Being a new mother with my eight week old son and unhappy with my newly acquired weight, I decided to “woman up” and take responsibility. I’d get back into my pre-child size 10 clothes pronto and regain my fitness by attending an aerobics class, which in 1978 was the current exercise mania. But I had to take Aaron with me because there were no family members who could take care of him while I exercised, or even went to the store for that matter. My younger sister,Barbara, lived close to me but she worked daytimes, and besides for some reason which now escapes me, we had had a falling out, and were not on speaking terms. But that’s another story. In any event, I shlepped Aaron to the class, where people in leotards mainly ignored him. But he looked around and seemed to enjoy the scenery of the group, mainly young women and only a couple of men, swinging their legs into the air, and hopping around the room to the sounds of Staying Alive (U tube), and Fever written and sung by the Bee Gees, from the movie Saturday Night Fever, a huge hit from the previous year, starring John Travolta in his hip-swinging days. The staccato shouts of the nubile instructor clad in tights and a red leotard propelled me into a disco fever. But when she proceeded to instruct us to do knee bends and squats, I proceeded to lose it. My left knee chimed in: you’re going to regret this; it caused me to scream out. My left leg crumbled out from under me and I fell to the floor. The instructor hovered over me, gave me a hand up, but it was my clear my time in the class was over. I could not stand on my lag without wincing in pain. Apparently, my upper leg muscles lacked the strength necessary for squats. So I must have overextended my knee way past my foot resulting in a pulled tendon or something, such that I could hardly walk. Leaning on Aaron’s carriage for support, I limped to my car, put my baby son in the car seat and drove home using my right leg. I remember thinking, is that why God gives us two? Two legs that is, for klutzes like me? The next day the doctor diagnosed a bad strain, handed me crutches, and told me to rest my leg. Duh. What else could I do? But rest was out of the question. Now, I had a baby and crutches. Plus, before i left the class, the aerobics instructor had told me that i should not bring my child to the class in the future, citing insurance reasons or something. Was she just jealous that I had such a lovely son? No more aerobics unless I could get a sitter. Hemmed in, alone and disregarded is how I felt in that moment of my new motherhood. And yet I had given birth to this wonderful child. The world in Northern Virginia, just a stone’s throw from the nation’s Capitol was not set up to accommodate mothers with children who wanted to work out. In 1978 that was still years away. And I began to wonder if my fitness and weight loss would similarly be years away– if not altogether out of reach.
During my first birthing experience I learned an invaluable lesson. The takeaway was Elaine, you are not entirely in control of your body, no matter how many Lamaze classes you took; Mother Nature had the ultimate power over it. Of course I knew this in my head. We all do. We all know we are eventually going to die. But for the most part that knowledge that Mother Nature is our ultimate boss is a cerebral knowledge. The knowledge I gained about Mother Nature’s power over me was a lived-in-the-body, all cells aware knowledge. It permeated my bones. It was not filed-away brain info. After giving birth to my wonderful son, ten plus pounds left me, but not being able to fit into my pre-maternity clothes surprised me no end. Pre-maternity I wore size ten jeans. After Aaron’s birth I moved up to a comfortable size 16. I felt bushwhacked. Totally caught off-guard. What was going on? Call me naive if you want, I confess that before being pregnant, I remember casting judgmental glances at so many mothers and thinking, gals, why don’t you do something with your bodies. You look so matronly. So puffed out. Now I was part of that club. All very humbling.
Okay, so much for the negative side. I learned fat cells are there to preserve humankind, and once there, they stay, blown up or shrunken. They are there for good. Several weeks after the birth I experienced an “aha” moment. I began to feel that I was admitted to an exclusive club, a club filled with people who are connected to the awesomeness of their bodies’ ability to create another human being through all the discomfort and pain. It humbled me and also cautioned me to take very good care of my body. I also noted that most men do not come into an awareness of their vulnerability to Mother Nature until middle age when they begin to see signs of their thinning hair, and increased paunch. We women are lucky. We are given secret info, a heads up on whether spirit or bodies are ultimately in control here on earth. Men don’t get that information early on by and large. I began to wonder is that why they get so depressed and forlorn in middle age when it finally hits them that they can’t “jump the hurdles” like they used to at cocktail parties, and are filled with a longing and a sadness so etched in my memory from reading that short story of John Cheever called O Youth and Beauty.
Since I was almost 35 years old for my first birthing experience I was considered high risk back in the day– 1978 was the year– almost ancient history in the medical world. Anyhow, because of that, I chose to go with a well-reputed physician in Washington D. C. instead of one in Fairfax County, Virginia where I lived. This doctor was associated with Washington Hospital Center in D. C., the same place they took President Reagan when he was shot. So it was a well-equipped thoroughly up-to-date hospital, where I thought I’d be better tended if complications from my “age” arose. I asked Dr. X ( he shall remain nameless) if he, himself personally would attend me at the birthing, and he gave me an unequivocal nod. So I relaxed. But here’s what happened: my wonderful husband, Bob, and his cronies at work agreed that since I was normally always late for social events, chances were I’d also most likely be late for my first baby’s birth. What kind of male logic this involved, I can’t guess, because they were wrong. I was actually a week early. So when Bob decided to take a business trip to Toronto during that week, using that male logic as a basis for his absence, my coach, i. e. Bob who had taken Lamaze classes with me in preparation for the experience, my coach, was duly absent, and stuck in a blizzard in January in Canada. Duh, what do you expect around that time in Canucks-ville? Add to that mix, the following: at 6am (5am Toronto time) when I called his parents house where he was staying during the business trip, his very sleepy mom answered, ” Who? Who is calling? Who? Elaine, who? Oh Elaine.” Finally she handed the phone over to Bob who said he’d try to get a flight out. Would be nice, I thought as the contractions tightened my abdomen.
