The Twelve-Inch Scar


Five years ago, on January 17th, I made one of my students vomit.

I hadn’t even assigned “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” either.

Rather than yacking up her lunch as a reaction to Coleridge’s opium-induced writings, she barfed out of affection and empathy.

See, this student came from a background so sketchy, so traumatic, that you would be skeptical of the details. The first twenty years of her life were positively and brutally cinematic, in a directed-by-Quentin-Tarentino-and-starring-Harvey Keitel-as-a-coke-addicted-mafia-enforcer-with-a-blowtorch-and-a-pair-of-pliers kind of way. In short, any possible abuse that you can imagine inflicted on another human being had been heaped upon her before age 11, when she finally broke free of her parents’ terrors one seminal night and found possibility–found life–on the streets.

I didn’t know all this at first, of course. All I knew was that she seemed oddly experienced yet unformed there in Freshman Composition, and when I gave students twenty minutes to write up a paragraph of introduction, she fidgeted and ultimately turned in less than a line, apologizing that she was having a bad day. At that time, I didn’t know her literacy was so newly-minted that it shattered in the face of pressure.

As the weeks passed, I noticed that she was making tentative overtures of friendship and that she seemed willing to expose some hidden parts of herself (when she came up after I’d assigned the persuasive essay to say, “You told us to write from our personal experience, so, uh, could I argue that the War on Drugs is a good thing, from the point of view of those in the drug trade? I can easily come up with three reasons to support that idea–it keeps our, um, their prices higher and keeps employment opportunities up for some of us, um, them and such to have drugs outside of government control). I told her to go for it, draw from her experience, and if she didn’t want to share her essay with classmates during a peer review session, she didn’t have to.

In particular, she seemed fascinated by my expanding belly that semester, as I was in my last trimesters of cooking up the Wee Niblet. She started with “I’ve never seen a healthy pregnancy before” and, a week later, progressed to “So this kid won’t be addicted to nuthin’ when it comes out, right?” before eventually winding around to “Because of some stuff that’s happened to me, I can’t have kids.”

Thusly, through small disclosures, we became friends. The semester and third trimester carried on.

Then the semester ended in December, and the third trimester carried on. And on. And on. Those last weeks dragged out endlessly, as they do in most pregnancies, but for me they were exacerbated by a big baby in my uterus deciding to turn. Generally speaking, at the end of the pregnancy, a fetus is too big to move much, but Niblet apparently was feeling the squeeze because he shifted from happily-head-down (the Ready to Rock position) at about Week 38 of my pregnancy to Head Up and Right, Head Up and Left, and eventually Head Slowly Descending, which I think is also a yoga pose.

Trust me, having a huge ball of flesh move around in a womb that’s stuffed to bursting–bursting like Paris Hilton’s closet, but not like her head–is painful. Each time he started travelin’, I had to stop and grab the counter or the car or Groom’s leg, thinking, “Holy Red Hots, but this is some funky contraction.”

Then it would stop, not a contraction at all. I’d clean up the spilled cereal or pick up the groceries or administer a soothing cream to Groom’s broken leg skin, and we’d move on.

We did have the support of a doula during the pregnancy and labor, fortunately, and during the “Where the Hell’s the Head Now?” phase of things, when I was getting weekly ultrasounds to determine the babe’s position, she would come over and help me try to flip the Niblet. There are age-old methods of baby moving, apparently, that require the expectant mother to crouch on the living room floor in a position called Turtle or to do lunges against the edge of the couch, in the hopes of prompting the Little Shaver to rotate. Since these methods have emerged out of eons of childbirth, I found them worth trying, although I never could figure out how prehistoric women did them–what with not having living rooms or couches.

After all my contortions, the baby ended up head down, but anteriorly, not posteriorly (translation: when you’re standing behind a birthing woman–which is safer than standing in front of her, where any missiles she lobs…water glasses, car keys, unopened condoms…can nail the innocent onlooker–the baby’s face should be looking right at you when it exits the birth canal. In my case, the baby was trying to come out face forward, so he could watch and flinch each time innocent onlookers were pelted with unopened condoms). The upshot was that the kid was overdue and not in ideal position, but he could make it out.

