Saturday, December 12, 2015

Julia Spencer-Fleming on What We're Writing Week

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I was tempted to put up a blank page for today's "What We're Writing" segment - between Thanksgiving travel, Christmas preparations, chauffeuring one kid and helping another with schoolwork long-distance, I feel like I'm producing more blank pages than filled ones these days!

However, there really, truly is a book titled HID FROM OUR EYES slowly coming together, and in the spirit of the season, when many of us celebrate a special birth, here's a spoiler-free look at another birth that takes place as a flashback in the upcoming novel. In this scene, Margy Van Alstyne arrives at the St. Alban's offices to discover things have gotten an early start for her daughter-in-law...

I understand,” the church secretary was saying, her normally smooth voice fraying around the edges. “But you need to listen to me. His wife is in labor. You've got to get a message to him. That's all. Just take him a God--” she bit herself off. “No. No. I'll call back in five minutes to see.” She hung up the phone. “Oh, Mrs. Van Alstyne. Thank God. Can you drive Clare to the hospital?”

Margy dumped the containers on Lois's desk. “I was just talking to her on the phone! What on earth happened?”

Her water broke. She's in her office with Deacon de Groot. She says she'll have hours yet, so there's no rush to get to the hospital, for heaven's sake.” Margie could hear her daughter-in-law's southern cadences in Lois' recounting. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her.”

How often are her pains coming?”

Every four minutes.”


I know, I know! I'm trying to reach Russ, but he's testifying in court today, and I'm having a hard time persuading this idiot deputy to interrupt while they're in session.”

You keep trying. I'll take care of her.” Braxton-Hicks my Aunt Fanny.
In her office, Clare was leaning over her cluttered desk, braced on her hands, panting. The Rev. Elizabeth de Groot, her deacon, was pushing against the small of Clare's back with one hand and holding a watch with the other. “Hello, Mrs. Van Alstyne,” she said, no differently than if Margy had arrived for Bible study. Clare let out a moan. “Keep doing your breathing, Clare.”
Finally Margy's daughter-in-law let out a long exhale and straightened up. “Forty seconds,” Elizabeth announced.

Oh, Margy.” Clare was hot-cheeked. Her enormous black blouse, complete with white clerical collar, was creased and damp around the edges.
Margy gave her as much of a hug as she could. “You're coming with me to the hospital, and you're not going to argue about it.”

But the first stage of labor takes eight to twelve hours! They said so in Lamaze class!”
Margy and Elizabeth exchanged glances. “Clare, sweetie.” Margy used the same tone of voice she would have talking to a not-very-bright child. “That's the average. Some women take more time. Some women take less. It looks like you're in the less camp.”

A lot less,” Elizabeth said.

But Russ isn't here! I don't have my bag packed. I haven't got my music for labor!”

Clare, if you don't get going right now, this baby's going to arrive in less time than it takes to play the Doxology.

Elizabeth's right, sweetie. Russell will meet us at the hospital. Let's go. There's a good girl.”
Clare had two more contractions before they got her in the car and another two by the time Margy had reached the Washington County ER. While an attendant was helping Clare into a wheelchair – over her protests that she didn't need one – Margy called the church.
I got a hold of him,” Lois said. “He's on his way.”

Thank heavens. What did he say?”

That the first stage of labor lasts eight to twelve hours, so Clare shouldn't be this far along yet.”

Good grief. What do they teach them in those birthing classes nowadays?”

Not statistical analysis, I'm guessing.”

What do you think? I confess, I got the "first stage of labor" thing from real life. When our first, the Smithie, was on the way, I went into labor at eight in the evening. Ross rushed me to the hospital, all the while assuring me we had hours to go, etc. My first internal exam revealed I was already almost completely dilated! I'll never forget my husband's face, as he pulled out his notes from Lamaze class to show the OB nurse I couldn't give birth yet. Despite very clear information to the contrary, the Smithie arrived just two hours after my labor started. I never did get to listen to my special birthing music tape.

Do you have any birth stories to share, dear readers?


Joan Emerson said...

Oh, goodness, I'm having trouble reading this because I am laughing so much . . . it's a great scene [and, of course, we've all been waiting and waiting and waiting for Clare to have this baby, haven't we?] . . . I love these excerpts, [and I'm so glad you shared this rather than one of those blank pages], but they always make me even more anxious to read the rest of the book!

