By Jennifer Ashton
This is the original October 1979 entry taken from the Diary of the writer.
Well, I have a baby and guess what? It's a girl!! I couldn't believe it! When the doctor pulled it out and said, “it's a girl, I said, “What?” and he had to say it again because I didn't believe him. I thought for sure it would be a boy.
Diary, it was awful. Why doesn't anybody tell you that? Instead of being happy and excited, they should tell you the truth—that it hurts like hell and afterwards, it will feel like you're sitting on a fork. They might as well have pulled off my legs, it hurt so much.
Last Saturday night, I woke up and I had a cramp and a sore back. I woke George up and said I had a cramp, and I got him to phone his sister in Saskatchewan to ask what it feels like when you're in labour. She should know, she has four kids and is pregnant with another one. She said it can feel exactly like a cramp, so I said, “let's go to the hospital.” He wasn't very happy about getting out of bed and he asked if I could wait and I said “no!”
At the hospital, it was okay for a while, but then it really started to hurt and I couldn't stop yelling. They gave me that enema and then it REALLY started to hurt, and they moved the other girl out of the room because I was yelling so much. I was afraid the baby was going to come out when I went to the bathroom after that enema, but they said it wouldn't, but I didn't want it to come out in the toilet, so I put my hand there to hold it in just in case.
George didn't want to stay around when I was screaming like that, so he said he was going to go to McDonald's for a burger. I asked the nurse if I could have something to make the pain stop and she said no. They shaved all my hair off down there too, so I was itchy on top of it all. Having a baby is really embarrassing and people do a lot of things to you whether you like it or not. It didn't seem fair that nobody listened to what I wanted, I just wanted somebody to rub my back. George did it for a minute but then he left. It felt so good.
Nobody told me it was going to hurt, I had no idea. It wasn't in any of the books and pamphlets I read, they only talked about the way to breathe, but I didn't have any trouble with that part at all. It just sort of happens that way anyhow. Why didn't the midwife say anything? It's an awful way to have babies, screaming in pain. It's not perfect and beautiful like on TV.
Then I called the nurse because I said I had to push. She said no I didn't and that I shouldn't, but boy, I really had to! She went away and another lady came in and said that was it, it was time. George wasn't back from McDonald's yet and the doctor wasn't there because it was the middle of the night. They took me in my bed to the big operating room and they strapped my legs into the stirrup things and strapped down my arms. I hated that but they said I had to. Then they put a mirror so I could see what was going on and when the nurse asked if I could see, I said “yes,” but George answered too because he just came back from McDonald's. And suddenly, he was standing behind the head of the bed, and then they moved the mirror for him. I was mad because I really wanted to see what was going on down there. All I could see now was George's head with a cap and mask on and his crazy huge long frizzy hair sticking out the sides. He looked like a scary clown.
Then Dr. Kelly ran in and it was a good thing too, because I only pushed three times and then she came out. The nurse kept telling George to push my pillow up to make me sort of sit upright because it would help me, but I kept telling him to stop because it was so annoying. The worst part was being tied down everywhere, I've never felt so wildly mad.
The doctor made a cut, he said, but he did stitches after the afterbirth came out. That part felt SO good, not the stitches, but the afterbirth because then it felt like it was really over and the pain finally stopped, finally. It took 23 hours for me to have that baby. They said I had terrible back labour because I was so small and she weighed nearly 10 pounds, plus I was three weeks late. When I started out before I got pregnant, I was 98 pounds. Last week, I was 148 but I think a lot of it was banana weight. All I wanted to eat this whole time was bananas.
But Diary, when they put her down beside me, I know my eyes opened so wide because I could not believe that this tiny baby was mine. It was such a strange feeling, I had never seen a baby up close before. I was afraid to touch her and I wanted to just look at her, but then they took her away so fast, just when I was getting to know her. She was pink and wearing a funny hat and wrapped up in a yellowy hospital blanket. Her eyes were closed. I could smell she was mine.
We only had a boy's name picked out, so after she was born when we went back to the room, and George had a cigarette that he butted it out in his work thermos, I said we had to pick a name and I picked Melody because we liked music. I told him to go call everybody and tell them, but he didn't want to go. He said, “why do I have to?” and I said, “because they will want to know,” and he said “no they won't” but he went and phoned my mom anyway. There's a part of him that just doesn't care about anything, especially about being a dad.
