So Where were we?
Labor had started at 2 am Wednesday and had gone on all day and night with absolutely no cervical progress. Exhausted and frustrated, after 28 hours of labor, we made a trip to the hospital to get a small dose of painkillers, hoping they would allow my wife, Krista, to finally get some rest. The painkillers helped a bit, allowing us to rest between contractions. The little bit of rest lifted our spirits and we woke up Thursday mid-morning ready to deliver our baby.
Daytime is the Best Time
There is something comforting about the daytime to me. The sun comes up, people move about, and birds fight in the alley over a piece of old bread. This all just feels nice. The new day also brought a burst of energy to our spirits. After a refreshing breakfast of eggs on toast, we got right back to what we had learned in birthing class for progressing labor: walk the stairs; roll your hips on the yoga ball, deep knee squats.
We went outside for some fresh air. I even started counting the contractions again on the terrible app that had done nothing more than terrify me over the last 36 hours. The app wasn’t telling me to call 911 anymore and the handy chart showed me that we were well on our way to having a baby!
This went on and on and, still, nothing to report.
The hours clicked by, the afternoon turned into evening, and the evening turned into late evening. By this time, we realized that our baby wasn’t as close to arriving as we had thought and we were about to face another long, dark night of no sleep.
This is when things got intense.
Everyone told us there would be peaks and troughs during labor. After riding a peak all day Thursday, we had nowhere to go but down… depths of Mordor joke? Nah. So, unfortunately, down we went.
The mood got quite tense and it only took another couple hours of night labor before Krista was back in the bathroom. She was hunched over the counter, a familiar and unwelcome pose from the night before.
Krista was frazzled and so was I. By this time, the only help I could provide was a special water concoction.
About a week earlier, I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Chris visits the Tarahumara, a Native Mexican tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons. These people can run for hundreds of kilometers. On their runs, they take a mixture of water, chia seeds, lime and sugar. This supposedly gives them the nutrition to run forever. For whatever reason, this super drink stuck in my head.
So, as I grew worried that Krista wasn’t eating enough, the only thing that came to mind was this Tarahumara drink. Just to make sure it was the best drink possible, I also mixed in some Emergen-C. I’m not sure what I was thinking but I just kept bringing them. Krista would drink them, throw up, and I would bring another one. Come to think of it, maybe the drink was making her throw up and not the labor?
Anyway, it didn’t take long before we were calling the midwives asking them to come back, mostly to calm us down.
Midwives are Angels
By the time the midwives arrived at our house, it was around 2 am Friday morning, 48 hours into labor. I didn’t have to meet them at the door or show them where Krista was. They just appeared in our bedroom.
The first thing they did was assure us that there was no need to panic. They talked to Krista in a calm, encouraging voice, telling her this was all part of the process and that she was doing great. The comfort was meant for Krista but I drew comfort from them as well. Obviously, they are the experts, having attended hundreds of births, so their calm confidence gave me the strength to feel calm as well.
The next thing they wanted to do was check the baby and Krista’s cervix again. Did I mention that I hated these checks?
First, Nicole checked the baby. He was content, doing whatever babies do in the womb. Next, Carol checked Krista’s cervix… and… it had softened and was a half-centimeter dilated. I did a quick calculation. Given our progress thus far we would be having a baby in 960 hours!
Frankly, we had had enough so we asked the midwives what we should do next.
Business of Being Born
Here’s the thing: midwives will never tell you what you should do. Unless it is a medical emergency, which this wasn’t, they leave the decisions about your birth up to you.
That said, we knew that, if we went back to the hospital, we would be heading down the path of Ricki Lake’s “Business of Being Born”. Krista was exhausted, though, and, by this time, pleading with the midwives to take her to the hospital to receive an epidural.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this new path. Part of me bought into the hype of natural home births; the whole incense, and tribal chanting… You know, the National Geographic birth. However, I knew that I didn’t have the emotional capacity to continue with what we had been doing for another 960 hours. Ultimately, I knew that I wasn’t entitled to an opinion about this. While I had been there beside Krista the entire time, she was the one laboring, not me.
With our bags packed, we headed to the hospital, knowing we would return home with our baby.
Room with a View
We arrived at the hospital around 9 am Friday morning, 55-hours into labor. When people are laboring at home, the midwives always have a room ready at the hospital for transfers. However, we couldn’t go to the room assigned to us.
We couldn’t get into the room because, incredulously, after 55 hours, Krista wasn’t in so called “active labor” defined as 4 cm dilation. Krista was still only a ½ cm dilated. It also meant that Krista didn’t meet the hospital requirements to administer an epidural. So, at first, the admitting nurse told the midwives we should go home and come back when Krista was 4 cm dilated. That wasn’t going to happen.
We waited in triage until Carol explained to us that the only way we could stay was if we were coming to the hospital to have our labor induced. Pitocin. Ricki Lake.
We agreed to the induced labor. The room was ours. Just as Krista got up from the bed in triage, she must have spilled a water bottle she was carrying in her pocket because, suddenly, there was water everywhere! So clumsy! Just kidding. Her water had broken! Another signal that we might be able to shave a few hours off my 960-hour estimate.
The room we had was nice. It had a single bed for the mom and a small nook for a coaching partner. The room also happened to overlook the parking lot we had parked in. This reminded me that I had parked in short-term parking. Forever frugal, I ran down to move our car to somewhere more affordable.
