Sisterly Love

My sister gave her partner and me strict instructions; don’t let her give in to an epidural. I never imagined it would be an issue. My sister is one of the most unflappable people I have ever known. She’s a criminal defense attorney, a triathlete, and fiercely independent. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t show fear. She swims in the San Francisco Bay, which means she literally swims with sharks. When she said she didn’t need an epidural I pictured her biting down on a strap of leather during 12 hours of hard labor.

The month before her due date, we had lengthy discussions about whether she should have the baby at home (I threw a lot of worst case scenarios her way). She opted for a hospital. And after absorbing the equivalent of a master’s degree of information on child birth, she decided to have it naturally, with no drugs.

I went to a couple of long, detailed birthing classes with my sister and her partner. It was all very Berkeley. We watched videos of women in under developed countries working in the fields, taking a break, squatting down and giving birth with no pain killers and no hospitals. At the time, I did not have children, or even give them a passing thought, so the class was fairly traumatizing. There was no talk of an epidural in any scenario. But what those classes did give us was a plan.

I was living (or some might say freeloading) at my sister and her partner’s house when my sister announced that she was in labor. It was 11 pm and I had just stumbled home. I ran around grabbing my stuff and yelling, “let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.” I thought it would be like a movie where if we didn’t hurry and get there in time, she would give birth in the back of my Volkswagen Jetta. But if it was a movie, it was more like the “Sound of Music” than “Run, Lola, Run.” We stared at each other for a while and then went to bed. We got up not-so-early and moseyed on over to the hospital, but not before stopping for lattes and pastries. “This seems wrong,” I remember telling them as we slowly walked into the hospital carrying our coffees.

Wrong it was. It was deathly quiet, like the hospital had gone out of business. I asked the nurse why there weren’t pregnant ladies waddling around huffing out of their mouths and she said the full moon the night before caused many women to go into labor. The place had been packed and women were forced to suffer through their contractions in the waiting room.

We settled into our quiet room and my sister read us the part of the book about what to do if she asked for an epidural. She said to talk her through it, but be encouraging so she didn’t give in. The anesthesiologist walked in carrying a toolbox and said hello in a loud southern accent. This was a little disconcerting to hear in the Oakland Hospital, but not as much as the bright orange tackle box he was holding. My sister told him she didn’t want to go fishing, but would call him if she did. He said he would check in later.

There was a whole lot of nothing going on until my sister suddenly shrieked in pain. She asked to lie down and the pain got progressively worse. Soon after, my sister asked for an epidural.

My sister-in-law and I looked at each other and she grabbed the book. “What are we supposed to do again?” I asked as she frantically flipped the pages.

I heard a voice that sounded like it rose up from the depths of hell. “I want an epidural.”

“But, umm, are you sure, uhh, that you really want this because, you know, you might regret it later?” I mumbled.

“Go get Gomer! Now!” That’s funny, I thought, I wonder if she’s saying that because he has a southern accent like Gomer Pyle. Gomer Pyle, I hadn’t thought about him in a… “Go get him now!!”

I was off, but he was busy helping someone else, although I couldn’t figure out who, because the hospital was a ghost town.

When I got back to the room, she was in more excruciating pain and swearing like she was in a rap video. After what felt like days of my sister berating us for denying her the one thing she had ever wanted, Gomer came back. She had a few choice words for him, too, poor man. He did manage to get her the pain medication through the flying expletives and the real action started.

I won’t share with you the most graphic details, but I was there to photograph the birth, and let me tell you, it was graphic. Because I failed so miserably at stopping her from getting an epidural I took a thousand up-close-and-personal pictures to capture the amazing moment.

“Why, why, why did I agree to do this?” I thought about a half hour into the action. We kept telling her that she was amazing, that she was strong, that she could do it, over and over and over. Then with one big push the head came out and seconds later my niece’s tiny little body came shooting out (and almost dropped on the floor by the doctor). My sister started crying and doctor plopped the baby right down on my sister’s chest. The baby started nursing immediately and then we were all crying.

It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Years later, when I had my boys, my sister was right there taking pictures. I had an epidural right away.

This is my blog entry for the Sisterly Love contest on TLC’s DC Cupcakes. Thanks TLC. I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a long time.