Week 41 - Making An Entrance
What can I say about the last few days you spent in your mother’s belly? Well, we spent nearly all day on Sunday, your due date, thinking that you might actually arrive on time. As the day wore on, the contractions, or what we thought were contractions, were growing stronger, closer together, and more intense. Your mom was feeling exactly the sort of activity they’d told us to expect. So, when things began to get really uncomfortable in the early afternoon, when, during a walk we took around our neighborhood, things continued to move forward, we made some calls. We got ready. We thought you were on your way.
And then the contractions just stopped. One minute they were there and the next they were gone.
When the contractions stopped, there were already some relatives already on their way down from Maine. There were others waiting for phone calls, with car keys presumably in hand. It was embarrassing for me, to have made some people drive so far, and to have gotten everyone else so on edge. But I came to accept the common wisdom that was repeated to us over and over in the coming days: sometimes these things just happen.
The fact that they happened to us made Monday all the more difficult to get through. I was jumpier than ever, not sure if you would decide to start your arrival for real on a day when I was away from the house, thus making the whole process that much more of an adventure, or whether you would wait it out until Tuesday, when your mom was scheduled to be induced and I would be home. To say that I was distracted on Monday would be a massive understatement. Getting through the day without pulling my hair out, without having a coronary — that was a major accomplishment for me.
We arrived at the hospital just after ten o’clock in the morning. Finding a parking spot had been a challenge, as had leaving the house on time (my fault, not your mother’s), so we were late. But that turned out to be okay. Because, with nine or so other mothers in labor, they weren’t able to get to us all that fast anyway.
We were helped out in the early going by the first of three or four different nurses we’d deal with throughout the day. Soon after she’d gotten us settled, your mom’s doctor and a resident doctor came in to check her. Our first surprise of the day was the discrepancy between the resident doctor’s estimate of how far along your mother was and the estimate made the previous week. The thought now was that your mom was 2 centimeters dilated, which sounded about right, but only 25% effaced, which was a far lower number than we’d been expecting. In any event, they moved forward with breaking your mom’s bag of waters and getting her hooked up to an IV. Once things were settled, I went out to the car to grab the rest of our stuff and to make a phone call to my mom, your Grammy Sue.
Things were still going relatively slow when my mom arrived and this gave me a chance to go out and get some lunch. It was a strange thing, to be out and about and experiencing things for the last time as a non-parent. I was aware, even as I passed the man (or woman) dressed in a Quizno’s soda cup costume, that things were going to be different when it was time for lunch tomorrow, that I never would look at things the same way again. Not even a grown man (or woman) dressed as a soda cup, vamping for the passersby.
After lunch, things began to pick up. By two o’clock, contractions were beginning to get uncomfortable. Your mom did well with them for a good, long time before asking for any pain medication and when she did finally ask for some medicine, she was about five centimeters dilated, moving along faster than anyone had anticipated. One constant throughout the day was the look of pleasant surprise on the doc’s face every time he checked your mother’s progress. She was moving along at a steady clip, she was handling the pain well, and so, it seemed, were you.
The computer screen and the connected devices, which monitored both your heart rate and the oncoming contractions, were something I found myself staring at often. But, as comforting as that constantly updating information was to me, the fact that your mother was hooked up to all of this equipment soon became frustrating for her. The hospital did have wireless versions of the two fetal monitors that she needed to wear until delivery, but those wireless models were in use for most of the day. When your mom finally did get hooked up to the wireless monitors, it was then that she began to progress even faster. We walked around the ward, she sat on the “birthing ball”, and was generally more active than she had been.
The last few centimeters were hard, despite the pain medicine. Your mom would tell me later that the Nubain really only made it easier in between contractions, that it allowed her to get rest in those quiet moments, but that the contractions themselves were still rather uncomfortable. She went a while on just the Nubain but finally did ask for an epidural in the late afternoon/early evening. They checked her again to make sure she wasn’t past the point of no return (they don’t like to do epidurals when the mother is too far beyond 8 centimeters) and found that she was right on the edge; she was eight centimeters, heading toward nine. Quickly, they called the anesthesiologist. But, irregardless of how quickly they called him, it still took a good, long while for him to show up.
