A Different Birth Story

Labor was awesome.

I can say that, because I’m not the one who experienced an incision, uncontrollable contractions or constant invasive procedures and monitoring.  This is not to say I wasn’t involved mind and soul in a different sort of trial.  The average birth story is about the labor and the beautiful babe at the end.  You can read that over here.  For both of us, the beautiful babe part is the best part.  But here’s what I didn’t learn in childbirth class:

Pain (hers): She hurt everywhere and I couldn’t help her.  Sure, I was prepared for contractions, but not for pain at the IV site, a blood pressure cuff stuck at too tight too many times, blinding lights in her eyes, uncomfortable mattresses, muscle fatigue from c-section shaking or the unending back and hip pain when it all was done.

Pain (mine): Labor left me with bruises on both knees from kneeling next to her and from wedging my legs against the bed to hold onto her during contractions, see also crushed fingers, eyeball stabbed by hair and sticky blood between my toes (hers).  But I’ll tell you, when those contractions are happening, you’re sure as hell not moving.

Diaper Rash (mine): Those vinyl chairs they stock the delivery room with?  Not meant for sleeping/sitting in over the course of two days.  Not even a sheet could spare my tender nether regions from a vinyl-induced tragedy.

When You’re not Having a Baby, Other Things Still Matter: The dog at home in a thunderstorm.  My grandmother hovering around death (though recovered now).  The blinding can lights in the delivery room bringing on a migraine.  No toothbrush.  Parked illegally.  My mother: crazy.

The Nursing Staff: We’d considered a doula, knowing that we might want to be shielded from shenanigans.  We opted not to hire one because we didn’t feel certain the doula wouldn’t add to the shenanigans.  And there were shenanigans.  I didn’t realize that I would need to be constantly vigilant to make sure her comfort emotionally and physically was a priority.  Fortunately, we had excellent care, however that excellent care came with a certain amount of bullying (on their part).  I tried to temper that, see…

Be on Your Best Behavior: Friends of ours recommended bringing brownies (or something) to the staff.  We opted not to (and wouldn’t have had time, or enough chocolate to feed 2,700 shift changes), but I still felt a little uneasy that we might become “Room 5” or “those people” because we didn’t bring a bribe early thanks.  When it came down to it, being nice worked.  Remembering names worked.  Getting our own ice chips instead of ringing the call bell worked.  Smiling worked.  And, most importantly, recognizing that when the bullying meant to optimize care sometimes unintentionally forgot the patient that genuine conversation, explanation and ground rules cloaked in graciousness did the trick.

Ground Rules and Communication: The only rule that mattered was making labor as easy on her as possible.  While I knew that, had been told that, and it seemed so easy, what was easiest on her changed, sometimes within seconds.  I had to be constantly vigilant, especially when she couldn’t articulate the problem.  There were also decision points I never expected.  For example, I could see on a monitor the contractions mounting and descending but she couldn’t.  I wasn’t sure if she wanted to know or not.  It turns out she did and that it might have helped if I’d asked earlier on.

And Speaking of Shift Changes: They happen.  I knew that, intellectually, but I didn’t realize the approach to our care during labor would change so drastically from doctor to doctor and nurse to nurse.  I also never expected to be there long enough to learn that.

Yes, it’s 2010, Yes, We Still Needed a Calling Card: You all are certainly smarter than me.  You probably have one stashed somewhere.  And we should have listened to you.  But seriously, two cell phones and excellent reception at the hospital, why wouldn’t they work?  And how many times per year can this normally quiet city have a storm that knocks out more than the power? No cell phones for 24 hours.  No way to update family on labor and delivery.  No way to announce our baby girl.  No support.  No support. And that calling plan I do have, memorized since 1995?  The number and pin were completely gone from my mind.  I can’t believe I didn’t write it down before being under such incredible stress.

Friends Help, You Idiot (me): We’d been told over and over not to refuse any offers to help.  And we didn’t.  We had lots of offers from our neighbors, “Let us know if we can do anything!” but we never got their phone numbers (or gave them a key, which would have been really useful).  Our families don’t live nearby.  We had no planned rotation for visits or help and couldn’t call for any (see: storm).  We never said no to any offers but we didn’t ASK for help either.  We should have even though it seemed like we wouldn’t need or want it.

