Today really isn’t any different weather-wise than the last several, with a couple more to come. This summer in my community has been either the second-hottest or the hottest since records were kept. I’m really not sure. After days like this, the difference between records doesn’t seem particularly relevant. I swam today but after running a couple of errands, my only time outside has been to let my dog in and out of the house. Inhaling brings heat into my windpipe. I’ve never been a big fan of summer temperatures unlike always chilly Michael who complained fiercely about my need to cool off. I’ve been thinking about the difference between our personal thermostats since yesterday, the 42nd anniversary of my first labor pains, the beginning of a 44 hour process which ultimately ended with the birth of our daughter, our first child. I remember feeling hotter then that at any other previous moment in my life.
Back then we didn’t have air-conditioning. The heat felt brutal as I lugged my pregnant belly through August. Ten years would go by before we finally caved in and installed central air in our house. A lifetime ago. Michael and I had been together for 10 years. Now he’s been gone for over 6 years and I’m still here, with all the memories from long ago. In addition I’m sorting through all the current events, on both the macro and micro levels. For today, though, I’m setting aside the global worries about politics and climate change. Instead I’m thinking about the sad start to this blisteringly hot week, when I learned of the suicide of an old friend who used to work at Michael’s music store for many years. Jeff was the sweetest person, a gentle guy who over time related to me kind of like an older sister. We used to swim at my favorite pool together. We’d talk about music and his crushes. Over time our lives evolved, mine on a fairly traditional path, his into a darker space when drinking and depression weighed on him. He never found a life partner. He loved his cat, his beautiful dinner companion, Caramel.
His personality was still kind and sweet but his demons exacted their prices from him. Eventually he overcame the substance abuse and became a counselor and helper to people with problems like his own. But that intractable depression became monstrous. Although we weren’t always involved in recent years, we did connect during some of his roughest times. I knew that his suffering was deeply rooted in his physiology, a fact that I’ve had to face in the past with people close to me who eventually opted out of their relentless pain. I felt so helpless at the end of our talks. And now I’m just so sad. He finally wore himself out. At times like this, I feel Michael’s absence the most, when there is no emotional shelter from these tragedies except for what I can provide for myself. Still as this week draws to a close, there is beautiful bright spot. Tomorrow I will celebrate the 42nd birthday of our adored daughter, who reminds me of Michael almost every day.
I remember so much about that time. I can literally feel myself in my memories, hearing conversations from so long ago and experiencing the physical sensations from those most amazing days in our life. I’ve written about this time before but on the eve of this birthday, a welcome respite in this oppressively hot and sad week, reliving those precious days seems like a good choice.
August, 1981. I was still working but seeing the doctor weekly. I was massive, hot, grouchy and worried. As my due date approached, I went for my weekly appointment and discovered that my blood pressure had spiked. Dr. Brodsky suggested that I stop working, stay home and relax. I wasn’t thrilled. I was going past my due date. The house was hot. I had a giant face. I hated my hair. Back then I had a hairdresser who was almost a friend. He kindly came over and soothingly cut and styled my shaggy locks in my dining room. I’m not good at waiting. And this waiting was a problem because I only had six weeks off for maternity leave. This break was not in the program.