When I arrived back to the room, things had become a lot more medical.
“I Sound Like a Man”
When I got back to the room, Krista was hooked up to all sorts of monitors, doodads and an IV. It made me feel sad to know we had now handed over the responsibility of delivering our baby to the hospital. I know that Krista is a strong and capable woman so seeing her hooked up to everything and being treated as a “patient” was hard for me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I wish we hadn’t gone to the hospital. I’m simply saying that seeing her in this state was in stark contrast to what we had envisioned for our birth and that made me sad.
The Pitocin drip had started, which made contractions longer and stronger. To more effectively endure the contractions, Krista spent time in the room’s bathtub and taking puffs of laughing gas.
I’ve never had laughing gas so I don’t know what it’s like. However, when Krista would take a puff of it, the gas making her voice sound like a man entertained her. The only problem was, she was the only person who thought her voice sounded like a man. She would go on and on, laughing and saying, “I sound like a man, I sound like a man”. We all just smiled and nodded. She did not sound like a man.
Apparently, it was a busy day for births at the hospital. This meant that it took a long time for the anesthesiologist to make it to us to administer the epidural. By the time we were told we were next on the list, 5 hours had passed since we arrived at the hospital. This put us at 60 hours of labor. Krista had made progress with the Pitocin, though. She was now 4 cm dilated and that meant active labor had begun.
It was around this time I noticed that people somehow got the news of our lengthy labor and where relentlessly texting me to ask what was going on. I appreciated their concern and support but I wasn’t in the mood to go through all the details of our journey. Those of you who have read this far, could you imagine receiving this three part blog post as a text message? No, thank you!
After writing out the same message a few times, I decided to simply copy and paste from then on to anyone who messaged. It read,
“We are at the hospital now, laboring. Krista and the baby are doing well and baby should arrive today. It’s been a long journey and I will fill you in on the details later.”
Finally, the anesthesiologist arrived and went through explaining all the red tape regarding an epidural. Sign this, do you understand that, the risks are these. It reminded me of those drug commercials on American television. Side effects may include diarrhea, paralysis, infection and death. If you’ve had a history of heart failure or death, consult your doctor before starting the epidural.
After the epidural was administered, things got pretty boring.
Krista was immediately impressed by how much better she felt. She was laughing, smiling, eating food and constantly saying, “Epidurals are amazing”. Honestly, I also found the epidural to be amazing. The emotional stress of childbirth vanished with the epidural on board.
Krista and I had a normal conversation that didn’t contain a series of grunts or scowls. We talked about how much we had been through and how grateful we were for our midwives and doula taking care of us. For us, this was the quiet period before the storm. Krista was smiling and acting like herself again. The constant baby monitoring gave me comfort because I knew our baby was doing well. It was that constant monitoring, however, that would soon bring my stress level to a new all time high.
The Final Push
About 5 pm Friday, 63-hours into labor, a third midwife, Wendy, checked Krista’s cervix once again and, holy moly, the baby’s head was coming through! A full 10 cm dilated.
It was almost time to push!
Wendy, Nicole, and Carol began coaching Krista through the process of pushing. Deep, hard pushes, timed with contractions like you are taking a huge dump… real life here, people.
The midwives quickly discounted the first couple of pushes as not good enough. Further complicating the process was Krista’s inability to feel her lower half. Oh, and that fetal monitor? That thing started really stressing me out.
Beep, Beep … Beep
I knew from birthing class and from “The Business of Being Born” that the baby’s heart rate decreases during a contraction. Ricki told me this was normal. What I didn’t know was that the medical professionals expected the heart rate to bounce back to a baseline shortly after a contraction. After awhile, this wasn’t happening for us.
With the fetal monitor loud enough to drown out an ACDC concert, I couldn’t help but hear the obvious decrease in heart rate during a contraction. But, like I said, I knew this was normal. What I didn’t think was normal was the new medical people showing up in our room. Our midwives and all these medical people gathered around the fetal monitoring chart whispering with concerned looks on their faces.
This is a stress I had never before experienced in my life. I was filled with panic and anxiety. My heart was pounding, my eyes were watering, and my fight or flight response was at level maximum. I felt helpless, lost, and uncomfortable in my own skin. I didn’t know what to do.
The midwives gathered around Krista and said, “We need to get your baby out now. You need to push with everything you have to get your baby out”.
Completely clueless as to what to do, I found myself simply repeating what the midwives were saying. If they said, “Push harder”, I said, “Push harder”.
The baby monitor was still showing that our baby wasn’t bouncing back to baseline after contractions but Krista was making progress. Our baby was far enough down that we could start to see his head but also too far down for the fetal monitor to work. It was at this time that a baby resuscitation team showed up in our room. As you can imagine, this only caused more panic and more stress.
So close, Benny’s head was right there. Nicole asked me if I would like to catch our baby, with her help. I gladly agreed. With one final push, Benny was out; alert, good color and crying.
Then, like a shadow at night, the resuscitation team and new medical people vanished along with all the panic, the anxiety and the worry we had experienced over the course of those several days, leaving us with our beautiful Benjamin, born March 4th, 2016 at 7 pm, weighing 7lbs, 15oz.
Full of gratitude for the all the concern and support we had been shown and for the beauty of having come through such a difficult process, nothing could have been more perfect as that moment when I first held Benjamin in my arms.