Here’s the story of the birth of my son – my first birth!
I wish I had written this when I was supposed to, which is right after the birth when everything is fresh in memory. It didn’t happen – that first month of fatherhood was a shock to my system and I forgot about writing it all down. At the time I had no clue that birth would have such an impact on my life (nor did I know what kind of a father I would become). I do, however, know what kind of a birth partner I was – the birth equivalent of the back-up quarterback. The guy who had promise but isn’t quite ready for the game. (keep reading – you’ll see what I mean)
The pregnancy came after one and a half years of trying to conceive. I don’t really know why it took so long, but it became really stressful after a while. Sometimes my heart still speeds up a bit when I think of the number of times I was woken up at 5am by Trish telling me We Need to have sex Right NOW!!! Groggy, 5am heart-attack sex is not my cup of tea, but it eventually got the job done as the last time I was woken up that early she was showing me a positive result on a pregnancy test 🙂
We had planned on using an independent birthing center as a comfortable compromise between a regular hospital birth and homebirth. We didn’t want the impersonal, medical environment of a hospital but we weren’t comfortable with a homebirth either. My experiences & ideas of birth were limited to 1) my mom talking about her 40 hour labor and the epidural wearing off before I was born and 2) the popular media images of birth as a screaming, wailing crisis. That’s it.
The independent birthing center booted us at 32 weeks due to the advice of their backup doctors, which was insanely stressful. It was symptomatic of a number of problems they had as the center shut down the next year citing insurance costs. We decided to birth in a hospital birthing center instead and looked for an OB who was covered by our insurance.
We scrambled and found an OB supportive of natural birth (his mother was a midwife) who worked with the birthing center at St Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. That’s where our son was born in 2002. Unfortunately for us, the OB was away at a conference when we gave birth. We liked him as he was very kind & supportive – it would have been great to have him at the birth. His backup was a midwife we met for the first time during labor.
The day labor really began (after a couple of days of Braxton-Hicks) was the day before the due date. We had decided to do a little mallratting to keep our minds off. The contractions began before we left for the mall and continued while we were there. We didn’t talk about it or draw attention to it – Trish mentioned Here’s another one every so often or she quietly paused and held her belly.
I was quietly excited inside – nervous but excited. I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to jinx it and have it turn out to be more Braxton-Hicks. I kept in mind that we were out to keep our minds from focussing on the obvious, which was We want to see our little boy now! I don’t remember if we bought anything – we may have just had lunch & headed back home.
Back home, in the 5th floor walk-up apartment we lived in at the time, the contractions continued. Trish sent me out to the supermarket to buy some nutritious snacks while she timed contractions. I returned and the contractions got harder. Later that evening, we called the midwife, who suggested laboring in the bathtub. Trish remembers that we had one of the occasional bouts of cloudy brown water coming from the pipes, but it hurt enough that she didn’t care and got in the tub anyway. While she was in the tub I … said I was really tired and went to sleep. (that single nap demotes me from back-up to third-string quarterback).
Trish woke me up a couple of hours later after she had been in the tub laboring by herself. We called the midwife again and luckily, she lived in our neighborhood and dropped by (I’m guessing around 1am). That’s when we met her for the first time. She checked to see how Trish was doing. I felt excited but nervous and just wanted to get to the hospital birthing center. Instinctively, I think I wanted to be someplace where we could settle in and labor – I didn’t like knowing that we had to leave at some point. But we weren’t that far along – she said she’d come over around 7am to check again.
At 7am, she came over, checked Trish and said Let’s plan to go to the hospital at 10. We got our stuff together – our clothes, our son’s clothes & blankets, cloth diapers, boombox (with batteries – the hospital would not allow anything to be plugged in), music and healthy snacks. At 10am we walked down the 5 flights, met the midwife outside our building and got into the car for a drive in …. rush hour.
It was a cool, sunny fall day – which would have been perfect if we weren’t stuck in traffic. The midwife had suggested 10am assuming that rush hour would be over but we weren’t so lucky. At least it was moving, but a drive that should have taken 10 minutes took almost 30 and it was an uncomfortable ride for Trish. Every time there was a contraction she’d be reaching out and grabbing stuff – the dashboard, a headrest, my arm, my leg – basically anything she could reach. It was kind of funny – I wonder if any of the other commuters noticed and what they were thinking.
