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Birth Story (Part 1)

Ronan Hiccups

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One of the myths about the feminist movement is that all of its gains were strictly for women. Sexism cuts both ways, one side sharper for women.

Two of the things that immediately come to mind is that men have more latitude in today’s western cultures to express their emotions, and they are no longer barred from the birth experience. (You could make an argument that women were also barred from the birth experience, since before the feminist movement they were often drugged into unconsciousness during labor. More on that later.)

Terry and I had two different approaches to the upcoming labor. She researched everything, asked a lot of questions of friends and family who had recently undergone labor, and read a lot of books. I read almost everything she told me was worth reading. In theory, we were prepared as can be.

Since I study World War II, I often think of quotes from soldiers or politicians from that time. If there were a quote that reflects Ronan’s birth, it would be that “no plan survives contact with the enemy,” (which is actually a quote from Moltke the Elder during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, but it held true in World War II, and it holds true today.)

When we woke up Tuesday I think Terry and I were hopeful we could be left alone to have Ronan come out in his own time. We went for our scheduled OB/GYN appointment. We didn’t bring the hospital suitcases we packed, we didn’t call Terry’s work and tell them she wasn’t coming, and we didn’t eat lunch, thinking we could eat after the appointment was over.

Instead, the sonogram showed that instead of sitting in a big wet pool, Ronan was sitting in a puddle of amniotic fluid; about half the absolute minimum he needed to stay in the womb. Instead of going for lunch, we were going to the hospital. We were told we didn’t even have time to go home and get her suitcase.

Everything went fine for a while. Terry was in labor by the time we had our second fetal monitor at the hospital, and we were admitted to the birthing center and got a large private room. My brother Ryan performed his first of 20,000 miracles that day by stopping at our apartment and getting Terry’s stuff before coming to meet us.

They were busy. Tuesday April 3rd was some kind of record for Long Island College Hospital. This worked for us initially, as they pretty much left us alone. The labor progressed from eight to five minutes apart, and the pain progressed from nothing to manageable.

We were in the Labor and Delivery room around 12 Noon. By 9 PM the labor hadn’t progressed much beyond five-minute intervals, and our OB/GYN ordered an induction. An IV of Pitocin was started, an artificial form of oxytocin that starts contractions.

There’s a point in everyone’s life when someone they love is in pain. I’ve experienced differing emotions to these life events. When my father had open-heart surgery, it was easier for me to plunge myself into work than be with him. My brother, mother and grandmother were with him, but it was too much for me to deal with. (Before you judge me callous, my girlfriend dumped me and my uncle died the same week, so that was a low point in my life.) Other times, like when my grandmother died, I’ve wished for a quick end to her pain so that her suffering was over.

Terry’s labor was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Almost immediately after the pitocin was connected to her IV she started having intense pain. She also immediately asked for an IV injection of statol for pain relief. Initially, this seemed like a good idea as she became incoherent and couldn’t remember was what happening, but it also meant that she became unresponsive to instructions.

The next two hours made me feel more alone than just about any time in my life. Terry was wracked with pain, and the statol left her unable to communicate except in mumbles. Still, the IV didn’t knock her completely out, so each contraction she would thrash around the bed, in more pain than I’ve ever seen her. She was also bleeding much more than the videos they showed us in childbirth class.

I wondered if this was what it was like for women in the fifties and sixties when they were routinely drugged during labor. Rolling around in agony for hours while the staff checked in only to see if there was some emergency.

The floor was so busy, nurses and doctors rarely stopped by to check in. I was concerned about the blood and they were concerned about her thrashing. Every time she had a contraction, Terry would throw herself around the bed, and end up hunched over like question mark. This put a lot of pressure on Ronan, and his heart rate dropped with each contraction and each thrashing. The statol prevented Terry from realizing that she was ending up in a position that was cutting off blood to Ronan, and I had to resort to holding her down during her thrashings. She did not like that much.

As she came out of the statol-induced haze, she couldn’t remember how much time had passed, and she wanted an epidural. I knew she was in a lot of pain because we had discussed an epidural beforehand and this was her last resort. Terry has MS and when she was diagnosed, they botched a spinal tap, causing her to have spinal fluid leaking out and a headache for three weeks. The steroids caused severe nausea and vomiting. Since then she has a big fear of needles to the spine, so the idea of an epidural caused as much stress as relief.

The anesthesiologist was not happy with administering an epidural while Terry was recovering from statol. It took a lot of time with Terry repeatedly requesting an epidural for the doctor to agree to administer it.

Little did we know that our OB/GYN cancelled it, because she had decided that the baby wasn’t going to take any more labor with the lowered heart rate. She came in and told us that since Terry hadn’t made any progress with the pitocin, that the baby needed to come out and that Terry needed a c-section.

The OB reminded Terry that this was normally done with a spinal block, but Terry completely freaked out, so the OB recommended full anesthesia. This calmed her down but it meant that I wouldn’t witness our son’s birth as the hospital policy prevented me from being in the operating room if Terry was completely out.

It was a scene worthy of ER. Nurses and the doctor stood around the bed, shouting instructions at Terry, who was more confused than anything as she struggled to wake up from the statol. At one point, with four people shouting instructions, Terry sat up and said, “Wait! Wait! One question at a time!” and then everybody stopped and waited for her to collect herself. I don’t think she was ready but they went anyway.

We wheeled her into the operating room and I stopped at the door. I went back to the now-empty room where Ryan was packing our stuff. Suddenly there was nothing left for me to do except wait.

It was that moment I started to cry.

As they sent Ryan out with the bags, I stood in the birth room, totally alone. I was waiting to find out what was going on, putting on a flimsy white disposable OR gown, which was about two inches shorter than me. Just as I figured out how to get my shoulders into it, they came and told me that I couldn’t go in. I was more relieved to get out of that thing than I was about not being there to witness the birth.

After collecting myself, Ryan carried all the bags to the waiting room and introduced me to the others waiting there. I don’t really remember what their names were, but they were all in the same boat – their loved ones were having a c-section.

Then, I just waited. About thirty minutes went by, and then an hour.

Then the OB brought out Ronan. The whole waiting room went crazy, Ryan and I ran out and hugged each other and took photos.

I think it was one of the most memorable moments in my life. He was cute and perfect, and suddenly the terror of the evening paled in comparison to this beautiful, alert little newborn. I felt totally rejuvenated.

Which was good — we had nine hours to go before Terry was moved from recovery to the well baby maternity floor.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on April 10, 2007 12:07 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Ronan Sucking His Finger.

The next post in this blog is Birth Story (Part 2).

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