Happy birthday to my girl.
Forty three years ago, June 24th was on a Wednesday. Three days earlier, on what was Father's Day and my mom's birthday, I had called home long distance from Alaska and reversed the charges because we were so poor. I was in an army hospital with my belly as big as a super-inflated balloon. We lived in a rural small town at the end of the Alaska Highway. The only hospital was 105 miles away in Fairbanks. I pleaded with the obstetrician at the army dispensary, begged him to send me up a week early. No way did I want to be flown in a helicopter or have my (then) husband drive those mountainous roads with me in labor. "My due date has passed and I need to go!" I insisted.
"You aren't anywhere near ready. I'll see you next week for your appointment. We'll consider sending you next week," he said. I was having contractions. They were Braxton-Hicks, but the doctor said, "Fine! I'll write an order to send you, but trust me, you will be there for a week or two."
I wasn't one to listen. I was on a ward with several other women in prenatal and post-natal stages. A week passed. June 21st was the day I just KNEW I'd give birth...a present to daddy and grandma. It didn't happen. Next day, I walked three flights of hospital steps, and foolish girl that I was, I jumped off the last step onto the landings. Every hour on the hour I did this. Around midnight my water broke, but the nurses said I had urinated on myself. It took two hours to convince them.
I was sent to labor and delivery. The ward was filled, so they placed me in a semi-private room with a Captain's wife. She labored for hours with her husband coaching her, "Don't you dare scream!"
I did my best not to whimper. I was going by protocol. When they wheeled her out to delivery at 5:00 p.m. I looked at the clock, and knew I'd be next. At midnight I was in full throes of hard labor. I felt the urge to push and called for a medic (a soldier assigned to maternity ward).
"It's TIME!" I shouted.
"Ahh, zee time is 12:45." he said as he looked at his watch.
"NO! I need the doctor!"
"Ahhh, zeee doctor is on break."
"GO GET THE DOCTOR!"
A doctor arrived and ordered me to transfer from the bed to the gurney and not get any blood on the floor. I was in a nightmare that lasted for three days. I looked above me in the small oval mirror and watched my baby being born. Then the demerol kicked in and knocked me out. The nurse wheeled me to a ward and in the hall she said, "Wake up and count her toes and fingers. Here's your baby."
Tracey Lynn was laying on the gurney next to me. I looked into her face, grinned and said with satisfaction, "Awww, she looks like my grandma." Then I passed out.
I awakened in a fifty feet long room divided by curtains into five sectioned wards. The first section was for the moms in labor, the second room was for those who had just delivered. I'd never heard so much screaming and moaning through that curtain. It sounded like a horror movie. A large African-American nurse passed my bed and deliberately bumped it every time I dozed off. She placed my hand on my stomach and barked gruffly, "Rub your fundus, or you'll get a blood clot."
I didn't know where or what my fundus was. I soon learned it was the top of my uterus. Day two found me behind the second curtain with new moms. One young woman was disappointed she'd had a girl; she refused to feed or interact with her baby. Instead of having compassion, the staff taunted her.
Tracey's daddy drove two hours after his shift to see her, arriving at 10:00 p.m. during feeeding time. I saw him walking down the hall and darted with baby in arms to show her to him. The old battle ax Captain grabbed my arm, spun me around and told me I would not be contaminating the nursery. Then she looked at Tracey's daddy and said, "Visiting hours ended at 8:00."
There were words! Lots of words. She ordered me to take the baby to the nursery and she allowed him to peek at her through the viewing window for three minutes. I was living in a nightmare.
In the morning, she ordered the new moms to get up and make beds with military corners (none of us were soldiers) and then she told us to walk to the nursery and retrieve our babies, feed them and not return our baby to the nursery until they burped. Wouldn't you know it! My baby wouldn't burp.
I looked into her pretty little face, she had a perfectly round head and I called her, "My baby." Calling her by name seemed awkward, although I had done it for nine months. "Burp, my baby, burp. Please, baby, burp."
"Did she burp!?" the old hag asked.
I lied, and then I cried. I recognized my baby's cry all the way down the hall.
My only consolation to giving birth in that place was the medic who sat in the nursery and rocked the babies in a large rocker. He looked exatly like Frankie Avalon. Oh my, did I waddle those halls and spend a lot of time standing at the viewing window. The tears flowed at the sight of my baby... and "Frankie".
Each post-partum day I was moved further back behind a curtain.
On the third post-partum day we were told to go poop, gather our newborns and listen to instructions on infant care. We were asked one last question, "Nursing or not?" Those who said, "Not," got a shot to dry up their milk. A nightmare, I'm telling you, a nightmare.
Fast forward about thirty years. I discovered conincidentally that the mom of a student in my class, was born three days before my baby in the same hospital. Although I didn't know her mother, she and I exchanged letters. We both had written identical horror stories about our first birth experiences in that army hospital. A nightmare, we both concluded.
Today, my baby, is a wonderful, hardworking mom to two of her own, one grown and one almost grown.
Happy birthday, My Baby. My, how time flies!