We finally arrived at the hospital, checked in and went to their birthing center. We had hired a birth doula (a non-medical birth supporter) who met us there. She was a rookie, but we wanted a doula as we didn’t really know how much support I could give with no experience. We wish we had been able to hire an experienced doula but we could not afford it.
One big reason we liked the birthing center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt was the jacuzzi tub – Trish wanted to labor in water. We put on some soothing music and got in the tub and stayed there awhile. Our doula was with us, outside the tub next to Trish. I held Trish’s hand, we huddled at times and I gave her reassurances. She spent most of her time in one position, trying to spread out a bit in the tub. It wasn’t that large and it was hard finding a position where she could submerge most of her belly. We moaned & vocalized through a lot of the later contractions and I felt self-conscious about doing it.
[An aside: I’m feeling a lot of stress as we switch to transition & pushing.]
We were in the tub for quite some time, with her mostly in the position you can see in the picture of us in the tub. The contractions were becoming harder and harder. This is when I started to get nervous. It was hard for her and the pain was increasing. She was tired and hadn’t slept much and wasn’t sure what she could deal with. I honestly was not being that much help to her beyond being there, and she asked me if I thought she should consider a [painkiller].
[This is the part that makes me want to break stuff today. This is when I needed to look her in the eye and tell her You can do it and I didn’t. I can’t blame our doula, who had hardly any experience. I can’t blame a midwife we didn’t even know and was as helpful as she could be. I can and do blame myself, even though I know that I did the best I could at the time. Did I really do everything I could to be prepared? I can’t pat myself on the back for that.]
I don’t remember what I said, but it certainly wasn’t You can do it or I believe in you or Let’s take it one contraction at a time. No suggestion to try another position. I’m thinking I hope she can do it instead of I know she can do it. I probably replied something like It’s ok. Were likely heading towards transition and it was hard, for her and for me to watch.
We talked to the midwife about it and she offered us Stadol. She said that she could give a half dose, which was really more like a quarter dose since her dose was half of what most doctors give. She assured us that it would not affect our baby at all. (This is NOT true: women are told not to drink alcohol during birth but an opiate is OK? Opiates cross the placenta during labor within an hour of use.)
We then left the tub and got in bed so Trish could be injected with Stadol. The picture of us laboring in bed is part of an hour or so where Trish wafted in and out of consciousness. Eventually she returned to general consciousness but the continuing effect of the drug was a loss of feeling – unlike our next two births she wasn’t sure when to start pushing. The midwife let Trish know that is was time to start pushing. They brought out a foam triangle to lean back against and she started pushing. And I know I told her that she could do it but I was concerned more than confident.
The pushing was hard but we stayed in that one position. It was hard work and seemed to take much longer in retrospect than our next two births. The loss of sensation from the drug really made things harder rather than easier.
After what seemed like a long time our son’s head peaked out. He had dark hair like me and I was excited! I thought we were close to being done but … not quite. It took more hard pushing (still in the same position) until his head came out – with a hand along side of it (aka compound presentation – more than 1 part of the baby at a time). She continued and pushed him out and finally he came out after much longer than a couple of minutes. Trish reached down and helped to pull the baby out, onto her belly, slimy, quiet but all ours. I still get teary thinking about him finally being with us.
I cut the cord after it stopped pulsing (I don’t actually remember doing it O.o). They wiped him down and after a few minutes took him because he was having ‘trouble breathing’ – they wanted to do some deep suctioning. Trish had to tell me to go be with him and I talked to him and touched him until they were done. We believe now that deep suctioning wasn’t needed and this was a side-effect of him being affected by the drug. (See link above for more details.)
Then he was back with us and we lay down on the bed together. Trish tried nursing him and we marveled at this amazing little boy that was finally with us. We went home the next day after getting checked by the pediatrician.
Follow-up: What I learned from this birth