zhmort (zhmort) wrote,

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My Half of Our Birth Story, Part II

It's been a while. I've been hibernating. Journalbernating. Not sure why, exactly. Lots of stuff going on, and plenty to talk about. Just haven't gotten a strong enough urge to write in a public forum, I guess. I do chat daily with many of my friends over private IRC channels, so I guess that satisfies most of my need for self-expression and group communication. A journal is a different kind of forum, though, and I do think it has a different kind of value. So hopefully I won't ignore it again for this long in the future.


For the longest time, I've been meaning to finish my half of our birth story, so now I'm going to try to make some more progress on that, if not finish it altogether. I wrote a first installment way back on January 29, 2004, about two and a half months after Tommy was born. It's funny that at that time I thought I had already procrastinated so long that the memories might not be totally fresh and vivid and accurate any more. I was worried I might have waited too long. I see now that back then I didn't really understand what procrastination was... that in fact I was an overachiever demonstrating an amazing ability to get things done during the one of the most busy and exhausting times of my life. :-)

We recently passed Tommy's first birthday, (which zmary recently mentioned in her journal), so in honor of that, and with even more nostalgia than I was feeling while writing part 1...

and now, the rest of the story...

(If I had the time and energy, and if I didn't worry about things like boring my readers to death, I'd write a side-bar at this point about how interesting it is that I have several times started out to write big, long accounts of some period or experience in my life, and gotten so detailed and verbose in my descriptions of the events, that I only ended up finishing writing about the first 1/3 of the events, never coming back to it and finishing. But that kind of self-examination would probably be excruciatingly dull to read about, so I won't go into it. Instead, I'll just waste this paragraph mentioning it in passing, and no more. Oh, and I'll also cheer and laud myself for actually getting back to trying to finish this one particular story. (Yay, me! Go, me! You're on fire, me! You can't stop you, you can only hope to contain you!))

So when we left our hero, she was being transferred to the hospital by me and our crew. "Our crew" consisted of Mary, me, Mary's mother Barbara, Mary's friend Deb, Rosanna the doula-and-midwife-in-training, Faith the mentor-midwife, and my mom (BJ), who had arrived at 9PM just in time for said transfer after driving all the way from Arizona. The getting ready was kind of funny (mostly to me, and mostly only in retrospect), and in Part 1 I described some of my state of mind during that frantic few minutes. I had to pack my bag in a hurry, and then make sure we brought anything else we might need. All my focus had been on making sure the home birth went well, with very little real thought about exactly which things we'd really need at the hospital. There'd been plenty of talk about what you need in both situations in our birth classes, and in the books we'd read, and it wasn't like I was starting from scratch. But I was definitely trying to make last minute decisions about which of the many options we'd actually need to have.

I can't remember if I decided to take the CD player and some CDs. I think I did, but they didn't make it into the hospital. I know I did take the big red birth ball, even though I wasn't sure that would be used at all (it wasn't). I took my three big pillows that I use to sleep, so I'd be comfortable riding shotgun in the hospital rooms (and I used the hell out of them for the next 3 days). I also threw some extra chux pads in the truck (including one for Mary to sit on to keep the nice leather Yukon seats... umm... un-baptized...), which I remember for certain because the extras rode around in the back of the vehicle for the next couple of months. :-) And unless I'm imagining things, I think I also took the Teddy Bear my friend T had given me several years earlier, as an accompanying friend in case Teddy Bear hugs might be needed. (Don't think he got out of the truck due to the way later disembarkment worked out, but it was nice to know he was along for hugs and reassurance just in case.)

The ride to the hospital, about 12 minutes or so on clear roads a little after 9:00 PM, really was uneventful. The route was pretty cool, actually... almost entirely right turns with the major portion on a freeway and a parkway... something I'd noticed and felt glad about several times previously during our orientation and OB/GYN visits. I remember trying my best to satisfy the contradictory goals of achieving maximum safe speed while providing smoothest possible starting/stopping, and doing a fairly good job of it, all except for a couple stops and turns. I also remember being glad I was driving. I'm not a perfect driver, but I'm confident, and I trust myself to pilot the vehicle safely to its destination even under the worst of circumstances. I also remember feeling gladder than ever in my choice of vehicle, basically a luxury limo bus... easy to get in and out of, comfortable, wide, and smooth. Perfect for transporting laboring wives!