I remember that George told me that his family used to have chocolate pudding for supper on Sundays and I think it was a way to bribe him and his sisters to go to church. Maybe that's still the way he works, but I don't have anything left to offer up.
The next day, there was an exercise class in the waiting room for all the mothers and I felt embarrassed because I didn't have a bathrobe to wear. We did sit-ups and the teacher nurse said that we would get back to our “schoolgirl figures” and then he looked at me and laughed and said, “well, some of us!” I thought that was mean. I think they all thought I was too young to have a baby, but I think 15 years old is just right. I sure wished I had a bathrobe and slippers and not just this old flannel nightgown that used to be my mom's with the buttons that always fly open in front. All the other ladies there looked nice in their velour bathrobes. My Gramma bought me a purple one like that once. I wished I had it, but I didn't know where it was.
I walked up and down the halls when the baby was asleep. Lots of the pregnant ladies were just walking up and down the halls with their husbands holding their hands. Some were even smiling. I didn't hear anybody else yelling, I felt really dumb. I hope nobody knew it was me making all the noise yesterday.
The nurse came in to show me how to feed her, but I was already doing it, so she said “oh, I see you already are,” and then she left. She was kind of snotty and I noticed that they didn't smile much around here.
The girl in the bed across from me let me use her Polaroid camera to take a picture of me with the baby. I showed it to George, but he didn't seem to care too much. I said we should get one of those Polaroid cameras so we could take some pictures too, but I don't think he wants to. My dad gave me his nice camera a long time ago when I was taking photography in school, but we had to pawn it when we got to town for gas and food.
Diary, I had to stay in the hospital until my stitches down there were gone, and they made me lay with a big hot light under the covers to help dry them up. The baby was living in the nursery. I asked the nurse what they would feed her if she woke up and they said a bit of sugar water and I didn't think that sounded very good. I asked why she couldn't stay with me because I can feed her myself like I'm supposed to. After that they gave me my own room so I could keep her all the time and feed her through the night. They wheeled her in and her bed was a sort of clear plastic thing on top of a trolley.
A nurse came in and said she was going to show me how to go to the bathroom. I had no idea what she was talking about, but when I got out of bed, a huge gush of blood splashed out all over the floor. I was really scared but she said that was okay, it was normal, and then she took me to the bathroom and buzzed for a cleaner to come.
She told me to pee and then showed me how to fill up a cup with soapy water and rinse myself off with it. It sort of stung on my stitches, but afterwards, it felt better. Then she showed me how to pin this huge pad in my underwear to catch the blood next time.
And I forgot to tell you, they used Melody for the baby model when they showed how to wash a baby! We all went into another girl's room and they had a baby bath there and we all sat around the bed and watched. I said, “that's my baby!” as soon as I recognized her. It was a funny feeling recognizing her. She really is perfect and looks like the baby on the diaper box. I was happy that I knew how to do everything they said, and I couldn't wait to hold her! I wondered if they knew she was mine or if they just grabbed the most perfect one they could find for this lesson. I went up afterwards and said she was mine, but they had already wrapped her up and were taking her back to the nursery. I wasn't sure about these strange rules about hospitals and babies, and when I would finally get her to myself.
After it was all over, and I was laying under the covers with that stupid heat lamp pointed at me, I remembered talking with Jules and some other girls at school who said that women in China gave birth in the rice paddies and put the baby on their back and kept on working. I guess I should be thankful that I am here, warm and safe in a hospital, even though they did tie me up.
Jenn Ashton is an Award-winning author and visual artist. Her book of Short Stories, People Like Frank and Other Stories from the Edge of Normal (TidewaterPress 2020) is shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Award (2021). Jenn was a Teaching Assistant in the Simon Fraser University's Writer's Studio and is now studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Professional Education. She is currently the Writer in Residence at the British Columbia History Magazine.
Don't miss the virtual Birth Sharing Circle 2021 on Zoom on October 30th at 2 p.m. (EST) Come meet the winning writers, including Jenn, who will share their birth and writing experiences. Many of the jurors and readers will be there too! It will be a unique heartwarming event! Tickets are available on Eventbrite by donation.