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by Aaron Roy Even

The Blue Moon Review

The Epidural by Lori Ann Stephens
Mamma always told Papa that having a baby was like squeezing the Trix Rabbit down a twisty straw, like slam dunking a basketball through a napkin ring, like a man trying to pass Uncle Hardy's prize zucchinis. I laughed, but Papa always grouched up his face and snorted, "I don't see what's the big to do." Papa hated Uncle Hardy's bragging about his prize zucchinis even more than he hated Uncle Hardy. I thought Mamma's lines were funny until Roger got me pregnant.

Not that I didn't want to have a baby--Roger and me tried every position we could think of. Cousin Joline gave me a book with pictures that all but guaranteed a boy or a girl, according to which way we chose to do it. We didn't really believe that, but we had fun trying them all anyways. In fact, we were having so much fun that I just about forgot I was trying to get pregnant. But after I saw that pink line on the Do It Yourself P-G kit, I'd lay awake nights watching that lump in my stomach get bigger, and I'd think about trying to squeeze a grand prize overgrown zucchini into the toilet and I didn't think it was funny anymore. Especially because I got hemorrhoids.

I guarantee you there's nothing funny about hemorrhoids or about labor or hospitals or your water breaking. Especially if it happens at the gas station. Standing there in my car-tarp dress with my hand on the nozzle and my legs spread out, trying to keep my new tenny shoes from getting soaked, watering the pavement like a broken gas pump. Gas squirting out the one end and me out the other like I couldn't hold it anymore and peed right there at the Texaco pump. No, before my sweet beautiful little Caddie was born, I didn't know nothing about funny.

I didn't know nothing but two things. I wanted Mamma with me in the delivery room, and I wanted an epidural. I knew Roger would be next to useless. Don't get me wrong-he can field dress a deer or gut a catfish, fix a carburetor and make the toilet stop swishing, but he can't even get through a whole Lamaze video without getting up for an antacid and a couple of beers to wash it down. When I was packing my suitcase for the hospital, he said he's got to pack one too.

"That's real sweet, Roger," I said. Then he started throwing in Sports Illustrated and the cable guide and potato chips and earplugs.

"What are those for?" I said.

"Lisa, I know you're going yell at me," he said, "and cuss and say, 'You done this to me!' and I figure you won't really mean it 'cause you love me. This way you won't have to say you're sorry." He demonstrated by plugging up his ears. When he's a smart-ass like that he always winks at me and wraps me in his arms and kisses me, and then everything's all right. But I still wanted Mamma in the delivery room.

Mamma knows everything there is to know about birthing because she's had six of us, not including two miscarriages and one stillborn. She knows how to speed things up. When to squat and when to stand and when to take a stroll around the mall and, most important, when to go to the nurse and demand the epidural.

The epidural is very important. Some women scream to hell and back for a shot and do you think it matters one iota? Those nurses just piddle around until the poor women have to do it all by themselves. I don't care what that Lamaze lady said. I needed Mamma and those drugs.

Mamma's a good Christian, and she carries her Bible with her whenever she thinks God might need to lend a hand. She also carries her Swiss Army knife whenever she thinks she might need to lend a hand. So with Mamma in my room, I knew the epidural would come by Jesus or jackknife. Either was fine with me.

At any rate, after I gave the gas station a floor wax, I got in the pickup and drove to the hospital. I remembered the Lamaze lady and started breathing my hee-hee-hee's, although I didn't see why I needed to. It didn't hurt at all. Fact is, I was real calm, like you feel when the wind blows through the laundry on the line and you're outside sipping iced tea. That kind of calm. Kind of excited and happy too because I'd finally get to wear my old jeans and sexy underwear again.

I felt the first real contraction at the stoplight, and it was so hard that I fell over in the cab of the truck. Fell right on the stick shift that I swear never gets into first gear without sticking except for that one time. I was nearly in the middle of the intersection when I remembered to put my foot back on the brake.

"Holy shit!" I said, then I asked God to forgive me because I knew I'd be callin' on Him for help later. "Lisa," I said to myself, "You're not goin' to have this baby in a pickup truck."

Nobody ran into me of course, but I wish they had, because then I would've gone to the hospital in an ambulance. Nobody even stopped. People just honked at me and gave me dirty looks when I tried to cross over to the other side of the intersection. That's just like Texas.

