July 4, 2016, was Margot’s Independence Day.
It most reminded me of the aftermath of an exquisite wedding rehearsal dinner of Alfredo shrimp when I was sixteen: the kind of aftermath one remembers twelve years later.
Just when I thought the next push or two might kill me, the doctor pulled a small blue alien from under the table—and that’s exactly what I’m going to tell my daughter is how babies are made, because it’s truer than anything I ever heard on the subject. I was dying of bowel impaction; then there was a baby. I’ve spent three months now trying to believe the baby came out of me.
This is one thing I didn’t happen to come across on any of the gory baby blogs I read in preparation: nobody said childbirth felt like pooping to death, and nobody said they had trouble believing the baby came out of the baby bump. Therefore I conclude that none of these ladies adequately understood what was happening to them, and my interpretation stands alone for posterity. You’re welcome, ladies.
I didn’t get a very clear view of Margot’s grand exit. One of the nurses had noticed I was craning to see the action down below, and she did her best to block my view in the last moments, when scissors came into play and I seemed displeased. Margot was too big to be completely hidden, though. I remember being shocked by the head, which was triple the size of the dark nob I’d been watching poke out with each push. I’d convinced myself that the head must be the size of my fist, in which case this whole thing just might be feasible.
It was not feasible.
Even if they had cut me as drastically as I imagined at the time, I can’t figure out how something that size came out where it did. It’s just not possible.
I strained to hear baby sounds across the room, over my own whimpers as the nurses massaged my belly to force out the placenta (this was NOT what I’d read on WikiHow…). As the baby lay on my chest, half-blanketed, wet and sticky under my hand, I couldn’t really see her, couldn’t hold up my head. When the neonatologist took her away, and Rex and Mzia and my mother all followed right as I was experiencing the most traumatic half hour of the whole flipping process, I told myself to think of the blue alien and be brave a little longer. I felt betrayed by all four of them, but the feeling passed in a few days.
I wanted to joke about being a wimp, now that the “hard part” was over, but I’ve never mastered joking in Georgian. “I’m sorry that I am loud now,” I said. I wanted to say that I didn’t have any energy left to spend on my dignity. What came out instead was: “My strength—is finished.”
“What?” the nurse said.
“My strength—is finished!”
I tried to chuckle, but something was being done to me that the reader would prefer I not disclose, and I was almost crying. The nurse politely nodded and went back to work, and I quit fighting destiny and moaned with abandon.
Eventually Rex came back with our baby wrapped in a receiving blanket and a hard capsule of wool. Only her face showed, and “Bredshau” and her stats were penned in Georgian on a bit of paper tied around her middle with a string of torn gauze. Already she was pale and baby-like; I don’t know what they did with the alien from under the table. Rex held her close to my face and said, “She’s so pretty.” My arm was shaking and I couldn’t reach her skin, so I stroked the wool shell with the back of my hand.
Margot came ten days late, which was not such a bad thing, considering the drivers in our host family decided to get drunk on my due date. I guess after months of admonishing me that girl babies always come early, and then a full month of asking how I felt several times a day, the anticipation was too much to keep up. I was mostly irritated about the due date debauch because it seemed the sort of thing a self-respecting American ought to be angry about, but I knew quite well that if I started having contractions, Kako would find a neighbor or relative to drive me. A secret part of my soul did long to arrive at the clinic in a thirty-year-old Lada with a cracked windshield and duct tape on the door. It would have been the next-best story to birthing in some old lady’s front yard after a taxi accident, and rather less risky; but alas, neither was to be.
My mother arrived in Georgia on June 28 with peanut butter and decaf instant coffee. Homesick as I’d been the whole year, I hadn’t realized how much I missed talking with her. I still wish we could have shown her Davit Gareja or Kazbegi or at least Tbilisi, but it was fun showing off the chicken hatchery in the laundry room, and explaining that the “huge white shells, or something” she saw floating in a fish tank in the pantry were wheels of cheese preserved in salt water and vinegar. She showered our very pleased and amused host family with gifts, and showered me with compliments for them that were beyond my powers of translation. Mzia and Teo said I have a “very warm mother,” and made all the foods I like in her honor.
Every night before bed I put on my shorts and trotted up and down the stairs, which didn’t seem to accomplish anything except prove I could still do it comfortably. At bedtime Rex admonished the bump that she should come out already so we could get her passport. Alexi asked every day why did the little baby not come, and my mother appeased him with toys and coloring books from her suitcase.
I was supposed to be induced on the fourth at the latest. I went to bed on the third despairing, and woke up early in the morning with regular contractions. We drove to Telavi through a light rain, my mother commenting on the mountains, the Georgian music on the stereo, the driving (I assured her this qualified as slow, and it was for my sake). It’s nice, when everybody else takes these things for granted, to have one person who looks at you in awe as you calmly cradle your belly and bounce along. Again I felt a twinge of regret that we were going in Kako’s van after all.
Then we got to the part I was worried about.
