I am a planner by nature. I like to know what’s ahead, I like to be prepared, and I like to be able to think through the many possibilities so nothing surprises me. Oddly, this doesn’t make me rigid with my time or incapable of going with the flow. It actually helps me be more relaxed and easygoing. I don’t care much what road the journey is on, just that I know whether or not there are public restrooms along the way.
When I was pregnant with my first child, Lulu, I had all sort of things planned out. I wasn’t even through the first year of being in business when I found myself checking the E.P.T. test late at night in my 11th floor one bedroom. I had just signed a book deal, was working six days a week and was on call for the seventh while also maintaining a job setting up portable coffee bars at various foodie events for a coffee roaster (lifting an espresso machine and grinders out of my car, so weighed down by their weight the muffler was dragged off my Volvo on three separate occasions.) Finding out I was pregnant was thrilling despite my tight schedule and tired body, and I saw no reason a baby would not fit into my life as a business owner. And as the days turned into weeks that turned into months, I had visions of parenthood more perfect than those of sugar plums on Christmas Eve. My baby would be happily swaddled in her stroller, comforted by the ten minute walk to my chocolate and coffee shop where, upon arrival, she would willingly be held and rocked by any desiring customer, and sleep through the cacophony of espresso grinders and blenders, and the loud hiss of steam wands making the most delectable cups of hot chocolate. I imagined myself whisking past the storefronts and galleries of West Chelsea, my hair in a neat ponytail, my clothes clean and well-fitting, my stroller easily maneuvering through the crowded sidewalks, and my diaper bag packed tidily with all needed supplies. It was a wonderful vision. And as summer turned to fall and my body took on an extra sixty-eight pounds, my eagerness to meet her and begin living that vision became nearly unbearable.
As a person who plans, I had chosen a new OB/GYN who delivered at Saint Vincent’s Hospital, so if I went into labor at work I was only two blocks from the delivery ward. No need for a taxi that may get stuck in Manhattan traffic and no emotional ties to a doctor I had a history with. If I went into labor while he was in Hawaii, no biggie, we were still strangers, so any doctor could do the job. And as a person who plans, I had discussed with my doctor that I was not at all keen on having a C-Section but was very keen on getting the epidural as soon as I was allowed. So when I was eight days past my due date and over 200 lbs, my doctor suggested I be induced that evening. For a planner, such as myself, this was brilliant. I went home, calmly repacked my bag, repacked the diaper bag, called my parents, then laid on the couch and watched Ellen for the last time as a non-parent. At 7:35 p.m. my then husband and I left the apartment and walked the ten blocks in an unseasonably warm fall eve to the hospital, arriving five minutes early (which in my book, means we were right on time.) As I filled out the required paperwork I jokingly asked the nurses if I could write in my last name as Epidural, just so they’d all know I wanted it as soon as it was available to me. This got a good laugh, which calmed my nerves, along with the presence of my mom and the knowledge I had packed exactly what I needed, including several extra pairs of underwear, and was fully prepared for what lay ahead. Labor, epidural, baby, black and white cookie, coffee, meeting with photo editor for book, visits from family and friends. The next twenty-four hours were all set.
Which brings me to mastering the pivot. From a young age I was a planner. I was shy outside of the house, and easily embarrassed by my youth and naiveté. I planned most everything I did in order to not embarrass myself, from how long it took to walk to school (because I didn’t want to arrive too early or too late and be noticed, best to arrive with the pack,) to what streets to ride my bike to the deli (in order to avoid seeing any kids I knew in case I were to fall from said bike; no need to set myself up for a public display of clumsiness,) to running the fastest down the basketball court so I could “accidentally” position myself behind defenders so no one could throw me the ball (because I could not for the life of me plan how to get the ball into the basket.) A planner learns early on that most plans don’t go as planned, and therefore, there not only needs to be a Plan B, but plans all the was to Plan Q. Like when someone actually has the audacity to pass you the basketball. Plan B, get rid of it as quick as possible, preferably to someone on the same team. Plan Q, call a time out and then tell the coach you have a cramp in your thigh finding it difficult to walk. The more plans you have, the easier to pivot. And these plans don’t necessarily have to be thought out. They can come in instantaneous waves that almost seem like you haven’t a plan at all, that you’re just pivoting from left to right and back again. But all planners know there is another plan, and if you master pivoting, you’ll find the one you can stick to. Until you have to pivot again.
