Parents — especially mothers — may claim that parenting — and especially childbirth — is the most demanding task an adult can ever face. Well, ok, but let’s not forget that grandparenting is not exactly a cakewalk. As my daughter went through a difficult labor, I too faced my own, uncannily similar, trials. See for yourself. My daughter goes first, in her own words and in regular print. I follow in italics. For her full story, click on “Itty Bitty Bloghorn” on the left:
It was a Thursday. I went in for a routine non-stress test, and I wish the test had lived up to its name.
It was the very same Thursday. I went to my favorite Panera for coffee, a blueberry scone with sugar frosting, and a tussle with the Thursday Times Crossword. But they’d run out of sugar frosting and someone had already done Panera’s copy of the puzzle. Stress.
About 15 minutes into the test … the nurse came sprinting over to the side of the bed and began hurriedly fidgeting with the machine.
About 15 minutes into breakfast, my coffee had gone cold. I tried to heat it up in the microwave, but the machine wouldn’t work. Mike, the manager, came over and fidgeted with it.
“There was a significant deceleration in your baby’s heart rate so I have to take you over to the hospital … and you’re probably not going to leave there without a baby.”
“A muffin exploded in it, and I don’t think we got it completely de-muffined,” he said. “I’ll take you over to the counter, and we’ll get you a refill. You’re not leaving here without a piping hot cup of coffee.”
When we reached the maternity ward, she told the nurse what had happened … and I was wheeled into a room with a bed, a couch, and lots of techi-gadgets … The nurse immediately hooked (me) up to the same gadgety-wiry thingy that they used for my non-stressed tests so they could monitor the baby’s heart rate.
At the counter, Mike handed me over to Sarah. I was overwhelmed by the choices — four different coffee blends, hot water, dairy creamer, non-dairy creamer, sugar, sugar substitute — but Sarah got me the right coffee, helped me back to my table, and even found me an unused Thursday puzzle.
A midwife came in about an hour after I arrived, introduced herself, and said it was time to talk induction. She asked me if I’d ever heard of miso.
By now it was noon and Dave, who had replaced Mike, came over to my table. “You seem to be having trouble with that puzzle,” he said. “Yeah,” I replied, “Thursday can sometimes be harder than even Friday or Saturday.” “It’s time to talk solution,” he said. “Have you heard of Rex Parker’s on-line puzzle blog? You’ve got a lap-top. Rex could help.”
The miso did bring on contractions but they didn’t progress over time. The midwife … informed me that we should try something else. She asked me if I had heard of the Foley Bulb.
Rex had some helpful suggestions, but nothing for the one that was stumping me — ‘Another Marx brother’ (five letters). Dave came over again. “We should try something else,” he said. “Have you heard of the Internet Movie Database?”
The damn party balloon didn’t initiate the bash we were hoping for. I continued to have minor to moderate contractions that did not progress. Hours and hours went by.
But IMDB didn’t cut it. All it could suggest was “Zeppo,” which didn’t work. The hours were passing.
Finally, the inevitable conversation was to be had. Pitocin. The dreaded Pitocin. The last resort.
Finally, the inevitable conversation: “Morty, you need expert help,” said Dave. I knew he could mean only one person — we’ll call her Elaine: wife, puzzle mistress, clue-counselor extraordinaire.
They pumped. And pumped. And pumped some more. The contractions got more severe but my cervix was being clear that it was closed for business.
I went home, explained the dilemma, and pumped my helpmate for the answer. “Zeppo’s the only other one I know, but you’ve ruled him out,” she said. “I think there was another, but I just can’t come up with him. Damn! Both our brains are closed for business! ”
Why aren’t I doing an epidural? Oh, right, the birth plan. Why did I make a birth plan? Because that’s what you do. Right, must stick to goal of no epidural …
“Why don’t I just go to the Times web-site and look up the answer? No one will know the difference,” I said to myself. “No,” I replied, “you’d only be cheating yourself. Remember that crosswords are key to your anti-senility plan.” “Right … senility plan,” I mumbled.
The nurses kept checking my dilation, which continued to be way slower than anyone wanted … they told me not to push because that could do some serious damage.
Elaine hovered over me, telling me not to force it, worried that I could lose my already tenuous grip on reality.
At this point my contractions were invading every fiber of my being like they wanted me to die a violent, painful death … “Please, please, I need an epidural. Get me the fucking anesthesiologist right fucking now so she can put a fucking needle in my fucking back and take away this fucking pain!” … Unfortunately, I was shit outta luck; I was too far dilated to get an epidural.
At this point, I was so desperate to finish the puzzle that, although I seldom resort to strong language and would never think of trafficking in human flesh, I would have sold my fucking uncle to a fucking white-slave trader in fucking Tajikistan to get that fucking final fucking answer. But Elaine, anticipating I might do something rash, had hidden the fucking answer key. Shit outta luck.
“Do you want some Fentanyl? It’ll make you feel like you did a couple shots of tequila,” the midwife asked nonchalantly.
“Why don’t you set the Thursday puzzle aside and try the Monday puzzle for now,” Elaine suggested nonchalantly. “It’s so easy, it’ll make you feel like you’re floating in space. Maybe it’ll unblock you.”
”Yes, fuck, yes … ” I swear I could feel the drug pass through the tube, into my vein, into my bloodstream, and into my brain the moment it was transfused.
“Yes, fuck, yes …” I swear I could feel the answers flowing the minute I set my eyes on Monday’s 1 Across — ‘Famous Bruin’ (three letters): ‘Orr,’ of course; then 1 Down — ‘Western movie’ (five letters): ‘Oater,’ a cinch …
Another few contractions violently ripped me out of my plastered state, after which my midwife said it was time for another cervix check. “You’re there. You’re finally there. It’s time to push!”
I was sailing along but then the last clue knocked me back to reality — 48 Down: ‘Notorious NYC traffic-jammer,’ (seven letters). ‘Major D?’ (not enough letters); ‘West Side Highway?’ (too many). “It’s time for a brain check,” my better-half said. “I know you know it’s the ‘Van Wyck!’ Fill it in, get yourself back to that Thursday bastard and put the screws to it. It’s time to push!“
The next contraction came … (but) … with every contraction, I pushed at half-strength. E’s head kept crowning and then receding. Over and over.
I went back to the Thursday puzzle and that ‘Another Marx brother’ clue. I knew I’d have to do it on my own. ‘Fungo?’ … no; ‘Largo?’ … nah; ‘Pogo?’ … no, no no, a thousand times no. On and on I went, but I could sense myself weakening and, every time I thought I had the answer on the tip of my tongue, it would vanish. Over and over.
After more than two hours of unmitigated hell … I asked the universe to please, please give me the strength to deliver this child. Thankfully, the universe listened … I huffed and I puffed … and I pushed Baby E out of my womb and into the room. I had my eyes closed the whole time and when I opened them, there was my daughter. Gooey, bloody, and beautiful.
After more than two hours of unmitigated hell, I closed my eyes and put my fate into the hands of the unknown. “Give me strength,” I pleaded, and slowly a face with a painted-on mustache and a lascivious leer emerged from the darkness. It was Groucho, eerily chanting, “Gummo … Gummo … gummo … gu …” as he slowly faded out. I opened my eyes. Yes, that was it! Gummo! The fifth brother, Milton “Gummo” Marx. Balding, Semitic, and beautiful!