All the websites say you should compose lists of questions about procedure to discuss with your doctor, should ask to see the facilities… Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. The way doctor visits work in Georgia, the doctor is always answering her phone or filling out paperwork while chatting with you, and the extra seats in her office are always occupied by the next lady patient or three who shoved in behind you while the door was open; you’d better want to talk about your unmentionable-problems badly enough to charade them in front of an audience. You might get your medical history conveyed, if you’re that shameless, and you can make absolutely clear that you don’t want a c-section unless it’s an emergency; but you’re not going to ask to see any facilities.
The facilities were quite nice, it turned out. We were able to pay extra for a private recovery room, and it had a toilet with a real seat that was clean enough to sit on(!). There was, however, one mild surprise.
The delivery room was set up for two deliveries.
Two cots, and two delivery tables with thick pads and adjustable segments, vaguely insect-shaped. Near the delivery tables were sinks and counters and trays with surgical instruments laid out, and jars of sanitary swabs in a yellow fluid; near the cots there was a table and chair, a yoga ball, and a tiny toilet with a door which a nurse opened without knocking shortly after I entered it. I said, “sorry,” and she stood in the doorway smiling down at me for a moment, then shut the door without a word.
At first I was alone, intermittently with a friendly doula (whose official working title was “bebia,” grandmother), and then Rex and my mother were allowed to come by turns. Later Mzia came in and out. She seemed nervous; my mother was cheerfully absorbed in reminiscing about her own births, timing my contractions, and taking videos on her phone. Rex as usual had his ereader and was studying paleontology or something whenever I wasn’t regaling him with my latest symptoms.
Eventually another lady came, and her labor was going fast. Within two hours she was wailing continuously, in operatic Georgian, “Wy me! Wy me! Wy me! Nino [doctor’s name], save me! Save me, Nino! Give me a caesarean! I am NOT well, I am VERY ill, GIVE me a caesarean! Wy me wy me wy meeee….” Rex and my mother had early on retreated to the hallway to give the lady some privacy, but Mzia didn’t seem to think this necessary.
I was walking on the other side of the room, near the delivery tables, trying to give the lady some space. Mzia walked with me. I was beginning to have to bend over and hold onto my knees or a table when contractions hit. She took my hand and asked me if it hurt. “Yes, a little,” I said. “It is not bad yet.”
“Kristi,” she said in Georgian, “You can shout. You must shout. ‘Wy me, wy deda! Ahh!'” (“Oh no, oh mother!”)
“Later,” I said.
“Wy me.” She shook her head.
“Do you see the American?” I heard one of the nurses say. “She is not afraid; she is calm. You must be calm like her.”
There are times I really love being able to pretend I don’t understand anything.
In the late afternoon, as the other woman transitioned into advanced labor, somebody noticed my lack of curiosity. Georgians do not generally refrain from looking at anything interesting, so it was supposed that I was getting scared. The American was welcome to step outside and walk in the corridor, they told Mzia. So we went out in the corridor.
I was more than six centimeters dilated, I wasn’t wearing any underwear beneath my hospital gown, and I was beginning to really worry about voiding my bowels on the floor. I comforted myself with the thought that if this was the level of consideration they thought appropriate for a lady at six centimeters, then I need feel no regret for anything that happened to the floor. I sat with Rex on the edge of a bench, hoping I wasn’t bleeding too much, and watched my mom try to discretely record the rising “Wyyy meeeee!s” behind the door. Sarah called Rex’s phone, and I insisted this was a good time for a chat until another contraction hit and I stopped being able to speak words.
I lost track of what was happening to the other lady. Eventually I let myself back into the delivery room so I could sit on the toilet for a few minutes, though I wasn’t sure what I thought might come out—surely you couldn’t drop a full-term baby in the toilet merely by relaxing your bowels, could you? Then I was lying on my cot, trying to ask my bebia for a bucket because I had nausea; she looked confused, so I got up again and went to the toilet. I came out and she asked what happened. I threw up. Good, she said. Very good. I paced. I bounced on the yoga ball. I laid down again because I was tired and my back ached. My doctor came in and told me to keep pacing (Dear God…), and some time later she said I could push whenever I wanted to.
The other lady must have been delivered before I came back to seek the toilet, though I don’t remember it. At some point she had been moved to a gurney, but she wasn’t completely covered up, so they wouldn’t let Rex come back in the room, and only my mother’s being there kept me from going into an angry panic. He still wasn’t allowed inside when I began to push; meanwhile the lady on the gurney had been wheeled to the foot of my bed and was watching with considerable interest. Well, if I’d known she felt that way, I would have watched her too, dang it. I’ve watched films of babies coming out, but I’d have loved to see it in person, especially since I didn’t have the best angle to view my own.
Eventually the other lady was gone and Rex was with me, and my mother and Mzia. Rex was massaging my forehead and apparently enjoying himself—soon he told me he could see the head when I pushed, and not long after that I could see it too. Mzia was explaining to the nurses that I was not shouting because my mother was here from America, and I didn’t want to scare her.
