Birth Trauma Survivor and Maternal Health Advocate

“I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little – if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny. And it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.” — Coco Chanel

April 19, 2010

I had arrived at the hospital the day before with a face full of make-up and I intended to keep it that way.  It was now eight o’clock in the morning and after twenty hours of labor I had grown used to my enemy–the contractions. As uncomfortable as I was, I comforted myself the best way I knew how. I washed my face and re-applied my make-up.

My nurses, Joanna and Sara, took turns tending to me and I returned the favor by sharing free beauty tips. They had both spent several years working in labor and delivery. I wondered if they realized how beautiful they were. Beneath their scrubs and the ponytails were two blonde bombshells with hearts of gold. They were in their late thirties and had spent most of their nursing careers in the labor and delivery ward.  They had grown more comfortable wearing blue scrubs than a pair of jeans and heels. I wanted them to let their hair down, so I could examine further and make recommendations for color and cut.

I try to turn it off but I can’t. Always working, always thinking about how you can be your best you. Always striving to be my best me. I have become a true believer in paying it forward. A beauty tip here and there, the ability to uplift a woman’s self esteem by the mere suggestion of the right lip and cheek color. I am convinced that my karma has become determined by how many lives I transform by giving a makeover.

I whipped out my bright red make-up case and they watched in amazement while I blended, brushed and beat my face into perfection. While the tennis balls, the massaging and the breathing exercises didn’t help at all, putting on my make-up was the most soothing thing I did. I realized at that moment that this was my form of meditation. When I do my make-up, I am usually alone. It is usually quiet.  For over fifteen years I have repeated the same movements over and over again, every day. I reflect. I prepare for the day ahead. I am calm. I feel confident and beautiful when I am done.  While I was in labor, it was all about control. The only part of my body that I could be in control over was my face.

I taught Joanna and Sarah how to put on fake lashes–both singles and individuals. I explained the importance of preparing the skin before applying foundation and concealer by moisturizing and priming with the best products for their skin type. I explained bronzer vs. spray tans and we all laughed hysterically as I re-told the story of the wax gone wrong and another story about me going to a tanning salon in my twenties and pretending to have an appointment just to see what the reaction would be. We had become fast friends, like schoolgirls on an overnight camping trip. We promised to get together for a drink sometime and maybe have our kids play together someday.

I was dilated almost two centimeters and there was some small talk about the possibility of having a C-section. We had to discuss it. I had been in labor for almost a full day and having a C-section seemed imminent. The images of the women under the blue canopies, their legs and lifelessness burned in my mind. I was determined to have a vaginal birth, but I would do whatever procedure was the most safe for my daughter. Pitocin was administered to help speed the labor along. Within a couple of hours the contractions came upon me faster and more intense and my cervix dilated to four centimeters. Thank God!

It was time to start thinking about getting an epidural. Joanna called the anesthesiologist. A few moments later, a short, bald, older man appeared. His skin was unusually tan for April. I wondered if he just came back from vacation. He had a thick accent. Maybe Eastern European, possibly Greek. It was the kind of accent where you can’t tell if you are being scolded or if this is just how people from his home country speak. Hmmm…

I sat on the side of the bed with my legs touching the ground while he explained the epidural procedure. He tells me that I will arch my back and I will have to be very, very still.  It was extremely important that I not move at all. Or what? I thought. On top of everything else, now I had to think about possibly being paralyzed by the epidural. Next, he will apply an antiseptic solution all over my back from my waistline to midway up my back to minimize the chance of infection. Finally he will insert a needle into the area around my spinal cord. All I hear is relief, relief, and relief.

I was hesitant to get the epidural at four centimeters. Bobby and I wanted to wait until I was at least five or six centimeters dilated to minimize the effect of the drug on the baby. The anesthesiologist made it clear that if I didn’t get it now, I would have to wait at least an hour because he had a few surgeries to tend to in another area of the hospital. I decided to wait.

 The anesthesiologist and nurse Joanna left the room. I sat still on the side of the bed, staring out of the window at the beautiful view of New York City, watching sailboats and ferries trek up and down the Hudson River. A few moments later I doubled over with the most gut wrenching pain I have ever felt in my life.  Bobby rushed to my side, thinking that I was going to fall to the ground. I pressed the nurse call button several times in a row and screamed, “Help me!” like I was being chased by a murderer.

Joanna came running back to my room; her face was flushed with concern. “Are you okay?” she asked. “No, I’m not. I am not okay at all. I’ll take the epidural now please.” I lowered my head and stared at my toes.  The pedicure I had treated myself to a few days earlier still looked perfect.

I laughed at the irony of the color I had chosen.

“Wicked.” How fitting.



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