This past Sunday was Ian’s first birthday. There were lots of family, cake, and toys with whirly-gigs and doo-hickies (some assembly required). This time last year, Kelly, Ian and I were still recovering from the most tiring night of our lives.
Kelly’s labor was induced. Ian was a young, strapping lad, and needed more square footage than the remaining two weeks of his lease could provide. Kelly was just uncomfortable – which is a bit like saying that Bob Saget isn’t funny.
Ian’s birth wasn’t what I had imagined; the process was all very clinical. “Yes, I’m here to give birth. Second window from the end? Thanks.” No dashes to the car, or erratic swerving on the highway. No police escort or amiable biker with a shattered pelvis as a result of said erratic swerving. No boiling water, or newspapers. No hilarity ensued. The nurses in the materinity ward barely smiled.
For being in a hospital, Kelly’s room was quite comfortable. It had soft lighting, hardwood floors, and privacy. And a radio recessed into the wall, which I turned on immediately because I’m a guy and have a fascination with recessed technology.
Once Kelly was situated, the nurse started giving her small doses of pitocin. This is the synthetic version of the hormone which, apparently, causes contractions during labor. With Kelly, pitocin caused her to wait several hours, eating nothing but Jell-O and lemon ice. Nothing happened. The nurses were very nice, and very helpful, but nothing they did could stop Ian dragging his feet. Even with very large doses of pitocin. Elephant-like doses of pitocin. I almost went into labor. Several women who arrived after Kelly *did* go into labor.
It’s hard to stay excited about the birth of your son unless it’s actually happening. It’s difficult finding new ways of being supportive. “You’re waiting great, honey! I’m so proud of you! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wait this hard!” Without labor, Lamaze is just two people hyperventilating.
We became very bored. Between the troupes of medical professionals inspecting the staging area, as it were, there wasn’t much to do. I’d already played with the radio, and the only interesting shows on television were about parenting, breastfeeding, or recovering from birth.
Kelly and I started trying to decipher the Omnipotent Monitor. The OM was a large screen divided into several sections, each showing the progress of women in varying stages of labor. There were flashing icons, beeps, and a detailed display of their contractions, in real-time. You could see the contractions start, peak, and fade – you could see when someone was delivering a baby. “Ouch, look at that spike! That’s gotta hurt!” John Madden couldn’t have said it better.
Eventually, Kelly’s doctor decided to break her water. Bear in mind, even though they had been told to lower Kelly’s dose of pitocin, she was still running at full throttle when her water broke. If there had been a time to find Kelly’s square of the OM, that was it. There are several stages of labor, all leading to the “Don’t ever touch me again!” phase so eloquently portrayed in many a sitcom’s season finale. Kelly gave them all a miss, and hit the ground running.
Frankly, it was frightening. I suppose if she had screamed, yelled, or hit me – the popular conceptions of labor – I wouldn’t have been so terrified. Kelly was lying there, whimpering, sweating, and rapidly (I thought) losing strength. After each contraction, she wilted more and more, and her voice grew weaker. “Please. I can’t do this. Stop it.” Kelly is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known; to see her so helpless, and in so much pain, was almost more than I could bear. Her legs started to shudder, her eyes lost focus; at one point, she went into full-body convulsions.
I’m a quiet, contemplative man. If I raise my voice, I’m most likely just trying to be heard, rather than making a point. I yelled at my wife. I took her face in my hands, looked into her eyes, and told her that she was going to have this baby, that she could do it – was doing it. Lamaze classes show videos of loving couples, lovingly looking deeply into each other’s lovely eyes and breathing slowly together, while enjoying the lovely chamber music bought specially from a mail-order catalog for loving husbands to their loving wives. They say nothing about having to shout at your wife because it’s the only thing that will reach her through the haze of pain and exhaustion.
Eventually, after a few gentle requests, I told the nurse to find a doctor and get my wife her epidural. I hope I was as civil as I make it sound.
In those brief few moments of rest for Kelly, I went to find dinner: pastrami on rye from the hospital cafeteria. I sat, as mentally exhausted as Kelly was physically, reading the same few sentences of ‘The Hobbit’ over and over again because my mind had lost the ability to comprehend nouns.
Fortunately, I didn’t stay long. When I had left, Kelly was resting comfortably. In the twenty-or-so minutes I had been gone, she went from “we’ve got a while yet” to “where’s your husband”.
So, Kelly pushed. Really, it’s not as though she had a choice. Quite often, Kelly had to lie curled into a ball to stop from pushing. At first, Ian didn’t like the whole birthing idea. Kelly started to push, and his heart rate dropped quicker than something dropping very quickly. They had to attach tiny electrodes to his sclap so they could better meausre his vital signs. At one point, Kelly pushed, Ian’s monitor made a noise, and the nurse hurredly scrounged behind Kelly’s bed to find an oxygen mask for her. No explanations, but she had obviously been very worried. Another terrifying moment. Kelly was rather preoccupied, but did the nurse think I wouldn’t notice?
After pushing and pushing with little progress on Ian’s part, Kelly’s doctor was considering a cesarian. We’d been expecting this – Kelly had been born by cesarian. Kelly wouldn’t have it. She gave one momentous push, Dr. Simi’s eyebrows arched and she said, “Oh! Do that again!”
To help Kelly along, the doctor decided to use me for more than moral support. I stood in front of Kelly, and the doctor gave us each an end of a twisted bed sheet; she said, “Pull.” I braced my knees against the edge of the bed, Kelly bit her bottom lip, and we pulled. Tug-O’-War had never been my favorite game – I never suspected that it was a darn good birthing technique. Twice Kelly almost won, and I nearly…well. You get the idea.
Finally Dr. Simi had me stand aside, Kelly gave one final tremendous push, and Ian was born. It was that simple. After the hours of labor, pain, fright and frustration, he was born in a single moment.
He looked weird. Ian was screaming at the top of his lungs, he was covered in Crisco, and his head was shaped like a creature from Alien. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever witnessed or been a part of. I’ve never laughed nor cried so hard at once. My jaw had dropped to the floor, and I remember hugging and kissing Kelly, saying, over and over again, “You did it! I love you so much! Look, honey!” As if she could’ve missed it.
While the doctor looked after Kelly, I followed my son and the nurses. (Sorry, honey.) They cleaned and weighed him, screaming little peanut that he was. I wasn’t worried about Ian’s health, I just wanted to hold my son. I didn’t get the chance for a while, but I did lean down next to him and said, “Hi, Ian. Hi, baby. It’s daddy. Ian?” He stopped crying, briefly, and turned his face toward mine.