by Mary Huffman
It was mid day when I first felt the contractions, the telling signs of labor that every mother instinctively knows. I calmly drove to the hospital, but didn't bother calling my husband John, just in case it wasn't really labor contractions. When I was admitted to the hospital, the resident checked my dilation and said, "You're in labor." I was staying. I gave John a call and told him that this was it. We were going to have a baby and didn't he think it was a good idea to join me in this process.
Nothing happened for a very long time. John met me on my 20-something lap of the floor, and we walked some more until it was time to be checked. Nothing. I was still 5 centimeters. The doctor thought that, by her examination, the baby's head was coming down into my right hip, and the crookedness of it all was causing me to dilate more slowly if at all.
At 7 in the morning, the doctor came in to check me, and I was still 5 centimeters. I had been in labor now - not including Friday - 18 hours and nothing new. The doctor was still reluctant to break my water because he felt the head was still a bit crooked, and it wouldn't do any good to start the clock if everything wasn't going to progress. I desperately wanted a vaginal birth and wouldn't hear of a possible Cesarean section.
At 3:30 p.m. the doctor ruptured my membranes. Before this, my contractions were six minutes apart and painless. With the first contraction after they broke my water, I felt the head slam into my cervix. It felt as if I had been punched. I can only guess that this was what was referred to as engagement.
We were now at 0 station, 100 percent effacement, 5 centimeters, and the contractions were one and a half minutes apart and hurt like no tomorrow. These contractions felt just as bad as those I had had with Pitocin a year before.
The doctor checked me and I was 5 to 6 centimeters. I told the nurse to call the anesthesiologist and for John as they were about to start an epidural.
The anesthesiologist came and asked me to move to the side of the bed and round out my back. He reminded me to try to not move while he was doing the insertion. I remember laughing to myself and thinking that I couldn't move if I was lit on fire. My job was to get through the pain. Anything else, including movement, was secondary. I felt the needle for the medicine to numb me up. I felt the shock go down my leg and was almost giddy with anticipation. That meant the pain was almost over. A few contractions and medicine doses later, I was one happy girl. It was around 6 p.m.
The doctor came back at this point and sat down to talk with us a bit. We discussed circumcision and the pros and cons, as we hadn't done this before. I didn't want it but John really did. The doctor was also strongly in favor of the operation, and under the combined pressure, I gave up and consented. My only term of agreement was that John be there to watch the circumcision because he wanted it. I really knew nothing about the procedure, having done no research, but had I known then what I know now I would not ever have consented. But I will come to that later.
Around 7:30 p.m., I started to feel very nauseous and began to shake uncontrollably. I had hit transition, and it was time to go forward. I didn't want to talk to anybody, and I couldn't stop shaking. It is true what they say about becoming very serious at this point.
At 8:15 p.m., the doctor checked me, and I was fully dilated! I was going to start pushing now. I had a few practice pushes from 8:30 until around 9 p.m. It was hard to tell where to push because of the epidural. I could feel the contractions because I would get short of breath when the baby was squeezed into my diaphragm. I pushed two times with each contraction and waited some of them out to catch my breath.
They positioned the mirror so I could see, and it was strange to see myself from that angle at first. Later I lost all self-consciousness, as the whole thing became surreal. After a while, I could see the head. It was just a dark patch of hair but it was there. They told me that I could touch it but I didn't want to. With each heave, the baby's head came out a bit more and stayed there. I crowned not much longer after that.
Watching in the mirror, I thought that my body couldn't stretch one bit longer, and I just couldn't deliver this baby. There was no way that head was going to come out of that opening without some kind of violent explosion. Just as I thought that, I saw a nose and then an ear. I could feel the shoulders even with an epidural. One shoulder came, then the other and then wham! Out came Kevin, all 8 pounds, 2 ounces of him into the doctor's arms, and he quickly emitted a loud wail.
He was then placed on my belly, and I cuddled his soft, perfect body against mine. John got to hold him next and then the nurse whisked him away to perform his initial testing. I was cleaned up and allowed to rest.