Ultimately, labor was induced. The night before, I was checked into the hospital, where a heavy-handed resident practiced, with loudly-whispered advice from the bystanding nurse, inserting a little P-gel, in the hopes of ripening my crabby cervix and making it more amenable to labor. It didn’t help much, so the next morning, they broke out the hard stuff: Pitocin.

Haysoos Marimba, but a Pitocin contraction is a regular contraction on steroids (or, um, Pitocin). Bigger, harder, meaner. I labored for about six hours–in awe at my water breaking, at upchucking my Nutrigrain Cereal Bar when I dilated to four centimeters (classic stuff, I was told). Truth be told, I was only awed for about 4 seconds during that time. The rest of it?

I wanted to die.

There’s a reason why I’ve never written about this day before. Even with my love of juicy vocabulary and a sound thesaurus, I have continued to have the sense that there just aren’t words for that day. When I type, “I wanted to die,” it sounds cliche. It sounds like me at the mall when I spy the perfect pair of ankle boots on clearance–and, amazingly, they are available in my size–but when I get them to the check-out, I am told they weren’t on clearance after all. That’s when I usually drum up a good “I just want to die.”

So it’s almost impossible for me to convey my longing to die that day. Unquestionably, if I had been Linda Purl in The Young Pioneers, out there alone on the prairie, just me in my corn-husk bed, raising my calico skirts to make way for the delivery, reaching for my sewing shears to sever the umbilical cord, I would have died. I would have reached over for my plow-loving husband’s rifle, angled it towards my head, and pulled the trigger.

Fully aware of the impact of my actions and the fact that I would miss that year’s wheat harvest, I still would have pulled the trigger. Knowing how much we had desired this baby, craved his addition to our family, planned to have him, I would have pulled the trigger.

On our way out of the world, I might have whispered an apology to the baby. But mostly, I would have welcomed the release from the agony. That day, in the hospital, I just didn’t care. I only needed it to end.

In my recollection, the long hours are actually a blur. Women in labor dive so deeply, internally, that we don’t realize our husbands are shoveling in Dagwood sandwiches while standing next to us–getting the bones in one hand crunched during a contraction, snarfing down a stack of turkey and lettuce with the free hand. I certainly had no idea Groom had eaten. Later, I expressed to Groomeo my admiration at his uncomplaining fast, noting that he must have been incredibly hungry as he worked Support Staff. Turns out, he ate quite a bit while standing a foot away. He probably answered the phone, too, fluffed some pillows, and carried on conversations about the local news anchors’ hairstyles. I had no idea.

Certainly, I was not proud; I availed myself of one, two, three epidurals, the story of which is another twelve-page post. In brief, epidurals are more efficaciously administered when the hospital pages the anesthetist on duty, not one who is at home shoveling his sidewalk. And certainly, I had my peeps. Pulling me through that day were not only the doula and Groom but also our kids’ Godmamas (the beautiful lesbians), my cousin’s wife (herself nine months pregnant, yet she dropped to her knees repeatedly to massage my lower back as we paced the halls very early in the process, helping me wheel the IV stand along), and my mother (who was ultimately sent from the room, when she couldn’t handle seeing her own grown-up baby girl in such a state). This troupe went through their own physical contortions on my behalf: pressing into me a foot or an elbow to counteract the back labor; chasing the heartbeat around my uterus with a mobile monitor, to avoid having to insert a scalpal monitor into the baby, who was firmly lodged inside of me; getting my husband that big ole sammy.

Even surrounded by help and love, however, I was ready to die.

Still working, our doula urged me to lower my vocalizing from high, squeaking, ineffective pips down to lower, stronger, diaphragm-centered tones, yet the baby didn’t descend any further. The nurses came and went with a bustle. And then the resident insisted on checking my dilation during a contraction.

