Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Arrival Pt. 5: A Star Is Born

After that the pain was pretty much constant. To help alleviate it Julie got to Randi’s side and started to rub small, concentric circles on the inside of Randi’s knee. Amazingly, it helped alleviate the pain. Then Julie encouraged me to follow her lead.

“C’mon Dave, like this,” she said, correcting my movement. My circles were a little too big. Again, to my astonishment, it actually helped Randi feel, if not better, at least distracted from the ongoing contractions.

A great, but unexpected benefit of this knee rubbing was that my “spot,” for lack of a better word, in the delivery of my child, became absolutely ringside, with excellent sightlines, and little in the way of obstruction. I was right there, right in the middle of it, next to my wife for the whole ride. It’s funny, I’d always imagined that during the actual birth I would be in the room, but kind of looking over the shoulders of other people—such as nurses, or midwives—who’d do the real work. But the midwives were so cool, and understanding that they allowed me to claim my position at my wife’s hip. The hospital nurses were the same. At one point I asked if I should move out of the way, so the aforementioned kind-hearted nurse could get in, but she absolutely understood that the spot was mine to claim. And I claimed it, there for the whole thing.

It was now a little after 6:00 a.m., and just the night before we had the fear that we would have to get Randi induced by now. But maybe her body was just smarter than we ourselves knew; we were in the midst of it all, the way we wanted to be. The timing was astonishing, but there was no way we could think of that now.

Also, forget any thoughts of sleepiness from before, we were running on pure adrenaline, more wide awake than I had ever been. Every ounce of my concentration focused on my wife, and what had to happen. What we needed to have happen. What I feared could happen if we couldn’t get what we needed to happen to happen. It had to happen. It had to.

To help relax the mood between contractions Julie make still another bowl of hot water and scented essences of something, and this time Randi pushed it away from her face. She wasn’t in the mood for anything, except for the final action, the big push.

Anne felt the same way. “Okay, honey, now we’re going to get you to start pushing, and we’re going to push that baby out.”

Now we reached the beginning of the end of what this thing was all about. The lower half of the bed was removed, so Anne would have better access to where the baby would emerge. Eschewing stirrups Julie and I held Randi’s legs up and apart. Talk about close, this was like nothing I had ever imagined.

But the pushing was slow. Agonizingly slow.

At one point Randi let out a scream. Anne, unflappable, told her to channel that energy in a different direction.

“Not a high-pitched scream,” she said. “But lower, channel it into your gut, to push.”

Randi, now already nearing a state of semi-coherence nodded, and understood. She did as was instructed.

The pushes generally came in threes, and were as long, consistent and slow as Randi could make them. Along the way we gave quiet encouragement, although the stream of complimentary words was constant, like the water from the shower.

The effort was draining Randi right before my eyes, but she kept on fighting. Only on one or two occasions did she give up before she completed the third, long push. (And the third one was always the hardest one. It was the one that took extra, extra deep breaths, and the surmounting of pain.)

It was hard to talk to her, of course, I should’ve known that. At one point, to offer encouragement, I talked about an extremely hard hike we did last summer at Yosemite up a peak called Sentinel Rock. It was 4.5 miles almost straight up unceasing switchbacks in the baking sun, the whole way. We were exhausted after about the first 15 minutes, but we kept on going, inch by inch. At the end, in a feet that impressed me to no end, Randi ran the last 15 yards or so to the summit. There we both enjoyed our respective frozen treats. It was a tough hike, but compared to childbirth? My attempt to draw parallels between the two was not well received.

“Honey, remember that time at Sentinel Rock, that time when you ran up to …”

She cut me off.

“Don’t talk to me about that now, just don’t.”

I dropped it, but I have to admit that it hurt my feelings right then. Then I realized I probably needed to get over myself, and I shrugged it off.

After that I kept my encouragement kind of generic. I told her over and over that she can, and will do it. But she herself was not so sure.

After about 45 minutes of pushing, with no sign of a baby yet, she, at least in word, gave up.

“I can’t do this, I just can’t, I can’t do this!”

To which we showered her with encouragement. Then they slipped an oxygen mask across her already wet brow. And she kept on pushing.

