The Wink

It was 4 PM and my contractions were intensifying. I still felt on top of them and naively considered that maybe I had grown more pain tolerant since my previous labor. This time around I wouldn’t want/need an epidural.


The nurse examined me and shook her head grimly saying, “You are only 3 cm dilated. ” She informed me that they had a strict policy to not admit women until they were at least 4 cm.”

I said, “But I’m 42 years old.”

The nurse looked at me sadly and said she’d check with her boss before sending me home. She returned looking positively cheery. She exclaimed, “Good news! We can give you a ‘pity admit.’”

Yes, it’s a thing: “Pity admit,” for those women who are managing labor so pathetically that the staff relents and lets them take a bed.   Luckily, in the midst of excruciating pain, my pride takes a back seat.

I was instructed to walk around for an hour to speed up the labor, which I did with my husband, Randy, on my right. The contractions intensified more. I remembered my previous two un-medicated labors and insisted that we return to my bed so I could get the epidural NOW, to which they complied. The epidural nurse was magazine-beautiful with long blond hair. She announced, “I love my job,” as she stuck the needle in my back.

All better.

Then we chilled for four hours.

Finally the nurse said that I was 10 centimeters. The doctor arrived in 20 minutes. She was a slim, dark-haired, no-nonsense, energetic woman in her 50s named Dr. M.

Dr. M told me to push and I did as instructed.     Except, Sam didn’t come. He didn’t move an inch. He appeared to be stuck. Not only was he stuck, but his heart rate decelerated every contraction, which was a red flag for the doctor.

I tried harder to push. Nothing. Sam didn’t move and his heart kept dropping. Then during one contraction, it dropped down so far that the nurse and the doctor grabbed me and pushed my knees to my chest while pushing me over onto my left side. I was exhausted and in a dreamy altered state so their intervention felt intrusive and strange.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

They pointed to the monitor and said that his heart rate had dropped too much. I knew they were worried.

This is my third child, third pregnancy, third labor, and so I know something that first time moms can’t possibly fully understand. Being a mother is a profoundly vulnerable experience because you realize that your child could die right before you, and even if they live there is only so much you can do to protect them from pain. The realization is searing.   Every single parent bumps into a horrifying reality: ultimately, I am powerless. We do what we do to protect our little ones from danger and heal their hurts, but there is always that edge of powerlessness we must learn to live with at the cost of loving deeply. There is no way around it, and I hate it.

This was the first time I felt that fear with Sam. I squeezed Randy’s hand and he squeezed back.

The doctor instructed that I stop pushing.   It was decision-making time.

Dr. M said that there were three choices:

  • Vacuum
  • C-section
  • Stay the course

The third option was the most risky.

“I’m scared.”

The doctor replied, “Me too.”

When I tell people this part of the story they always gasp and express righteous indignation, “You should have told her to go get someone who knows what they are doing!!!” I don’t share the outrage.

I loved the doctor for this honesty. I loved that she gave me a choice and didn’t have an answer because that’s life and I imagine (If Grey’s Anatomy has taught me anything) that this is never truer than on the operating table. The crossroads don’t have definitive signs and cost/benefit analysis must be done in a split second. Sometimes intuition is our only guide. So when Dr. M told me she was scared, she let me know two things:

  • She cared.
  • She owned her vulnerability. She wasn’t omnipotent   She was like me, but with a medical degree.

The next contraction came and I threw up. Baby Sam skootched over to the middle of my stomach. I decided to stay the course, for now. I pushed again. Dr. M looked at me. Her face 3 inches from my vagina, her hands ready to catch the baby, and then….She winked.

When I think of my labor this is the indelible imprint of the whole experience, not my baby’s arrival. Sure, that was earth shattering and transcendent, but my tiny OB perched between my legs with a smile and a big wink cannot be erased. It’s funny that we cannot escape ourselves. Even though this was a real life, cliff-hanger moment, my brain had the stamina and the gall to have an awkward social moment. “Should I wink back?” I wondered. I decided against it.

It was 1 AM. I pushed with everything I had left. With a mighty UMMPH, he slipped out and everyone cheered. He cuddled onto my chest and I held him close. Big love. One minute into a relationship with this baby and I already knew that I was sunk. I was totally and completely crazy in love with my sweet blue-eyed baby boy, Samuel Reed Olden.

The Attach Place  Center for Strengthening Relationships

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships

Parenting with heart,

Jennifer Olden, LMFT

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