As I bellered at this painful indignity, and the cast swirled around me, trying to regain focus out of chaos, the curtain shielding the door to my room was pushed aside. It was my excited, naive student. She was happy, expectant, ready to see a healthy baby for the first time in her life. She was ready to behold the post-birth beauty of Mother and Child, nestled in joyous union.

Instead, she walked in on Dante’s Inferno, if Homer Simpson had doused that inferno with charcoal lighter and held a Bic to it before spraying the whole thing with aerosol hairspray.

At the moment she popped through the door, she heard one of my low, gutteral,”I-am-a-broken-person” moans. It struck her as a familiar a sound. It struck her as the same sound she’d made herself in moments of profound physical pain, when others were on her, in her, torturing her. It struck her that I was dying. I wager it struck her that I wanted to die. She’d been there.

As the doula called out to my stunned student “This is NOT a good time,” she’d already turned and run–run down the hall, stumbling into the nearest bathroom, where she vomited up her visceral reaction to what she’d seen and heard.

For the rest of that day, both of us were shaking. I had five more hours of torment before decelerations in the baby’s heartbeat led to an emergency C-section. Strangely, I felt shame about not being able to get that baby out on my own. I felt I hadn’t worked hard enough. I felt a failure.

However. When the blessed epidural finally took effect in the operating room, and the misery ceased for the first time in eleven hours, and I proclaimed my everlasting love to the anesthesiologist, they pulled the Niblet out of me, and no matter how he got here, I was oh-so-glad he had arrived.

(with Niblet weighing in at a few ounces over 10 pounds, the surgical team greeted him with a roar of appreciation; for at least a few more days, he had the distinction of being the biggest baby born in the city that year)

Due to the sheer amount of painkiller my body had accumulated throughout the day, I had been on oxygen; I had the shakes; I had uncontrollable itching. As I was prepped to move into the recovery room, the brusque surgeon took two seconds to stop by my arm, which she touched briefly. I had been warned that bedside manner wasn’t her forte, but her words sliced me as deftly as her knife: “You need to know that you couldn’t have done this any other way. Neither you nor he would have made it. This was the only option.”

It is so rare that we hear exactly what we need to, exactly when we need it most. She gave me that rare solace.

The day after Niblet was excised, when I was still hooked up to the ease-inducing morphine pump, the phone in my hospital room rang.

It was my dear, traumatized student. She opened with, “So you’re alive?” An hour later, she sat at my bedside, a bag of chocolates in her hand. With awe, she took in the fact that I had been through such an ordeal, yet I was still her same Jocelyn (read: happy to see the chocolate). When the nurses brought my boy in for a feeding, she refused to hold him, aw-shucks-ing that she wouldn’t want to drop him.

A few minutes later, after our goodbyes, I spied her down the hall, standing outside the nursery, where she stared through the glass at him with marvel bordering on reverence. Overwhelmed, I hit the button on my morphine drip and clutched a pillow to my foot-long incision, grimacing as I anticipated the pain of an approaching sneeze.

That hospital hall saw my student move from spew to wonderment in the course of twenty-four hours. It took me weeks to recover from the agony of Niblet’s delivery, but the sight of her down that hall, her nose against the glass, appreciating for me what she could, can, never have, was an instant benediction.

Her joy at my good fortune,

her joy at seeing a healthy, welcome child,

her joy in his tightly-swaddled purity

reminded me that beauty can be birthed out of terror and anguish.

And now Niblet is five, and Student has just this week accepted her first professional job.

As a nurse.





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48 responses to “The Twelve-Inch Scar”

  1. Princess Pointful Avatar
    Princess Pointful

    So damn beautiful and inspiring, Jocelyn.
    Except for the whole 10-pounder and wanting to die part.

