I was just going through some old files tonight and realized I never posted Nathan’s version of our birth story (mine is here). He wrote his in a word doc awhile after the birth. It seems especially poignant to post it now because his sister who is my age just had her second child (Jane’s first female cousin!) last night. Another close friend of mine is due soon with her 2nd baby and while we’re not ready for another quite yet, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like. I definitely want Jane to have a sibling, but am totally affected by the “I can’t imagine loving another child as much as I do this one” syndrome. Also, I am already tired. Too tired. And we are very short on money, but people say you make it work somehow? Anyway, here is the birth story from Daddy’s view:
I woke up at 7:00 am for work, before my alarm went off. Usually that has me tunneling into Kelly’s outline for one last, desperate grab at twenty minutes of comfort sleep. But Kelly wasn’t there. So I popped out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Kelly was reading in our breakfast nook, a girl who has never gotten out of bed before noon unless it was against her will. So I asked her what was wrong. She said she had been having cramps. Kelly was three days past her due date, and we’d been doing everything to “naturally” induce her, from laps around Target to amateur acupressure on body parts that I don’t really believe have connection at all with her uterus. As soon as she mentioned cramps, I thought labor.
As soon as Kelly felt the cramps, I had a feeling she thought “these cramps are annoying, I wish they would go away so I could relax and go into labor.” I say that because Kelly, for hours to come, would have a hard time believing that she was going to have a baby later that day. We’d gone to a bunch of great classes at a yoga studio through our local Childbirth Collective, and one of the big themes was that couples often rush to the hospital too early and get sent home. One couple told her their labor stopped altogether and didn’t start up again until the next morning. So unless Kelly was overcome by some rhythmic, torso- clutching sensation that had her speechless, we were going to work on a puzzle or play a board game until her uterus stopped fooling around.
Alright, at 7:00 am, I convinced her to let me time her “cramps.” They turned out to last exactly forty seconds each time, but they were all over the place, from four to eight minutes apart. I called our Doula Rebecca and asked her what it meant. She told me the body has to settle into a regular pattern, and that it could take a while. We decided I’d call back in a few hours.
Around ten, I talked to Rebecca again, and the contractions were still unpredictable. So we agreed to talk again around noon. Kelly, expecting to be stuck in the house for probably months of peek-a-boo labor, made me a grocery list so she could do some baking. Also, I’d forgotten to get cigars. A half-hour later, I was buying a fancy bottle of beer for the post-birth celebration at home, and a handful of the cheapest cigars at Surdyks Liquor Store, one of my favorite places in the world. I told the clerk that my wife was at home in labor, and she gave me a sheet of “it’s a girl” stickers for free. I told the lady behind me in line that my wife was in labor at home and she looked like she was going to beat me with her purse. She didn’t say a word to me. I thought, “It’s OK that I’m at the liquor store when my wife is in labor. Right?”
By the time I finished at the grocery store after noon, our Doula was calling. But I didn’t have any new information for her, so I hurried home and told Kelly I’d better time the contractions. I timed eight of them and it only took over twenty minutes. They were exactly three minutes apart. The most chill hospitals generally want you in when they are four minutes apart. Kelly had been getting on her hands and knees to ride out the crampy waves, but she didn’t seem all that uncomfortable. She was laughing and talking to me. So I talked to the Doula, my parents, and eventually talked Kelly into letting me call the midwives at the hospital. We happened to have an actual appointment scheduled at three. It was around one now. The nurse I talked to first told me that we should probably come in, and that Kelly might be experiencing one of those rare, easy labors that could break into a full sprint and have me throwing an umbilical cord over my shoulder in the back seat of our car. But a midwife called back and talked to Kelly. Because Kelly was so calm, she decided it would be OK to wait.
At about 2pm, Kelly had the first contraction that actually made her gasp. Still not the “I am being torn in half” pain that my coworker had described, but it was enough to get her to surrender. I began loading our bags into the car, and Kelly looked at me as if to say, “Silly boy. Go ahead, humor yourself. We’ll just have to carry all that back into the house later when they send us home.”
On the way to the hospital, it occurred to me that we should just go straight up to the midwife labor and delivery unit. The rooms are large and friendly, and I was certain they’d welcome Kelly. But Kelly didn’t want to be, in her words, a “drama queen.” We nearly got into an argument about it, but I reminded myself that this whole thing was about making her as comfortable as possible, and a nice, militant nurse would send her right to labor and delivery if they wanted her there.
By the way, Kelly’s comfort was critical in my mind, not just because I’m a nice guy, but because we’d learned a lot about how Kelly’s body would cope with labor. Her body would produce a natural painkiller called oxytocin throughout the labor experience, and at each stage where she seemed to be making a painful transition, her body would dump a bunch of natural narcotics into her bloodstream. But oxytocin is called the “love drug” for a reason. The more relaxed and loved you feel, the more you get. The more terror and isolation you experience, the more adrenaline will cut off that natural source of comfort so things get even worse than they already are. That’s a snowball we didn’t want to start rolling.
We showed up at the doctor’s appointment. By now, Kelly couldn’t walk during the contractions. She was stopping and leaning against walls and countertops. Kelly doesn’t remember it, but when they saw her at the check-in desk, they immediately went for a wheelchair and began preparing for her admission into labor and delivery. During the brief minutes when we were waiting, a midwife offered to check Kelly’s cervix. It had already dilated to six. Over half way the way to ten, full dilation. Yikes. We talked to our parents again and headed up to what felt like an pastel oasis in the middle of a downtown hospital.
