My wife and I make our way up to bed. She makes the final trip to the bathroom, knowing she will have to do this about every 2 hours throughout the night. The third trimester is unkind to a woman’s bladder, ensuring she will not get a decent night’s sleep. The episode of ER on NBC is a repeat, not compelling enough for us to stay awake. We mechanically start making our way up to bed around 10:15 pm. In her last trimester, Jen’s ability to stay awake is far better than the first trimester. Then, she was on a regulated dose of Progesterone to maintain a viable pregnancy. The drug’s sedative effects are so powerful that she falls asleep in a variety of situations: watching television, at her desk at work, even sitting on the toilet. On several occasions, she has fallen asleep mid-conversation with me.
‘What would you like for dinner, honey?”
“Why don’t we get a piz………..?” her voice trailing off. She doesn’t even finish the word pizza before her eyes roll back for another unanticipated cat nap. It’s a source of humor in the Carroll household. While watching movies in our living room, Jen falls asleep intermittently, so quickly I don’t even notice until she’s out. I’ll pause the film to steal a quick bathroom break, only to find that wife has fallen asleep in the 30 seconds of my absence. Jen has no memory of any movies we watched in her first trimester.
As I make my way to our bedroom on the 2nd floor, I hear a melodic exclamation of “Oh!...” from my wife.
“Is everything okay”? I shout down the stairs.
“Oh honey, I think……..I think my water just broke”.
“Really?”, as if this would be something Jen could even misinterpret.
“I think we need to go to the hospital…..like…..like right now!”
We grab the pre-packed travel bags in the upstairs closet and make our way into the night to Women & Infants Hospital. As we enter the admittance area, the harsh fluorescent lighting of the hospital blinds us, a stark contrast to the evening’s darkness. My wife strolls to the counter.
“My water just broke!” she exclaims.
“Well…” the female attendant states looking up, “I guess you’re not going to leave this hospital until you have your baby….” I like the way she says this, oddly reassuring, even though I realize that this part of a scripted conversation she’s said to countless expectant mothers.
My wife is brought to one of the hospital rooms The room is actually quite homey, with muted lighting, and best of all - private. We spend all night there. One of the nurses points to what it essentially a beach lounge chair in the corner of the room.
“You’re welcome to sleep here….” the nurse chirps up.
‘Of course, I’ll be here” wondering if there are actually men who state “No, I’m the kind of guy who really needs to sleep in this own bed. I’ll be back by eight honey. Just text me if you want me to pick up some coffee.”
Of course, there is no sleep in the hospital for my wife and me. The sounds, the interruptions, the hum of the overhead lights prevent us from any rest. We remain in a foggy haze until morning. It’s worse than an airport terminal.
As the day progresses, the contractions become more pronounced. Jen is hooked up to a large machine which measures each contraction with a frightening seismographic line. I can actually see the contractions as they are coming, which deepens my pre-Dad guilt. Man, I got off easy. It reminds me of something out of a science fiction movie. My wife’s hand grasps mine tightly as the contractions become more intense. Though we’ve discussed a natural childbirth, my wife, ever the pragmatist, leaves the option of an epidural open, because, as she states it, “I really don’t know the pain associated with childbirth. This is my first one you know…”. I strongly agree and recommend that she gets one before it’s too late, with larger earthquakes appearing on the contraction machine. I can only imagine how much worse it could get.
The epidural is administered and the relief is instant, fascinating to watch its effects wash over Jen. The muscles in her back, shoulders, and neck start to relax. She sighs heavily and wearily. This was a great idea. Every woman should give it careful consideration.
At the 24 hour mark, my wife has yet to crown. She is so tired. The effects of the epidural have worn off, and she is too deep into the labor for anything that could ease her pain. Unexpectedly, the pain in her lower back is what causes the most duress, so much so that she relays her surprise to the doctor.
“Why does it hurt so bad?”
“well, you’re about ready to crown”……she responds, her pleasant voice such a stark contrast to the urgency in my wife’s voice.
At 11:30 pm, the doctor instructs her to push. The baby is “ready”, although my wife may disagree with her own level of readiness. She is exhausted, strands of hair sticking to the perspiration on her forehead. Her voice is weaker; she acknowledges the doctor with only short breathy responses. I am hunched over her legs, resting my elbows on my knees. I will have a VIP front row seat to the miracle. My wife, unfortunately, doing all the work, is relegated to distant bleachers. She will not see any of the action.
The doctor and attendant nurse instruct her to push ----- push hard. The nurse is holding up her hand, and leans her forward with her other hand on her lower back - a universal signal that it really is time. I watch and catch the first glance of the crown of my son’s head. My adrenalin surges – it is unreal. Blood rushes to my wrists and hands. This event happens every second of every day, and yet this is our time, our moment. My son’s head retreats back, not quite ready. Now, my wife is given a very explicit order.
“Push with everything you’ve got!” the doctor bellow. My wife follows the instruction, with a prolonged gust of agony.
My son’s head fully crowns and the doctor wastes no time. She quickly maneuvers one shoulder out, then the other. Now, he is ready. She drags him out, the blue umbilical cord dragging behind. After 25 hours, the birth now seems very sudden. The doctor cradles my son and turns to me
“Would you like to cut the umbilical cord, Mr. Carroll?
‘Sure would!” as if this gesture has contributed anything of significance. It’s akin to bringing dessert to a Thanksgiving dinner, a mild gesture that has no real impact given the scope of the situation.
My son’s APGAR score is assessed. He is swaddled quickly and handed to me. His dark eyes not focusing on anything in particular. I feel another surge of adrenalin, knowing that I am the first human being to truly hold my son. It is an honor, spectacular in its significance, I am a Dad – his Dad.
In the euphoric haze of these first moments, I have ignored my wife. She, on the other hand, is feeling quite the opposite - experiencing the worst part of the labor process. The placenta has not detached itself, requiring the doctor to go in and remove it herself. I am unaware of this at first, basking in the glow of my newborn son. I turn to show our son to my wife. After all, she should get to meet him too, As I spin around, I am surprised by the amount of blood soaking the sheets below my wife’s legs. The smell of blood permeates the entire room. My wife exclaims “it hurts, it hurts” as the ob-gyn inserts her hand deeply to retrieve it. “I know; I know” the doctor responds with true sympathy in her voice. My knees get weak and I turn away with my son still in my hands. This is something best left to the experts. I am aware of just how lucky I am during this whole ordeal.