond that, I cannot calm down. My husband tries to calm me down. He is trying so hard. We are both trying so hard. It doesn’t work. I stammer, “I need a logic puzzle, something else to think about. Help me.” We realize that going through the presidents of the United States, backwards, is what I can handle. When we exhaust those, we go through the states from north to south, west to east. He is holding my hand and helping me remember them as I am wheeled into the operating room, tears running down my face, no longer whispering, “I am so afraid.”

I am nauseous and alone in the operating room, behind a vertical blue sheet. Top 40 music is playing on the radio. My husband is gone for a few minutes that seem longer than my collective 34 hours staring at the labor and delivery room clocks, returning in scrubs and a face mask. I continue shaking. The C-section is not painful, but there is heavy pressure and pulling on my abdomen. It ends.

They tell us we can pull away the sheet to the right of my head. She is crying and flailing her arms. “I am going to throw up,” I whisper. There is a kidney-bean shaped yellow pan to the left side of my head. I turn, dry heaving several times as she screams. Finally I vomit, and I’m able to turn right again, lift the sheet once more and watch my little girl.

Her story begins here, in a plastic tray surrounded by doctors as her parents watched from a short distance beneath a red clock that said 3:32 a.m. on Saturday, June 8, 2013. I suspect her story is and will remain much more interesting than mine, but that’s for her to sort out. Remarkably for me, I had a baby.

20 Week Abortion Bans Don’t Work (From A 20 Weeks Happily Pregnant Woman)

In the last two years, nine states have attempted to pass laws banning abortion at 20 weeks. Arizona and Georgia have pending court cases on their constitutionality. Last year the National Right to Life Committee designated a 20 week abortion ban in the District of Columbia as their “top legislative priority.”

This has become incredibly personal to me, as I am now, as of tomorrow, a woman 20 weeks pregnant who lives in the District of Columbia. I’m thrilled to be pregnant. And I’m terrified of what these bans can do.

The overwhelming number of abortions — 98.5 percent — occur before the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Why would someone have a later abortion? Well, every story is going to be different and that’s why these uncompromising bans don’t work.

The joy I found today in looking at my ultrasound is simply not transferrable to every other pregnancy, nor should the law reflect an assumption that is so.

Why would a woman have an abortion after 20 weeks?

Sometimes a woman receiving that 20 week ultrasound is startled to hear: “Something appears to be wrong with the brain,” or “The heart isn’t working,” or another fetal abnormality that is incompatible with a quality of life she believes best to provide for a child of her own. Why should a bureaucrat be given power to second-guess her (or me or you)?

Other times a woman learns that she is struggling with a serious medical condition, such as cancer, and continuing the pregnancy means delaying chemotherapy or other potentially life-extending treatment. In this incredibly personal situation, why should the state provide more guidance to her (or me or you) than her (or my or your) family?

Still other times a woman has already lost or is losing a pregnancy, and abortion will complete the miscarriage. Sometimes this itself will allow that woman to live. This is what could have happened if Savita Hallapanavar, who was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying in Ireland, had not been denied a life-saving abortion she requested because, as she was told shortly before she died in the hospital, “It’s a Catholic country.” Why should any religion or state express its values in forcing her (or me or you) to give birth or die?

Another reason for seeking a later abortion: How about being flat broke? A grueling patchwork of federal and state abortion restrictions including mandatory waiting periods, regulations designed to close local clinics, sex discrimination in the form of denying private and/or state insurance coverage for reproductive health care, parental notification laws and much more have made it harder for a woman without much power who wishes to terminate her pregnancy to have the same constitutional rights as everyone else. Why should any legislator punish her (or me or you) for finally being able to sell her (or my or your) car to pay for the abortion desired weeks before, only to say, we’re not following the law of the land as laid out by the United States Supreme Court, we’re just going to say its too late for you?

The bottom line is that we simply do not know.

We have no standing to demand an answer.

We have an obligation to ensure that antiquated sexism, with men making the laws and women paying the price, doesn’t force pregnant women to die.

The bottom line is the ethical bankruptcy — and physical danger — of forcing beliefs on women that violate their fundamental right to self determination.

As a woman who is 20 weeks pregnant as of tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I got this covered. I do not see the National Right to Life Committee or Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced the failed DC 20 Week Abortion Ban last session, or the greater “pro-life” [forced birth] community as a source of support during my pregnancy. In fact I look to them with fear of what they might force upon me, and other women like me, or you.

For what it’s worth, I found out in my ultrasound today that I will have a daughter. Let’s just say that I have never felt more fiercely determined to stop the misguided thinking that leads others to constrain her future (or mine or yours).

I’m Pregnant!

Pregnant. Pro-choice! Knocked up. Fired up. Expecting a baby.

Stork-a-doodle-dooo000 …

Before I was pregnant, before this transformation that makes me want to eat popsicles at all times, I advocated every day for women’s human rights, most notably around reproductive justice – the right to bear children, the right to not bear children, and the right to adequate health care and social support for all families.

What follows is a commentary that is both intensely personal and political.

Let’s start with the gentleman driving down the street with the “CHOOSE LIFE” license plates.

I see your opinions. I see you can afford to drive a Mercedes. I see clear as the obliviousness on your face that you have NO IDEA.