After a little while Randi demanded that she had to switch positions, and kneeled on her hands and knees. Not for long, maybe a handful of minutes. Again, the midwives were completely cool with this; which makes me appreciate them even more. She needed to do this, and they let her. Randi was free of IVs, so they didn’t have to unclip her from anything. She had freedom of movement, and could drink water or even eat if she wanted to, all things that typical doctors in typical births say no to. I am no expert but this policy simply makes no sense to me. Birth is not surgery. At least it’s not if you’re lucky.

As Randi crouched Anne simply retreated to the un-recliner and relaxed. She made no sounds, said nothing, just let it happen. Then Randi went back into the classic position on her back, and Anne moved back to her customary spot in front of Randi: ground zero.

Now Anne periodically reached a well-lubed finger into Randi to feel for the baby. And soon she started to feel something, the baby’s head.

But it wasn’t coming quickly at all. Anne kept up with her encouragement, and kept on lubing the birth canal, but the baby stubbornly stayed up.

Soon another midwife, Donna, entered the room, and she and Anne conferred. I couldn’t hear what about, but there seemed in their miens and tones a certain sort of strong intent, a sense that this needed to happen sooner rather than later. It was palpable. Not that we could, or even should, rush. But that getting the baby before not too, too much longer would be better than good.

The pressure, now, was on Randi. No one could do it for her. She had to finish this marathon herself, with energy she wasn’t sure she had. Sentinel Rock, indeed. Labor, birth, they all seem like such routine procedures, until you realize how horribly wrong it could all go, even today, in 2008. The game was on, and Randi was the only one who could ice it. Now Randi’s breath became heavier, and her mind retreated to a deeper place, a more animal place, as she focused her will, all of it, on just one action: push.

Still, despite her ongoing pushes, she still pleaded for help, help that could never come.

“Somebody help me, get this baby out of me!” she screamed, in a scene that somehow reminded me of the climax of The Exorcist. Except without Max Von Sydow, or the Devil, for that matter. Although who knows what we’d hear if we played Randi’s screams backwards?

In any case, Randi, despite such protestations, kept up with her low, concentrated pushing, always making the last one count. I firmly believe this is the only reason we didn’t have a C-section; because my wife wouldn’t permit it.

But, as mentioned, it was agonizingly slow. The baby would take two moves forward and one and a half back. I had no basis for comparison, but I felt this was taking an awfully long time.

Still, her efforts started to bear fruit. After some time the vagina opened just enough and the baby was just far enough along that I could see the very top, the smallest little picture of the top of its head.

It was here that Randi issued a dictum to her camera-happy mother. “No vagina shots!”

The rule was obeyed.

The pushes got stronger, more urgent. Still controlled, but with more focus now, the baby could be seen. Randi would push, one, two, three, and it would gain another half inch of ground, only to be agonizingly sucked back in almost as much. By God, was it always this hard?

Anne kept lubing the canal, encouraging Randi, letting her know it was happening. Soon more of the head could be seen. It was covered in lots of curly hair!

Anne took a good look.

“It looks like we’ve got a redhead!” No one in my family has red hair.


A second later she corrected herself.

“No, it’s blond!”

I sighed. “That’s more like it!”

The midwives and nurses now were carefully noting the heart monitor. If the baby stayed too long in the birth canal, no matter what we did, we’d have to move on to whatever Plan B was necessary. But not yet.

“Keep on pushing,” Anne said. And then we all said together: “One! Two! Threee.” And Randi pushed, and pushed some more, all the action happening, it seemed, on that last, draining push. Now my wife’s hair was soaked with sweat. Julie applied a cool towel to it, I continued to look at ground zero, unable to take my eyes off it. Although we did have to put Randi’s legs down periodically, to give her and us, a rest.

For the final labors Anne instructed Randi to grab her own legs and help us hold them wide, to ease the birth. She did so, and after four or five series of pushed the baby’s head got closer and closer, though there was still a stubborn flap of pink cervical skin holding it back. I wanted to just reach in and fold it back like the cuffs on a pair of pants, but I realized that somehow that could be a horrible disaster. Instead I just kept up my steady stream of encouragement, knowing I never was more proud of my wife.

