At long last, this is my contribution in response to our call for NGP birth stories, about the birth of our second child:
In the last couple of months of pregnancy, we found out that Lyn had a dangerous complication called cholestasis of pregnancy. This was a difficult time for both of us, but there were certain difficulties that were particular to me. We found out that Lyn had this complication because of intense itching. Since itching is part of many normal pregnancies, we came to understand the problem, and the magnitude of the problem, only gradually. For weeks, I was up with Lyn in the middle of every night giving her massages that calmed her down and kept her from scratching her skin raw as she told me about the new part of her body (eyeballs, anyone?) that was itching. Lyn mentioned there was a condition she had heard of that could be a possibility, and at the same time, our midwife sent Lyn for lab work. We both agreed that she shouldn’t look into it through internet searches, since searching about a condition you think you might have only leads to excess worrying. So I looked into it. What I found was alarming. The symptoms described exactly matched Lyn’s symptoms, the condition was rare and often difficult to have diagnosed, and it came with an alarming risk of neonatal death.
So after I read enough information to worry me, I talked to Lyn and told her I was quite worried and what I understood about the testing she’d need (which agreed with what our midwife recommended). Then I started reading the medical literature, and much of it I didn’t share with her at the time. I was doing this with her express permission because we both felt the need to protect her emotional state. But I think that this is something that happens to non-bio-moms and dads — we can end up holding some of the worry to protect our spouses. We are the ones who are putting on the “game face” and keeping it together, so that the mom who will be giving birth can fall apart.
I can’t say that I did the job perfectly. I remember being a wreck. I felt like Lyn’s belly had changed from a nurturing home for our baby to a menacing haunted house that could take our baby from us without notice. But that’s exactly what Lyn feared and felt guilt about, so I couldn’t voice that to her. I knew that this pregancy was not just important to her because we were going to have a baby, that it also represented her connecting with and trusting her own body, something that doesn’t come easy for her. And somehow her body managed to become the enemy again. Back then, I wrote about some of the positive aspects of getting to be a caregiver,but I didn’t write about how powerless I felt to protect either our baby or my wife.
Our planned homebirth was out the window, our baby was in danger, and my wife was facing an early induction. There was nothing I could do about any of it. I couldn’t even allay her fears because they were all justified. After we received the diagnosis, she went on medication that helped with both the itching and the dangers to the baby, and that helped to relax us both a little, but we were still afraid, and we were still going to have a baby in the hospital with heavy medical intervention. That meant the prospect of a C-section loomed over both of us.
One of the difficulties I had at the time was worrying what would happen to Lyn if she had to have a C-seciton. I worked hard on having a firm belief myself that Lyn would have a vaginal birth. I didn’t want to think about what would happen if the baby had to come out through surgery. This was Lyn’s only shot at birth, and it was really important to her, and she really didn’t want to have surgery. To be perfectly frank, if it came to that, I wasn’t sure Lyn could handle it. That’s a terrible thing to thing to think about your spouse — that she can’t handle the challenge ahead. The fact is that if surgery had become necessary, she would have been OK. It would have been difficult and Lyn would have grieved, but we all would have recovered. I wish that I had realized that back then, and that I had trusted her more. It would have made the birth much easier for me. Instead, I stuffed that fear down and focused on the positive, and on pumping Lyn up for the challenge of an early induction.
We had a lot of support from a doula and our midwife as we headed to the hospital, but the induction was slow. Several times it looked like things were moving along and they stalled out instead. Our doctor agreed we could go home to rest after the first 24 hours failed to produce progress, and we came back the next morning for more, but nothing much was happening. The doctors were as patient as you can expect from doctors, but were still pushing us more and more, and reasonably so.
Lyn and I had requested that no one share numeric information about “centemeters dilated” with Lyn because we wanted to protect her from discouraging information, especially with a long induction. Overall that was a good decision, but it was violated one really unpleasant time when a new nurse came in, told Lyn that she was only a few centimeters dialated and implied that Lyn didn’t really have cholestasis seriously enough to need an induction. Talk about feeling powerless. I pretty much wanted to kill the nurse. Luckily our doula and the doctor on at the time helped us negotiate getting a new nurse, but it was a definite blow to my spirit and my sense of being able to control our environment at the hospital. And at the end of it all a second day went by with pit cranked high but no sustained intense labor. That night, we turned off the pit so that we both could sleep and so that Lyn could eat. The next morning would be our last shot.
