So when we last left off, my wife had just received her epidural and things were going swimmingly. We were told Leanne would dilate by about a centimeter an hour. Since she was at about 3 cm when we started the pitocin, we figured that the baby would be flying out by about 7-10 PM at the latest. But one thing you can only plan on one thing during child birth: that you can never plan on anything.
But we did have a few hours of tranquility. I remember I was able to watch some of the Red Sox home opener. A few of my friends texted me to say that if the baby was born then the middle name would have to be Ortiz or Pedroia. But soon, the excitement would start. Really, neither me or my wife remember too much from the next few hours. They were calm, uneventful, and a little bit surreal. We were in the middle of labor, but nothing was, well, happening. The stillness did not last long.
First, my wife’s nausea started to come back. The epidural didn’t seem to be working as well as it once did, and her back was starting to hurt. One side effect of not being able to feel the lower half of your body is that you tend to be put in some really uncomfortable positions without realizing how uncomfortable they are. Eventually, other parts of your body that you can feel start to hurt. Also, even though you can’t feel it, your body is being put through a wringer. My wife started to ask for a bucket again. She would push the button on the bed to raise her back up, puke, and then put the bed back down. Five minutes later the bed comes back up, I run over with the bucket, she pukes, bed goes back down. Five minutes later…we were actually starting to get into a pretty good rhythm.
For the uninitiated, the epidural is not just a shot, but it is a teeny-tiny tube that is put into the back. The tube is then attached to a pump that automatically administers anesthesia. Very cool. Except that the tube went from my wife’s back, up over the top of the bed, and into the small portable pump on a shelf behind the bed. Meanwhile the puking keeps going and my wife keeps raising and lowering the back of the bed. One time, she raised it a little too far and the pump was pulled off the shelf and crashed to the ground. Not good. We hit the button that is supposed to manually administer extra drugs. No worky. Not good.
We paged a nurse. Unfortunately, the quiet labor and delivery ward that was so quiet and peaceful and full of unripe cervixes the night before, was now full of ripe cervixes and women pushing out babies left and right. While earlier in the morning we were able chat with our nurse about the weather or her grandchildren or the Red Sox, now the nurse was rushing in sweating and tearing off gloves. She hurriedly tried to fix the pump. Not working. She called in another nurse who also tried to figure it out. The conversation went something like this:
-Well, did you prime the doo-hickey.
-Yeah, but don’t I put the bag in first.
-You need a new bag?
-Well, I’m used to the other model.
-I know, me too. Do I press this button?
None of this was instilling confidence in my wife who could swear she was starting ot get feeling back in part of her leg. The nurses decided to get the anesthesiologist to put humpty-dumpty back together again, except that he was in the middle of putting someone down for a C-section and might be a while. Not good.
While all this was happening, it was decided that our baby had turned over inside the uterus and was therefore “sunny-side up.” The prime positioning for giving birth is to have the baby facing towards the mother’s back, letting the narrowest part of the head enter the birth canal. Sunny-side up babies are facing the mother’s front, letting the widest part of the head enter first. Trust me, you want don’t want words like “wide head” or “big” or “large” associated with your child birth. Have a baby facing front can also cause a considerable amount of back pain. You really want to do everything you can to get the baby facing back. At this point, if a woman was going through birth without drugs, the nurse or mid-wife would have the mother get up and move, try a few different position, maybe do some wiggling to try and turn the baby. But my wife can’t feel the lower half of her body, so all that is out. So the 55-year-old, 100 pound nurse decides to roll my wife on to her side and prop her leg up onto a table and a few pillows in an attempt to rotate the baby.
-Would you like some help, I ask?
-Nope, I got this.
Really, nurses are amazing people with thankless jobs. A limp leg is not the easiest thing to toss around, especially when that region does not exactly smell like roses at the time, but she just jumped in and did it.
Luckily, my wife’s nausea subsided. The anesthesiologist arrived sooner than we expected and gave my wife and epic dose of drugs. Pump repaired. Babies were delivered in rooms around us and then L&D ward calmed down. I got a cot delivered and made it up and we both tried to get a nap.
Our nurse for the night, let’s call her Suzy since I can’t remember her name, came in to introduce herself. Suzy looked like she just graduated from high school and weighed approximately 80 pounds if she had a couple handfuls of change in her pocket. Great, I thought. Biggest moment of my life and we have a rookie stuck on the night shift guiding us. My first impression could not have been more wrong. Suzy continued to prop Leanne’s leg up on the table and pillows. She took the time to answer all of our questions and make Leanne feel as comfortable as someone in her situation and position (physical and mental) can. She told us at about 10:00 PM that things were progressing, but that Leanne wouldn’t be ready to push for at least a few hours. She adjusted the pitocin to help hold off my wife’s nausea. She let us know that we should get a few hours sleep and that she would check on us at about 1:00 AM. Amazingly, we both managed to fall asleep.
