Before our first baby was due, our Bradley Method instructor told us there was a time in every labor when the frustrated mother would declare, “I can’t do it!” When that time came, the instructor said, the laboring mother’s partner should simply remind her: “Of course you can do it, because you are doing it.”
This line — you can do it because you are doing it — is now a stock bit of encouragement in our family, but I’ve never clung to it quite so fiercely as I did this past August when I had to deliver our third baby, unassisted, in the backseat of a car.
How did such a thing come to pass? Well, castor oil and denial, mostly.
I was overdue and didn’t want to be induced for the third time running, so I tried to start labor with the folk prescription of two tablespoons of castor oil. It worked to my amazement, but I clung to a certain skepticism about the reliability and authenticity of home-induced contractions. I was on the couch watching Anthony Bourdain investigate Japanese tentacle porn when I finally broke down and called UCLA to report the state of my labor.
I told the midwife that the contractions were coming every two or three minutes and that I had started selecting the “moderate intensity” radio button on the UCLA baby contraction-tracker app. The midwife told me, “Oh yes, you should come to the hospital now!” and I was surprised by the urgency in her voice — didn’t she know how long it takes to have a baby? I called out to my husband Andrew and told him it was time to go. When he emerged from the back room where he’d been working, his expression showed that he was as doubtful as I was about our chances of getting this birth underway without medical assistance. Our first two labors had left us both with a firm conviction that labor itself is elusive and birth is a long, grueling endurance challenge.
We loaded the kids into the car, threw the hospital bag in the trunk and set off from our home in Culver City, north up the 405 Freeway. Our first destination was my parents’ house in Brentwood, where the older boys, ages 6 and 3, were going to stay for the duration. As we approached the Wilshire Boulevard exit of the 405 — the fork in the road between my parents’ house and UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center — I told Andrew, “If the next contraction is like this one, maybe we should go straight to the hospital.” The next contraction, however, was tolerable; so even though I distinctly felt that my cervix was opening, as if being winched apart by mechanical means, we fatefully went toward the ocean, away from the hospital.
The westbound lanes of Wilshire were open, but the opposite side of the street was bumper-to-bumper gridlock. Increasingly distressed in the passenger's seat, I clung to that useless handle above the door and cursed through the contractions. (When our older son saw me again after the birth, he reminded me: “Mom, you said the S-word a lot!”)
By the time we made it to my parents’ house, I was past the point of being able to cheerfully unload kids. There was certainly no time for niceties like parallel parking, so we pulled into the alley adjacent to my parents’ house and ordered the kids to jump ship. Although they were clearly bewildered by this unusual abandonment, the boys managed beautifully. My parting message to them as we backed out of the alley was as a military leader to soldiers on a mission: “We’ve trained for this! You can do this! Go!”
Once we released the boys from the car, my body released whatever psychic brakes it had placed on the birth process. I instantly slammed into the final stage of labor: transition.
Let the record show that at no point did either of us acknowledge, either to each other or ourselves, that we were going to have a baby in our banged-up 2008 Honda Fit. As far as we knew from our previous two births, labor begins when the nurse starts the IV drip of Pitocin, and babies are born only after their heart rates have decelerated on the monitor and the midwives have gotten quietly anxious and a by-request episiotomy (“Cut me!”) becomes the only apparent detour around an emergency C-section.
Nonetheless, as we merged into mid-afternoon traffic on Sunset Boulevard — where cars regularly sit immobile between the hours of 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. — we did start to suspect that we were in big, big trouble.
By this time, because the baby’s head had advanced ever more forcefully downward, I continuously hoisted myself up off the seat in pain. I even kicked the gearshift out of place by accident as I desperately tried to settle into a comfortable position.
Finally I announced, “Honey, I think I have to poop,” and in his typically unflappable manner, my husband said, “Don’t worry about it. Go get in the backseat; get comfortable. We’ll buy a new car if we have to.”
I climbed in the backseat, unstrapped the boys’ car seats, shoved them out of the way and pulled off my yoga pants. Reader, I pooped in the car, and I invite you to try to make a different decision next time there is a human skull ramming against your rectum.
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