Birth stories? Well, it's never quite as they tell you or as you've planned, is it? We didn't have much say in the matter as all three of our children ended up being C-section babies, but safely delivered and healthy is really the only thing that matters, so . . . .

Edith Maxwell said...

Great scene, Julia. As someone in the 45-48 hour camp, sigh, who had planned happy home births with independent midwives and ended up with two C-sections (first son's head was 16" - the nurse said she'd never seen one that big; second son's head was 16 1/2"; both babies were almost ten pounds...), I'll agree with Joan. Safely delivered and healthy is all that counts.

Can't wait for the new book. And I hope you have another retreat or two planned so the book baby comes sooner rather than later!

Hallie Ephron said...

This was soooo good, Julia -- and could the stakes be any higher? My birth story is too gory to share. But I used the experience (or some of it) in NEVER TELL A LIE.

The only good thing about childbirth is that at the end of it you get a baby. I got two absolutely swell ones. And the lack of sleep in the weeks after washes away the pain of those moments.

Margaret Turkevich said...

perfect timing! my youngest was born today, the snow belting down outside. December is not the month to have a baby in Cleveland. She's a recent college graduate and able to celebrate her birthday today, instead of postponing her party for final exams.

Jeff Cohen said...

Honest, when Jess was in labor with Josh it was 98 degrees and the AC in our house wasn't... efficient. So after a trip to the hospital where an intern we called Dr. Wiseguy smirked that we had 12 hours in front of us, we did the only thing that made sense--we went to the movies. And saw Parenthood. I'm not making a word of this up. I told that to Harley Jane Kozak when I first met her and she rolled her eyes and said, "Everybody tells me that."

Anonymous said...

Out of 5 kids, first arrived 17min from front door at the hospital to delivery. Second was 7 minutes (are you seeing a pattern here), third was 20 minutes(daughter took a little longer) Number four I thought I had the flu, instead I had a baby girl 15 min after arrival at the hospital. By the time number 5 came, I just wanted to take my time. So arrived at the hospital and it took an hour!! Statistics are one thing, but babies are born when they want to be!!!

Deborah Crombie said...

Love this, Julia!! Clare is finally going to have that baby! I've been worried about her. Now I want to read the rest of the book, damn it!

Labor story... Nothing went as planned, of course. And after all those Lamaze classes. (Your scene cracked me up...) Nazi nurses, a doctor I'd never seen before I couldn't stand (mine just happened to be out of town that weekend.) Emergency C-section after twenty hours labor.

BUT daughter was healthy and beautiful, so that's all that matters.

Anonymous, love your story!

Julia said...

Anon, my labors were two, four and six hours, so I guess it's good I stopped at three!

Jeff, Ross and I went to see SNEAKERS, an overlooked Robert Redford film, the afternoon that I went into labor for the Smithie. I couldn't tell you what the movie was about with the help of an IMDB summary. My sympathies to Jess - I was huge in the summer with both my girls, and it's a wretched experience at all times except for when you're sitting with your feet propped up in front of an ac unit.

Deb, my favorite part of Lamaze class was when the instructor told us to "visualize your birth canal as a tunnel of golden light..." Having given birth to three children, I can attest there are no golden light tunnels involved.

Dotty Ryan said...

At last!

That sounds like the start of my first labor in the days before Lamaze and birthing classes, however. My "baby"girl is now 52 years old.

I can hardly wait to read the whole story.

FChurch said...

My dad worked the night shift, so he and my mom made arrangements with one of her (much)younger sisters and brother-in-law to take her to the hospital in the event my baby sister decided to come while Dad was at work.

Naturally, Mom went into labor early evening. My Uncle Howard was so nervous he was sweating profusely and shaking so hard that he could barely drive the car. Mom made it to the hospital and told the staff to get her doctor NOW, her baby was about to be born. "Oh honey," said the nurse, "there's plenty of time." Until they examined her and realized the baby's head was crowning. Really should listen to the mother, you know?

And Julia, I am still laughing about this scene--and Ross, with his Lamaze notes--Reds, you'all should get together and write a movie script--a comedy, please!

Victoria Hust said...