  2. geewits Avatar

    I’m glad your student has come so far. That’s really great. I also had pitocin and ended up with a c-section with a 9lb. 14 oz. baby. I never had an epidural – my choice, no way was I going to let anyone stick something in my spine. I had sodium pentathol just before my c-section. I remember lying in the operating room and saying, “So, since I’m going to have a c-section, why do I still have labor pains?” It seemed like a logical question at the time. And I didn’t have morphine afterwards. I get what you were saying about feeling inadequate about not being able to do the regular birth. I was going to do the whole natural thing with nothing and then I had to have the c-section. I never screamed or had that much pain though through the 12 hours of labor. It was like bad period cramps in my back. I just wanted to take a NAP. And they wouldn’t let me nap. That was very irritating. Anyway, we both got through it. Yours was just 5 years ago. Mine was 23 years ago, but you don’t forget. Ever.

  3. AmyTree Avatar

    Oh wow – that last line made me all teary – I’m so proud of her and I don’t even know who she is!
    Niblet is pretty damn cute – you did well, lady. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Glamourpuss Avatar

    Damn you woman, you’ve made me cry at my desk.

    God, so much of that resonates with me – from being my friend’s birth partner at the birth of my goddaughter (a CS performed after 36 hours of labour when both mother and child were too exhausted to carry on), to the relief at knowing their are children out there who are loved.

    Beautifully written; wise, dextrous, humane.

    You’re stunning, my friend.


  5. lime Avatar

    land o goshen, joc, you and i are soul sisters. 36 hours on pitocin with my 31 limelette and #10 hours with my #3 limelet only to be gutted like a deer in order to excise them from my body. my boy was 9.5 lbs. so wee niblet was bigger, but still, ya see the cranium on a kid that size and ya say, thank god for c-secs!’ (yeah and i felt like a failure too becasue i had visions of squatting in a field somewhere drug free as well)

    and god bless your student and congratualtions to her. i have no doubt your tutelage and friendship have been utterly invaluable to her. peace to her and happiness to you and the 5 yr old niblet!

    happy birthday wee one.

    oh and if i may….i think i recommended this before but i believe it woudl be such a marvelous fit for you….go obtain a copy of mike rose’s book ‘lives on the boundary’ i truly believe it shall resonate deeply with you.

  6. liv Avatar

    In further news of coincidences, just over five years ago I had a day like that. Oh, the pitocin! Oh, the forceps! Holy, unbreathing baby! It was awful. And now, somehow as I glance over at the kid clowning around with his little sister, it seems far away.

    This was a fantastic post—I know it’s hard to go back and access these feelings.

    Oh, and happy being 5 to the wee one!

  7. Patience Avatar

    Marvelous story!

  8. chelle Avatar

    How amazing she could come out of her history and become a nurse! I so enjoy those success in life stories.

  9. Diesel Avatar

    Excellent story, J.

  10. Jazz Avatar

    Damn girl, you have the coolest stories…

  11. furiousBall Avatar

    Happy birthday to the Niblet. Birth is amazing (in the understatement of the year). I liked that you connected this student to your own pregnancy. These things we do, they move others, if we don’t notice, we miss a little something. Glad you did notice. Glad you did affect her.

  12. Her Grace Avatar
    Her Grace

    Tears. Awe inspiring. And a little scary. Truly, Jocelyn, you are the Internet’s best kept secret.

    I was so afraid you weren’t going to tell us what happened to your student. A nurse, how wonderful.

  13. Theresa Avatar

    You never cease to amaze me…your stories are marvelous, brilliant, inspiring even (but I wouldn’t want to have to go through something like that to have an inspiring story -you poor thing). So, you not only brought a beautiful boy into the world, you also moved someone to do something great with her life -now that is talent. Happy Birthday to Wee Niblet and congratulations to Student.

  14. Tai Avatar

    Whew! There, before me, are all the reasons I won’t have children…not to mention the vomit.
    (Nonetheless…what an astounding and emotional story. Thank you for sharing that, it must have been difficult).

