(i've already hogged a bunch of space on the Birth Stories thread, but some ladies had expressed a desire to read my dh's version of Lincoln's birth story... so i started a different thread. i'm so proud of him for writing this!
I woke up around 9 on Friday, Katje said she had been having contractions for a few hours and really wanted to try to get back to sleep, so she needed the bed to herself. She’d been having pro dromo contractions for several days before hand, so it didn’t look like anything new was happening immediately. I called Fran the midwife, and talked with her about Katje’s progress and when she wanted to be summoned; she said when the contractions were about 3 minutes apart, or when Katje asked for Fran to come. I went downstairs and talked with Amanda while I had coffee and breakfast; she was leaving later that day to take Clayton to New York for a week. Lab meeting was moved to Friday so we could have food from Stroud’s (mmm chicken!) and I had some experiments I had set up the night before that I wanted to check on, so since nothing looked like it was happening immediately Amanda drove me to the lab. The plan was to pick me up on the way to the airport at 12:15.
I got two great pieces of data while I was there, and had a nice big fried chicken lunch at the lab, which turned out to be really fortuitous -- I wouldn’t get a chance to eat for another 9 hours or so. Cordell was with us, getting a lift to a friend’s party in North Kansas City. He didn’t remember to bring the invite so we didn’t know where to drop him off, but we found the pool after a few minutes of flailing around. Then there was excitement because Clay didn’t have any form of identification, so Amanda was stressing that she would be suspected of kidnapping him. But they didn’t ask for ID, so I waved goodbye at the airport and I was able to make it home around 2:00.
Katje surprised me by being in the tub when I arrived. She was still having contractions, still around 7 minutes apart, and having a little trouble getting comfortable. So we fished her out of the tub to go upstairs. On the way in, she went to the bathroom downstairs, and proudly called me in to see the mucus plug she had passed. I set up the birth ball by the edge of the bed and put the hypnobabies cd on for her, which gave her a break in the contractions and she curled up to sleep around 2:30. Julia was sitting with her, so I went downstairs. Julia came down around 3:30, saying that Katje had asked for me. The contractions were much harder now, and about 3 or 4 minutes apart, and she was having to puff and moan to get through them. I called Fran, who had just given the go-ahead for a couple who lived 2 hours away from her to come for their prenatal exam. If we were OK, she wouldn’t leave Lawrence until around 4:30, which would put her in Brookside at 5:30, but she would send Lily (the midwife’s peon) ahead first. Katje thought that she was going to be in labor for a long time yet, so said go ahead
Not too long after that she started having to walk around or squat on the ball during contractions to make it through them. She tried the hypnobabies again, this time the birthing day CD, but it wasn’t helping much, and she flung the headphones across the bed a couple times before finally giving up for good. She asked me to stand behind her while she sat on the ball, and she grabbed onto my hands hard and was able to arch her back while she rode out the contraction. It’s a good thing that biking has given me relatively strong calves and legs, because otherwise she would have tipped me right over backwards! I still had to brace myself pretty firmly to keep her from tipping over, but it was worth it to be able to do something to help. This went on a while, until Katje decided the tub would help more. We went downstairs and popped her back in the hot tub, where she squatted and rocked and ate ice cubes in between contractions. Katje started hoping for longer breaks in between contractions (“Oh no, not now, not yet, gimme a break baby”), but she wasn’t getting much of a breather at all. Things progressed at a similar pace, until at around 4:45 her water broke. I didn’t see anything except a couple pieces of membrane go floating out, no color or anything, which I understand is nice and healthy, but she said that it felt like something had popped.
About 10 minutes later, at 4:55, Lily showed up. She fetched more water when asked, but didn’t actually do much except for some cheerleading (which I guess she did do well). About when Lily showed up, Katje started having contractions that weren’t stopping. While the intensity decreased from their brutal peak, it also never completely stopped. Katje asked Lily if she did cervical exams, to see how far she was dilated, but Lily didn’t know how to do them. Around 10 minutes after five, Katje started to get quite worried. She was wanting to push, but she didn’t think she was dilated. If she pushed on an incomplete cervix, it would swell up, and that would make everything slow and painful. I felt that this was the hardest part for her; feeling the urge to push but not thinking it was safe to do so, asking us when Fran was going to come swooping in to her rescue. She reached down to feel if she could tell her dilation, and instead she touched the baby’s head! The baby was still way up there, but obviously her cervix was open. Her expression changed immediately, from one of anguished exhaustion to determined anguished exhaustion. Around this point, Katje lost control of her bowels, probably due to the urge to push.
Fran finally showed up around 5:20, but then didn’t come outside for what seemed like forever but couldn’t have been more than a minute or two (it turned out she had to go to the bathroom after her long drive). She came out, asked a few questions, looked at Katje and then climbed in the tub, fully clothed. She ordered Lily to go get the towels and blankets we had sterilized. She probably was pretty cross with Lily for not having more of the stuff ready since we were so close to birthing. There was a problem finding the box of extra supplies, like chux pads, gloves, the nasal aspirator, and other sterile supplies. I told her it was right by where the towels had been, but that wasn’t enough, and when I offered to go find the box Fran shot a look at me and sternly ordered me No, you’re gonna stay right there. No argument here. (The problem was that some stuff had gotten set on top of the box. She did manage to find the nasal aspirator near the changing table, but it felt like it took forever.) I have to say that Fran’s bedside mannerisms were quite impressive... I was already confident in her knowledge from talking with her and seeing how she did the prenatal exams, but from the way she very calmly took complete control of the situation it was clear that she was a grizzled veteran and our baby was going to be caught by the best possible hands.