Labor with Lulu went through the night. I was hooked up to a contraction monitor and fetal heart rate monitor, and to be honest, being hungry bothered me more than the heightening of the contractions. When 9am arrived, my doctor finally showed up and determined an epidural was in order. I was so happy I forgot that I was hungry and cranky. As I leaned over, holding my body as still as possible through a contraction while the needle was inserted, the anesthesiologist ran down a laundry list of must know items, including that I may feel like I have an itchy wool sweater on, which he said just as the tip of my nose began to twitch. The instant relief from the contractions made the mild itchiness a small price to pay, and as they lay me back down I was in heaven. The room seemed brighter and softer, I felt as if I was floating, and the pain was near non-existent. Epidural given. Things were going just as planned. I was laughing for the first time in hours. That is, until a bunch of alarms started going off and my tranquil room was suddenly overrun with nurses, one putting an oxygen mask on my face, another escorting my mom and dad from the room, and a few more playing with the machines and doing something to my IV drip. I kept saying through the mask, “It’s okay. I feel great!” but everyone ignored me, frantically working, with concern hidden behind their professional demeanor. I don’t know how much time passed, but at some point the alarms stopped going off and my parents came back into the room. My mom clearly had been crying. The nurses left and I lay there in a confused bliss. I didn’t know what happened or why my mom was so emotional, but I felt great. And for half an hour I was a chatterbox, talking about how I couldn’t wait to eat a black and white cookie, drink a coffee, get this baby out of me, and what the weather was like outside. I even had my dad give me the full report of how things were going at the store. Everything had returned to normal and my mom was joking around again when suddenly I felt the worst pain I have ever known. And this is coming from someone who suffered a year-long urinary tract infection and got through pneumonia by drinking tequila and taking a cocktail of vitamin c tablets and Tylenol Cold and Flu (no health insurance required home remedies and high pain tolerance.) I mean, it was the worst. Like a giant T-Rex was trying to make its way out of my body. I frantically hit the button to call the nurse while my mom told me everything would be fine and my then husband told me to relax (my dad was smart and remained silent.) When the nurse arrived, a fine woman from Queens who was at the end of her shift, I told her, “I feel something. I mean really feel something. And it really hurts. It’s not supposed to feel like this.” Her hands were folded together and I had watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to know that meant bad news was on its way. “We had to turn off the epidural. I’m sorry. You’re going to need to deliver without it.”
Apparently I’m allergic to many pain killers. Apparently my heart rate and blood pressure had dropped too low. Apparently the baby went into distress. Apparently no one wanted to tell me they turned me off until the initial drugs wore off because I was so blissfully happy through the whole emergency no one wanted to “kill my high.” That pain, it was the baby’s head. That high, it was over and I would have to push out a nearly nine pound baby on my own. Or at least without any help from my friend Epidural. This, this was not in the plan.
What I learned the next five hours was how mastering the pivot is key to getting through life’s uncertainties, especially ones you could never have planned for. Lulu was stuck. I could feel the top of her head with my hand but I was in so much pain I couldn’t relax long enough to tell my body what to do. My doctor kept stopping in, saying words like C-Section and drug interaction, asking if I may be allergic to anything else. It was annoying. How was he going to give me a C-Section if I’m apparently allergic to pain killers!? And his constant reminders of how little time I had left before this became a “situation”, because the baby was stuck in the birth canal and cannot be there too long, was not helping. Not one bit. I kept pivoting, and making other plans in my head. I tried different breathing techniques. I let myself curse in front of my mother. I told people to shut up (which was out of nature for me.) so I could think. I could figure this out. I just needed to pivot. I had seen enough birthing videos, read tons of books and articles. I had a friend who gave birth in a bathtub (but that was planned and she had a doula or two on hand, which I didn’t, and was wishing I had planned for.) And just when I had begun to run out of ideas to create more plans, when all that pivoting seemed to have me going in frantic circles, a new nurse came on shift. She didn’t just walk into my room, she strutted. She was tall and solid and had a thick Jamaican accent. And when my doctor came in to check on my progress, she stood there silently as he spoke, a serious look on her face, nodding her head until he was done, then watched him leave. As soon as he disappeared behind the door she looked at me with a big, warm smile and said “Hon, that doctor wants to give you a C-section. We’re going to show him. We’re going to get this baby out before he comes back in this room again. Now get up.” And I did. She was the catalyst for a new type of pivoting. I got up and popped a squat right there on the cold floor. She squatted in front of me firmly holding my arms. She told me not to worry about the monitors, just to tell her when I knew I needed to push. She told me to breathe. She told me to focus on meeting my daughter, to think about holding her. And I did everything she said, pivoting from squatting to on my back, to on all fours like a dog, to squatting again. And after three whole hours, Lulu was born, pushed out by me, on my own without the epidural, 8 lbs., 15 oz., 22 inches long.
As a planner, I thought I had planned everything. Again, little details didn’t matter much, just the big ones; labor, epidural, clean underwear, black and white cookie, well packed diaper bag. The fact that the epidural was absent in the equation threw my plans awry, and a pivot, actually many pivots, was needed. And all that pivoting I did during labor trained me for all the pivoting I would have to do as a first time parent with an infant who had such bad colic strangers on the street would stop to ask if she was okay. Prepared me for the pivoting I would have to do with a toddler who never showed signs of her multiple ear infections (except, as discovered a tad too late, loss of appetite) until she perforated her eardrum. The pivoting of not being able to take a screaming infant into a tranquil chocolate and coffee shop, and the pivoting from a neat ponytail to the messy bun I hadn’t done since high school. Mastering the pivot is essential to life. It helped me get rid of that pesky basketball, change career paths, move to another state, start over again, and give birth without the trusty epidural.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, goes as planned. So pivoting without hesitation is a worthwhile skill. And when you master the pivot, when you’re able to turn quickly from left to right and back again, absorbing all the options in front of you and being open to the possibilities they bring, the pivot becomes a beautiful sort of dance. More graceful than the waltz. And if we can master the pivot to make it look like dancing, well, I couldn’t think of a better way to go through life than while dancing.