Roger got me a cell phone just so when I went into labor I could call Mamma, but he said we couldn't afford me to use it except for emergencies. So I hadn't actually used it except the time Roger showed me how to turn it on, and that was a month before. I was at the damn hospital entrance before I figured out you had to press the Send button to make a call. The point is I was not happy anymore. Forget the damn wind and iced tea, I had a basketball dribbling on my spine, my new tenny shoes were soaked, and Mamma was not waitin' for me at the hospital like I planned. I was starting to get pee-ode. I pulled into the ambulance drive and laid on the horn.

A nurse bounced out of the emergency room and helped me out of the truck. "Are you in labor?" she said. She smiled like she was selling Girl Scout cookies.

"I need an epidural," I said back. I was stooping over with my hand under my belly. I felt like a rabbit being skinned.

She smiled again, which really made me mad because I was not joking. "Well, we'll have to check a few things before we can do that," she said, and took me to the delivery room.

By then I knew my plans were shot because there I was in the hospital without Mamma, without Roger, without the epidural, and some candy-striper who looked about nine years old putting a needle the size of a ball-point pen in my vein. I wouldn't let her until she said she'd call Mamma for me.

I finally tried to relax and wait for Mamma. I looked at my room. Hospitals are getting fancy these days. My cousin Joline told me that hers was decorated so pretty, baby blue walls with pink flowers and couches and lampshades that match and a T.V., so I didn't have to do any research to know what hospital I would choose. But my room was a little disappointing. The walls were green with pinstripes and no flowers at all. I didn't have lampshades. I didn't even have lamps. But when I looked closer, I noticed that the walls were padded with pillowy cushions. Padded walls, just like in Good Morning Texas! So I started to feel that maybe I was luckier than Joline until I felt another contraction and realized that wallpaper and cushions don't mean doodley. I was starting to call on God in a less than respectful manner when Mamma showed up with Roger.

"Lisa!" Mamma said.

"Lisa!" Roger said.

"Mamma, get me an epidural," I said. No, I yelled it.

They looked at each other and smiled.

"Why the hell is everyone smiling? Is this funny to you?"

Mamma stroked my forehead and said, "You just started labor. You're doing just fine, but you've got a long ways yet." I had another contraction and I gritted my teeth and I hee-hee-heed quick breaths and stared into Mamma's crow-feet eyes.

"I want that shot," I said between hees. She smiled at me like I'd asked for a triple-scoop fudge sundae.

"Squeeze my hand, Lisa," Roger said. I'd almost forgot that he was in the room. But there he was, on the other side of the bed, acting just like a real husband does when his wife's having a baby. I smiled at him through my gritted teeth until the pain passed.

"I'm thirsty," I said. I was. "Can you get me some water?"

"Can't have water," Mamma said. "You'll get sick." No epidural. No water.

"You want a rag to suck on?" she said.

A rag? Nobody ever said nothing about sucking on a rag, I thought. "No, Mamma, I want water. I want water and I want drugs. You're supposed to help me."

"How about a piece of ice?" Roger said. He downed the rest of his cola and picked out a piece of ice with his fingers. He rubbed it on my lips. That made me thirstier, and I hated that brand of cola. I had another contraction, and the baby's heartbeat fluttered faster on the monitor.

"I have to push," I said.

"Don't push," she said.

"I have to push," I said.

Then Mamma lowered her eyebrows and puckered her lips and gave me a funny look. "When did the nurse check on you last?"

"I don't know," I said. "I don't exactly have a time card." I was hee-heeing again, and when I looked at Mamma, I could see more and more white around her blue eyes. She looked down at my legs, covered with stiff, white sheets, and looked at my eyes again.

"Put your legs up," she said. I did, and she walked down, threw the sheets up, bent down and looked right between my legs.

"Mamma, what are you doing?" I said.

"Roger, get the nurse now," she said, and Roger got up and started to look between my legs too but changed his mind and ran out the door. "I got to get my camera," Mamma said, and started digging around in her purse.

"Mamma, what's wrong?" I said.

"Nothing's wrong." Then her voice got real tight and high. "You're just having a baby, that's all. Just like you're supposed to." She found the camera, then came over and patted my forehead again with a wet rag.

"I want that epidural," I said through my teeth. "They promised me an epidural, and by-God, I want it. Get out your knife and go get me a nurse," I ordered. But she was taking pictures of me. "Smile, Lisa. This is for Aunt Beth."

The contractions were coming fast by that time. I barely had time to relax before another one hit me. Roger came back in with a cup of coffee and a nurse behind him.