Once Fran got in the tub, Katje felt more at ease and was able to push. Katje was squatting, with the back of her butt on the edge of the seat for support, and leaning a little against the spa cover. I was holding her hand and saying encouraging things, and she was squeezing my hand hard. She pushed again, and I could see... something, I couldn’t tell what, under the water, and Fran said very calmly “your baby’s head is out now.” Fran asked Katje to stop pushing for a moment, saying “I’ve got a cord,” turns out the baby had a double nuchal cord, which she paused and rapidly fixed. Fran said for Katje to push again, and then again, and with a moan and a gush of red, the baby came completely out.
Fran rolled the baby around under the water a bit (I think she was unwinding the cord) before bringing it up. The skin was all purple-whitish, which looked like a normal newborn color based on what I had seen. There was no immediate movement, but I knew that it takes a second to recover after getting released from the immense pressure of the birth canal, and I could see arms wiggling a little bit. The aspirator had appeared by this point, and while Fran was clearing out the nostrils, Katje was saying “Oh baby, come on, I need to hear you,” and the baby obliged with a tiny little “weh”. Just one little sound, no loud cry like you always hear on TV, but it was enough to give assurance that things were OK. Katje then asked “what are you?” which really meant she was trying to see what sex the baby was, and then she cried out “Its a boy!” I was really glad to have a son (I was hoping for a boy too), but to be honest, the question hadn’t even occurred to me at that point, as I was so happy to get a look at the baby’s face and see that everything was going to be fine.
We had had a discussion early in the pregnancy about prenatal tests. I study meiosis, and I know all about how things can go wrong, and since Katje is over 36 I thought an amniocentesis was a very sensible thing to do. But Katje was against having a big honkin’ needle stuck in her abdoment, and was worried about doing more harm by the invasion. She prevailed, but I was put in a potentially very uncomfortable position, that I don’t think I ever really explained to Katje. How can I explain this without sounding like a soulless bastard? There was a letter in Savage Love from a girl who had told her boyfriend that she wouldn’t be willing to get an abortion if she accidentally got pregnant, and now her boyfriend wasn’t having sex with her anymore. Dan gently knocked her upside the head and pointed out that was the only sensible thing for him to do -- he didn’t want to be a father yet, she wouldn’t get an abortion, so the only way to win is not to play. Well, it sunk in that I might have done the opposite of what that guy did. I had put myself in a position where I might be bringing a baby with a serious problem to term -- and the thought of having a retarded or inviable child was something that made me intensely unhappy, much worse than the thought of never having a baby at all. We’d gone through 2 miscarriages, and those were quite difficult even though they were pretty early in the pregnancy. Going through a full pregnancy (especially after how hard the pregnancy turned out to be on poor Katje’s plumbing) only to get an outcome that was worse than nothing would have annihilated my heart.
While having the baby be nice and active all through the pregnancy helped alleviate these concerns (since compromised babies aren’t active), the fear was never really gone. But seeing the baby’s face finally eradicated it. Even better, that one look gave me something more than the absence of a problem, it gave me something I could be proud of. Even at just a minute after birth, hardly after taking the first breath, the baby was awake and alert, trying to turn its big brainy head to look around and figure out who turned on the lights all of a sudden. I will freely admit to being a brains bigot, and seeing signs that my kid might have lucked out and inherited an obvious flame of intelligence was a thrill I had never anticipated. I found out later that Fran did a double take when she looked at me to check in that I knew that things were OK with the baby; evidently I had a totally open and peaceful expression on my face. Going from having something to worry about all the way to having something to love will do that.
(Someone told Julia to go get the camera right after the baby was born. When she got back, I told her to just keep snapping pictures. She did, although the camera must have been passed to Lily at some point as Julia appears in some of the pics.) Meanwhile, Fran had a job to do. We got the time noted, 5:25 by my watch, and Fran checked his heart tone with the fetuscope, which also got wet in the tub, so both her scopes had water in them. Everything sounded fine, and the baby cried a few times more during this prodding. Katje held him while Fran did some more checks and worked on getting the placenta to come out. I don’t have much sense of time through this part; the baby was given a couple towels and a hat, as Fran decided the wet tub was chilling him. The umbilicus was clamped off on both sides, and I cut the cord, worrying a little that the scissors would slip and I would get a toe, but the cord was severed on the second try.
The baby was bundled up in a dry towel and handed to me to hold for the first time. I went over to the chair in the corner of the deck to hold him while they attended to Katje some more. Fran wanted the baby to be warmer, so Fran took me inside. I took off my shirt for better heat transfer, we got him a fresh hat and I held him on my chest while I lay on the sofa with him in a blanket. I guess he warmed up right away, because he conked out pretty quickly, and Fran went outside to finish getting Katje out of the tub. So I was left alone with him for the first time. I was crying for joy, and all I could do was tell him I couldn’t believe how happy I was that he was here and OK, and that I couldn’t believe how much I loved him.