Mary did have contractions on the way, but they were somehow, mercifully, reduced in apparent magnitude (something she later attributed to the feeling of progress towards medical attention and pain relief, the sense that she was almost there and just needed to hang in there a little longer now). The moms were sitting in the second row (Faith, Rosanna and Deb were in separate cars), trying to hold and rub mary's shoulder over the top of the seat, but basically just offering moral support and words of encouragement from the back seat. This must have been a really weird time for my mom, who had just arrived moments before being whisked out the door, and hadn't yet had time to adjust to everyone and everything that was happening. She's a naturally shy person who hates to impose on people, and so I know her mind must have been a real whirlwind at this moment. She'd had such a rough time trying to get to us and getting lost during the last little bit of her journey to our house, and switching from that to full-bore birthing support activities must have been a mind-bending switch. In any case, she was with us now, and I was very glad of that, feeling much more personally supported. (Deb and Barbara and Rosanna were all wonderful to me, but this was my Mommy.)

When we got there, I pulled into the emergency entrance, and left the moms with the mom-to-be while I jogged in to find out the deal. They told me I was in the right place, and gave me a wheelchair to go cart her in. I returned with the wheelchair, and gave the truck keys to my mom and asked her to park it and bring stuff in for us later. (It was another one of those moments in my life when I was glad to be related to a woman who has no problem driving a big truck. "Here, YOU PARK IT! I need to go frantically have a baby, or something! Can't be having to do all kinds of truck parking and stuff!") I guess thanks to Rosanna we skipped the emergency room and headed up to floor 2 (Labor and Delivery) so we wouldn't have to check in twice.

(At this point in the re-telling, I should mention that I'm not just writing all of this from memory. I'm reading Mary's account to jog my memory somewhat. Hopefully I'll remember a few more of my own interesting details and not just recite what she wrote!)

Our timing was really good. One of our concerns had been that Kaiser Labor and Delivery has an irregular patient population with peaks and valleys, and we might get unlucky and arrive at a time when they were at or above capacity (or in the worst case, be diverted to another hospital). Instead, it was the complete opposite. There was no one there! After talking to the first nurse at the door, we were ushered into the very first room on the left. It was big and nice and hospital-ish. :-) We were so happy to be there, and to have the staff's undivided attention.

The location meant that the waiting room was literally a few feet away, which was cool, because it meant all of our support was nearby even when not in the room. We'd been told that there would be a limit on the number of people who could be in the room at a time, so that was something of a concern with our 5-person birth crew (not counting me or Mary). We wanted them all to be able to be in the room whenever they wanted. It didn't turn out to be too much of a problem, but they did usually take turns waiting outside vs. hanging out in the room with us. I noticed right away that my mom was doing her shy thing and hanging back outside. After the rapid-fire progression from check-in to in-bed, to tubed-and-monitored-and-drugged, we eventually hit a lull for the first time, and at that point I thought it was a good time for me to take a minute and go sit in the waiting room to talk to the beloved women for a moment. I took the time at that point to let my mom know again that she was welcome in the room, and that in fact it would bother me if she didn't go in sometimes. She was resistant, of course, as is her way, but we only barely got to talking about that and about how exhausted I was before I got called back into the room.

I don't remember what that was about. Some decision needed to be made or something. Interestingly, I later found out that during the brief time that I was out of the room, they had interviewed Mary quickly to make sure she wasn't being abused (by me). I thought that was interesting, and tried not to be retroactively offended about it, and instead look at it as a combination of funny (Mary is so not abused :-), and sad (some wives are, and there are probably good reasons that doctors/nurses are required to ask such questions upon taking a new patient in for care). But the truth is that I was just a little bit offended by it. This is no one's fault, but it's an interesting reaction. (How dare someone question my love and support for my wife! Interlopers! See... I'm kind of a strange mix of macho and sensitive. I love my wife. Cherish her. And if you don't believe me, I'll kick your ass.)

A little after we were settled in and things were happening, Faith-the-midwife came in to tell us she thought things were under control now, and that she felt her role was completed. (Midwives are for home or hospice births, to do the delivery. Doulas are to help with either home or hospital births.) We all thanked her and hugged her and told her we'd be in touch. It was so great to have Faith there while she was there! She was a real pro.

Of course, we were thrilled that Rosanna was staying with us, too. We didn't want to lose all of our professional advocacy, even though things seemed to be going swimmingly with the hospital staff. Later, we would be really glad of this.

I guess that a little after midnight, phase 1 of the hospital show was over, and we were in wait-and-see mode. There was no indication anything major was going to change in the next few hours, so we sent the moms and Deb home to get a little bit of sleep, and Rosanna went down to her truck to camp out. (She does this for a living, so her truck is totally outfitted for it. I love that.) Before they left I got my mom to retrieve my pillows and bag from the truck, and I took just a few video shots and pictures. They turned off the main lights, so I used the new video camera's Night Shot mode to take some spooky shots of the monitoring equipment, and of Mary, who was high as a kite, and more beautiful to my eyes than ever before. Then I set up my pillows and and stretchy blue blanket (another item from home) and got comfy in the fold-out chair-bed that they have in all the L & D (and recovery) rooms.