I called my mom several times during this saga, and talked to Leigh. I was feeling increasingly worried about her as well. We’d been away from her for twice as long already as we ever had before, and I didn’t see an end in sight. I was so grateful to my mom for taking such good care of her, but I could also also hear and feel the stress she was under as she tried to keep Leigh calm and happy, when Leigh was more and more stressed about us and about the birth. That added to my general feeling of worry and powerlessness. I felt I had to stay with Lyn because she was going through such a scary time, but I also knew that Leigh was going through a scary and lonely time as well, and while I knew she was in good hands, I also knew that Leigh really wanted her moms.
The next day Lyn went back on the pit and we got to work again, but there just wasn’t much action. That day we hit the wall. We both knew that Lyn was moving ever closer to a C-section. The doctor was pushing us to break waters. I lost my faith that our vaginal birth would happen.
That was a terrible time for me. I was sure Lyn was going to have a C-section, and I wasn’t convinced she could handle it. I broke down. For me, part of the trouble is that I remembered when we had broken my waters when I was giving birth to Leigh. It was terribly painful, didn’t move labor along at all, and I didn’t want to take that path with Lyn. We were at the point where it was that or C-section, but in that state, to me breaking waters meant we’d probably have surgery anyway. I felt that the induction was failing, that our fears were coming true, and that I just couldn’t be there for Lyn anymore. Luckily our doula was there, and she told me to take a break. I took a shower while she gave me a pep talk. I told her my fears and she managed to talk me down from the cliff. She also told me I needed to get out of the room, take a walk, and talk to a friend. So I did. I called a close friend, who told me that she had been in a similar spot with her birth and everything turn out OK. My faith was restored and I was able to head back into that hospital room and tell Lyn that she could do it.
Our birth support people took a break for themselves, since we had been in this together for two days already, and Lyn and I waited for the breaking of the waters. I made one big miscalculation at this point — I didn’t realize that breaking those waters would suddenly change everything, and speed everything up, even though that’s what we were hoping for. Labor became more intense for Lyn quickly after the waters were broken and I was starving. Oh, and I needed to pump. Remember that during this whole birth I was trying to use the breastpump as many times as possible so that I would be prepared to nurse our son in a month.
At one point I remember that Lyn was in the tub and I had to ask a nurse to be with her so that I could pump and scarf down some food. After all of our support and all of our careful planning, I was pulling away from Lyn just as she needed me. Around this time, Lyn’s mom arrived at the airport. We had expected she would be there a day or two after the birth, but we told her to drop her bags off and come to the hospital and that she just might make the birth.
My memories of the birth get very fuzzy at this point. Everything was getting very intense, and Lyn was having trouble holding on. I really felt like I wasn’t able to give her everything that she needed. But finally our midwife got back on the scene, and Lyn really connected with her. I think it was both a blow to my ego and a relief to have the midwife there. Lyn clearly needed her, and her presence was calming and centering. Lyn had been holding on to labor while I was her main support and had been doing a great job, but she felt like the labor was too intense and was starting to feel out of control. I don’t think I had enough control or enough presence to really tether her to reality. She was in a lot of pain. No, really, a lot. That’s what birth is like when you have pitocin running the show rather than oxytocin. It’s very hard, and it doesn’t come with the hormones that soften the pain or put you in that dream-like detatched state. When I gave birth to Leigh, I don’t actually remember ever being scared. I remember it hurting and really wanting the pain to stop, but I don’t think I was ever afraid, and I attribute that in part to the dreaminess of oxytocin. I don’t think the same was true for Lyn, and I’m so glad that we had strong labor support people to anchor her. I was a great cheerleader during labor, and I think I did a fine job supporting Lyn, but I wasn’t the rock that she needed when contractions were turning the world inside out. Later Lyn’s mom arrived and she became Lyn’s main focal point. Again it was both hard and a big relief that Lyn wasn’t dependent on me. With her mom and the midwife, Lyn moved through every contraction like a superhero.