NO IDEA what it is like to be pregnant.

NO IDEA how warm piss can turn a ten dollar piece of plastic into the most expensive thing at Tiffany that you just broke.

NO IDEA how painful your suggestion can be for a woman who couldn’t complete a wanted pregnancy.

It is so offensive to me that you think you have the right to speak to me, your target audience, a pregnant woman not visibly so, about my reproductive health and decision-making whenever you want. You don’t know me. I haven’t even told all my friends and family I’m having a baby.

Messages like yours, that personal pregnancy is properly positioned as public property, make we want to puke. Your message makes me want to let loose my hot tomato-flavored morning sickness all over your flawless black paint job and glistening silver hood ornament. It is harassment of women who walk and drive and breathe in public.

There is no “choosing life” in the movement represented on license plates like yours from 27 states, with proceeds funneled into unregulated crisis pregnancy centers filled with non-medical poseurs willing to lie to me until some teeth fall out: Telling me abortion will make me go to hell. Telling me abortion will make me commit suicide. Telling me abortion will give me breast cancer.

I’ll tell you what the “pro-life” cause to shame and ban abortion does: It kills women. It kills women just like me.

I am fourteen weeks pregnant, my due date is June 2, my start date is August 26 – that’s Women’s Equality Day (the epoch has not yet been reached).

I am three weeks less pregnant than Savita Halappanavar was when she died in Ireland after a dangerous miscarriage could not be completed with an abortion she begged for because – “This is a Catholic country.”

There is a woman who didn’t die the same hospital death in Arizona recently, and the price was paid with the excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride. Sister Margaret McBride’s alleged crime was saving that 27-year-old woman’s life. In doing that, Sister Margaret McBride angered the “No Girls Allowed” club up top in Rome.

I couldn’t go to my hometown candlelight vigil for Savita. I couldn’t go because I wasn’t ready to tell others I’m pregnant, and every time I seriously considered that case I would start to cry. I’m crying now.

You can work so hard for people’s inherent equality, you can work so hard for reproductive freedom and reproductive justice, but when it comes down to it, pregnant women are still so vulnerable. Yesterday. Today. And still, tomorrow.

The equation is too simple: If you are pregnant and in the wrong place at the wrong time, you die. Not because you had to. Not because the medicine isn’t available yet. Because people, often laws they create, won’t trust you with your power.

I am thrilled to have a baby but the expectation to have a baby, even a dead baby, at any cost, even a dead woman, even me, fuels the wetness on my cheeks.

Let’s leave the Mercedes driver behind and talk about some other expectations.

If you think I’m going to have “a new focus,” or less passion or ambition about my career and the causes I are about, I ask that you kindly ask yourself if you have the same expectation of my husband. Now why does that sound ridiculous? As the authority on myself, it sounds equally ridiculous for me.

I am so proud to show my little girl or boy what it’s like to have a mother who does not slow down, who provides that example that you can have love and devotion to your family and love and devotion to the broader world.

I am not trying to “have it all” or achieve “work-life balance.” I have never seen that referenced as a recipe for personal success alongside the extraordinarily successful men on the covers of magazines – all 96% of those Fortune 500 CEOs, 83% of those members of Congress, 100% of those presidents in history.

I know you can’t self-help your way out of societal discrimination, for which “having it all” and “work-life balance” are guilt-ridden code words. I know you have to work to change the system. That is my work and I will continue that work to the best of my ability, as I always have.

A wise mentor of mine told me that activism is being willing to live your life as an example of what should be, even when it comes with personal cost. And that is why I’m coming out now. You see, I’m in exactly a position to lose right now: I’ve gone on some interviews for jobs, and I’m pregnant. I know that discrimination against openly pregnant women is real. The New York Times recently ran a piece on this. It was called Why Women Hide Their Pregnancies.

I know why women hide their pregnancies. I know why I’ve kept this information longer than I probably would have if I weren’t in transition. I’m afraid people will discriminate against me, make assumptions about me and my career decisions past, present and future, downgrade me or dismiss me simply because I’m having a baby. I know the law is behind where we need to be as a modern workforce. And I’m telling you openly, as a pregnant woman who is taking her career to the next level whether that’s intuitively acceptable for you or not, that this must change for everyone. I am real, other women like me are real, and we are not going away.

This is the first time I’ve been pregnant. I was quite surprised to find I was pregnant two weeks after resigning from my job, without future paychecks in place. At other points in my life, with those facts and without the current support structure I have, I probably would have had an abortion. I’m thrilled to be pregnant today and I don’t feel at all guilty to know this truth. We are not guilty for having sex, for having children, for having abortions. We are human.

So much more to say. For now I will leave you with my strongest Pregnant Pro-Choice Lady wish to end a world where lesbians, gays, single women, single men, young people and undocumented immigrants are not congratulated, supported and welcomed as future parents in the way my husband and I so warmly have been; where low-wage workers need to express breastmilk in a filthy bathroom stall but their wealthier counterparts get leather couches, privacy and respect; and, without question or hesitation, to end a world where accessible, affordable contraception and abortion care is shrouded in shame and dangerous bans that kill pregnant women in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than celebrated as one of the greatest public health advances in our history.

We should be so proud to stand for reproductive justice.