|It wasn’t until weeks after the baby was born and we’d settled into the reality of a live baby, of having a child, a future teenager, a de-pendent for the rest of our lives that we noticed the grimace on my husband’s face in the pictures he’d taken afteer he arrived at the hospital 25 minutes before Graham was born, me not arriving much before that.
“Leave it to you to make even your childbirth a political experience!” he said. I realize now that what he was gritting his teeth about, but not really conscious of, was his jealousy at how ‘woman-centered’ all my experiences, by some unconscious fluke of nature turned out to be.
Yes, I’d chosen a nurse-midwife for my medical team, what self-respecting college professor who’d just completed a doctoral dissertation on the diffusion of women’s health issues in universities nation-wide wouldn’t have? Steve had met and liked both Janet the midwife, and the new long-haired M.D. under whose auspices she’d have to practice. Catskill Hospital’s then innovative new birthing room was in l981 not permitted under New York state law to allow midwives to deliver babies unattended by someone of proper rank and file … especially babies of ‘high risk elderly prime-eps’ (first time mothers) like my 36 year old self. Those were the actual words on my chart at the hospital!
My midwife told me my pregnancy was faultless. I’d gained 40 pounds in 40 weeks, largely from the high protein, high fiber, fresh fruit and vegetable diet I’d nourished myself with. I’d exercised daily, running until the end of my fifth month, followed by three times weekly trips to the pool, a sauna as a reward after 40 laps. At that time there were no warnings on the walls of my gym about the hazards of sweating during pregnancy.
The last three months I worked close to the computer center at the State University of New York at Albany, crunching the statistical package on my dissertation data almost every day. Thanks to providence, Russell Sage College had released me the year before and given me a grant from the government in the form of unemployment at $175. a week for 36 weeks of my pregnancy, so I could ‘only’ work on my doctoral dissertation. The impending deadline of a baby was the final kick in the butt it took me to finish my research, having wallowed in anxiety about not completing it for the previous four years.
As I look back, up to that time those nine months were the happiest period of my life. The EST training had helped me clear most of my fears of inadequacy and to let go of all the whining about not being smart enough to become “Dr. Hanson.” I was finally over all the anxt of dissertation avoidance and procrastination. I was getting it done!
When I finally got in gear and decided to finish my dissertation I was well advised. First, I read Dress for Success and came to committee meetings dressed like the professional that I was, not a student in jeans and long earrings. Then Mary Sue Richardson, the one person at NYU on my committee who was not from my department, bless her soul, gave me some great advice. She actually suggested I remove from my committee a professor who’d been an obstacle in my path for years. I can still hear that professor’s flat nasal Long Island voice whining and asking me questions about “if your focus is on women’s health, why not men’s health?” This in the mid-seventies, the heyday of feminism! She also actually questioned me on whether innovation meant new or different! Her lack of political savvy and stupidity boggles my mind to this day. But for three years, until a feminist psychologist took me aside, I put up with it. One day after a committee meeting, Mary Sue Richardson told me she had never seen such lack of support from a committee member to a student.
“Fire her!,” she said without blinking an eye. So after some astute explaining, I did, replacing her with the university’s (and perhaps the country’s) foremost expert on innovation diffusion in education, from the Sociology department. I also appointed a surrogate committee chair closer to home, in the form of a good friend at Russell Sage college who would read and edit my drafts.
A nine month biological deadline of my July14th due date, plus my newly self-imposed EST-training commitment to DO IT at long last, and not just ‘try’ really got me focused. I worked every day for six to eight hours on my 300 page study of women’s health issues, surprising even myself that I loved most minutes of it. I had the inevitable hassles that every doctoral student encounters with computer programs disappearing half the data and work having to be re-done.
Three weeks before my due date, I’d polished off all but the final conclusions and discussion section. I had the wisdom, time, support at home and vision to take an herbal medicine weekend workshop in Woodstock, New York. One last weekend for Pat, before baby re-defined my reality. I brought along my best friend Maureen, and my mid-wife Janet, just in case anything should happen early.