I remember lying there taking an inventory of everything, trying to reassure myself that all was accounted for and that I didn't need to be doing anything right then. I thought about silly things like whether my cameras in my bag underneath the chair were all safely tucked away, and didn't need to be adjusted or reorganized. I was so tired at this point, and eventually I did nod off for just a little bit. The semi-darkness was nice on my eyes. And the various low-level noises of the hospital equipment (and minor activity happening out in the hallway and other rooms) was largely reassuring. I remember this as one of the nicest moments of the pre-birth experience. Mary's pain was taken care of, I was apparently going to get to nap for a minute, I was horizontal, I had my three pillows and stretchy soft blanket, and pretty soon we were going to have a new baby boy. It was just a minor matter of a wake-up and a pushing-the-baby-out! (Hehe.)

I think I woke up once when a nurse came in to do some checking and/or adjustments, then nodded back off for a few minutes. And I rolled my whole body from one side to the other at least once or twice. (I only sleep in the fetal position on my side with a pillow between my arms and my legs even on a normal bed, so on a less soft bed it's even more one-side-then-the-other-side in nature, with no incremental positions in between.) But the most interesting event was definitely when the young female resident came in to check on Mary's progress, and almost immediately began discussing the possible need for C-Section.

I totally woke up when this discussion started. I guess for Mary this came as a sudden, shocking thing. For me, it was no surprise at all. Just based on the most recent happenings, it seemed like that's where we were headed. The course of the labor was progression to a point, then stalling, with contractions becoming harder and more frequent without real "progress" (which would be marked by the baby dropping lower in the birth canal and the cervix dilating more). We knew from classes and reading that epidurals often slowed this kind of progress, even when pitocin is used to increase contraction intensity. From the outside, to me, it just looked like getting the drugs had basically put off any real shot at making any more "natural" progress towards pushing the baby out.

Eventually there was good conversation about everything, though, especially with the nurse's help in the secondary conversation after the doctor left briefly. All agreed that increasing pitocin was a good idea, and giving a little more time to see if more progress could happen that way made sense as long as the baby and mother weren't in distress. ("All" in this case included Rosanna, whom we had called and asked to come up for consultation as soon as the words "C-Section" were uttered.) I wasn't expecting anything to change. I guess Mary was still hoping a natural delivery could happen, while at the same time 1) dreading the possibility of actually having to walk the final mile and push the baby out, and 2) beginning to resign herself to the prospect of the medical/surgical delivery.

The funny thing is, I had resigned myself to the possibility of medical delivery long before Mary and I even got her pregnant. I mentioned it to her once or twice in passing, though I guess she probably thought I was just being fascetious. I just couldn't imagine how a baby of mine could be passed through a birth canal. :-) I knew that both my brother and I were large babies (9+ pounds), and I just didn't think my baby would be any different. I knew, rationally, there isn't necessarily a direct correlation, and that small women have large babies naturally all the time, and that there was just no telling what would happen in advance.

But if you had asked me to 'fess up and put my betting money on "natural" or "C-Section" for delivery of my baby, from the moment we began contemplating childbirth through the moment it actually happened, I would always have bet on "C-Section".

Of course, I rarely said anything like this to Mary, and did my best to not try to torpedo her wishes for natural home birth through negativity. If I were a spiritual person, I'd probably suggest that my attitude about it was the very reason it happened that way! But I'm not. :-) I know that I was quite willing and supportive of whatever Mary wanted, and fully prepared to go the whole way natural if it worked out that way, and did my best as a support person at every stage to help make that happen. In the end, though, Tommy was Tommy. He was almost two weeks late. He was a tall baby. And he was in there kinda sideways. I don't see how my attitude could have influenced any of that, so I feel I'm off the hook as far blame goes, even in the strictly karmic sense. :-)

A little while later I called the moms and Deb and asked them to come back to the hospital. Deb answered, and she was clearly exhausted, but said they'd be there as soon as possible. Poor Barbara was sick with a cold, and hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, so when she got back she was definitely looking the most tired and runover-by-a-truck of all of us (not that any of the rest of us was exactly chipper at this point, except for the sweet, peppy resident Dr. :-). I felt so sorry for Barbara for having to endure such an exhausting thing while sick, and all the more grateful that she was toughing it out in order to support us and be part of her grandson's birth.

