Content Warning: Birth Trauma and race privileges.
It was 1984. I had purposely purchased George Orwell’s book by that title, the year before. I felt the need to understand the dystopia I was walking pregnant into.
I was seventeen. I had turned seventeen the previous October. It had been a doubly ominous birthday celebration.
I had celebrated twice, once with the father I was living with and once with the mother I visited on weekend. During each of the celebrations I had asked the hosting parent one question:
Are you having a good time?
Then I followed it up with: What would you do if I was pregnant?
My father had the most exciting, albeit the more irresponsible approach. After vowing to support me as I incubated his first grandchild, he would end up packing up all of our belongings from his girlfriend’s home into the back of a U-Haul truck with myself and my brother and heading south with no certain destination.
It was my mother’s vow to support “whatever choice I made,” that would win over my pregnant heart.
It was only a few weeks after I made that holiday choice, when my father found his way back to the girlfriend who had issued the ultimatum:
Either your daughter gets an abortion or you both can get out of MY home.
By the start of 1984, I had made my choice to carry out the pregnancy in my mother’s home, while my father and my little brother returned to the graces of his girlfriend (for a while).
I would quickly lose track of my father’s romantic paradigms and what type of drug-fueled hell he was dragging my baby brother into. I had enough to worry about: I was 17 years old and expecting a baby in June.
My mother and I had rarely gotten along and mood swings made violent by pregnancy hormones didn’t help matters. I was responding to trauma, but we lacked the vocabulary to describe what I was going through in 1984.
I sought therapy with a woman with the most Irish of names. She inspired me to reach into my heritage for my baby’s name.
The two names I picked out would both end up being used eventually, for their childhood years. Neither name is claimed by the adults I attempted to raise as the child I was.
Names are funny. We give them to our babies, hoping we have some idea of what label that human wants to be called for the rest of their time on earth, then used to label a plot of ground or a plack on a stone wall, or perhaps an urn on a mantle.
Before that baby had his Irish name, he was called, “Thumper.”
I continued my education in a private high school funded by grants worked on by its staff. Thurston County Off-Campus High School.
We met in the historic “Hurley House” on the corner of 4th Avenue and Puget, before the house priced the school out of its home, but by that time I had graduated.
I went to school in those converted bedrooms and living rooms, until I was so pregnant I could no longer concentrate. Luckily, my baby wasn’t due until the end part of June. Or so I thought.
Earlier in the pregnancy I had experienced some “breakthrough bleeding,” that coordinated with my expected period. Unfortunately that fact was enough to confuse the child’s paternity for over a year.
It is a humbling experience to be 18 years old and on assistance, getting a phone call to inform me that my child’s paternity was not the expected person and nasty questions about my character would follow me for decades both within the agency demanding the answers and within society.
My son’s father turned out to be a man I broke up with because of his treatment of myself and other women. At the time we ended our relationship, before what I thought was my last period (don’t even get me started on what that fact would mean in many states in 2022)– I was 16.
He was 35.
Have I mentioned lately I’m a trauma survivor?
My first son, whose public personality has referred to himself as “Menace ,” was born on June 18, 1984.
Some of the highlights of those 20 hours of trauma are:
Going into labor at Godfather’s pizza in Lacey where we were celebrating my grandpa for Father’s Day.
Revisiting that pizza all night long and into the next day as I labored.
It was 1984, so guess what the labor and delivery nurses still did? Enemas.
My nurse after I vomited the remainder of my pizza while doing what the enema was designed to make happen, “Those are the best results I’ve had from an enema this week!”
My first nurse was quite the character. When I was admitted (at a mere 4 cm dialated) she inquired of me if I was planning to breast-feed.
I answered, “What else would I plan to do with this rack,” pointing at my engorged DDs.
The nurse then turned to my mother and asked if I was planning to give my baby up for adoption.
If you’re confused, imagine how I felt. Luckily another strong contraction came and distracted me from my confusion and frustration with the nurse.
The doctor wasn’t much better, but I got my blows in. I swear it wasn’t intentional.
The doctor came to check on me just as I was going into a contraction. I had been using a stain on the carpet as a focal point, having discarded the planned objects I brought from home long before. As the next contraction came on strong, I held my focus on the carpet stain and breathed as the birthing class had taught me.
Just as I was peaking in pain and breathing, the doctor decided it was a good idea to lean into my area of focus and talk to me eye to eye.
Unable to express myself verbally that he was in my way of my only method of pain control, I brought my right hand up and swiftly brought the back of it across his cheek, moving him out of my sight line.
Or it could have been interpreted as the teenage girl in labor who was cussing so loudly the entire hospital could hear, just slapped her doctor.
I just got a sudden nauseatingly real feeling of the privilege of the shade of my complexion. Because I was white, and my mother was there, and the doctor knew me, it was brushed off and probably laughed about later by the professionals.
I hesitate to want to even imagine what would have happened to me and my baby if we had been black and in an urban area.
As privileged as we were, my baby’s head was stuck. I pushed for 2.5 hours after laboring for twenty, to finally have him born by forceps (after exceeding 20 minutes of head suction) at exactly noon.
He was purple. My bottom end was torn open, including a rectal muscle. They called it a “4th degree tear,” and made sure to tell me they were including a “husband’s knot.”
I wasn’t married.
My mom and I took Thumper home a few days later. He had sustained blood blisters on his misshapen head from the birthing trauma, but he seemed okay.
He nursed well and by September we started back to school together.
I lost touch with him over a decade ago. Trauma breeds trauma. I passed on the trauma I experienced to my own children, unknowingly.
Once again I celebrate his birthday without him. I hope his life is full of healing. I know mine is.