"You stopped for coffee?" I said.

"No honey," he said, looking down as if the cup in his hand had just appeared there by magic. "See, I was looking for the nurse..."

Then the nurse came in. Looked like she stepped right off a military base. She had a square face, a square nose, and marched around the room checking the monitor and the wires.

"Are you ready?" she said. Even her buckteeth stood at attention. She looked between my legs and said, "Well, that's a head."

"That's what I thought," said Mamma.

Then Roger looked, too. "It's a head, all right," he said. They all three stood there gawking at my open legs like they were watching the Superbowl.

"Where's my epidu- "

"It's too late," the nurse said. "You don't want to hurt the baby. You'll have to do without one." Just like that. Like I knew what the hell to do.

"Calm down, Darlin'," Mamma said.

"Owww!" I yelled. "Shit shit shit!"

Roger told Mamma I don't usually cuss at home, and I told him to shut the hell up, goddamn it.

"They promised me I could have an epidural," I shouted. "It's all covered on the insurance and I want the damned shot! It's mine! I paid for it--give it!" Mamma smiled, and Roger started putting the earplugs in his ears.

"Lisa, we just have to be brave," Mamma said. "1Cter all, that's why I'm here, right? I never had an epidural, and I know lots of positions that'll help. You have to be creative." Like having a baby isn't creative enough.

She helped me to my feet so I could stand on the bed in a squat position, Mamma behind me with her arms locked under mine. Roger sat in front of me saying, "You're beautiful, honey, you're beautiful."

"It still hurts, Mamma."

"Well, of course it's goin' to hurt. You're having a baby, for Pete's sake!" Mamma said.

I was crying now. "I changed my mind! I don't want to have a baby." I scrambled out of the bed, wires and suction cups still attached to my body. One hand under my belly, the other stretched out to keep them back. "I don't want to do this, anymore. It's not any fun!"

I was grabbing my robe when Roger snuck up behind me and wrapped me up in his arms and wouldn't let me go. Another contraction made my legs buckle, but he kept holding me up, like a big wet rag doll. I was crying and he was kissing me all over my wet cheeks and saying, "You're going to do this, honey, you're going to get through this just fine. You have to 'cause I told everyone at work that I was going to be a daddy, and you got all those baby clothes at home. And we spend all that money on the crib."

I looked into Roger's eyes and I knew. I knew I had to have that baby and I knew Roger was trying to help me. Mamma took a picture of us and said that'd be a good one.

The doctor came in about two seconds before Caddy was ready to pop out, just in time to catch her, I guess, Roger said. He looked awful proud of himself, and I couldn't say why. After all, I'd done all the work. I breathed and pushed and Roger held my hand and Mamma walked around the room taking pictures from every possible angle.

The doctor said, "Push. You have to push to make it happen."

I said, "Tell me something I don't know." Doctors.

"It's coming! It's coming!" Mamma screamed, and she started jumping around the room like a kid at a circus, making the camera zoom in and zoom out. She got right behind the doctor and pointed the camera right between my legs. The flash popped in my eyes and blinded me.

"Mamma, stop that! I can't show anyone that picture."

"But I've got sixteen pictures left," Mamma said, looking down to make sure.

"Mamma, get out of the room," I said, using the same tone of voice I use when everyone knows I'm dead serious. So she put the camera away.


Caddie came into the world like a blueberry all covered in cottage cheese. The doctor held her up and she was screaming and shaking, and she wasn't a zucchini or a bowling ball or a basketball anymore. She was my baby. I laughed because she looked so funny, so beautiful laying there on my breast and shivering like a wet puppy. I kissed her soft head and Roger kissed me. He said, "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?" Roger's idea of bad is getting stung by a honeybee, which he sat on last fourth of July, but I wasn't going to argue with him. For about ten seconds, we sat and loved on Caddie. Then Roger cut the cord and fainted. Mama got a nice picture of Roger lying on the floor. After that, he didn't tease me no more about epidurals or my water breaking or my size 22 underwear, but he did ask me when I want another baby. I said I'd think about it. "But honey, you just made the most beautiful baby in the world," Roger said. And I believe he was speaking the truth. When men aren't saying every wrong thing in the book, if you listen, they'll say the very words that made you want to have a baby in the first place.

Lori Ann Stephens is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Dallas, where she also teaches classes in the craft of short story writing. She lives in Richardson with her son, Trevor.


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