After they got there, things went fast. We came to a group decision that C-Section made the most sense. It was especially reassuring that Rosanna was onboard with this plan. She was a natural childbirth advocate (home birth, actually) by profession and training, but to her credit, even more than that, she was an advocate of doing the best thing for mother and baby, whatever that might turn out to be. She was as concerned as the hospital staff about the amount of time that Mary had been in labor, and she saw the writing on the wall as much as everyone else. Having her agree it was the right thing to do, along with the moms, Deb, me, and the hospital staff, took a lot of the pressure off of the decision. If Tommy was going to come out of the birth all hopped up on drugs, it wasn't our fault! It was the only way! :-)

Of course, relief from the pressure of the decision itself meant an increase in anxiety for Mary in another way. Uncertainty about the path to the destination was replaced by certainty about having to undergo major surgery at the most vulnerable moment of her life. I knew this was a hard moment for her, filled with anxiety, and wished badly that there was something I could do to take all of the load off of her. I did the best I could with words of encouragement, a soft, loving tone of voice, and projection of my feeling of confidence that all was going to go well. But inside, I began to a feel a kind of helplessness and impotence that I hadn't really experienced up to that point.

During the labor, though Mary was in great distress, I never felt worried. Rosanna was there to coach and monitor and reassure, and I had a job (many jobs) to do that was/were clearcut and obvious and helpful. Constant activity. Rub, touch, hold, support, love, fetch, up, down, up, down, repeat, repeat again. Once we transitioned to the prep for C-Section, though, the things I could to help were reduced to nothing but loving, hand-patting, and soothing words. There was nothing really for me to do except be there. In a way, this was a time when Mary was most on her own with her own fears and anxiety, even though I was right by her side. There has never been a time before or since that I felt simultaneously so close and yet so far from her and what she was experiencing, and this feeling lasted right up until the actual birth.

I guess we gathered a couple of things and put them on the bed with Mary (don't remember what, exactly, only that some stuff was laid on her lap, to be brought in with her and back when we returned later). The bed was disconnected from all of the attachments and somehow made into a completely mobile unit. I was dressed up in scrubs, complete with a gown, booties, nifty hair net, and a mask to put over my face later. An orderly or nurse was sent to fetch us, and off we went. There were some last well-wishes and love from the support team as we left the room and passed the waiting room, and then we were on the way to an elevator, and up into the delivery room.

The delivery room was an intense experience. I'd been in O.R.'s before for various reasons, mostly to observe, so there was some familiarity there for me. The hospital crew was just wonderful, we could tell that right away. The bubbly lady resident magically transformed from our adversary ("You must have C-Section!") to our most trusted servant ("And it will be done safely and professionally!"). The anesthesiologist took on his role of closest ally... narrating the happenings for us, telling us what to expect, giving us a sense of the passage of time and progress, soothing us with his voice and mild jokes.

Mary was shaking. That killed me. I could only hold her shoulder and upper arm and sometimes touch her forehead a little bit. So little of her to touch! The husband and wife relationship is a cool thing. We give ourselves to each other, and bestow to one another a complete sense of ownership. It pleases me to hold Mary's body, any part of it, all of it, and say, "This is mine! I own it!", and she finds the same intimate pleasure herself in touching, holding, and owning my body. But during this time of surgical prep, I was clearly not the owner. I was but a spectator, a former owner who had to give up ownership for a time. A spectator allowed to stand achingly close, while nevertheless having to live with a feeling of near total removal and distance.

So I did the best I could with that little stretch of shoulder, arm, and forehead... and also with my voice. I told her she was doing great, that I was so proud of her, that I loved her, that we would soon be meeting our healthy baby boy in person for the first time. I tried to channel all of my love and warmth through my hands, through her skin, and directly to her very core. I tried to let her know that she was not alone. That I was right here. That this amazing crew of medical specialists was here to kick ass and take names, to do things right, to handle this situation rapidly, efficiently, without pain, and with assured health for all involved.

I didn't know if any of this was getting through. She just kept shaking. But the doctor said that was the drugs as much as anything. I'm sure it was both that and the fear and coldness. All of it at once. I just knew that I had never felt so powerless to influence the destiny of someone I loved. It was a complete moment of letting go and just waiting to see how it would all turn out. I didn't say this. I said, "I love you and we're almost there." But what I felt was that which a twig feels while floating on the river towards the Niagra Falls. We're on our way to over there, and nothing can stop us now, and I sure hope it all turns out okay.