We had an unplanned home birth because my labour (with my first and only child) was very fast - about an hour and a half from waking up with something that I thought might be contractions to looking at the clock after he had arrived. I, too, expected the labour to last quite a lot longer, so only woke my husband about half way through; he began leafing through the pages of our child birthing book (Bradley Method for natural childbirth) and telling me to breathe, despite my assurances that we were well past that stage.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

SUCH a treat to read! You are amazIng, Julia. ANd I can just picture Ross doing that..wonderful!

Kelly said...

I can't wait to find out about Clare, the baby, Russ's reaction. My pregnancies and labors were, well - NOT a delight. Healthy mother and baby is all that counted for me. Please, put me into the steel operating theater, do whatever you have to do, but get me a positive result in the end. Perhaps the funniest part of any of it was my mother-in-law's horror that my husband would be present during these births (1990 and 1993), given her belief that men were inherently weak and couldn't take it. Nope, my husband was a champ and a great comfort during the ordeals of labor.

Karen in Ohio said...

Laughing here, too, at Russ and Clare, at Ross's notes, and at the golden tunnel of light. Whoever dreamed up that doozy never had a baby.

My three were all different, but the first was memorable for my ignorance, mostly. I was 19, and my first husband was 20. It was a ridiculously cold late November night, the coldest day of the year, and we had a '57 Ford Fairlane convertible with a non-working heater. Did I mention we lived 40 minutes from the hospital?

I had contractions, but really no labor pains, but since I had not had any kind of Lamaze or other training (and since it was 1970, so no Internet, etc.), I didn't have a clue what to expect. By the time the first real pain hit, I'd been lying in the hospital bed for 14 hours, alone, scared, and without any idea what was happening. I'd had nurses and doctors peering up my sheet, to my utmost mortification, and I was exhausted. So I asked for something for the pain right away--and it completely knocked me out. I wish I'd waited, though, because my first daughter was born minutes later. And then I didn't get to see her until the next day!

Labor and delivery are so much easier and woman-friendly these days. Even when my next child was born, 14 years later, women in labor were treated way better. And husbands were no longer banned from the action, which was ridiculous.

Cathy Foltz said...

1am, 3 days before my due date, and I am hopping around the bedroom with leg cramp. Phone rings and I am called in to work c-section (I worked in tiny hospital in Resp.Therapy). I arrive at ER entrance at the same time as labouring mom and hubby, so I gave her a wheelchair ride to OB. She was scheduled for a c-section later that morning, but her water broke so everything moved up in time.
I was having contractions every few minutes, but I had been having lots of false alarms so I want worried. C-section went fine...pretty little girl. At 6am I told nurses "I will be back tonight to have this baby...I am much too tired to be in labor now".
Nope...She was born less than 4 hours later...also a pretty girl.
Hospital administrator stopped by my room, worried that I would think my job caused early birth or something....I said "shoot, I was 2 days from my due date and I got overtime pay in labor".

Cathy Foltz said...

1am, 3 days before my due date, and I am hopping around the bedroom with leg cramp. Phone rings and I am called in to work c-section (I worked in tiny hospital in Resp.Therapy). I arrive at ER entrance at the same time as labouring mom and hubby, so I gave her a wheelchair ride to OB. She was scheduled for a c-section later that morning, but her water broke so everything moved up in time.
I was having contractions every few minutes, but I had been having lots of false alarms so I want worried. C-section went fine...pretty little girl. At 6am I told nurses "I will be back tonight to have this baby...I am much too tired to be in labor now".
Nope...She was born less than 4 hours later...also a pretty girl.
Hospital administrator stopped by my room, worried that I would think my job caused early birth or something....I said "shoot, I was 2 days from my due date and I got overtime pay in labor".

RevMelinda said...

Loved the excerpt and can't wait for the book! With my first daughter labor lasted about 24 hours, with 1 1/2 hours in transition and 1 1/2 hours of pushing. I was in so much pain that at one point I (a minister) said to my husband (also a minister), "Oh honey, maybe there really is no God!"--as I was at the end of my endurance and in that moment I couldn't imagine that any God could have created us to suffer that way in what is a natural process. (Ok, I was young then.) My comment must have threatened the nurse in some way as she hurried to tell me, "Oh yes there is, honey, and he's with you right now." I wanted to throttle her and say "Look, I'm a MINISTER and if I say there's no God THERES NO GOD!" but by then I was too busy. Somehow I found the strength to go on (as one must) and all ended happily with a lovely baby girl (who's 23 now) and faith in God restored--but I chose an epidural for the next baby!