Sometimes I even led the countdowns for pushing, although I felt that maybe this was a bit out of my depth. Mostly though I held Randi’s hand, and just let her know I was there.

Finally the head was nearing the crowning, but all was not well. The baby monitor was starting to slow down. It was now a race against time. It dropped below 100—which is not good—right about when the final pushes were to be made.

“Reach down and touch your baby,” Anne instructed to Randi. Randi, wordlessly reached down and felt the crown of the baby’s head. At the time she immediately went back to pushing, only later explaining that this, this recognition, is what gave her the power to summon this baby into the world. The will to make it happen.

Staring at the crown, I saw that with a mighty push this wrinkled cap of skin began to take the shape of a human head, and then it got bigger. Then it started to finally slide, eased at last as it passed something, and the skin slid by some more to reveal the backside of the baby’s tiny, miscolored skull, detailed into the minutest perfection by a human right ear, the most unforgettable sight of my life, covered with matter from the canal, but immaculate, and perfect and definitely, absolutely, 100% alive.

Here Anne discovered the culprit, why the pushing, which usually only took 30 minutes had taken 90. The umbilical chord was around the baby’s neck. Calmly, before we could even become worried, she un-looped it from the baby, and pushed it aside in order to finally get this creature out.

After that the baby twisted as it slid forward, emerging with incredible speed now, covered in green from the waste, eyes closed. Then the whole baby was removed and held by Anne, here, in the world, at last. It was 7:48 a.m., Monday, April 14 2008.

“It’s a girl!” Anne said, with triumph. And the baby’s name was Stella Rae. It means star of the sea.

“Oh my god, it’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Julie said; the doula who had never before seen a live birth. We were her first.

I started to cry, everything had changed, my whole conception of life had changed in one second, my whole conception of my love had changed, my whole marriage had changed, and all the change was better. And I cried as they hurriedly brought Stella to the table, they didn’t even give her to Randi because of the danger from the waste, and they calmly, but immediately, began to suction out her lungs.

After just a few moments Stella was cleaned from head to toe, and breathing, but upset, and cranky. They called me over to cut the cord, the first parent to have any real contact with the baby. Weeping I walked over.

Now, I had always considered the cord cutting a token procedure, at best. The wife does all this work, not the least of which includes actually carrying the child for the better part of the year. And then when it’s born, in order to make Dad feel included, they let him do the birth equivalent of when they open a new supermarket. But as they slipped the rubber gloves on me, and carefully instructed me to cut only between “there” and “there” (honestly, it’s pretty hard to miss) I took a moment, got in front of the baby, and spoke to her.

At that very second Stella Rae stopped crying, stopped moving, opened her eyes and looked directly at me. She already knew me, and I saw that her eyes were also my eyes. Now my world was eclipsed, and everything I thought I understood before seemed shattered. My mind exploded, and I cried, and was aware that I was crying and was unashamed that I cried. We held each other’s gaze. My daughter already knew me.

Then I cut the cord, or cut it in two attempts, as red, red blood squirted. These moments were the most profound of my life, and these feelings only deepened as they handed Stella, at last, to her mom. I joined them, and now we were a family. I was in love with something grander than I ever comprehended, and the world, in its majesty, had indoctrinated me into its most powerful secret; greater than the Pyramids, greater than Stonehenge, greater than my own beating heart.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look at the photo at the top of this entry, and decide for yourself. It’s worth at least 1,000 words, or however many I may write.


Lauren said...

Very nice, David. You made me cry with that entry - and, now that I'm no longer in the grip of my hormones, that's not so easy. ;)

I'm looking forward to seeing Mommy and Baby next week!

Holly said...

Wow. That was absolutely beautiful and moving.

Since I'm pretty new to your blog, I'm looking back at your past entries. So glad I found your Arrival Series.

Martin said...

Got to say it, David. Yours is a blog I read and re-read, and I read this entry over and over again. It's just plain lovely.

Good thing your kid turned out so cute, too, huh? That's one adorable cat-baby-with-a-pumpkin :)

David Serchuk said...

Late for the comments, but thank you all for the nice words, she's snuggling with me right now!