I didn't watch the surgery. I watched Mary and the anesthesiologist and the others walking around the room in support roles. It was my option. I have no fear or queasiness about surgery and the strangeness of insides being exposed to the outside. I've seen it in several different situations, and I'm able to go into a different kind of brain state at those times to remove the emotion and fear, and adopt a more curious observer frame of mind. Mary's C-Section surgery was interesting to me in this sense. But for some reason I decided the best / most right thing for me to do was to ignore all that in this situation, and to stay with Mary. I wanted to know only what she knew, to hear what she was hearing, and to meet the baby when she met the baby.

The Anesthesiologist really was our rock during this time. He told us what was happening, including right up to and during the delivery. He told us in advance that the final delivery would include a feeling of pressure for Mary around her abdomen, like someone was sitting on her stomach. And he let us know right when that was happening. He told us we'd be hearing the baby soon and meeting him.

And then we heard him cry.

And then Mary and I both burst into tears ourselves. "Our baby. That's our baby. Oh my god... we have a baby boy." It's making me cry now just remembering it. Such a beautiful, cathartic, overwhelming moment, hearing our boy cry for the first time, knowing what it meant... that he was healthy, that he was alive, that he would fight through this experience and live and grow and become, as he was destined to.

I can barely remember that they had me cut the cord. I guess they held him up above mom, cord neatly exposed with clamps on both sides, scissors already in place, telling me it was tough, and that I'd need to cut firmly. This is a big deal to some fathers, I guess. To me it was just the thing you do, ceremonially, because that's what you do.

Moments later they had him over on the table and were beginning to clean him off and take care of some initial stuff. At this point I'm still holding Mary's shoulder, and looking over at Tommy. I had my camera in my hand, and snapped a photo or two from this position. (I'd taken just a few more earlier in the surgery, pre-birth, but mostly kept it in my pocket, focusing on Mary.) Then Mary told me to go to him. I look deeply into her watery eyes, and she reassures me she's okay and tells me Tommy needs me more than she does. So I walk over to him to get a closer look.

He recognizes my voice.

Oh, what rapturous joy. He recognizes my voice. My first close-up words to him are, "Hey, buddy... how's it going." He was crying at that point, but he immediately stopped when he heard my voice close up, and turned a little bit in my direction. ("Hey, I know that guy!", I imagining him thinking...)

Everyone in the room says, "Oh... he knows dad!"

I take a few close-up pics, they finish cleaning him a little bit more, and wrap him up in a blanket, and then they hand him to me to hold.

So tiny! And yet so warm and firm and substantial. So many contradictory sensations, feeling the weight of my son for the first time. Of course, he's not pausing from his crying any more just because I speak to him. No. He's got a direct link to the person most likely to help him out of this whole misunderstanding about having to leave the womb, and he's going to complain directly!

I give him gack to the nurses, there is some negotiation about what will be done now and what will wait till later. I don't remember the details. Eventually Mary is closed up, transferred back into a rolling bed, and ready for departure. She gets to hold Tommy for the first time, all the way back to the original L&D room. On our way past the waiting room, I see the moms, and I cry for the second time. I hug my mom like I've never hugged her before, and I sob, and I say, "He's just... soo... beautiful...", and I know that it's both true that this is wonderful, and that I am an exhausted, strung out, tired guy. But I don't care, the catharsis is just so wonderful.

Also, I love my mommy. :-) I have never felt more connected to her than during that hug after Tommy was born. I couldn't say it in words right then, or even now, really. But I just knew that we had a shared experience now that transcended words. I was her child, and now I had a child, and children are the most wonderful thing in life, beautiful beyond description. She was able to understand what I was feeling in that moment about Tommy, because she had felt the same thing about me 35 years before.

Somewhere in there, I hug Deb and Barbara and Rosanna and kiss Mary and hold Tommy some more. They are the most beautiful hugs and kisses I've ever given or gotten.

Am I gushing? That's about right, then. That's what was happening. Years of pent up emotion, pouring out.

Everything that happened after this was a whirlwind. If I hadn't taken some videos and pics, I might barely remember any of it, thanks to the sleep deprivation that was to continue for the next 3 days 3 weeks 3 months year.

But I've definitely written enough for this installment. Maybe some day I'll get back to the talking about the days and weeks that followed, which were certainly among the most interesting and wonderful in my life. For now, though, these words about those few hours are good enough.

I love you, Tommy and Mary! You're the best things that have ever happened to me!

And I love you, family and friends! Thanks for reading these words, and for sharing in my joy, and for loving me.


NOTE: This entry was originally posted to my zderek journal.


Original Comments:

2004-11-26 08:33 am

what a lovely narrative. you all are a lucky family! mary and tommy and daddy!
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