Things They Weren’t Kidding About: The c-section room is really cold.  When the spinal block makes her shake, it’s going to look like a 20 minute seizure. Constant fetal heart rate monitoring sucks.  Ask for pain medication.  Bring your toothbrush, even if you don’t think you’ll need it, see…

The Most Valuable Things I Had And Why it Doesn’t Matter to You: A change of clothes AND a pair of sweats.  Close-toed shoes.  No, seriously.  Both cell phone chargers.  A laptop.  The ability to assume the best intentions of anyone.  Snacks.  Face cleansing wipes.  Mouthwash.  Gum.  But, it turns out, all of those things were important for this labor, for us.  You might not labor so long your partner will need sweats.  You might not spatter blood, etc. on the floor making your partner silently say thanks for hot, uncomfortable close-toed shoes.  The wireless internet might be your lifesaver in lieu of other means of communication even if you do have to take your eyes off of her for one second.  And apparently, her sense of smell might be more acute while delivering than expected.  Thanks, Orbit.

The Cat Litter Was the Least of My Worries: It doesn’t stop when the baby gets here.  Before the baby was conceived, my wife took care of me.  Took care of the heavy things.  The stinky things.  When Vegas Ruby Reed was on the way, I mowed the lawn, scooped the cat box, heaved the dog food, ran the errands, took care of the heavy, the stinky, the gross.  C-section plus baby means I’m doing all that plus some, see…

Sense of Self: It’s no surprise that delivering a baby changed us and that we both feel maternal.  But I’m also grieving the loss of my wife.  I do expect her back but I imagine she’ll be different when she gets here.  I miss the way she cuddled me after a bad day.  The way she opened doors.  The attention.  The sex.  The surprise gifts, see…

“Push Gift”: Prior to the birth, we talked about the concept of a thanks-for-having-my-baby gift.  Based on those conversations, I had mostly decided against it, though I still wasn’t certain when we went in.  I’m not a flowers girl.  I never seem to remember the little things.  But I did get flowers when all the power came back on.  I bought every bouquet that looked beautiful and arranged them in a big vase and brought them to her in the morning.  She tells me it was the best decision I made.

The Oregon Trail is Underrated: I don’t live anywhere near my family and I love it.  I’m independent and my family is crazy.  My mother craves attention (see catastrophic knee injury during D’s labor and subsequent miraculous recovery), my sisters are overwhelmed with their own lives, my father is better with mechanics than people, my grandmothers are crumbling (not surprisingly as they are in their late 90s) and most of my friends are scattered to the four corners of the earth.  I needed support then and now.

Childbirth Class Wasn’t That Bad: I didn’t take much from Redneck Childbirthin’ that could be used in the moment.  I did get two completely unexpected benefits.

A) The man who made the “c-sections are just like guttin’ a deer” remark prepared me for that operating room more than he could have imagined.  He lent a sense of the humorous and the macabre, surprisingly important in that bright, scary operating room, and;

B) Next to us, laboring for the entire 36 hours and then some that we did, was the youngest couple from our class.  Although we never really connected in class, we felt an affinity for them because they looked as if they might not be so set in their ways that they would automatically discriminate.  I held on to the idea of them like a life-preserver as things got increasingly harder.  They were right there, next door, going through this too.  And the support I needed so desperately?  Came in the form of a sideways hat, jeans  around his knees, white t-shirt wearing, toothpick on his lip boy/man who was as exhausted and as overwhelmed and as suddenly complete as I was, see…

Found – Missing Piece: Over and over we heard that having a child would change everything.  Of course it does.  The surprising part was how satisfied I felt once she got here.  I didn’t even know my life was missing something.  But it was.  It absolutely was.  She’s it.

5 Responses

  1. I didn’t even know my life was missing something. But it was. It absolutely was. She’s it.

    Okay, THAT made me cry.

    Many many congratulations again, and thank you for the wonderful post. 😀

  2. Thank you for writing this! I’ve been working on packing “the bag” and wouldn’t have thought of gum – although I think I’ve got all the other stuff packed 🙂

    We don’t have family close enough to be here for the birth, but they’ll be here a few weeks later. We’re lucky to have a couple of friends close by, one to come and get the dog when we go to the hospital, the cats are used to fending for themselves.

    Anyway… reading your stories helps us be just that much more prepared for whatever experience we’re about to have.

    So – thanks again!

  3. Thanks for this.

  4. Raw and real and beautiful! I absolutely love this post!

    Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  5. A doula definitely would have helped. Hindsight is 20-20, though. Hiring our doula was seriously the best thing we did for ourselves for my partner’s labour and birth, bar none. If you have a next time, don’t just consider it; get thyself a doula.

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