When you’re pregnant with a baby you’re placing for open adoption with a gay couple, you’re already deviating so hard from the traditional motherhood script that you might as well do whatever you want. The day my son was born was no exception. There was no romantic partner or blood relative by my side; I gave birth surrounded by my friends. It happened almost without me lifting a finger. One after another, as my stomach grew, my friends asked me: “So, do you have anyone to go to the hospital with you? Because I will totally come if you want.” Eventually I’d amassed a team of six, including my doula, and “Team Mariah” was formed.
I was, gloriously, induced. There was no waddling into the hospital with a broken water, no counting the minutes between contractions while I labored at home. My friend Emily and I headed to the hospital together that morning — I ended up having a buddy with me at pretty much every doctor’s appointment by that point, since Leo was coming out any day. The doctors conducted a few tests on me, then told me they’d be inducing me that day. It was a Saturday, which meant that pretty much all of Team Mariah was available. The one exception: Diana, who had gotten the shoot date for a web series pilot moved to that day so it wouldn’t conflict with my due date a week later. She said she’d try to get out early. The doctor broke my water (which I hadn’t realized was something you could do to another person), then patiently waited to see what my body would do. The contractions started out slow and quiet, then increased in frequency and intensity. The nurses told me they wouldn’t be putting me on Pitocin: “We don’t need Pitocin when the baby is this feisty.”
As all this was happening, my friend Anna read to me aloud from an astrology book, making predictions about my son based on the date and the hospital location. Emily, who's needle-phobic, avoided watching whenever a needle went into me. It was a beautiful day, the sky bright and blue from my 10-story window. We all fell in love with my nurse, Vanessa, who called me “Mommy” all day and referred to my butt as my “boom boom.” Only two friends were allowed in the room with me at a time, so as our numbers grew, friends camped out in the hospital lobby, taking naps and sending me photos and videos.
The one time all day that my friends weren’t with me was during my epidural, which required all guests to leave, and my ensuing, cozy-happy nap to take place. When I woke up, Diana had arrived; she’d thought maybe she’d take a nap at home before coming to the hospital, but she’d been too excited and couldn’t sleep. She’d brought me a teddy bear that used to be her aunt’s. It smelled like lavender. Then my friend Leta swapped with Diana and we watched my contractions on the monitor. I live-tweeted updates on my progress.
My nurses ended up needing to put me on Pitocin because of the epidural, and I casually mentioned to awesome-nurse Vanessa that I was having some slight pain during my contractions again. “You’re not supposed to have pain if you had an epidural,” she said, and the doctor inspected me; I’d dilated to 9 centimeters without breaking a sweat. They gave me an epidural “top-off” and informed me that it would be pushing time soon.
I hadn’t seen Emily in a while, so she came back in to say goodbye; she’d volunteered not to be in “the room where it happens,” because she was sure she'd pass out. But then the doctor came in and said, “OK, it’s time,” and Emily decided to stay. She decided to stand by my head, nowhere near my vagina. I hadn't expected her to stay, because I knew how squeamish she was, but I was so incredibly grateful that she did. Just one of the millions of kindnesses that my friends showed me that day.
A nurse put his cleaned-up little body in my arms, wrapped in bright white blankets, and he looked up at me calmly, with big dark eyes that would later turn to blue. And, yeah, he was perfect. Every cliché I’d ever heard about that moment was 100 percent true. I fell in love with him immediately.
Wendy, Emily, Vanessa, and my doctor Allegra — these amazing women stood vigil around me for three hours of pushing. I know that it was three hours not only because there was a clock, but also because there was a Law & Order marathon on TV, and I could track time by how many times I saw the credits roll. Wendy and Vanessa squeezed my hands. Emily pushed my chin to my chest with every push. I vomited from the pain a couple times, but then just went back to pushing. I was desperate to complete my task. Every time the doctor had me do three pushes in a row, I did four. Every time she told me to rest, I was the one who decided my break was over. The contractions, less than a minute apart by that point, were too painful to tolerate without pushing, so I decided to just keep going. Emily and Wendy fed me ice chips and applied Chapstick to my dry lips.
Around hour three, Dr. Allegra told me: “All right Mariah, you’re doing great. The baby’s not coming out, so we can stick a suction cup on his head and pull while you push. There’s a very small risk of making his head temporarily a little pointy, but their heads are so soft, it’ll probably go away in a couple weeks.” She was wasting her breath; as soon as she’d said the words “suction cup” I had already made my decision: use the freaking suction cup. And once she did, it really just took a couple of pushes and suddenly a small human had joined us.
Some people might see a single woman laboring in a hospital with no husband or boyfriend and pity her. But everyone who saw my friends standing vigil with me was blown away by them. Over and over, my doctor and nurses told me, “You have amazing friends.” And, yeah. I do.
I only saw him briefly, before they started cleaning him up while I delivered the placenta and received some well-placed stitches. He was covered in chalky-green slime and looked like an alien. Emily and Wendy were both crying, telling me, “he’s perfect,” snapping pictures of him. Then a nurse put his cleaned-up little body in my arms, wrapped in bright white blankets, and he looked up at me calmly, with big dark eyes that would later turn to blue. And, yeah, he was perfect. Every cliché I’d ever heard about that moment was 100 percent true. I fell in love with him immediately.
Emily held him, then Wendy. Then Diana and her boyfriend Derrick came upstairs, and they held him. We all fussed over him and couldn’t get over how cute he was. His head, as it turned out, was not pointy from the suction cup; it was round and even. I was lowered into a wheelchair and moved to Labor & Delivery, where Wendy and I said good night.
The last person to leave was Leta. It was late at night by this point, maybe midnight. Leta watched and took pictures while I tried to breastfeed Leo, but he just kept falling asleep on my chest. She’d also be the first person back in the morning, bringing me food from Boston Market at my request.
Some people might see a single woman laboring in a hospital with no husband or boyfriend and pity her. But everyone who saw my friends standing vigil with me was blown away by them. Over and over, my doctor and nurses told me, “You have amazing friends.” And, yeah. I do. Two days later, I would say goodbye to my son and fold in half with grief. But my son’s birth day was all love, all joy. On that day, my son got to enter a world filled with all the love of my community. It was one of the best, most love-filled days of my life. Sometimes it takes a village, and I’m just so grateful for mine.