January 4, 2010 by David Gillaspie
The phone rings all the time. People in the other room all talk at once. Little kids run up and down the carpeted stairs. What does it mean?
Once you decide on a home birth the sequence of events should be clear: regular doctor visits; classes with other expecting parents; communication with family about the benefits of home birth.
It’s the last one that keeps the phone ringing. Hospital births once ran on a schedule. If you deviated from the schedule you got induced. If induced labor wasn’t fast enough, you got a C-section. A traditional hospital birth better be on time.
A military hospital birth is another matter. One expecting mother went into labor. Her Marine husband dropped her off since it was a time when expecting fathers had no business in the delivery room, or the labor room. The woman said she was put in a room with a bed. She was alone except for the doctor who came in to check on progress.
Imagine being a first time mother and going through labor alone. Who is there to explain the nature of contractions? Who is there to hold your hand? No one. And the only person you see wants you to hurry up. How do you hurry dilation?
Another mother in an Army hospital explained her post-birth routine: “If you didn’t get up and make your bed, you didn’t get breakfast. The woman next to me in the post-birth ward cried for her husband. She might have been eighteen. She cried all the time until a nurse came by and told her husband was at war and probably dead so she ought to just shut up. She didn’t.”
The phone that kept ringing in my apartment was a call from a family member. It was a good call, just too many of them. And I kept answering it.
“Is everything okay? Shouldn’t your wife be in a hospital? How long has she been in labor? Aren’t you nervous?”
I answered in a calm voice.
“Everything is going good, Mom.”
I tried sounding confident. I only went to one birth class. After seeing birthing videos I decided I didn’t want to ruin the surprise of birth. I didn’t want to be desensitized to miracle of life playing out in my bedroom.
Was everything going well? The wife was walking around. Nature was taking its course. We had one naturopathic physician, a mid-wife, a naturopathic medical student, and their kids. It was everything and everyone I expected. They even brought a ‘birthing chair.’ It looked like an upholstered device from a dungeon or dentists’ office. Birthing furniture was probably covered in a birthing class I missed.
Should my wife be in a hospital? I was thinking I could use some hospital time. An ambulance service was on call once the birthing events started, just in case. Giving birth isn’t a case of pneumonia, but if things went sideways we’d be at a hospital in record time. Besides, I knew the way and if the ambulance wasn’t there in five seconds I’d do the driving myself.
Labor went for five hours. Then ten. Then more. Every time I tried to sneak a nap one of the birthing team found me and said the wife needed me. I tried convincing them she needed them more than me. It didn’t work, and after I spent time with her I found the birthing person napping in my hideaway.
Was I nervous? Does shock count? As time rolled on I lost track of night and day. Things seemed darker. I moved slower. I thought of taking the blood pressure cuff off the wife to check mine, but figured with all the medical personnel around they could handle anything I might slip into.
After another check the word came out. PUSH. It was go time. Either a baby, my baby, was going to be born, or I was calling the ambulance. PUSH. I went tunnel vision and repeated everything the doctor said. PUSH. I felt something on my arm; it was the wife’s nails digging in. I felt something on my head; the wife’s hand pulling my hair. PUSH.
I saw a face that looked like bad photo color development. The wife turned purple, then red, then reddish purple. PUSH. I knew things were going to be fine when she said shut-up.
The doctor handed me something. I took it in my shock-state. It was a baby. My baby. A very quiet baby. Aren’t they supposed to cry? Mine didn’t cry because he wasn’t breathing yet. I remember his chest jerking and seeing the doctor tickle his feet. Then the cry, and another, and another.
And another, and another, except it wasn’t the baby. It was me. I cried about three hours worth of tears; just enough to know my life had new meaning. It was a baptismal waterfall of tears. It was asking for the sort of break you hear about in a foxhole where everyone is a Christian calling for their momma while the bombs fall. I cried up a storm.
Then my Mom called again. I sniffled through. I hung up and wept from room to room. My mother in law carried the day. She showed her mettle. I wasn’t a big crybaby, just a new dad. I wasn’t ill-prepared for ditching birth classes, just awed by the birth. But she knew. She knew about my soft heart for my kid. My shell broke and whatever there was to see was out in the open. And I shared it.
The new family went to sleep for the first time, daddy, baby, and momma. I knew I wouldn’t roll over and crush the kid; I could barely move. And I knew it my kid, not a mix up at the hospital.
I went to sleep thinking I’d do it all again, and wondering why I was so thirsty as we drifted off.