  15. Claudia Avatar

    My first babe was 10’1 – I can relate. My nephew who is 12 has experienced as much pain and inferno as your student. (My sister, unfortunately died last July after battling the addiction for 12 years)so I can relate with that as well. Every day with him is a struggle, and a miracle. With love and patience and slow, slow (unconditional) amounts of affection he’s coming around…

    Life is precious. New and old. We need to cherish every moment.

    I am SO glad I found your blog. I may not be the most eloquent of your commentators, but I am a huge fan.

    * kisses * to you and Niblet.

  16. Claire Avatar

    That is a freaking awesome story. TestCase was birthed the same way and I remember that feeling of failure (more than the agony). Alas, he too was a 10 pounder and FPM was a bit over 11. Finally, WarriorPrincess weighed in at a petite 9lb14oz. After TestCase they just installed a zipper.
    You were one of the reasons your young student became successful. People coming from traumatic backgrounds often have a difficult time and I can say that at critical times certain people can literally be a lifeline.
    And what’s up with that weird cold-on-the-inside but hot on the outside feeling during transition?
    You are a flippin’ fantastic writer, you know that, right?

  17. Karen MEG Avatar
    Karen MEG

    wow, a 10 pounder!!! No wonder you remember it in such glorious detail! I think I was holding my breath the whole time reading.
    A great story about your baby and your student. What a long way she’s come…good for her!

  18. August Avatar

    Dear me, what a cry I’ve had. So much bounty in your words. Joc, I feel blessed to have met you. Thank you for sharing this incredible experience.

    Excuse me now while I wipe my nose on my sleeve.



  19. Soul Level Avatar
    Soul Level

    What a story. My three were nothing like that, even for my wife who knew she had it relatively easy.

    The first was hard on her and easy on me. The third was easy on her and I spent the entire six hours on my butt with my head between my knees. I think I learned something between one and three…My current wife says she never had kids ’cause she knew if she did she’d kill their mother!

  20. Diana Avatar

    That is one kick-ass story and I am betting she’ll be one kick-ass nurse. She’s seen all the bad. There’s still plenty more bad to see, but she’s now got the good to go with it.

    (Good golly, the size of that kid! Perhaps the moniker “Wee Niblet” is a bit of a misnomer?)

  21. Jamie Avatar

    That was the best thing I have read in a long, long time. Really, it was amazing. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  22. Jamie Avatar

    And Happy Birthday, Wee Niblet (Dinko)!

  23. Jill Avatar

    What a beautiful story. I’m still wincing for you though….I can’t even imagine.

  24. cathy Avatar

    I wish her the best for her future.
    You brought back some memories that words can’t describe…

    … I will say though that when you choose a gyneacologist you should check out his hands. My chap has hands like bunches of bananas, OUCH!

  25. oreneta Avatar

    Absolutely profound congratulations to your student/friend for her strength, endurance and bravery. What luck you have both in wee niblet and in the friendship.

  26. Spider Girl Avatar
    Spider Girl

    Wow. Just wow. Some of your posts just blow me away with their beautiful descriptive power….

    And you capture the painful yucky things in life too. With panache. somehow.

    Also I think people who have gone through labor like yours deserve medals.


    Getting my appendix out was enough trauma for me. With my teensy little incision and NO giant baby coming out of it.

  27. frannie Avatar

    that may be the most beautiful tribute I have ever read.

  28. jen Avatar

    what a terrific story, love.

  29. Mother of Invention Avatar
    Mother of Invention

    The wonderful full circles in life. I admire you…I could not have children due to risks because of my diabetes and I miss not having kids. Teaching was an excellent way to have a lasting impact, which you have also found is most often mutual.

  30. Oh, The Joys Avatar
    Oh, The Joys

    This is an amazing post and story.

    I was induced both times with the evil pitocin.

    I can never find the right words for it either. The closest I have ever come has something to do with a wild eyed cow come to slaughter. The sheer terror and pain combo… I KNOW what you mean when you say that “I wanted to die.” doesn’t quiete cover it.