At some point, the doctor checked Lyn and called me out into the hall. We were still trying to give Lyn as little information as possible. I clearly remember the doctor starting to tell me about the check and describing Lyn’s progress as stalled and the baby ‘s position by tilting her head. “Wait, the baby is asynclitic?” I asked incredulously. We’d been going for three days and now this baby had the same problem that Leigh had three years before that caused us to transfer to the hospital (from a planned homebirth). Basically Lyn’s cervix was thin on one side but thicker on the other. This is a complication that I made it through without a c-section, but I did have to have an epidural. I knew that Lyn was still wanting to avoid an epidural, but I also knew that it might be a necessary step. The doctor and I decided that Lyn could labor for a while longer, but that we’d need to do an epidural if there was no progress soon. This is actually my biggest regret of Lyn’s labor. I think that if I had everything to do over again, I would have told Lyn that the baby was tipped (she figured it out on her own anyway) and that an epidural might be in order. Lyn maintains that I made good decisions, but I still have a lingering worry that I could have saved her from some pain and that the birth still would have turned out great. I think part of this lingering doubt is that I didn’t trust her not to freak out, and I really should have.
I went back into the labor room and started to get the information to the three other labor support people that were there. We didn’t tell Lyn, but she could tell what was going on. She was in the tub at this point, and laboring really hard. She was having an urge to push but the doctor said absolutely no pushing.
About an hour later, the doctor wanted to do another check and offer the epdural. I didn’t realize it until I checked with our midwife, but Lyn had decided that she was ready for an epidural. It was hard for me when I found that out because I hadn’t really known what was going on for her and started to worry that I wasn’t making the best decisions.
The doctor did the check and got a big grin on her face and told Lyn that she was complete. Lyn sprung out of the bed and landed on the floor in a squat, ready to push the baby out. The doctor convinced her to squat on the bed instead, reminding her that hospital floors aren’t all that clean. There was excitement in the room as Lyn started to direct us all and tell us what coaching and support she need to push this baby out. I hadn’t seen all that much of Lyn, actually, in the previous few hours of labor. While she was in the tub, she had four labor support people (including myself), plus a nurse who was in and out. All of those people were trying to fit in a small bathroom, and I was usually hovering around the door of that bathroom. I wasn’t feeling that connected with her at that time, and I was really wanting to find the right spot to help her in pushing, so I was grateful that she was able to tell everyone what she needed, including me. It helped me to feel like I was really contributing. Lyn did an amazing job of being clear about her needs, and she was amazingly polite. I remember she would repeat at the start of every contraction that she couldn’t do it, but then she rode every contraction out so bravely! The doula, midwife, and I tried to talk Lyn into taking the pushing slow, but she was having none of that, and I can’t say that I blame her. She’d waited forever for labor to even really start and then we’d been telling her for the last two hours not to push. She was ready to get that baby out.
After that, everything went amazingly quickly and Ira was born just a half-hour later, at 11:45pm, a little over 72 hours after we first entered the hospital. Once he was about to come out, the doctor got me to come down and do a four-handed catch. So many of the details of the birth have left me, but I still remember the warmth and wetness as he slipped into my hands. He was so alive! I cut the cord and Lyn and I met our new baby, who was perfect in every way. While we were doing that, the doctor was realizing that Lyn had complicated enough tearing that she needed to be stitched up in the OR, so after 45 minutes or so, Lyn was wheeled out to have anesthesia after all (a spinal), and I got to be alone with our new baby. Lyn reminded me me that I should nurse him, so I got to give him his first drops of milk before taking him to the nursury and being at his side while the nurses did their thing. While I was in the nursery with him, most of our labor support left, and Lyn’s mom moved our things into a postpartum room. When Ira and I were done in the nursury, I left Ira with Lyn’s mom and visited Lyn in the recovery room, where I got to tell her how proud I was of her.
A little while later, Lyn made it to the postpartum room. She was perky and wide awake, and I fell asleep on the uncomfortable chair-bed with Ira on my chest. The next night, I went home and spend the night with Leigh, while Lyn’s mom spent the night with Lyn and Ira at the hospital. It was hard to leave them and feel so far away, but I needed some real sleep and Leigh needed to be with at least one of her moms. I think somehow that night away was a metaphor for one of my biggest lessons from the birth, that I don’t have to be everything for Lyn. Sometimes she needs other people, and that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t need me.