Labour, objectively speaking, is a messy business. But it is also funny – because everything in life is funny, if that’s how you approach each day.
My wife Susan and I have two wonderful boys: Andrew, just turned 16, and our son Michael, born 13 years ago. At Andrew’s birth our Doula took pictures and notes and presented my wife and me with a lovely, detailed, account of the birth experience. For Michael’s birth, our Doula was on vacation so Susan, with high expectations, urged me to take lots of notes and pictures.
Of course, that was before I wrote this story about the blessed event….
Mid-August and following, 2002
Susan threatens repeatedly to go into labour. Our due date is August 30, 2002. Susan mentions on numerous occasions that Andrew came two weeks early, and that she doubts that number two will be any different.
Susan tries to conserve her strength for the big day by stopping all housework. She does, however, have enough energy to participate in her full social schedule, my mother’s birthday dinner, my mother’s surprise party, Andrew’s birthday parties (yes, plural), shopping with my sister, shopping with Andrew, shopping by herself, etc.
August 30, 2002
Mid afternoon – My mother’s surprise party, organized by Susan and my sister; a full English tea for all my mother’s friends. What a pity I wasn’t invited.
11:28 PM – Susan starts experiencing episodes of “sharp pain”. After a short bout of denial, she concedes that she ‘might’ be in labour. “Hold on”, I reply, “I’m just about done the chapter”. Susan gets up to ‘walk it off’.
11:40 – Labour starts just as we had planned; the bags are not packed; we do not know where the unpacked items are; Andrew is awake; the Doula is out of the country; our stand-in Doula, Katie, a massage therapist and Susan’s best friend, lives 30 miles away; the Tonight Show is just about to start and Jay has good guests tonight.
August 31, 2002
12:15 AM – Susan finally admits she’s in labour and calls her mother Pat to come take care of Andrew. Pat, ever the trooper, says she’s on her way.
12:18 – Susan calls Katie. Katie would love to come to the hospital, but her husband isn’t home yet to take care of their four-year-old. She promises to come as soon as possible. Susan appears to have an uncontrollable urge to make phone calls at this point. This confuses me, as I can’t understand her need to call for help when the Tonight Show is just about over.
12:20 – Susan’s water breaks. It would appear that she’s not kidding. Later the hospital would confirm that her water didn’t really break, it just ‘leaked’. I have since learned that this is a common ploy by women in labour to get their husbands to turn off the TV. It works.
12:30 – Pat arrives. This is a big relief, as leaving our three-year-old home alone after midnight seemed somewhat irresponsible. Pat is, shall we say, ‘excitable’. Apparently Susan and I are not moving with the urgency that Pat has determined is required by the circumstances. Turns out, Pat has also not figured out that the ‘water breaking thing’ was just a ruse on Susan’s part to move matters along.
12:35 – Pat threatens to call an ambulance if I don’t pack the bags faster. We head out the door to Andrew’s excited exhortation to, “Get going Mom!” Susan and I jump in the car (actually, that doesn’t really describe how Susan got in, but I digress), and head off to the hospital. Susan is a model of tranquility and strength. I am relieved that I’ll have someone to lean on to get through this.
12:40 – We arrive at the hospital. I park illegally and walk Susan in. The nurses in the maternity intake Ward don’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation. “SUSAN IS HAVING A BABY”. No, I was not hysterical.
12:45 – As I leave to re-park the car I realize I have forgotten my book – great, now what am I going to do for the next few hours?
12:55 – Susan is 3 cm dilated, and her cervix is thin. The nurses seem very happy with this. Susan doesn’t hear as she focuses on breathing through a contraction. I try, unsuccessfully, to recall the birthing classes three years earlier before Andrew was born – I make a mental note to ask someone what a cervix is before the night is through.
1:05 – Susan is transferred to birthing room #8 – a room overlooking the roof heating and air-conditioning units. I mention to the nurse that last time we got a lovely room overlooking the reservoir and the mountains, and ask if they have any of those available? For some reason she thinks I’m kidding.
1:10 – Susan is holding up like the star that she is, but the birth is much faster this time and the pain seems more intense. We have a temporary nurse until ours gets back from break. She offers Susan something for the pain. Susan declines and continues to manage her pain by squeezing my hand. I ask the nurse for something – unsuccessfully.
1:40 – Contractions have been coming closer together and they are increasing in intensity. It’s rough sledding at this point. There is barely time to rest between the contractions and the pain is intense. We called Katie and discover she’s on the way!
1:43 – Our regular nurse, Alyson, arrives on the scene. She’s terrific and immediately sets about getting Susan and the room ready for the impending miracle. I offer to help. Alyson suggests maybe I could stand “over there”.
1:45 – We call my parents and leave a message that Susan is in labour. They’re sleeping. Apparently, despite their offers of support, we’re not “all in this together”.
1:46 – Contractions are coming every 3 minutes. They seem to last 3 1/2 minutes.
Most of the next hour is without record. I was distracted by an uncharitable discussion about how all of this is my fault – at least that’s how I recall it. I’ll try to reconstruct.
- Susan was experiencing very intense contractions and was quickly getting exhausted. I pulled out the homeopathics and set about trying to figure out which one to administer. They all appeared to speed up labor or assist in the early stages. Whoops. Maybe next time.
- Katie arrived after 2 AM, which boosted Susan’s morale a lot. Katie started periodic massage that, to the uneducated observer, appeared to be just what I was doing. Evidently not, as Susan instantly relaxes visibly.
- As the contractions increase in intensity, Susan moans, “I just can’t do this”. I refrain from making a joke at this point and instead reassure Susan that not only can she do it, but that she’s doing an extraordinary job. We’re still married as a result.
2:38 – Another contraction. I lean in, “Breathe, breathe, you’re doing great, just terrific, you‘re doing so good sweetheart…!” Susan motions me closer.
“What can I get you?” I asked lovingly.
“Breath mint”, she replies.
“You want a breath mint?” I offer.
For the record, my breath wasn’t that bad.
2:45 – Susan is dilated 10 cm. This seems to please everyone present. And the doctor….ah, the doctor – oh, yes, there is no doctor.
“Is this a problem?” I inquire.
“No”, replies the nurse, casually checking her watch. She’s either timing contractions or has another appointment somewhere.
“Should we wait?” I suggest.
Everyone ignores me.
As an aside, I asked the nurse why they use centimeters instead of inches. She informed me that 10 cm equals 4 inches and asked if I really thought that 4 inches sounded big enough to push a baby out. In response I turn to Susan and gush, “You’re dilated 10 centimeters!”
2:49 – Susan starts pushing. This is really the best part. It’s far better for Susan to be able to push. And apparently scream. Loudly. As Susan squeezes my hand again I scream with her.
2:50 – The baby’s head is visible for the first time. There really is a baby in there!
2:57 – Susan asks for a cold cloth, “now, Now, NOW, NOW!” Does it seem like I’m the only one doing anything around here?
3:03 – It’s a boy! Michael William Hawkes comes into the world! Susan is a glowing! Dad is exhausted.
3:14 – Michael pees on me for the first time.
And we are all living happily ever after…