Kelly’s labor kept progressing. She was getting pretty uncomfortable during the peak of each contraction. I wouldn’t call it pain, from my perspective, because I’ve seen her bang a finger before. I pressed in on her hips during each contraction like Rebecca had taught me, and it made her feel better. At one point, they had her hooked up to external monitors and I could see each contraction coming before she felt it. A huge one approached like a big roller and I thought, “Things are about to get real,” but she just gasped and it was gone again. At about five-thirty pm, they checked her cervix again and she was completely dilated. It was time to start pushing.
Kelly couldn’t believe she was pushing, actively working our baby out of her body. They had to tell her to let out a low groan or she wouldn’t have. Things had moved so quickly, with such comfort relative to the worse that we’d mentally prepared for, that we were both still processing what was happening. They had Kelly lay on her stomach against the inclined, top portion of her bed. The problem was that, in order to really effectively push, you have to go through the same internal motions as you do when dropping the kids off at the day spa. Kelly didn’t want to defecate with her husband, doula, midwife and a nurse staring at her naked posterior. Sensing her reluctance, they moved her to the toilet, where she got safely educated in proper pushing. I remember that Kelly seemed more and more drugged, and almost childlike, not in a silly way, but in a way that made her seem very sweet and in wonder at what was happening. I said, “Hunny, if we want to get this child out of you, you’re going to have to just keep pushing like you’re trying to go to the bathroom.” She said something like, “Really?” I said, “Yes hon, it’s OK.” And she said, “OK, OK,” as if she’d really needed the assurance. It was very sweet.
Eventually, we moved back to the bed. I think our midwife was a little concerned that the pushing was stretching out, so she wanted to try different positions. She had Kelly stand next to the bed for a bit. While it didn’t work for too long, that was when Kelly’s water broke, and I could see the membrane poking out of her body. That was pretty crazy.
They got her back into that original position, and our Doula handed me a big scarf. I looped it around the front of the bed so Kelly could grab on with both hands and bear down. Our midwife, a fun and friendly young lady who incidentally lives right down the road from our house, began putting her fingers where she wanted Kelly to direct her pushing efforts. It worked, and our baby began moving down about an inch each time she pushed.
At around 7:20, they had changed Kelly’s position so that she was on her back with her leg raised up on the nurse’s hip. Our midwife explained that the head to work its way around her some sort of bone in Kelly’s pelvis. Perhaps her pelvic bone. Because that path wasn’t exactly straight, that change in position was important. Incidentally, when Kelly had been pushing while standing, nobody was behind her, and I kept thinking, “Are they going to let our baby fall onto her head?” My “they’ve done this before” instinct overcame my “this makes no sense” instinct, but the midwife explained to me now that women often feel a dropping sensation when the head moves past that bone, and that there is plenty of pushing to do after the baby drops.
Our midwife said something like, “Kelly, you’re so close… you’re this far from seeing her head,” and she indicated about a centimeter with her fingers. The next push, it was there, this very small, pink and hairy oval, and they invited Kelly to reach down to feel. “Do you want to touch your baby?” I think Kelly might have laughed in an, “Are you crazy?” sort of way and declined. Maybe they invite women to do that so they can get it into their heads that they are right near the end.
Kelly pushed again, hard, and our midwife seemed to reach around the edges of her vagina, cradling the outsides of our baby’s head. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. When that push stopped, I looked at our Doula, realizing this great event was about to occur the next time Kelly pushed. I turned to Kelly and said, “Kelly, she’s right there. The next time you push, we are going to have a baby.” Kelly pushed and suddenly, I saw this face with all these defined, complex features. I wasn’t prepared for that. It’s hard to explain it, but her face just looked so intricate. Then Kelly pushed again, and our baby’s long body came out. The length of her body was startling, still enclosed in the remains of the sack that had been attached to the placenta. They lifted her out, and placed her on Kelly’s chest. Our baby Jane was crying, and it was so beautiful. Kelly kept looking between her and I, saying, “No way… no way…” We have the video of those short moments and I choke back tears every time I see it. It was just mind-blowing. I can’t adequately describe it. So I’ll leave it at that.
We spent the next time wrapping up the little details (like delivering the placenta, and getting Kelly stitches for the modest tear she’d experienced but not felt). Through the whole thing, Kelly was never in agony. She was doped up with the love drug. We were very lucky. I felt the umbilical cord while it was pulsing and cut it after it stopped. They weighed her and bathed her and we held her some more. She never left us that night. She cried a lot, and I hardly slept. It was difficult being unable to comfort our child. In between screams, I had a short dream that I was holding Jane and she turned into a locust. A swarm of locusts came across a field at me and I began slapping at them, watching them fall. Then I realized I had lost Jane, and I was terrified that I’d gotten her confused for the rest of them. Ah yes, the beginning of a whole new variety of neurosis. Fatherhood.
I feel like this is probably about where you end a birth story. I could talk about that first nervous drive in the car, the sensation of walking alone, just the three of us, into our home for the first time, and how we anxiously waited for that first dirty diaper, a sign that things were working right inside. Everything was working right, and Kelly turned out to have a natural gift for being a wonderful mother. A month later, our little girl has already gained two pounds, and she’s in the 92nd percent of the height chart. At just four weeks old, she’s smiling already. She’s a brilliant, beautiful , sometimes temperamental, but abundantly sweet child. Right now, she’s sleeping in her car seat in the bathroom, under the gestational drone of the heating fan. An hour ago, she was vacillating between smiles and seemingly inconsolable cries. Moody, just like her parents, and I wouldn’t have this complicated, unpredictable, brilliant little girl be any other way.