Interestingly enough, the self-proclaimed lesbian witches running the workshop, and their 20-30 aspiring herbalists were fascinated with my ninth month pregnant body and another woman’s from Canada who came equally pregnant, (no mid-wife in tow, however). Everyone was pleased to hear that I’d already been doing what they would have suggested: red raspberry tea daily to strengthen the uterus, and fresh papaya or tablets for heartburn.
Two weeks till due date, workshop treat to myself over, I worked like a bunny finishing the first draft of the final chapter. One week later, I boxed three typed copies of the entire dissertation and got them ready to mail to my New York University committee members.
“One week before my due date!” I thought to myself “what planning! I never get anything done ahead of time … how nice it will be now to abandon the typewriter, paint the baby’s room, nest a little and do all those things mothers do before their first baby is born.”
About 3:30 p.m. on July 7, l981, a 95 degree summer day, I was almost ready to take the dissertation packages to the post office. But compulsive housekeeper that I was, I ran (well not quite ran, 40 weeks of pregnancy puts a stop to that) I went down the cellar stairs to put in one last load of laundry before leaving the house. The bottom step was slippery and I fell, ending up sitting on my butt, in a small pool of water. It was hard for me to tell (said I in deep denial), whether it was my bag of waters that had burst, or just some urine, from my bladder which at that 39th week of pregnancy I had been emptying every-fifteen minutes. Laundry in, I went upstairs and sat down for fifteen minutes, then called the mid-wife telling her what happened. She said it was hard for her to tell whether this meant impending labor or not, I should call her back in one hour.
So I got in my car, went to the post office, and made the preparations to deliver my dissertation to committee members next day mail as they had been expecting it. In the lovely small rural town where I live the post office is fifteen minutes away, the hospital forty-five. The postmaster noticed me grimacing as filled out the papers, asked me if I was O.K. Taking time to notice, I sat down and realized I had started to have these grinding sensations way, way down in my groin, almost under the pubic bone.
Somehow in the childbirth movies the stomach had always been so prominent, I didn’t expect labor to feel like an old-fashioned hand mixer was being turned very hard and ever so slowly, so deep down in my body. As I sat on the radiator in the post office, more people came up asked me if I was all right. In a daze I said I didn’t know, but perhaps they should send for my best friend at the time: Laura Burt, who’d at my age had just had her third baby three months previously.
I then timed these grinding sensations. Lo and behold they were two and a half minutes apart and a minute long! The hand-mixer now felt like it does when you make ice cream at home and the beater just won’t turn any more, but somebody strong enough keeps making it go round and round again.
What Lamaze breathing was I supposed to be doing at this stage? What stage? Egads!
Then I remembered that in the morning when m husband was in the bathroom shaving, I had noticed a drop of blood on the toilet seat. I’d asked him if he’d cut himself. Half asleep (he must have been in denial too!) he shrugged and said he didn’t think so. Now I realized that drop must’ve been that ‘show,’ the mucous plug blocking the cervix they had told us about in childbirth class. I still didn’t believe this was happening to me.
So in another fifteen minutes of two minutes apart contractions, heavy but still not horrendous, my friend Laura came to the post office. Everyone decided to call The Rensselaerville Ambulance Squad, on which I am a volunteer EMT. Laura drove me to my house and they called the midwife from the post office The ambulance meets me at my house lights circling, sirens blowing and it was now more than an hour later!
Someone called my husband at work and got a message to him to go directly to the hospital. Luckily his camera was loaded and in the car. All I can remember about those few minutes at home is sweating a lot and breathing intensely, guided by Laura telling me to picture flowers, which I was unable to do. Nancy LaRocca and two other women I knew well from being on the squad, examined me. At 6:00 p.m. or so, I was eight centimeters dilated, at home, 45 minutes from Catskill Hospital. The midwife and the crew consulted by phone, and got a third opinion from Dr. Richard Karle a local general practitioner who told them “Hell, it’s Pat? …. she can make it. Put her in the ambulance, drive like hell and tell her not to push!”
