The first time involved needles. Big, long, frightening needles. I am not normally bothered by needles, but I had already seen several needles that day, and it was only 8:30AM in the morning.
I sat on an operating table, facing away from the anesthesiologist, trying very hard not to think about what he was doing. "There will be three needles," he'd told me. "First one, then the other, then the final needle, each one getting me a little closer to your spinal chord. You'll feel them go in, and it may hurt a little, but it won't be that bad."
So I sat, hunched over in my hospital gown, waiting as he swabbed my back and prepped the first needle. Michael, my husband, was not yet allowed in the operating room with me. He had been with me constantly since the day before, not once leaving my side. He knew I was nervous, down right scared even. I hadn't let go of his hand since we'd arrived at the hospital, not until the nurse came to wheel me into the operating room.
I sucked in a sharp breath when I felt a pinch at my back. The first needle going in.
"Steady," the anesthesiologist said.
No husband to hold my hand. No mother either. My mom, a registered nurse who had been with me to every trip I'd ever made to any hospital, was there that morning, too. But she wouldn't be allowed to see me again until after I came out of the recovery room. I think not having her in the OR scared me more than not having Michael in the OR. Mom would have known what was going on. She would have described it to me and kept me calm. But she wasn't allowed in. It was just me and the guy with the needles. Fuck.
Another pinch and another gasp. "Steady," the needle guy said again.
I had forgotten at that point that he was the anesthesiologist, the man responsible for controlling my response to pain and keeping me breathing throughout the upcoming procedure. At that point, he was just the needle guy, the fucker who kept jabbing long pointy things into my back. I did not like him, no matter how pleasant he was, no matter how necessary he was to my life and the life I currently carried inside me. He was the bastard who had said no husband, no mom, just him and me and could I please hold still just a little longer because there was still one last needle to goooooooo...
The numbness came on slow, starting somewhere at my toes and fading up my body oh... so... slowly as the needle guy and a nurse helped me lay back on the table. The table was shaped like a cross and as soon as I was prone, the nurse and the needle guy strapped both my arms down, getting me ready for the c-section I was about to have. Up till that point, I had kept myself calm by taking deep breaths, but then the spinal block hit my lower abdomen and suddenly I couldn't take deep breaths any more and I was strapped to a fucking table like a fucking human sacrifice and where the hell was my fucking husband?!!
It did not help that I could actually see myself reflected in the shiny metal rims of the lights overhead.
I shut my eyes and tried to slow my breathing, to keep from panicking. The OR door opened up and in streamed more nurses and the obstetrician. A curtain went up at my chest, to keep me from seeing what was about to happen, to keep me from panicking at the sight of my skin being slice open, my innards being exposed. Apparently nobody else knew about the shiny metal rims on the lights over head. I suddenly wondered how many other moms-to-be had ended up watching their c-sections being performed thanks to those damned lights.
"Is the father on his way?" my obstetrician asked in his crisp, accented voice. He was oh-so-English, and apparently the best guy to go to for a c-section, though neither of those facts was giving me the warm fuzzies at that moment.
"He's coming," one of the nurses replied.
"All right, well let's get started. He'll be here before we're done."
"Oh, that's lovely!" I wanted to stand up and scream. "Can't you just wait another goddam minute? This is only the birth of our first child!"
But I was tied to the table and numb from the waist down anyway, so no standing and screaming for me.
Later on, Michael would tell me he came in just as the doctor cut me open. My lower abdomen burst like an over-sized water balloon, a detail that I actually never saw because once everyone crowded around me, my view of the lights overhead was blocked. Michael took a seat next to me at the head of the OR table. I felt a strange tugging sensation on my lower body.
"You feel anything?" the needle guy asked.
"It's like they're pulling stuff around down there," I told him.
"No pain though, right?" he grinned at me.
"Yeah, no pain."
No pain, but still plenty of panic. Michael leaned over and pressed his head to mine. I had so wanted to do this naturally. I had spent four years fighting to get pregnant. The conception of our child was not the result of two people entwined in bed, bodies so close that one was inside the other, but of a catheter fed up my vagina and through my cervix, the push of a button sending millions of sperm collected from my husband into my carefully prepared uterus. I was grateful for the results of that miracle of science, but so frustrated that once again science had to intervene to make this child happen. My baby hadn't turned, I would not go into labor. Was my body ever going to do anything like it was supposed to?
"What's going on?" I asked Michael, who could see over the partition at my chest. "What are they doing down there?"
"The doctor's inside... he's pulling her out... she's out! She's really out!"
"But I don't hear anything!" Panic rose up in the back of my throat like bile. "Why is she so quiet?! What is she doing?!" I didn't ask, but I know Michael heard, Is she alive?
"I don't know," he said. "Her eye are open. She's just... looking around."
Then we heard a small snap! followed by an outraged wail.
"Oh my god!" I cried to my husband. "Did we make that? Did we make whatever is making that sound?"
Michael laughed. The nurse handed him a bundle that still wailed like a siren. He brought it as close to my head as he could get.
"Here she is. Here's our daughter!"
I couldn't turn my head to see her face. The needle man had turned up the morphine and the last of my muscle control was slipping away. All I could see was the blanket and the tip of her little crocheted hat, but I could hear her cry. It was the most beautiful noise I had ever heard.
The second time, three years later, was entirely different. I walked for hours that night around the labor and delivery floor, dragging a squeaky IV pole behind me as I worked to jump-start my contractions. The baby had turned, my water had broke. I would not have a c-section, in spite of my English doctor's cheerful predictions that he would be there in the morning to cut me open. Michael walked laps with me, held my hand, never let go. My mother was still in Arkansas, 18 hours away.
The walking worked. By midnight, the contractions were coming regular as clockwork. By 1AM, the needle man came to give me an epidural that never, ever took. By 2AM, I was screaming at the nurses to "come catch this baby!" Just before 3AM, my English doctor stumbled through the door, nurses doing their damnedest to tie up his smock as he took a seat between my legs. He almost didn't make it in time. The nurse almost really did have to catch. Five minutes later, I pushed out child number two. There was no cutting this time. Instead, I tore up the front, just a little, into the clitoris.
The one thing that didn't change was the little snap! we heard when the doctor thumped our daughter's foot, and the resounding wail that followed.
And it was still the most beautiful noise I have ever heard.