Sandra Hutchison said...

Ha! Loved the line about statistical analysis. And the doxology. Thank you for sharing a lovely flashback.

I remember going to the doctor for a regular appointment and telling him I felt that the baby was coming very soon, that I felt different. He said nonsense, so we went to IHOP and had dinner. That night I rolled over in bed, my water broke, and about seven hours later our son was with us. And the lovely music for labor tape my dad had made for us was either left at home or not anything I was the least bit interested in at that moment, so I'm glad I'd enjoyed it in the weeks before.

WENDY said...

Arghh! Julia...I just saw your tweet about "that song" and now it's in my head, too. I don't even tweet: I glimpsed it on a sidebar of your website. Think I need a little restorative Michael Buble now.

My labor story is actually my daughter's. My grandson was stuck in the birth canal. In order to facilitate her labor I had to support my daughter in a squatting position for what seemed like hours That big head! For quite a while we lovingly referred to him as E.T.

Anonymous said...

Babies come when they are good and ready. Parents have to learn that.
It doesn't change all that much after they are born, either!

Denise Ann said...

Love, love, love!! I was a LaMaze mama -- my second daughter was born exactly two hours from the moment I entered the door of the hospital. It was July 1, 1974 -- and I was attended by two BRAND-NEW residents who told me the following day how much they had learned from my delivery!!

So excited for Claire and Russ -- forget Christmas, just write!!

Kait said...

No birthing baby stories to tell of my own, but Clair's had me on the edge of my chair. Can't wait to read the whole story.

Jim Collins said...

Thanks for this excerpt; can't wait for the book!

Our first one took a long time, and I failed to stay awake the whole time. Took a long time for both of us to get over that. With the second, we were a little more relaxed, and just about had him in the parking lot. I remember the midwife looking at my wife, and I could see her thinking, oh goodie, I'll get this one done before the doctor gets here. The doctor basically walked in the door and caught the baby.

Julia, if you don't remember Sneakers, I suggest you see it again. Redford and Kingsley are OK; Poitier, Aykroyd, Strathairn, Mary McDonnell, and James Earl Jones are wonderful.

Lois Fleming said...

I went into labor watching an Elvis movie (can't remember which) at the base theater when Julia's pilot dad was on alert. I drove home alone since he couldn't leave until he got another pilot to take his place. A few hours later he took me to the base hospital then he went home to sleep! This was, of course, when dads were not allowed near. Julia (as those who know her) arrived much later. She was (is) beautiful!

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Love this Julia--salivating for the book!!

storytellermary said...

My mom's doctor gave her castor oil to hurry me along so he could take his family to the Veiled Prophet Parade. The joke is that I've been late to everything since to make up for being rushed.
I can hardly wait for this book, and while I know one can't rush art, just wondering . . . Would you consider a little castor oil? ;-)
Your faithful readers will wait, however long it takes.
Happy holidays! <3

Edith Maxwell said...

My second labor, nearly two weeks late, was kicked-started by the Midwife's Cocktail, Mary: castor oil, orange juice, and vodka!

CathiMcLain said...

Love the excerpt and can't wait for the new book! My first was 3 weeks overdue (1977) and the doctors blew it off with the usual platitudes about babies arriving when they're ready. I wondered if I'd ever give birth. My husband was equally frustrated and announced that we were going to walk until that baby finally came. We went to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and walked till we dropped. Labor finally began in earnest the next day, and when they hooked up the fetal monitor the heart beat immediately dropped with each contraction. I was barely dilated so an emergency c-section resulted in a healthy baby. Side note: a baby in distress has a meconium bowel movement with each contraction. The pediatrician told John "you have a little green martian with funny ears." John, who had been pacing and worrying, just about punched him. He quickly apologized and assured him that his wife and daughter were fine. She had been sitting in the birth canal for a while and her ears had folded down. Over time they flattened and looked normal.

KBurke said...

I just cannot wait to read the entire book! Love your stories and characters!

Pat D said...