So off I went, in heavy transition, best women friend and three other hard-core rural salt of the earth women, mothers and grandmothers each of them, coaching and cheering me on. It hurt. The hand beater of a few hours earlier, now felt like those gears in the horror movies, only I was caught between them! There was hardly any rest between the turns of this huge grinder my whole body was caught in. I kept trying the intense breathing and visualization they coached me through, and I guess it worked.
Before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the delivery room, (no time for the birthing room with its special bed, plants and flowered wallpaper). My husband was there waiting with Janet the midwife. He looked red in the face and about to faint, but he had his camera around his neck. He set his tripod up in the corner to focus on his photography. Laura stayed and the ambulance squad left reluctantly.
Janet took my pulse and whatever else they do for the minimum prep’ I had requested. ‘No fetal monitors, no shaving pubic hair’ was in our pre-rehearsed hospital plan.
Next thing I know Janet told me I could push.
PUSH? PUSH? How? What?
I wanted to, and I ‘tried’ once again, and again, but that wasn’t enough. With each grinding sensation, even lower now, and more metallic, I grunted and squeezed and pushed. It felt as if I were trying to take a shit the size of a watermelon. After about twenty minutes Janet, who had been rubbing my perineum with vitamin E oil, and seriously listening to the baby’s heart with her stethoscope, did a small episiotomy. I didn’t even realize she’d done one until it was all over.
One more grunt and what felt like a year-long push and the baby’s head was out to the neck. One more cut that I wasn’t aware of at the time, (the cord had been around the baby’s neck), and I’ve pushed out a 6 lb.10oz. baby boy … the same exact weight I was when I was born!
At three thirty I had delivered my doctoral dissertation to the post office! At seven o’clock I delivered my first baby!
Why was it political? As my midwife did her thing in the delivery room not my husband, nor Laura, nor I even thought to ask where my doctor, the MD was. I guess in this poky little town, on the doctor’s day off, when his back-up was busy, and the doctor on call was assisting at another delivery in a hospital 25 miles across the Hudson River, they just had to let Janet perform the delivery unassisted. My first childbirth was the first unsupervised mid-wife assisted hospital delivery in New York state history.
Other political aspects? That god in her infinite wisdom allowed to happen? I was supported by a team of my women friends from the moment I realized I was in labor, until well after the birth. No accident I’m certain. We are there for each other when we need it the most.
Why was it spiritual? Silly thing to ask. That’s a given. New life IS God given. That I accomplished two of my life-long goals: becoming ‘Mother Jones’ and ‘Doctor Hanson’ within hours of one another was just a small part of the miracle.
I remember feeling especially teary eyed and kind of emotional that night until I fell asleep. I spent only 28 hours in the hospital. I chose to go home the next evening with baby Graham. He was the most beautiful newborn anyone could have ever seen. No, he really was look at the pictures. As we got ready to leave the hospital in our yellow Porsche 924, I felt great. No post-partum depression for me. I could have run up and down the halls, were it not for the episiotomy stitches that had to heal. The sitz baths, and the Tucks (vaginal wipes that felt like candy, one of women’s best kept secrets), and the love and support all around kept me sane and from feeling any pain.
Driving home from the hospital, however panic at the reality of being a parent started to set in. I remember my legs started shaking uncontrollably, just for a few minutes … probably the tremors I hadn’t had time to experience in the ambulance during childbirth.
I felt the most tremendous sense of vulnerability. Awe. Wonder. But especially vulnerability. Here was this baby, this boy child, this blonde-haired brown-eyed boy-child that I always knew I would have … but … but … I didn’t know a darn thing, not a thing about what to do, about how to raise it. I felt small. It seemed as if the cars on the country roads were moving awfully fast. I wanted my life to move a little more slowly from then on … a lot more softly … and a lot more gently.
Vulnerability … that’s what delivering a baby and a doctorate on the same day felt like. The ultimate in humility too. Who was I to accomplish such marvelous feats? But I’d done it … done both, and quite well at that.
And now that they were ‘done deals’ … ‘Ohhh Myyy God ….! “
Something told me, in those moments of vulnerability, when my body was out of control with fear, that I hadn’t merely reached my two goals. This was only the beginning.
By Pat Hanson on July 8, 2021