The Rats and the Birth
I. The Scratches
I was splayed out on the brown couch, eating my daily (OK, twice daily) mint chocolate chip Popsicle, imagining his birth. I was eight months along, gearing myself up for what would be a miraculous, life-altering event, one that billions of women had experienced before me. It would be dramatic, yet serene. Painful, but worth it, especially since I planned on getting an epidural. If humans invented a drug to mitigate the pain of childbirth, I was all in. I felt semi-prepared and sort of ready for anything — until I heard a scratch.
Not wanting to hoist myself up unless there was an emergency or I needed another Popsicle, I waited. Maybe it was just a tree limb scraping against the house, or a harmless lizard. There it was again, though. Pregnant women are often tired, but we’re also on high alert, every nerve ending in our bodies primed to detect real and imaginary dangers that might threaten our child. Then another scratch — this one sounding more aggressive than the last. I rolled sideways off the couch and grabbed my phone.
II. The Rats
I didn’t bother saying hello to my husband, Jerett. Why waste time? “We have rats!” “How do you know? Did you see one?” “I heard it. In the walls.” “Maybe it’s a mouse?” “Way too loud.” “I’ll take care of it tonight. I’ll get some traps.” If a tree limb falls on our roof, Jerett says he’ll take care of it. A pipe bursts? He’ll take care of it. This penchant for handiness can be insanely attractive, but also, at times, insanely frustrating. These scratches sounded serious. I was sure we’d need professional help, but if he wanted to save the day, I’d give him a shot.
I had read a few baby books like “Eat, Sleep, Poop” and “12 Hours’ Sleep By 12 Weeks Old,” the latter stressing me out so much with its charts and diagrams that I threw it across the room in a fit of exasperation. I’d learned plenty about cord blood banking and tummy time, but nothing I read touched on rodent infestations.
III. The Traps
For the rest of the afternoon, I shivered each time I heard a scratch. Our home, on a hill in northeast Los Angeles, was an 800-square-foot “bungalow,” so if the rat and I were on opposite ends of the house, I could still hear it. There was no escape.
The bungalow was built around 1920, and it had a crawl space instead of a basement. Critters of all kinds freely entered and exited the premises. There were so many spiders and silverfish coming in and out that I swear they paraded in through door cracks and up baseboards two by two like members of a high school marching band. An exterminator didn’t stand a chance.
We set a few traps in the crawl space that first night. I thought the scratching sounds were scary, but hearing a rat trap snap shut at three in the morning is terrifying. One perk of pregnancy was the fact that I would not be the one to check the traps and dispose of the rats.
In the morning, Jerett put on work gloves, grabbed a shovel and plastic bag, and got rid of a rat the size of a large squirrel. A few nights later, the scratching started again. We woke up the next morning to find our bedroom floor covered in rat droppings. By some miracle, they didn’t bound onto the bed. Yet another pregnancy perk was that I could leave the house while Jerett cleaned up.
IV. The Smart Kill
For the second campaign, we got a fancy “smart kill” Wi-Fi-enabled rat trap, marketed as humane. That would show them. I prided myself on the fact that I was not losing it completely. I would be a chill mom, a mother who handled things with grace and ease. Even rats.
Another surprise that occurred during this time was learning that I would be induced, which meant that I wouldn’t go into labor in a cute Hollywood way, where my water breaks at a Mexican restaurant and we rush to the hospital, and a mere two hours later my baby would be in my arms. My doctor was afraid the baby was losing weight, so she wanted to get him out, in case he wasn’t receiving enough nutrition. Mine was a “geriatric pregnancy,” helped along by I.V.F., so whatever the doctor said, I would do.
We set the date. I was told that a “balloon” would be inserted into my cervix and I would be pumped with the synthetic hormone Pitocin, which stimulates contractions (and can make those contractions more excruciating than they should be). I kept on eating my Popsicles, pretending to remain calm.
V. The Bad News
A few days before my induction date, my doctor called. “I have some bad news,” she said. “Oh?” “I was mountain biking this weekend, and I fell and broke my arm. I won’t be able to deliver your baby.” Wonderful. But at least the rats were gone. (Right?)
VI. The Birth
Induction day arrived. The cervical balloon was inserted. Pitocin was pumped. Nothing about the experience was cute or film-worthy. I was only about two hours into what would become a very long ordeal when my sister Amy called. She was staying at our house with my niece. “I am so sorry to do this,” Amy said. “We saw three rats run across the floor. We’re standing on the coffee table.” I told them we’d pay for a hotel and went back to writhing in pain. Women had given birth in log cabins with no electricity, or on the banks of rivers. I could do this.
Eventually, 30-plus hours later, our beautiful, healthy, six-pound son was born. Two days after that, we brought him home, where my in-laws, my parents and my pregnant sister awaited us. I knew the rats were lurking, but Jerett told me he’d set more traps, and we’d finally enlisted an exterminator to save us. That first night back home, my father-in-law opened a kitchen cabinet only to have a baby rat leap out, bounce off his bald head and land on the floor where it scurried away. Yes, I had a meltdown. No, I was not a chill mom.
We eventually conquered the rats (thanks to the exterminator) and moved out of the bungalow, but unexpected challenges still creep into our lives. A snake in the yard, a bloody nose at a peewee basketball game. And if I ever hear another scratch in the walls, I may not be chill, but I will be semi-prepared, ready for almost anything.
Dina Gachman’s is the author of “So Sorry For Your Loss,” a book of essays. She lives near Austin, Texas.