The room is full of beeps and pings and is never fully dark. Any sleep you are able to get in a Labor and Delivery room isn’t restful sleep for a number of reasons. I remember being woken up by the light coming into the room as Suzy opened the door at around 1:00 AM. She examined my wife and told us some good news. The head was “right there.” All the contractions had basically pushed baby into launch position. All that there was left to do was push. Let’s get going!
-Well, the doctor is asleep, so I think we’ll just let you labor down for a little while and then we’ll see where you are at 2:00.
Right. Okay. Another hour to wait and “labor down” – which I guess means, let the baby travel down the birth canal at its own, slow, painful, don’t-want-to-wake-the-doctor, pace. But we did just that we waited.
Then the doctor comes in. The thing about OB/GYN’s is that they are surgeons. They cut people open and deliver life. So my guess is that regular birth is kind of boring to them. They are used to climbing Everest and most people only expect them to climb a hill. But it is necessary to have them there, and her presence signaled to us that we were ready to go. She gave my wife a quick exam and then said,
-Yup, I think we are ready to start pushing.
Suzy looked over at me as she was grabbing my wife’s right leg.
-Okay, so you grab her left leg and we are both going to pull them up to her chest when the doctor says push, okay?
Timeout. I kind expected to be up in the bleachers for this part. If I hold her leg like you are asking, I am putting myself right there on the field. I mean, I am on the front lines. Everything is right there.
-Ready? Grab the leg, we are going to push.
Leanne. Suzy. The doctor. They were all in there. Fully committed to their jobs. So this is a little message to all the guys who expect to be in the no-splash zone during the actual delivery – prepare yourself.
My wife pushed. They got her an oxygen mask to put over her mouth while she rested between contractions. After a minute you would here the doctor say, “Okay, let’s get ready” and we would all man our battle stations and my wife would bear down. We could see the head. You thought the end was so close, but you forget that when you see a little bit of the head, that there is a lot more head behind it. Time went by and things started to get a little strange. The nurse and doctor started to look at each other in-between contractions as if there was something they both wanted to say, but couldn’t out loud. The doctor told us about the possibility of using a vacuum to help out. They started to make my wife roll on to her side in between contractions and they were losing the heartbeat for a few seconds after each big push. When you see your nurse moving the monitor around looking for a heartbeat and saying “Come on, come back. Come back.” It tends to make you a little uneasy. But then I started to notice more people coming into the room. Another nurse started to prepare the warming table. Another one brought in some instruments for the doctor. The doctor looked at the nurse and said,
-Well, looks like I should go get dressed.
This confused me initially. She was already wearing scrubs and gloves, did she need to put on a tux? Was I underdressed for my daughter’s arrival. She then put on a paper gown, more gloves, booties, and facemask with a clear plastic shield covering her eyes. I looked at her, apparently preparing for Shamu’s performance at Sea World, and then back at myself, in slippers, pajama pants and a t-shirt. I was only about two feet away from where she was sitting. I started to franticly look around for a plastic bag or a hockey helmet. Nothing to be found.
At 3:45 AM the doc looked at my wife and said,
-This baby WILL be born by 4:00 AM. You hear me? That is your deadline.
She looked over to me and said.
-Look, there is a possibility that the cord is wrapped around your daughter’s neck. If that is the case I am going to have to cut it myself and take her straight over to the table. But if not, would you like to cut the cord?
I hadn’t really thought of it, and really, all I wanted was for my daughter to come out healthy.
And then it happened.
3:59 AM. One minute before the deadline.
One big push and the head came out. The next and her body slipped out. I remember thinking, “that thing is huge!” It is embarrassing, but my first thought was one of admiration for the physical feet of giving birth. Babies, though they look small when you hold them, do not look small immediately after being squeezed through a vagina.
Sure enough, the cord was wrapped and they grabbed her and took her away. I kissed my wife. I went over to the table to see my daughter. I will steal a line from author Roddy Doyle – when I saw her for the first time I finally knew I had lungs, because there was no air in them. My wife was crying. I was stunned into submission. It is every bit the moment you imagine or remember it to be.
Except for the doctor stitching up your wife’s vagina --- still can’t get that image out of my head.
A nurse looked at me and said:
-Would you like to cut the cord?
She held out a pair of scissors. I looked down.
-No, I’m all set.
The cord had obviously been cut and clamped already. She wasn’t asking me to cut the cord, she was asking me to trim it. And why in the world would I want to do that? But then the scissors were in my hand, so I trimmed. My wife remembers watching this interaction and laughing.
Then we held her. Close. We took pictures. We smiled. We laughed. She cried. We touched her nose and called her by name for the first time. We looked at each other.
-This is our baby, we said.
-We are parents, we said.
All the fear and confusion and pain and exhaustion from the last two hours, two days, nine months, just disappeared into the ether like vapor. Gone. Replaced only with a new kind of happiness that we had never felt. We had no idea what we were in for. What do we do now?
We introduced ourselves to our baby.
This is mommy.
This is daddy.