Coach gone, my neighbor, a lovely Navy wife with three kids of her own took pity on me, and drove me with my two pillows and prepared suitcase in hand bumpety-bump bump in her MG sports car to the hospital, a distance of 15 miles, or so, as snow fell down all around us. Once there, the receptionist directed us to the ongoing Lamaze class. Did I appear that calm? The contractions and consequent pain were already contorting me. That I remember! After further discussion and wincing, she directed us to the maternity/delivery ward. Once there, another surprise awaited me. Doc X was not going to deliver the baby. One of his partners was on call and would attend. Silly me for not understanding that. Plus, here’s where it got even more challenging. Since it is a teaching hospital associated with George Washington Medical School, a resident and an intern would be doing all the pre-delivery work, which might have been okay with me except the one assigned had no bedside manner seasoning and told me point blank,”Ah, so you are planning on a natural birth are you? Let me tell you that you’ll be experiencing some of the most horrible intense pain ever, so I do not recommend it.”
Of course, by then I was already experiencing difficult prolonged pain every five minutes which was made worse by Bob, my coach, missing the event, and by my neighbor who in trying to help me with the controlled breathing began to hyperventilate and needed attention herself. She said it was because the experience was bringing back all her birthing memories/nightmares. Plus, add to that; periodically they were giving me updates on Bob’s whereabouts. “He’s made it to Buffalo where he’s hoping to get on a plane” and comments like, “Does her husband even want to be here?” I was beginning to wonder myself.
Somehow during the 12 hour process, which is apparently very normal for a first birth, they shot me up with demorol. It only made me drowsy and hardly capable of directing my focus to a natural birth. My neighbor was encouraged to leave, since her hyperventilating was not helping me, and the word was that Bob was now only a couple hours away. At some point thereafter, I remember hearing Bob’s voice saying,” Is that my wife?” He was referring to the moaning noises coming uncontrollably from my room. Someone answered him, “Yes, that’s her.” “Oh”, he said sounding surprised, and weak. Well, miracle of miracles. Bob had arrived precisely 30 minutes before the actual birth. By then the “natural birth” was totally out the window. In the last hour or so a female Doctor administered an epidural, which by then I approved with alacrity, since I could no more control my body’s pain by deep breathing than I could control a speeding train by blowing on it. I begged for anything to stop the pain. She took awhile to get the needle in my back because she said it was very muscular, an unintended consequence of my yoga practice, we figured out together, but once it took, and I could no more feel the pain, I relaxed and smiled as Bob held my hand. But the epidural also took away my ability to push the baby out, and so the doctor used forceps to help pull him out. And blessedly for us, a healthy seven plus baby boy entered our world. All’s very well that ends very well. But nothing in the process went according to my plan. Again, the universe was telling me something.
- I didn’t have my son, Aaron, until I was almost 35 years old, 34 and ten months and twenty one days to be precise. Before marriage I was on track with my career, practicing law in Northern Virginia and Washington, D. C. But long story short, I fell in love with Bob, who had always envisioned having children, easy for him to say, I might add.
In any event, Aaron arrived at seven plus pounds within the first year of our marriage, which makes sense since he was conceived at our “Engaged Encounter” a required process of the Catholic Church aimed at giving couples a chance to determine whether they could really hack it together in a marriage, or whether they should actually split. Our session was during a weekend in a beautiful retreat setting in New Jersey in which we definitely deepened our love and our commitment to each other all right. Hence Aaron’s conception, an unexpected gift, and we became parents 7 months after our marriage ceremony. Our wedding song, Danny’s Song by Loggins and Messina, with the words, “even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey” and “now we’re gonna have a son” had especial meaning. I lacked scientific knowledge that my first child was to be a boy, since the doctor’s recommendation for a sonogram was for women over 35 years, and I had escaped that, but intuitively I knew my baby was a boy, and it turns out that I was right. That much I was sure of, and that much the Universe confirmed. But then, the actual birthing experience, was something else. It turned out to be quite different from what Bob and I anticipated, which for me was one of the first eye-opening discoveries of motherhood, and was to be repeated incessantly over the next 30 plus years. Stuff does not go according to your plan, Elaine, number one, and number two: you are not in control of your body, Elaine, nature is. I’ll go into that in the next post. Here I’ll only say that my survival guide for motherhood has been buttressed by my yoga training–stay flexible kid, you’re going to need it.