I was annoyed. The due date passed. The days were slow. I went to the doctor. I wasn’t dilating. We missed going to a friend’s wedding who graciously stopped by for a short visit on her special day. Juanita, my nurse neighbor, stopped by to check on me on her way home from work. I couldn’t wait for Michael to get home at the end of his day so I could snipe at him. I wanted to share the aggravation. On Sunday night, August 23rd, we had an argument after he returned home from his regular prep-for-the-work-week deal that he’d done for years. He retreated upstairs while I decided to sleep on the couch downstairs where it was cooler. At about 11 pm, pain woke me. Labor? At long last? I lay there all night, waiting for regular intervals to happen, dozing, communing with myself. At around 7 am, I got up, showered and went upstairs to wake Michael. We called the doctor, who told us to come right in for an exam. My pains were still somewhat irregular and I was over 9 centimeters away from being ready for delivery. Sent home, I told Michael to go to work until our appointment later in the day. I remember making fried eggs and toast which felt like a homey thing to eat. Around 4 in the afternoon, Michael came home and picked me up to go see Dr. Brodsky. My pains were about 6 minutes apart but I was still far from ready to deliver. The doctor told me to do some moving around. We went to a little mall on campus to play pinball. The weather was steamy. As I shook the machine, water was streaming down my body. Not one to let an opportunity pass, we went to a small shoe store and I bought an expensive purse I couldn’t really afford. If not spoiling myself now, when? Then we went home to wait. Hours passed. By 10 p.m. I was 23 hours in and I was exhausted. We called the doctor who advised us to go into the hospital.
I got settled into a birthing room, attached to a fetal monitor and was appreciating hthe air conditioning. Michael and I dozed on and off without much new happening. At seven in the morning, Dr. Brodsky showed up to examine me, found I wasn’t progressing and ordered a pitocin drip to stimulate my labor. And it did. I spent Tuesday having contractions every 90 seconds, sweating, and watching Michael eat roast beef sandwiches and Hershey’s chocolate bars. He’d read that the birth coach needed to keep up his energy levels. I felt so slimy. I got up, dragged my equipment with me and took another shower. I had the switchboard block calls from my mother which were really distracting. No cell phones back then. Meanwhile I was starving. The nurses said I couldn’t eat in case I needed surgery because of the risk of food aspiration. I told them I never vomited and needed fuel to continue this work. After relentless badgering I was finally given jello and broth. At 7:00 p.m. Dr. Brodsky arrived to check my progress. I was only at three centimeters after 12 hours of pitocin. The horror. He decided to go aggressive. In the birthing room the benign-looking decor hid the instruments of intervention. He was going to break my water which is kind of like being skewered meat on a shishkabob. You also need to use the bathroom a lot which was relentlessly exhausting. At 10:30 p.m. Dr. Brodsky came back in to the hospital to check on me. After everything I had arrived at only four centimeters dilated, a considerable distance from the required ten. Brodsky sat down on the bed, took my hand and said, “dear, I don’t think this is going to work.” At this point, my commitment to a natural delivery was all but gone – I was ready for anything to end this impossibly long labor. Clearly I had a baby who preferred to stay put. Then things happened fast. They took Michael away to clean him up and get him gowned. I was also washed, catheterized and given a spinal block before we were reunited in the operating theater. Dr. Brodsky introduced me to the resident who would assist in my caesarean. I had an oxygen mask over my face but was able to tell her I thought that meeting someone who was going to rummage around in my body was odd. Michael was sitting by my head, holding my hand. A little drape prevented me from seeing my lower half. I was asking lots of questions. Dr. Brodsky proceeded with his incision. I felt as if a line was being drawn across my abdomen which was actually his first cut. The anesthesiologist asked me if I ever stopped talking. I said no. I asked Michael what things looked like. He said I looked like a scene from the television show “Mash.” Then I felt my stomach collapse. I asked Dr. Brodsky what I’d had. He said, “a big fat baby girl,” who was hustled off to be examined by a pediatrician while I was being repaired. They told me she weighed 10 pounds, 9 ounces and was 23 and 1/2 inches long. All I could think of was that she’d already outgrown all her newborn clothes.
After I spent time in recovery, I was returned to my room where Michael met me. Then our baby was brought to us with a pink bow taped to her head, which Michael promptly pulled off. My first impression was that I thought her ears might need to be pinned back as they were pressed forward after her hours in the birth canal. I examined this stubborn little girl whose legs stuck out from under my arms because she was so long and wondered at her perfection. Michael sat on the bed with me as we marveled at what we’d made. Now we two were three.