“When you get settled, we’ll get your Pitocin drip started,” the nurse said…
We arrived at McLeod Medical Center at eleven o’clock, after a morning of soft squeezing contractions. The sun shone, and the air felt warm for February. I was used to the cold NYC air. This was my first child being born in South Carolina, and I was determined to have a natural childbirth just as I’d done before.
“The doctor prescribed Pitocin,” the nurse said as she fed a reel of paper into the fetal monitor.
“No, I will not be consenting to Pitocin before or after the delivery.”
“You need it to clamp down your uterus after delivery,” she said.
My husband smiled. I was prepared for this fight. The week before a well-meaning nurse tried to explain to me what to expect during delivery. She had failed to read my chart; this was my third child not my first. She told me that all woman get Pitocin. Warning bells blared inside my head. That’s not normal. I knew that if I was going to have this baby my way, and I was, I was going to need to be firm with these nurses.
“Labor is progressing fine, and my uterus can clamp itself down—no Pitocin.”
After delivering my second child, a nurse came in and changed my saline drip to a Pitocin drip without my consent. Twenty-four hours of vomiting followed.
I sighed. “I’m not having an epidural.” Doesn’t anyone listen to pregnant woman?
An entourage of nurses paraded through my room repeatedly trying to explain to me how things are done. When their bullying and scare tactics failed, they called in the big guns; they called my doctor.
Dr. Emerson appeared in the doorway, his blue eyes magnified through silver rimmed glasses. He looked taller than I’d remembered. “How are you doing?”
“She is refusing the Pitocin and epidural,” the nurse said.
“Let’s have a look,” he said.
After he examined me and declared I was six centimeters dilated, he informed the nurse that I was fine.
“I’ll be back to check on you later,” he said.
“If you’re not here when he’s ready, I’m having this baby without you,” I said. My first two boys came very quickly; I didn’t expect this one to be any different.
“You don’t need me; you know what you’re doing.” He smiled.
For the next four hours I paced the halls swaying from side to side through contractions, sat on the bed, rocked back and forth, and talked to the doula to pass the time. My husband sat in a chair next to the bed completely calm.
He didn’t look like the same man, who twelve years ago, panicked trying to start our piece of junk ’81 Buick when I was in labor with our first child. He wasn’t snoring in the chair beside the bed like he was with my second child, needing to be saved by my midwife because I lunged off the bed at his snoring throat. He was chatting and laughing with the doula. He’d become an old pro at this, but even he almost missed the signs.
I’d grown characteristically quieter through the last few contractions. They came harder and faster. I began shaking my head back and forth.
“What it is?” he asked.
“I—I can’t breathe through them.”
The contractions were so close together there was barely a break in between. The nurses insisted it wasn’t time because I was too quiet. They didn’t check me until the doula intervened and demanded it. The baby’s head was crowing, I was already pushing, and there was no doctor in sight. No one had called him.
Nurses burst into the room. One pushed the plastic bassinet they put newborns in, and two fiddled with the bed. Another approached me, “I know it’s hard,” she said, “but you need to stop, don’t push.”
“The doctor’s not here yet, I have to call him, so you can’t push.”
“I’m pushing so you’d better catch!” I yelled. Her face went white.
She ran toward the door and picked the receiver up off the wall.
“Um…yes…ah…doctor….BABY!” she yelled, and hung up the phone. The woman couldn’t even speak. Really? Doesn’t she do this for a living?
The door flung opened, and Dr. Emerson ran in at full speed. “Out of my way!” He slid across the floor coming to a stop in front of me.
My husband’s mouth hung open; the whole scene looked like something out of a comedy act. The nurses didn’t move out of the way fast enough, and were still struggling to convert the bed to a birthing table. “If you change it now, the baby is going to land on the floor. His head is already out!” the doctor yelled.
“You made it,” I said between breaths, “I told you I wasn’t waiting for you.”
Two pushes later, Thomas Angelo (a.k.a Tantrum Tot) was born without Pitocin, without an epidural, and almost without a doctor.