Thursday, January 19th, 2012, continued
The last dose of the medicine had worn off by about 7am.
At first, this morning was a little better. We had passed the actual hour of losing E (around 1am). Light was coming in through the window of our room. C had comforted and reassured me each time I woke up, and J was in a much better place. She had made a list of priorities in the night. Oh, my wife. She passed that list around, and we all got on board. No more checks until mandatory. No assumptions about progress. Just in.the.moment laboring.
By midmorning, our dear friend and massage therapist, Alexis, came in to do massage and acupressure.
While J was working with Alexis, I went downstairs to be with our birth team. Our doula had realized that J worked better with only one or two people, so we decided to give J and Alexis some time alone. I stood in the waiting room, half expecting the woman to still be there. I wondered about her, and my heart ached. This is when I had my biggest external breakdown. I knew we were looking at a c-section if things didn’t progress pretty soon. I was terrified about J undergoing surgery when she was already so exhausted. I couldn’t imagine a way out of this with a healthy baby and a healthy mom. I thought that, in my desire to have children, I had caused all of this. I thought this was all a sign, this happening one year after Emmett. I thought I wasn’t supposed to parent, and the universe wanted me to know that, and it was going to keep taking my family from me until I stopped trying. I wished the pregnancy away. I just wanted my wife back. I think if I’d been given the choice, I might have undone all of it, delivered J and I safely home and given up the chance to have children forever. I thought: “maybe we [gay people] are not supposed to have kids. Maybe they’re right.” I thought, “this could cost me the most important person in my world. This could take her from me.” I didn’t think about Bram. I didn’t want him. Not then. I just wanted my beloved wife back. I wanted us both to be whole again. I think I said all of this at a table in the waiting room. Jessica, Christine, and Adrienne all reassured me that none of this was true. I didn’t believe them, but I stopped saying it out loud. I ate some yogurt. It was nearly impossible to eat that day.
At noon, our doula again raised the possibility of keeping me in a pose called knee-chest for several contractions in order to try and turn the baby. I finally consented, though I was afraid of the pain of holding this pose. The deal was that I needed to stay in the pose for four contractions (including the time between contractions). This was unbearably painful, far worse than pushing I would say. At one point during this sequence, our beloved midwife, Christina, came in to check on us on her lunch break. When she arrived, I remember telling her that she was “my only friend.” Pain be damned, the pose worked like a charm. On the fifth contraction, I felt a weight like a bowling ball turning inside of me. From the time I felt that shift, it was only nine hours before the baby was born.
Once the baby turned, I really felt like I was making progress, but I was so tired that I could barely stand during contractions. I could tell that everyone in the room was getting worried. No-one said it aloud, but I could sense a looming c-section if things didn’t move fast.
People were saying “c-section,” just not in front of J.
At 2pm, Christina (who had been following our progress throughout the labor via the networked monitors at their main office) came back over to our room. I got the impression that she, our doula, and the on-call midwife had had a pow-wow. This is the first time that anyone had suggested intervention (remember, I asked to be given options regarding the nubain). Our midwife explained that if this were a home birth, this would be the point at which she would have the laboring woman transferred to the hospital for an epidural. Our doula echoed her sentiments by gently explaining that this is the type of labor situation that epidurals were made for. I explained that it’s not the pain that was upsetting me, but the sleeplessness. I asked if I would be able to sleep with the epidural. When they answered with an emphatic “yes,” R and I both burst into tears. That seemed to decide it: I was going to get the epidural, we’ll do another vaginal check to see where I was at, and then we’ll have a conversation about pitocin if needed.
I had to receive a certain amount of IV fluids before the anaesthesiologist would see me. So they hooked me up to an IV pole and put me back in the tub to labor down while I absorbed the IV.
J seemed so small during this last time in the tub. She seemed broken. Scared. Relieved, but not in an empowered way. I kept stroking her back, her hair, her face. I was so proud of her. I loved her more than I thought it was possible to love.
About half an hour later, the most personable anasthesiologist I’ve ever met came to hook up the epidural. I was very afraid of getting the spinal catheter (I had visions of dying instantly – a little dramatic, I know). Honestly, though, it wasn’t a particularly uncomfortable procedure, and the relief came quickly. Within a few contractions, I was feeling considerably less pain and a warm, heaviness throughout my lower torso.
Oh, the relief of this moment. The muscles in J’s face beginning to relax. Her moans subsiding for the first time in days. My heart felt a thousand times lighter. Things felt possible again. Life. Birth. Motherhood.
The on-call midwife returned to do the next vaginal check. I was then 5cm, the baby had turned, and my cervix had dropped. It was about 2:30pm. At this point, it was recommended that I try what they called “a whiff of pitocin.” I was hesitant, but agreed. They hooked me up to a 2 on the pitocin drip (the lowest setting). Fortunately, it worked so well that it was never turned up for the remainder of the labor. A fact I’m very grateful for. Within four hours I progressed from 5cm to fully dilated and ready to push. Somewhere in there my water broke on its own.
