First births are supposed to be magical, amazing events. If you trust the movies (like I do), then you know there are supposed to be balloon-filled baby showers, scores of excited family and friends and, of course, a doting spouse or partner by your side through every breath-stealing, uterus-stomping contraction (I mean, have you seen Knocked Up?).
My experience was anything but that.
Unluckily for me, my first pregnancy and childbirth experience played out more like a scene from Castaway. To make it even worse, I was only 17 years old.
I found out I was pregnant during my junior year of high school. My boyfriend, who later made an “honest” woman out of me and became my husband, had just recently left for military boot camp. I sent him an excited letter once I’d taken the last of the 12 pregnancy tests I’d bought, and then struggled to find a way to tell my grandmother, whom I’d been living with for the past year.
When the news finally broke, it didn’t go over well. My family believed in the school of hard knocks and decided that if I had made an adult decision, it was time to start acting like an adult. The night I told my grandmother I was pregnant, I became homeless.
I bounced from house to house, finding refuge where I could. At one point I lived at an enclosed bus stop. Luckily a nice friend talked her parents into letting me live with them and swore she’d told them I was pregnant. The truth, I learned two months later, was that she hadn’t, and once I started having morning sickness, they were eager to get me out of their place.
By the time my boyfriend graduated boot camp, I was living in a cheap motel with the last of the money I’d earned working as a cashier at Kmart, a job I dropped out of high school to keep.
My boyfriend figured he’d ask his parents, who lived three hours away in the country, if I could live with them. “No” was all his mother said. With only days left before he had to report back to his command, my boyfriend pawned his tool chest, borrowed a few hundred dollars from his little brother and moved me into an apartment with a college girl who’d placed an ad for a roommate in the local paper.
I was three months pregnant when I moved into the apartment and said goodbye once again to my boyfriend. The first week, until I found a job, I lived off of two boxes of macaroni and cheese cooked only with water. I had yet to even see a doctor.
Getting a job and then working to pay my rent (and bills, including food) took precedence over medical care. Not having a car or much time off made it hard to figure out the complicated application process for medical insurance. When I was six months pregnant, with the help of my roommate, I was able to apply for Medicaid and see my first doctor.
At nine months along, I’d saved enough money to move into my own tiny studio apartment. On my actual due date, my boyfriend deployed with his unit for seven months. I hadn’t seen him for almost three months and was heartbroken he would be gone during the birth of our first child.
Ten days later, I was induced. The baby, whose gender I still didn’t know, was growing too big. My dad had flown into town a few days earlier to meet his grandbaby. It was the first time I’d seen him or spent any time with my grandmother since becoming pregnant.
I should mention that my dad bought me a crib, something I never could have afforded on my own. If my pregnancy and eventual labor were truly like Castaway, then I suppose this was the moment Tom Hanks’ character found that package with the angel wings. But I digress.
The night I checked into the hospital, my dad escorted me to my delivery room and kissed me on top of the head before leaving. Yep, he left. To his credit, neither he nor my grandmother had any idea that they could even be in the room with me when I was induced or that I would want them to, because I also failed to say, “Please stay.” Instead, they went back to my grandma’s and had a few cocktails before going to bed.
I, on the other hand, experienced the trauma of Pitocin-stimulated labor completely alone.
No movie could prepare me for the level of sheer agony I would endure. Going through that pain, the sweating, the crying, the panicked-breathing by yourself is, in no uncertain terms, torture.
Sure, the nurses were kind and tried to be attentive, but they were few on a busy labor and delivery wing where I was just one of many patients.
I labored alone for 14 hours before calling and asking my dad and grandmother to come to the hospital. They were excited to be invited into the room and witness the birth firsthand.
“I had no idea we’d be allowed in here,” I remember my grandmother saying.
Just an hour after they arrived, the nurse instructed them to each hold one of my legs while I delivered my child, a baby boy, into the world.
The moment I held him, much like the moment that Tom Hank’s character in Castaway was finally discovered by the ship, all the suffering and loneliness I’d endured made sense. I’d struggled because I chose to become a mom, and holding my son in my arms, I knew it had all been worth it.