I felt great between contractions. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever felt—brink of death in one moment, and in the next moment wishing they’d let me put on some pants and take my mother to see the Telavi bazaar, or the nine-hundred-year-old tree. Pushing didn’t feel painful so much as sickening and futile. Between contractions, I relaxed so completely that I felt I could fall asleep if I wanted to; the nurses found this disturbing and kept asking why I had my eyes closed. One splashed water in my face.
I spent three nights in that clinic, in a room just down the hallway from the delivery room, and I had ample opportunity to verify that Georgian women, as a rule, do not grunt while pushing out a baby, like in the movies. They all wail—I don’t know how they could possibly push while making such a noise—and they all wail, “Wy meeeee.” I grunt-screamed on the pushes like a constipated toddler, and one of the aids had the nerve to tell me to calm down. I can’t remember whether I managed to give her an evil look, or only thought about it. I was a little busy.
I found out the week before my due date, in a casual conversation with Teo, that typically, newly-delivered mothers recover four ladies to a room, and visitors are only allowed for a couple hours in the afternoon. I’d spent months trying not to be upset at the thought that Rex might have to find somewhere in Telavi to stay overnight if he could not stay with me, but when I found out I might have to spend three days almost entirely without him, I threw a tantrum.
“It is not possible! A new father—only to see his new baby for two hours each day, for three days? How is it possible? I cannot stand this. If it is so, I will come home early.”
Mzia was amazed. “How will you come home?”
“I will take a taxi if necessary. Or I will go to a hotel with Rex, and visit the doctor after three days, and then come home. I cannot be without Rex. The new father must not be far from the baby. It is our custom.”
She assured me that we could pay extra and take a private room. Probably. Would Rex be allowed to stay with me at night? She did not know; she would ask.
I drilled my mom on all the survival essentials, in case we couldn’t find a room for her in Telavi and she had to come home with the family (who I assumed, American-style, would be visiting every day): where I kept the extra toilet paper, which burner to use to boil water for coffee, and to be ready to leave at any time, with little notice.
When we arrived at the clinic the morning of the fourth, Doctor Avtandil met me in the exam room with a kindly prepared speech. -Are you afraid? -No, no. -You must not be afraid. -Of course, sir. -You know that all women something…. -Yes, sir. -Something…. -Yes, sir. -Well, good.
Mzia, hands clasped, explained that I wanted a private room. Very well. And that my mother was here from America, and I very, very much wanted her to be with me. Well, okay.
Mzia thanked him, and burst into tears. He left, and I thanked her. I was stunned. I felt like an …a donkey. I had no idea she was so nervous about asking for me.
Margot arrived a little after seven in the evening. Mzia had been with us the whole time, and had worried enough to make up for the three oddly cheerful Americans; she looked exhausted. She said goodbye to me while I still lay bleeding into a bucket on the delivery table, and I didn’t see her or anybody from the family until she and Kako and Alexi came to pick us up three days later. This, apparently, is the Georgian way: leave the woman to recover in peace, shunt her home three days later to nap with the baby while the menfolk feast and toast themselves to delirium in the next room, and finally rush her through the gauntlet of enthusiastic neighbor ladies with their gifts of baby clothes and candy.
But that’ll have to wait for another entry.
Rex and my mother were both allowed to stay with me at the clinic, night and day. Rex seemed to be the only male on the entire floor, except for the neonatologist.
There was one extra bed in our room, and Mom and Rex took turns napping on that, and standing watch in the straight-backed chair by me. We kept the baby with us all the time, occasionally letting a nurse take her to change her diaper or give her formula while I still didn’t have enough milk. Mom usually followed her when she was taken out, speaking loud and animated English to the smiling staff.
Some of them knew fragments of English; once, when the baby was crying in the arms of the neonatologist, he said carefully, “She needs her mother’s milk.”
“Yes!” My mom was thrilled to hear English. “I will take her to her mommy!” The man looked confused, and then Mom remembered that “mommy” in Georgian means father. She laughed and tried to explain her mistake, in English. The man still looked confused.
I don’t know how I would have survived without Rex and Mom, since I got my appetite back right away, and Georgians think the only safe food for newly-delivered mothers is broth and porridge and buttered bread, all in small quantities. We stayed the standard three nights, which is good sense in a country where the baby is not subjected to much testing, and the mother will likely be returning to drunken revelry and a squatty potty at home.
That first night I must have slept well. I don’t remember anything outside our room—just us, the baby, and gratitude that I suddenly seemed to have a normal bladder capacity again. The next night there was celebration in the parking lot beneath our window, as a man received news of a son; toasts were shouted, music blared from a car stereo, a stray dog ventured too near and was jubilantly shot six or seven times—all this until three in the morning when I fell asleep. I was sorry for the dog, but glad to show my mother this part of Georgian culture. The third night two more women delivered amid hours of operatic screams.
And the third day, with much confusion (as will be detailed in a later entry), we were released. Margot Mzia Bradshaw rode home beside me in the cloth travel-bassinet Teo provided.