  31. Soon Avatar

    That was beautiful! and unless you have been in labor, you can never understand wanting to die like that. Fact is, you know that the pain won’t stop until the little spawn is extricated. That is the worst part. Knowing it will go on…

  32. actonbell Avatar

    That’s a beautiful story, Jocelyn. You are both amazing women:)

  33. Wayfarer Scientista Avatar
    Wayfarer Scientista

    Wow. Wonderful story, wonderfully written – and a damn good ending ๐Ÿ™‚

  34. Dorky Dad Avatar
    Dorky Dad

    Once again, Jocelyn, you’ve produced a beautiful post.

    Oh, and I’m glad you’re not dead.

  35. rak Avatar

    incredible story… written perfectly!

    thank you.

  36. Shari Avatar

    Labor of love and new beginnings for a life and a career of a young woman.

    BTW, all that hard labor you did…wee Niblet should give YOU a birth-day present. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  37. kimber the wolfgrrrl Avatar
    kimber the wolfgrrrl

    Your student’s brutal journey is so amazing/beautiful/inspiring, it’s filled me with tears.

    And your own brutal journey has taken me back to the pain, agony and screaming of my own 34 labour. So there’s a few tears for that godawful memory, too.

  38. kimber the wolfgrrrl Avatar
    kimber the wolfgrrrl

    I meant, “34 hour labor”.

    Oh, wait, I actually meant, “34 Hour Torture Session In Which I Begged For A Trained Professional To Rip Me Open Before The Baby Did It First”

    Ah, those typos….

  39. heartinsanfrancisco Avatar

    Oh, Jocelyn, this is wonderful.

    I had an emergency C-Section the third time after producing two huge babies on my own with no support from anyone, even their father.

    My children are all grown now, but I vividly recall the pain that I would have gladly traded for death as you’ve described. And like you, I am so very grateful that I didn’t have to die and was able to raise them to be the marvelous people they are.

    I’m sure that the pivotal point in your student’s life was witnessing Niblet’s birth and realizing that her own past didn’t have to control her future. In a way, you gave birth to her, too, and I’ll bet she’s a great nurse.

  40. ana Avatar

    Oh wow, a terrific story told so beautifully. It brought me a tear.

  41. CS Avatar

    Yeesh. I had left a long comment here some time ago, but apparently it didn’t “take.” Maybe I messed up the word verification because it is something like it is now (jjffwwxkw). At any rate.

    I can’t remember what I said, only that I had been struck by the phrase “Women in labor dive so deeply, internally” It’s truw- you go somewhere that you can not be followed. Alone, in spite of being surrounded by so many people. This was a gripping story, both for the birth and the wonderful relationship with that student.

    But don’t think I didn’t notice the jab about the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Ack.

  42. Dory Avatar



  43. Tammie Jean Avatar
    Tammie Jean

    What a wonderful story, wonderfully told… brought tears to my eyes!

  44. Donna Avatar

    I can certainly see why this was nominated as a “perfect post”.

    Amazing. And what a way to start my day.

  45. Oh, The Joys Avatar
    Oh, The Joys

    So… I was suppposed to e-mail you and tell you I nominated you and send you the button code.

    I didn’t get all that right.

    I have the button code for you though! (But no e-mail address.)

    Hook me up?


  46. flutter Avatar

    a nurse!! how perfect…oh this was the most beautiful story, Jocelyn

  47. kfk Avatar

    Damn. That was a perfect story.

  48. fooped Avatar

    Thank you for that amazing story.

    I had a very similar delivery experience: the pain, the marathon, the drugs, the violent shakes, the disbelief. When they finally brought my baby to me, the angels didn’t sing. I just rolled my eyes his way, noted him and went back to my envelope of exhaustion.

    I tortured myself for months, maybe even years afteward, wondering if I could have done something different so he could have had the natural birth I wanted so badly and had worked so hard to prepare for (oh the Kegels!)

    The simple answer is in your story. There was no other way. We are all lucky, lucky, lucky.

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