For Christmas this year, Cody wrote up Eliza's birth story for me. I know most women like to write the story themselves, but I was kind of intimidated by that idea - what if I mixed up who and whom?! And since Cody was so involved in the process (attending childbirth classes, going to almost every doctor's appointment, timing contractions, even cleaning up my puke!), I thought it would be fun to have the day documented from his perspective. So if you've been on pins and needles for the past 11.5 months wanting to hear a play-by-play of Eliza's birthday, today's your lucky day. :)
Once the nursery was ready, and we were getting closer and closer to the birth of our daughter, I had one recurring, nerve-wracking thought: “Please don’t come in the middle of the night.” Every night that we were still awake at 11, I worried that Chêz would look at me nervously and say, “I think it’s starting.” We had already taken a 10-week class on natural childbirth, and Chêz had read a couple books on the subject, so I felt comfortable that we were as prepared as we could be for the labor and delivery. But the timing was completely beyond our control. Little Eliza would come when she was ready.
So that’s what I was most worried about. Not a painful birth; not an unhealthy baby; not the parenting that would come soon afterward. I didn’t want to be sleepy.
Our January 2nd due date came and went, and although we knew intellectually at that point that we could become parents at any moment, I’m not sure we actually expected it to happen. I have an amazing (dangerous?) ability to live in the moment and not look too far down the road. So I was content to live in our existing state: Chêz being pregnant and not all that uncomfortable, and me going to work, coming home and rubbing her feet. But Eliza was determined to shake things up.
Shortly after midnight on the morning of Jan 8th, Chêz woke me up to say, “I think my water just broke.” One of the main points I took away from our birthing classes was this: “Labor is a long process. Don’t immediately rush off to the hospital the first time you feel a little twinge in your belly.” Following that thinking, I gave her my best, half lucid advice. “Try going back to sleep,” I said.
So we both tried to sleep – me successfully; her, not so much. She woke me up after about 30 minutes to say that she couldn’t go back to sleep. I swung my legs over the side of the bed, rubbed my eyes, and geared up for the long day ahead. Knowing that she wouldn’t be able to eat anything once the labor pains really ramped up, I offered to make her some eggs. She meekly consented, even though I could tell she was disgusted by the thought of food. She was nauseous after only a couple bites, and she threw up soon after, which made me feel sorry for forcing the food on her in the first place.
Based on what we had heard and read, we were expecting labor to start lightly and continue that way for several hours. We had made a list of our favorite Friends episodes that Chêz thought she would want to watch during early labor. Also, she had made some cookie batter (vegan, of course) that she wanted to bake and take to the hospital nursing staff. What seemed like perfectly reasonable ideas the night before now appeared utterly preposterous. Even in her laboring state, she asked me to prepare and bake the cookies, which I gently suggested was a very bad idea.
For the next 3 hours, Chêz labored at home while I packed the car and comforted her when I could. Her level of focus was amazing. She would lie on the couch with her eyes closed until a contraction came, then roll onto the birth ball where she would rock until the contraction passed, and then roll back onto the couch and rest. She was in her own world. I tried to help, but mostly I was just staring at her with a stopwatch in my hand, trying to figure out when the pain started and ended – like I was gathering data for a weird, sadistic research paper. Even though I had “been prepared” for this, I felt totally out of my depth, so I contacted our doula, Julie Hagey, and asked her to come quickly.
While we waited on Julie to arrive, I continued to prepare for our departure to the hospital. Chêz’s contractions were consistently seven minutes apart, so I figured we had hours until things would get really intense. And then one contraction jumped under 5 minutes, followed by another one. Uh oh.
I quickly finished our preparations, told Julie we would meet her at the hospital and helped Chêz to the car. Despite my careful driving, Chêz could feel every bump and crevice on the road, and was very uncomfortable during the short trip.
We arrived at the hospital around 6 am, so we had to go through the ER entrance. We waited until Chêz was between contractions before leaving the car and heading through the automatic sliding doors. We brought the birth ball, which Chêz immediately collapsed onto as we entered the ER waiting room. The first nurse to come to our aid was more than a little freaked out. She asked, “Why did you wait so long to come in?” I was a little put off by her question, but I was focused on Chêz and getting her to Labor & Delivery as quickly as possible.