I wasn’t in the room when her water broke. When I came back in, I was crushed to have missed it. J was alone with Jessica when it happened, though, and I think it was a meaningful moment. Jessica, who had quietly guided us there. Who had waited with us. Whose contract stipulated that she could bring in a back-up doula at the twenty-four hour mark. Who stayed with us throughout. Who slept for a few hours here and there in the midwife call-room. Who was a beacon of peace, and faith, and comfort. A few days after the labor, when we were writing out a check for Jessica, J said in earnest, “can we just give Jessica all of our money?” I think if I were rich, I would fund doulas full-time so they could help families who can’t afford their services. I can no longer imagine having a baby without a doula. I hate that anyone has to.
Through the first three hours of the epidural, I was able to get some much-needed rest (though I don’t recall ever actually sleeping). At about hour three, the epidural began to wear off and the sensation returned to my contractions, my left leg, and my vaginal area. I was pretty grateful for this breakdown in the effects of the epidural, as I really wanted to be able to feel as much of (and be as active in) the pushing stage as possible. By the time it came to pushing, I could feel everything except my right leg, which my lovely friend Ad held steady for me. I was able to try hands and knees and the pushing bar, but ultimately semi-sitting/reclining was what felt most natural to me.
As pushing began, a small unruptured part of the amniotic sac was the first thing to present. Apparently, this is fairly uncommon, so several of the nurses and midwives took a look at it and our doula took some photos. I think that I said something to the effect of “it looks like I’m birthing a snail.” So Bram was born partially, “in the cull” which is supposed to be lucky. During the pushing phase, everyone seemed impressed with the fact that I was breathing the baby down instead of actively pushing the baby out. For me, though, it just felt like the only option. Hard bearing-down type pushing just seemed exhausting and unnecessarily painful. So it took a little longer for him to come out maybe, but I was reasonably calm and relaxed throughout. I remember having lots of strange thoughts and quips (asking for potato salad between contractions; complaining about a particular natural childbirth video we had watched; cracking jokes).
After all that we’d gone through, I still can’t believe pushing went the way it did. My incredible wife seemed to find strength in the earth, seemed to tap into something great and unfathomable. I swear she could have pushed him out alone, silently, in a field somewhere. Part of this was hurtful to me: she didn’t need me in the end. But she owned this experience, and I’ve never been more in awe. She was dancing with our boy, and we (the rest of us) were just spectators, lucky enough to see this magic happen. And our midwife, Christina, came in for the delivery itself. After coming after work and on her lunch break for days, Christina left her daughter and her partner at home and sped back in to catch our son. I remember the flood of gratitude that hit me when I heard her voice at the door. I remember proudly showing her the part of his sac that came before him. I remember watching her face as she watched J. I remember loving her so much for being there.
I kept repeating to myself to “relax the butt” during contractions, so that he could come down further. I joked that we should make it into a bumper sticker, R seemed displeased with this idea ;-) For the humor I’m reliving on here, though, it really was a very magically charged atmosphere. In the room with me was R, our friends C and A, two midwives (our midwife “specialed” us and came in for the delivery on her night off – very special indeed), and two L&D nurses (one for me and one for the baby). It was an incredible honor to be among all of these strong women helping me to birth our son.
The many midwives and labor & delivery nurses we worked with left me in awe. Those were some loving souls. My gratitude for their presence in the world (not just with us, but with laboring women and families everywhere) runs deep.
I know that R said she was mostly in shock during delivery, that it was too much to take in at once and that she felt like I went to a place inside where I didn’t need anyone’s help. Her presence, though, was integral to me finding that place of inner reserve and feeling safe there. I didn’t need to worry about whether I was safe or the baby was safe. I didn’t have to worry about what came next; I knew that I was going to be upheld consummately, so I was able to just stay in the moment. I had a few moments of anxiety once he was actively crowning. I found myself very fixated on what kind of progress we were making. At one point, I felt like surely he must be halfway out given the intense pain I was feeling, so I touched his head during a contraction and was disappointed to find that only the top of his skull was peeking out. I kept my hands to myself after that. After two hours of pushing, he made his appearance with a flourish as he did a 180-degree turn as he left (with a fist presenting with his head). I had a second-degree tear. Our midwife said that it was “creative, but not severe.” R caught him with our midwives guidance and held him while his cord pulsed. She then brought him to my chest and cut his cord. He was born at 9:00pm on January 19th, 2012 (on the one-year anniversary of the day we lost his sister). He weighed 7lbs. 13oz. and was 20.75 inches long.
I was so scared to catch him, but Christina’s hands stayed right with us until I knew we were safe. I can’t describe this moment. It was other-worldly. It was pure, sweet joy. I felt like I’d turned into nothing but love.
Those immediate afterbirth moments were completely overwhelming. I felt flooded with relief and joy. R and Bram and I were in a little bubble built for three. As grateful as I was for the presence of everyone on our birth team, those first hours were just for our new family. He was perfect in every way and I think that we were in disbelief at the sight of him in our arms. We spent about two hours alone trading the baby off for skin-to-skin contact with both of us. We were able to put off all of the routine procedures until the two-hour mark, after which our parents visited briefly. The remainder of our stay in the hospital (36-hours or so) was very hectic. Between visitors and staff, it seemed like there was a different person in the room every hour of our stay.
I sang to him. The same song I’d been singing to him since thirty-two weeks. I noticed the room get quiet. I kissed J over and over. I announced his name, told Ad that he would always carry her name, as she was our family. As we were so proud to know a woman with her strength, her grace.