Loved the excerpt. Someone's got to get these babies to read the instructions before they're born. My husband and I did lamaze too. I had false labor one afternoon (2 weeks after the due date; my son has always had a relaxed attitude about time). I thought: Good. I can get something to eat after all. Went to bed and woke up around one or two in the morning, wet. I thought: Nuts. My water has broken. Now I have to go to the hospital per our natural childbirth instructor. So we are driving from east El Paso around the mountain to west El Paso. All the way we are debating boys' names. We're positive it's a boy. We can't agree on a name.
We got to the hospital and the rooms are full up; it's a full moon. So I'm stuck in a holding pen in essence, waiting for a private room, and breathing through my contractions. Birthing music? What's that? I'm not dilated that much, so it isn't until the next afternoon that I really start having this baby. He is breech. The nurse had me on all fours on the table trying to jostle him into a different position. Did I mention my son is also hard headed? Finally my doctor appeared and decided he would reach in and turn the baby. He fortunately has small hands. But they put me out (goodbye natural conscious child birth) before he did so. My husband was sent from the room when they put me out, but then he returned to join the party. He later said: They didn't say I couldn't come back. So he was there to see this little boy born but not me. My sister-in-law had her first 2 weeks later; she was given pills so she could get some sleep between contractions. What the hell.
I guess I will always go through life doing things the hard way. Adrian Curtis Dupuy, that is my son and he turned 38 last month. I make it a point to never tell horror stories about childbirth to first time pregnant women. That is cruel. And actually I don't have any horror stories. Healthy pregnancy, healthy baby. They did put him under a blue light. My husband tells him he is a blue light special.

Karen in Ohio said...

Pat D, what the hell, indeed!

I just heard an NPR news story that said that women are now going to be allowed to eat during labor. Finally! I had one long labor, and my daughter was in the LDR for 25 hours. By the time you have to push you're too weak, with no food for possibly a day and a half.

Reine said...

Julia... beautiful. Is your Smithie there, now? I just sent my nephew off to Smith this year. Fortunately nephews cause almost zero birth pains, weight gains, swollen ankles, or empty bank accounts. We don't get birthing tapes either. We get to be happy, though. That's the best.

Goblin The Weasel Perrins said...

Once the water breaks, labor speeds up!

(It says Goblin The Weasel, but that's because Google chose which of my email addresses to use. I'm Val.)

Goblin The Weasel Perrins said...

Once the water breaks, labor speeds up!

(It says Goblin The Weasel, but that's because Google chose which of my email addresses to use. I'm Val.)

Kathy Reel said...

Oh, I love, love, love this excerpt, Julia! The line about the Doxology was great. I so can't wait for this book!

Reine said...

I wasn't going to mention the doxology, but now that Kathy Reel has brought it up... There is no such word as prayzhee! And if you don't get all fancy with the doxology, you'll never have to sing the words "praise" and "ye" together at all! File under the category of: What drives the rev mad. Too late for Rev. Carter, but it may save a few others! xo

cccpups said...

I remember very well when my older brother Tom and his wife Regina had their first baby, Tristan, almost 40 years ago. We were all very young and not particularly versed in babies - my brother and his wife never found the time to attend any classes, and she worked up to a few days before the baby was born. We had just gone to see a matinee of Jaws. which thoroughly scared my sister in law (me too), and my brother was chasing her across the parking lot where we had stopped to get something to eat in the Brigham's Restaurant there. He was making Jaws theme music noises while he chased her, and she was screaming. I was running interference, but not very effectively. He finally caught up with her and tried to lift her into a nearby trash receptacle, but he couldn't manage it. A furious woman ran up to him and Regina, and told him very firmly, Sir, you cannot treat a pregnant woman that way! Thoroughly subdued, we went into the restaurant to eat instead.

Regina wasn't hungry, which was very unusual considering the astounding quantity and variety of food she had consumed over the previous nine months. Her stomach hurt, she said. She had awful cramps and they were getting worse. It never occurred to her that they might be labor pains, which of course they were. My poor brother got her to the hospital only a couple of hours before the baby came.

They named him Tristan, after my brother's favorite brand of saddle, they were both mad for horses and had spent the $400 they had been given for wedding money on a broken down old horse. My mother, who loved romantic literature, was convinced they were teasing her, and that they had really named him after Tristan in Tristan and Isolde, but they really did name him after the saddle. I often tell Tris that he is so very lucky that my brother didn't favor his Steuben saddle more.