By Kristen M. Ploetz
I’d never actually counted the windows in our house though before we’d left for the hospital.
My daughter is the only reason I know we have thirteen windows on the first floor of our house. She didn’t tell me—I had to count for myself, before she was born.
It was hard at first, to make sure I had counted right. Was it twelve or thirteen? Should I count the tiny crank window visible from inside our kitchen but covered up by vinyl siding on the outside? Yes. I’d count that one. It would make it easier for me to relax if I included them all, even the hidden ones.
I wasn’t at home when I was counting. I was in Labor & Delivery. I was laboring to deliver her. It was my last ditch effort at warding off the epidural. Translation: I didn’t want to give up control. If only I had known it was just the beginning of my ceding power where she was involved.
Like my usual pattern of preparing for big moments—particularly monumental tests of mental and physical stamina—I waited until the last possible second to study and strategize. Actually, I didn’t wait. I avoided it wholesale for forty weeks. Other than a cursory weekend course about childbirth offered by the hospital, I neglected to do much else until the very last minute. I even wasted the extra time my daughter gave me when she arrived a week after her due date.
In essence, I thought I could wing an unmedicated childbirth. I convinced myself that I’d have control (or at least good fortune) even after the contractions started. And why not? I had been able to maneuver similar successes in so many other areas of my life. This would surely be no different.
Then the contractions started.
I was never able to get the knack of the exercise ball movements designed to loosen my hips and lower back. All measured breathing ever did for me was induce vertigo. Maybe the New Age music on the cable TV station would force me into a meditative state. But it didn’t. Especially not after my husband fell asleep on the couch while tracking my contractions. By then I was just irritated and uncomfortable.
I must have read or heard somewhere to repetitively and visually count something while in labor in order to gain focus and determination. I’d never actually counted the windows in our house though before we’d left for the hospital.
Turns out, it’s actually really difficult to remember how many windows you have while it feels like your uterus is being turned inside out and clamped repeatedly in a vice.
Starting in the living room. One, two, three, four, five, . . . “Our mothers are wondering how things are going,” interrupted my husband.
One, two, three, . . . “I just want to see if you’ve dilated any more,” interrupted the obstetrician on duty.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, . . . Boy, I’d really like a sandwich right now.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, . . . I’d lost count. I needed to start over. Did I start in the living room or the sun porch? They both face the street. I couldn’t remember.
One, two, three, . . .
Somewhere during those two days of contractions it became clear that my plan was not to be followed through. Too many variables, some within my control and many not, came into play.
Her heartbeat dropping.
My heartbeat racing.
My husband waiting in the hallway while another man crouched behind me and ever so gently traced my spine with his finger.
There was no pain, no fainting. All my fears, unfounded. Is it possible that he used a magic needle?
Legs that were seemingly not my own lay heavy and immobile under the thin hospital blanket.
Let the mothers in. We would all wait together. It didn’t feel quite right, but nothing else was going according to plan, so why not.
I could not do it the way I had set out to do. Yet I mourned the childbirth I didn’t have only for a short while. It’s hard to do otherwise when the ultimate reward—the one you’ve been waiting for—comes into your arms safely all the same.
Now, more than seven years in, I still know that I have thirteen windows on the first floor. I count them when I am struggling through a tough run or clawing my way through a migraine. It seems to work better for these lesser tasks.
I also now know this: I have no control over how deeply I love my daughter, much less how life will ultimately unfold, both for her and for me. Perhaps there really never was any proper preparation for that if only because there are not enough windows to count.
Kristen M. Ploetz lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter. Her essays have appeared with Literary Mama, NYT Motherlode, The Humanist, and Mamalode. Read more of her work at www.littlelodestar.com or connect with her on Twitter (@littlelodestar).