Lea Murray

I Am Ready

I am ready. At the end of my last class, I pose with my wife, Stella, and the gym instructor. My belly sits round and overfull but still high. We hug and bid farewell until I see him again after I heal and am out of diapers. I am ready to eat. Stella stops to grab me a chai latte and a croissant on the way home. We are just biding time now. I am ready to go. 

My packed bag lies by the front door. Pajamas, candies, shampoo, lotion, and a three-ring binder are inside my duffel. The binder’s growth coincided with my belly’s. As my fundal height increased, so did the number of pages. I am ready for any scenario. Colorful labeled dividers separate the infant CPR instructions, swaddling diagrams, breastfeeding notes, the cotton-diaper folding, the techniques for breathing in an unmedicated birth, the skin-to-skin information, and extra copies of my birthing plan for the doctors. I am ready to be a mama.

I am ready to check in at the hospital for the induction. The nurses send me to a dark triage. We wait—too long—and my wife complains. Nurses come in and begin my IVs and Pitocin drip. We spend hours watching television, waiting for my cervix to open. My wife posts excitedly on Instagram and Facebook despite my requests not to.

The nurses return every few hours to read the screens and shove two fingers inside me. I cannot sleep from discomfort. The nurses tell me those are contractions. They can see them tracking on the monitor. I am tired of waiting. I am ready to dilate. I am ready to go into active labor. I am ready to push out a screaming, wet, wild newborn. I am ready to lay him on my chest—our skin releasing oxytocin—calming him with my body heat. I am ready for the hormone flood to force an immense, unmovable bond between this delicate stranger and me. No progress. The contractions increase but still no opening. They move to another drug to force the labor—two pills, one for my mouth and one for my vagina. I read dozens of books over the past nine months, but this was not in any of them. My wife distracts me with silly Snapchat filters.

I am ready for the Foley bulb. With no pain medication, I feel everything. No one tells you about the trauma of having ten different people force their fingers inside you before you even get to the pushing. The bulb fails. Jesus Christ, can we get on with this? I am ready to be done with the prodding.

My friends and family have excitedly trickled in and out all day. They are ready. They are ready to be aunties, godparents, grandmothers, and grandfathers. They ask what is taking so long. I show them my monitored contractions peaking—ebbing and flowing on the screen. They admire my stoicism. One nurse warns another to watch me because I have a high pain threshold. I beam with pride.

My sister visits with her daughter. We mostly sit in silence; the contractions have reached a crescendo. She leaves fairly quickly.

The doctor says we have no other choice. My cervix is opening with neither medicine nor bulb. She inserts her fingers and manually opens my cervix. I give in and ask for the epidural. My cervix is ready.

This round, boundless pain fills my pelvis. I can’t speak. I just hold on and wait until the wave passes. I lie on my back—nearly 24 hours on my back. I am ready to move and to try to shake my limbs—to free my body of this recurring pain. They won’t let me walk around. The rude anesthesiologist comes in. Her five-minute setup feels like an eternity, but she inserts a line into my spine.

I am calm, and I am ready. I am tired of waiting, and they won’t let me eat. After begging, they give me a few crackers and chicken broth. I still have not slept. The doctor comes in and checks the amniotic sac. Still intact. She tells me they will manually break my water. I feel nothing but the rush of liquid down my butt and legs.

The fetal heartbeat monitor keeps showing a decrease when my contractions hit. The nurses give me an oxygen mask and rotate me from my right to left side over and over. About twelve people come into my room when alarms start ringing. Stella runs out in a panic. I feel oddly calm. The doctor tells me they need to do an emergency c-section. I did not research cesarean births. I had worried I would manifest one. This isn’t in the binder.

She gives me a rundown of the risks—including an emergency hysterectomy. I agree. They roll me to the surgical wing.

A gentle older white man is my surgery anesthesiologist. He asks if my husband is waiting while they prep me, and I timidly respond, “No. Wife.” He seems unfazed and continues to guide me on this side of the sheet.

The blue sheet hangs over my body, dividing the room. My arms strapped down like Jesus on the cross. The sheet hangs below my breasts. I can hear the nurses and doctors prep me on the other side, but I feel only mild movement.

My wife comes in. I am ready for surgery. The doctors begin. 

The doctor tells me I will feel some pressure. The weight of a heavy man pushes down on me as they tug the baby out of my abdomen. They tell my wife to look over the sheet and tell me the sex. She stutters seeing the blood but eventually gets out “girl.”

Stella watches the nurses put a disturbingly small oxygen mask on my daughter as her belly pulls in and her ribs stretch defiantly against skin. Her skin. Her skin isn’t the rose-washed hue of a newborn emerging from the other side of delivery. Instead, she wears a grayish, purple tint. 

I am still strapped to the gurney in a torture film. My baby has been torn from my belly, and she lies crying just feet away. I cannot get to her. I am the only human she has ever known. We shared everything—food, blood, oxygen, physical space in this universe—for the last nine months, but now we are forcibly severed. 

It’s been two hours, and I am ready—no—allowed to hold my daughter. My wife got the first skin-to-skin with her in the NICU. When I finally hold her, I tell Stella she’s much whiter than I anticipated. 

I am so tired. I am so tired, but I cannot sleep. I must watch her. Our daughter lies next to me in the bassinet, snoozing. The pain grows as the drugs wear off, and feeling returns to my lower half. The space she once occupied in my abdomen is swollen and tender. Crimson specks appear under the medical tape across the incision. My warm belly sewn up. I wonder if she misses it. The rough blankets they’ve swaddled her in can’t be as soothing. The wraps used to keep her fragile body in homeostasis are the same ones that will suffocate her if placed just an inch too high or swaddled slightly too loosely. She is tiny. She is frail. She is helpless. I’m not ready to take care of this human. I’m not ready to let her fall. I’m not ready to let her fail. I’m not ready to let her leave. I’m not ready.


Lea Murray is a Black queer writer based in Atlanta.