The anesthesiologist was quite a peculiar fellow, possessed of the driest sense of humor I have ever encountered. You’d have to have seen the look on his face as he explained the possible side effects of the procedure (ending with, “...and you might pass away.”) to understand what I’m talking about. He took his job very seriously, as well he should, but he also seemed acutely aware of how preposterous it was to be spending all of this time reciting to a drugged up pregnant woman, struggling to keep herself still during gut-wrenching contractions, a laundry list of side-effects that were almost never encountered.
The rules regarding my presence in the room were strict — I was to remain seated the entire time — so I slipped into my comfortable role as observer. A third-year medical student, who had been shadowing your mother’s OB/GYN for most of the afternoon, was present during the epidural process, and it was because of this, because of the anesthesiologist’s careful explanation of each step, that I got a real sense for how much care this guy took in his work, and how much was involved in prepping the patient to make sure that none of the aforementioned side-effects ever really became an issue.
After the epidural was in, it wasn’t long before your mother was ready to push. Your mother had been fighting the urge to bear down for some time, but when the doctor checked her just after eight o’clock in the evening, even your mother was surprised to find out that she was fully dilated and finally ready to start the last stretch.
The first pushes were ineffective. The doctor, the nurse, and the medical student — each took turns helping guide your mom into different positions, hoping that the next one would be the one. Your mom’s thought was that the epidural had been too recent, that it had cut off too much sensation, and that it was hard to know exactly where to push because of this. We did eventually find a position that worked, and that’s what we used for the next two and a half to three hours.
Yes, your mom was pushing for that long. And it did take its toll. There was a moment where the doctor even suggested the possibility of an assisted delivery, of using forceps, or the vacuum. But the thought of giving up — and that’s truly how your mother viewed the idea of using forceps or the vacuum — was all your mother needed to power her through.
Throughout the process, I did the counting for your mom. The nurse had started off doing it, but somewhere in the early going I had taken over. And there were several compliments regarding the soothing nature of my voice, so I figured I might as well keep at it. It did seem to help your mom, and it gave me something to do, instead of just feeling nervous. I counted to ten, three times per contraction. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. And one more…” And I wondered if you could hear me, if somewhere, later in life, me counting to ten because you’d done something bad would stir in you some very early memory of coming into the world to the sound of me counting, or if, maybe, you’d be able to count to ten at some ridiculously young age.
It’s also worth mentioning that I had a ridiculous amount of gas during labor. I don’t know if it was just what I ate for lunch, or nervousness, or a combination of the two. I just know that I was fighting off farts the whole time. The discomfort of it was nothing in comparison to what your mom was going through, but I think it’s a funny enough juxtaposition. Two thirds of the way through pushing, about an hour before your mother pushed you out in the world, I pushed out something of my own, a brief, fairly harmless toot that the other people in the room all pretended not to hear. After the next contraction was over, I hurried to the bathroom, took care of business, and the situation was much improved. But it’s silly memories like that which stick with me.
At the end, the doctor, who had been shuffling between rooms in the very, very busy ward, had to hold your mother off because he wasn’t in position. We’d been seeing your head poke out bit by bit over the last thirty minutes or so, so we were prepared, but I get the feeling he wasn’t expecting how quickly things would move at the end, given how slowly they’d moved at the beginning. Once he and the med student were ready, they ushered your Grammy Julee over to the side of the bed I was standing on, allowing the nurses to get ready for your arrival on the other side. While they prepped the scale and the warmer (or whatever that was that they would be laying you down on to check you out) I ceased my counting, letting the doctor and his student take over.
I’ll never forget the sight of your head coming out, of your grandmother’s hand on my back, steadying me. I’ll never forget how my mind emptied at that moment you entered the world, how I felt absolutely, one-hundred percent content and happy for maybe the second time in my life (the first time being the moment I saw your mother, in her wedding dress, walking across a wooden bridge to take my hand). It was the most pure and unimaginably perfect moment I had ever experienced, watching them place you on your mother’s chest, all warm and wet and squirming. There was no one else in the world but you, and your mother, and me. I was whole. We were whole.