“Dystocia”

6 min read

midnight and indigo literary journal for black writers

The hand rubbing my back is not soothing me at all. Why are hospital gowns made so that at least one body part you’re not interested in showing the world is available for everyone’s viewing? Sometimes they give you a gown to kind of cover up, but it’s more annoying than helpful.

This is especially true if you’re pregnant and about to deliver. That second gown is just in the way of everything.

The non-soothing hand belongs to the father of this tiny person inside me and it’s doing nothing for the shooting pain radiating up and down the front and back of my everything. I have to remember that he is trying. He’s probably doing what he saw someone do on TV. And he’s only 16-years-old. And if I’m honest, I’m just as clueless about what should be happening, despite being what my teachers call “mature and too smart to be in this situation”.

My Mama paces back and forth at the foot of the bed, her thick arms folded across her large chest. She has the concerned mother look perfectly painted across her face. Anyone looking in would believe she is in charge of the situation. Because that’s what black mama’s do, right? They take charge in these and other types of situations. But before today, and the day I told her I was pregnant, I swear she would forget that I even lived in the house.

“You ought to just rest for now,” she says with her semi-southern, south side of Chicago drawl. “Rest, because when you start pushin you gonna wish you had rested. And if you can’t push, they gonna have to cut you open and take it out. And you don’t want that. Umm-um.” She emphasized her point with a slow shake of her head. “And where is your epidural? You can’t do this without one.”

“I don’t want one,” I explain, trying to breathe and talk at the same time. “I want to try to do it without it. I don’t want my baby coming into this world all drugged.”

Mama stops her pacing and turns her head toward me with a confused look. She lets out a deep belly laugh. “What? You don’t want yo baby all drugged? You don’t even know what the hell you talkin about!”

I grind my teeth to stop myself from responding. I’ve always been the good, non-confrontational child. And while I’m wishing for sympathy, I know I’ve messed up and need to shut up right now. Meanwhile, my boyfriend’s mother has been quietly sitting in a corner chair, smelling of dark liquor and weed.

She’s here because, as my boyfriend explained, he’s not allowed to have the car out all night and who knows when this baby will decide to come. She adjusts herself in the seat so she’s facing my mother, and says something for the first time since entering the hospital room.

“If you would have taught her to keep her legs closed, none of us would even be here.”

I’m not even mad. She kind of has a point. There is a lot of pain I would have escaped had Mama been a different type of mother to me. But, here I am. Four centimeters dilated. So now is not the time to get into it.

Mama swings around. “She ain’t do this all by herself.”

I shoot her a pleading look. Part of me feels a tinge of pride that she’s standing up for me. But then I remember that she gets into it with people over lesser things and I try to speak up to calm the room.

It’s too late. Insults about clothes, style of dress and wigs that must have looked beautiful in their prime are hurled. Accusations about not bathing and prostitution are mentioned. Tray tables of ice chips and those little bowls they give you to vomit in are tossed across the room, and before I know it, the aforementioned wigs are grabbed and wrestled to the ground with their owners still attached to them.

My boyfriend stops his ineffective back rubbing, not to help, but to become completely motionless and wide-eyed as our mothers scream and kick and punch across the hospital room floor.

I’m probably as petrified as he is, but instead of becoming a deer in headlights, I let out what I intend to be a yell. The oncoming contraction only lets me get out a soft and barely audible, “Stop”. This, of course, lands no impact on what’s happening so I try again, letting out all of the desperation, confusion, pain, embarrassment, and fear that has built from the moment I found out I was pregnant, told my mother, and lost my 4.0 grade point average.

“STOP.”

The women stop what they’re doing and look up at me. Startled. As Mama parts her lips to say something, a nurse comes in with two security guards. Because the hospitals in my neighborhood have security guards that come into the hospital rooms of 15-year-olds going into labor to break up fights all the time. This is what the expressions on their faces say anyway.

“All right. Party’s over. Y’all gotta go. We can’t deliver a baby in here with all of this mess.”

“C’mon Mama, let’s go.” My boyfriend finally says something and goes to help his mother pick her belongings up off of the floor. He and one of the guards usher her out while she continues to threaten my Mama and our whole bloodline under her breath. There is no goodbye from my boyfriend though. No “I’ll be right back.” He just leaves.

Mama uses the edge of the hospital bed to pull herself up, scooping her wig with her right hand on her way up. I beg the nurse to allow Mama to stay in the room, assuring her that everything will be calm moving forward. The nurse softens her posture and nods.

Mama shifts restlessly from foot to foot, then takes a loosie and lighter out of her t-shirt’s breast pocket. “I’m gonna go smoke anyway.” She leaves, with the second guard following her out. It’s just the nurse and me.

The nurse watches Mama leave, then turns toward me with a pitying smile. “Look, baby,” she says while checking the machines that are monitoring the baby’s vitals, “I’m not going to lie to you. This ain’t gonna be easy. But if you decide you can – you can do it! And me, the other nurses and the doctors are here to help you through it. Okay?”

I nod.

This short speech must have been used on many other girls, but it still feels like she’s speaking it for the first time just for me. I cling to this kindness like a toddler to their favorite teddy bear. The tears that just threatened on the tip of my eyelashes are now coming down with full force.

I’ll take that epidural now. Because I’m going to start having to push soon.

Push or be cut open.

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Photo credit: Alex Pasarelu

Charissa Townsend

Charissa Townsend writes non-fiction essays and short story fiction reflecting on the experiences of women and people of color. Her goal is to lend a voice to people and situations that don’t always get a receptive audience. She is also a public servant in New York, NY.