Soon, we were wheeled up to the L&D wing by a much nicer nurse, where they checked on Eliza, who showed no signs of distress. Chêz continued to labor without too much trouble while we waited for our doula, Julie, show up. I was starting to feel impatient, and I privately muttered, “When Julie gets here, she better earn her money.” Shortly after that uncharitable thought, she came in the room, and I’m happy to say she was an enormous help throughout the rest of the process.
I was applying counter pressure to Chêz’s back, and Julie thankfully took over to give me a break around 6:45. The initial adrenaline rush produced by the trip to the hospital was tapering, and I was feeling the effects of missing a night of sleep, so I went down the hall for some coffee. I came back into the room, coffee in hand, and sat down next to Chêz, ready to help. I hadn’t even taken a sip when her next contraction hit. She took a deep breath, grimaced, and yelled “You smell like coffee! Get away!” I dutifully but sadly poured the whole cup down the drain. Fortunately, Julie came to the rescue with some caffeinated tea that met my need for quick energy and Chêz’s need for odorless beverages.
Chêz was composed and mostly quiet as Julie coached her through each contraction. After an hour of uneventful laboring, a new nurse came into the room to attach the fetal monitor and check on our progress. What had been a calm environment soon turned chaotic as the new nurse inverted the bed so that Chêz’s head was lower than her feet, which was clearly very painful to her. At one point she eked out a tiny “help!” which made me feel utterly feeble as she struggled. The nurse started spewing medical jargon at Chêz as if she had any hope of comprehending it in her current state.
The nurse said that the baby was experiencing some “decels” (heart decelerations), and I heard her mention the possibility of a C-section. I didn’t really understand what was going on, and for the first time, I was scared. I tried to get the nurse to talk to me, but she stubbornly continued trying to communicate with Chêz instead.
Dr. Monteiro, our OB, soon walked in the room and said, “I think everyone needs to chill out.” He checked on the baby, told the nurse that she was overreacting and cleared the room. Thank God. With order restored, only Julie, and our primary nurse, Michelle, remained in the room with us. A wave of relief washed over me as we continued to coach Chêz through her contractions.
We later learned that the panic was completely unjustified. They were having trouble getting a reading from the baby because she had progressed much further than they thought, and shortly after 8 am, Chêz was ready to push.
She wasn’t prepared for how physically taxing the pushing would be and I could tell she was tired and discouraged. “You’re doing so good,” I kept saying, but she doubted her progress. After only a few pushes, I could see the top of our little girl’s head. Suddenly I was struck by the gravity and the beauty of what was about to happen.
I focused intently on Chêz, held her hand, and gently kissed her forehead. Everyone and everything faded away as I showered her with love and praise, both of our eyes welling with tears. I told her I loved her, that I was proud of her and that she was an immense blessing to me; I thanked her for being my wife and for loving me; I told her she was going to be an awesome mother, and that we would be seeing our daughter soon.
When Chêz and I were dating, she told me about the idea of “eternal instants”. Moments that are fleeting, but frozen in time because of their lasting significance. This was an eternal instant. In real time, it was probably no more than a minute, but I still feel the resonance of that moment.
Time began to speed up as the next contraction came along. The doctor entered with a gaggle of nurses and other staff as we all prepared for Eliza’s arrival. Chêz was still exhausted, but she was focused and determined, knowing that her daughter would soon be in her arms.
With one final push, Eliza fully emerged into the arms of our doctor. She was quickly brought up to Chêz’s chest where we embraced for the first time as a family of three. We held our daughter tightly and sobbed, completely overwhelmed by the moment. She was here; she was perfect; she was…purple. Is she supposed to be purple? The doctor wasn’t worried about it, so I figured it must be fine. Sure enough, she began to turn a lovely shade of pink after she was bathed and wrapped up in towels to keep her warm.
Shortly afterward, the room was cleared out, the machines stopped beeping, and the three of us experienced our first minutes alone. The paradigm shift was complete. I was now the father of a tiny little human, whom I loved immensely, and I was at least 50% responsible for keeping her alive. Luckily, the other 50% belongs to my best friend, who is an amazing wife and mother. Again my eyes filled with tears as I smiled and looked upon my two perfect girls, and I thought, “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”