The next day I spent mostly lying in bed with Kevin and with John at my side. That evening, the doctor walked in to check up on me. I was recovering quite well and was actually walking around the hospital. The doctor informed us that he would be circumcising little Kevin at around 10 the next morning, and John promised me once again that he would be there. The doctor then left and John soon afterward, promising to be back by 9, as we had left our daughter at home in the care of a trusted family friend. The next morning I awoke at 6 and had Kevin brought to me from the nursery. The surprise came at 6:50 a.m. when the nurse showed up at the door. The doctor, she said, was unable to perform the circumcision at the 10 o'clock time because of another birth. The circumcision had been bumped down to 7 o'clock, and she had come to take Kevin. I felt slightly panicked, as John was not here, and with the circumcision happening in less than 10 minutes, there was no way he would get here in time.
I reluctantly let go of Kevin, but decided that I needed to at least watch in place of John. The nurse was inclined to disagree but with time running short, she did not feel like arguing. Pushing Kevin, she led me down the hall, through some doors and pointed to a smallish room with shades covering all the windows except the smaller one in the top center of the door. She pointed me to this spot and took Kevin around a corner.
Peering into the room, I saw a counter with several plastic looking boards attached and a set of instruments laid out by each. Just then the nurse entered with Kevin through a door in the back of the room. She undid Kevin 's diaper and laid him on one of these boards, strapping his little arms and legs down as he struggled and whimpered. The doctor then entered, apparently not noticing me looking through the window, and the nurse left, shutting the door. "Well this isn't so bad." I thought.
The doctor then began swabbing Kevin's penis with some sort of brownish liquid and laid a sheet over him. Kevin apparently did not like any this because he began to cry. I bit my lip, my maternal instincts wanted to rush in there and comfort my child, but it was something that I could just not do (I found that the door was locked anyway). The doctor then picked up this long silver metal probe thing and proceeded to jam it between my son's foreskin and penis. This looked so wrong and unnatural, and Kevin tilted up his head and began to shriek as the doctor moved this instrument around in a circular motion.
Kevin's wails got still louder as the doctor made a slit in the skin and pushed in a small metal bell on top of Kevin's penis. He then put a little device over the bell and tightened a bolt, causing Kevin to pull with all his strength to get out of the straps, and his little head shook back and forth as his cries grew more intense. Poor guy! I just wanted to run in there and rescue him. It caused me such pain to watch this, and I almost wished I had never asked to watch, let alone consent to this procedure. But I felt compelled to be there with my son, as whatever pain I felt was doubtlessly felt 10 times more in him.
The doctor then waited for three or four minutes as my son lay there crying with a hideous clamp attached to his penis. After this period of time the doctor took up a scalpel and began to slice off the skin. Kevin's wails had tapered to a whimper now, and the doctor pulled off the bell, revealing a very red, exposed penis. He wiped it with some gauze and then called for the nurse. He went to wash up as the nurse bandaged Kevin up and took him out of the room.
I walked slowly and sadly back to my room, the whole affair having made me sick. At 8:30, a different nurse came in with Kevin who was asleep. She smiled and said, "Your son did great; he didn't cry at all!" I gave her a look of death, for I knew this to be a lie. Ignoring the look, she put Kevin down and undid his diaper, revealing Kevin's bandaged penis. Kevin awoke and started to whimper again, the poor guy probably thought he was going to be circumcised again. Ignoring the whimpers, she undid the bandage revealing the angry red penis. A lot of skin had been removed, and its head was completely exposed. She explained how to care for the penis and then replaced the bandages and left.
When John showed up at 9, I really did not feel like talking. He proceeded to change Kevin's diaper and was surprised to find the bandages inside. He smiled and said, "Oh, they already circumcised him. Well that's great!" Great! He obviously had no idea what he was talking about. I explained what had happened to him, and he was sorry that he had not been there. But he also assured me that it could not have possibly been as bad as I had thought, because, after all, babies don't feel much pain. Yeah, right. He also told me that if we had another boy, he would be there to watch. He clearly did not get it. But I decided to cross that bridge when we came to it, as it would likely be several years down the line. The next day we were discharged and went home.
At 3 months, Kevin is now a happy bubbling, baby who brings joy into my heart every time I see him. His older sister loves him to death and is so proud to be a big sister. Kevin's circumcision, although saddening, was an unfortunate blip in a sea of happiness surrounding his birth. Thank you for letting me share my story, and parents, think twice before submitting your own sons to this procedure. Thanks again.