It’s six o’clock in the morning, and I am sitting beside a hospital bed waiting for my daughter Quinn’s endoscopy procedure to start. Which seems like an apropos time to write about her birth story. Maybe it’s the smell of the surgery center, or the visual of the hospital bed, or the beeps and boops of the machinery in this place that reminded me of that experience. Maybe I’m just trying to take my mind off of my ladybird having to be here at all. Whatever the reason, this story is a good one, I think. Even though it as almost eight years ago and I’m sure that my brain has deteriorated considerably since that day, I still remember almost every detail.
Craig and I started working on getting pregnant a hot second after we got married. Which is significant because I suffered from a life-long and intense fear of giving birth. Something about the thought of passing a cantaloupe through my shmashmina was paralyzing to me. Still, we jumped right in on trying. I mean, our wedding song wasn’t “Let’s Get it On” for nothing!
My competitive spirit must be greater than my fear of giving birth, because my focus rested solely on getting pregnant. I will never forget the feeling of horror that washed over me, as I watched the drugstore pregnancy test turn positive. I honestly hadn’t even thought past getting pregnant, until that very moment. The only thing that saved me from my greatest fear was ultimately getting so big and so uncomfortable that I was practically begging to give birth. The universe has a funny way of turning fear into impatience, when it comes to the eviction stage of pregnancy.
I’m going to digress for a second and talk about my experience with pregnancy in general. Look, there are many women who really do radiate beauty, even through the third trimester. I was not one of those women. I did did not carry a perfectly shaped basketball in front of my tummy. At no time did someone mention that from behind they wouldn’t have known I was pregnant at all. I actually grew amazingly wide in every single direction possible. Near the end, my feet were so swollen, I couldn’t even wear Chuck Taylors. CHUCK TAYLORS, PEOPLE! I was a walking series of unfortunate events, which included an absolute abomination of a haircut that accidentally resulted in a bona-fide mullet.
Whoa, what happened to all that self love and Project Healthy Body stuff you’re always preaching, Holly? Listen, I really do love myself inside and out these days, but even looking back at photos now makes my eyes water – and I bet it will make yours water, too.
Quinn’s birth story began with an audible pop that woke both me and Craig out of a deep sleep in the middle of the night. We had recently purchased a new mattress, and I remember Craig joking with me that I had better not ruin it if my water broke while I was sleeping. In fact, Craig just reminded me that we put down puppy pads under the sheets, just in case. I’m not sure why “don’t ruin the mattress” was my knee-jerk reaction over “yay, we’re having a baby” but like I wrote above, nothing about the birthing process is even remotely similar to the Hollywood version. It was the new mattress that prompted me to triple-sow-cow my extremely pregnant carcass out of bed and into the bathroom, where I wouldn’t put any furniture at risk. All of which, in hindsight, is perfectly laughable given how expressly familiar we have become with all matters of explosive bodily fluids since having kids. Other parents will agree, I’m sure, that family life is basically just a series of body eruptions from birth to age twelve.
About one nano second post-pop, I started my first real contractions. I still remember thinking that I would quickly hop into the shower and “freshen up” before heading to the hospital, when I was suddenly rocked with a wave of intense cramping that forced me to stabilize myself against the hallway wall while moaning. Moaning isn’t even the right word for the low-frequency bovine-like sound I was making. I had familiarized myself with what to expect by watching a couple of episodes of “a baby story” on TLC and can remember hearing the women on the show make that guttural labor sound and thinking, “Jesus, lady – get yourself together!” Yet here I was standing naked in my hallway at 3:30am and steadying myself against the wall to avoid collapsing while mooing with the other broads I’d unintentionally judged. As it turns out, payback isn’t a female dog; it’s a COW!
By the time we arrived at the hospital, the contractions had become more bearable and the feeling of shock had melted into anticipation. We couldn’t wait to meet this little host that I had been avoiding champagne for the better part of a year. Well, mostly avoiding.
Short, shameful confession: There were a couple of date nights in the third trimester where I thoroughly enjoyed half a glass of Schramsberg Brut Rose with ice so that it looked like a full glass. Ok, and one time when, at my wits end with work and, oh, I don’t know, MAKING A HUMAN, Craig walked past the bathroom and caught me lounging in a hot bubble bath chugging a cold Coors Light!
Almost immediately after checking in, a very nice nurse met with us to walk us through what to expect and ask a few questions – like whether I planned on having an epidural. Look, lady, I didn’t avoid manicures, pedicures, hair dye, or the occasional Guinness (for the iron, obvi) while I baked this baby – I sure as shit am not avoiding an epidural! Next, the nurse asked whether we had any specific religious requirements, to which I exclaimed, “YES! We are going to need a live chicken!” Apparently, nothing brings out my sassy sense of humor like the anticipation of fuel injected narcotics!
It would be a lie to say that the rest of my labor and delivery was uneventful. After twelve hours of waiting (thanks to the epidural) three hours of pushing (without an epidural) and no baby, I ended up in an emergency caesarian section which was cold, terrifying, and absolutely necessary. It was not my favorite experience, but it had the happiest ending imaginable – and it was totally and completely worth it (the entire experience from start to finish).
I had to remain in the hospital for a few days after Quinn was born to finish a pretty heavy dose of antibiotics, and make sure my surgery was healing properly. Craig stayed with me the entire time, and those first few days were a mixture of complete shock, overwhelming love for each other and our daughter, and near constant interruptions form nurses and doctors. Unfortunately for all of us, my hospital bed was stuck in an upright position. Which is not the best situation for this side-sleeper. Between the interruptions and my bum bed, I had gotten exactly ZERO sleep in over forty-eight hours and was desperate for a few minutes of rest. Our hospital room was equipped with a club chair whose cushion could accordion fold out into a thin slice of padding on the floor so that partners can stay together before being discharged home. At this point, I was still very much a patient. I was recovering from surgery and hadn’t showered or slept in days – a real gem, to be sure! So when I asked Craig if he would switch beds with me so that I could get some sleep, I can understand why he was reluctant.
“You know I would do ANYTHING for you. But please don’t make me do this!”, he pleaded.
Of course, because Craig is the absolute love of my life and best partner I could ever dream of, he acquiesced and gave up his floor mat to me. I remember how hard we laughed thinking about the poor nurses and doctors who came in to check on me only to find my husband fast asleep and tucked into the grand hospital bed, while his wife who had been cut in half a few hours before lay awkwardly on the floor on the tightrope thin convertible seat cushion. What they must have thought of our household hierarchy!
Just about the only thing Hollywood got right about my first baby story was that it had all of the elements that make a blockbuster hit: it was a comedy, horror, drama, and love story, all in one. It was (and remains) the most life-altering, altruistic, shocking exhilarating, and hilarious experience of my life. It also taught me that once you face your greatest fear, you can basically do anything! It also taught me to always keep perspective, to look for the humor in big life events, and to be grateful for all of it. Except that mullet. That shit was reaaaalllllyyy tragic.