Birth of a Father
Bracing for the moment of truth in the delivery room
By JD Lasica, BabyCenter managing editor
I reach the top of the landing at 12:57 a.m., after an especially long workday, and open our bedroom door. “How’d you like to have a baby today?” my wife says.
My heart flutters. Mary is six days past her due date, and friends and neighbors have been showering us with advice about how to induce labor. (I’ll cop to this: Last weekend I drove my more-than-ready wife over a dozen speed bumps in an effort to speed things up. Still, we have our standards, and we’ve resisted the old hike-her-up-on-the-washing-machine-during-spin-cycle routine.) I’ve heard so many old wives’ tales about how to pop this kid out of the oven that I nearly forgot the cardinal rule of childbirth: Babies arrive when they want to.
I reach for the phone. I’m ready to call the doctor, the hospital, 911, the National Guard — can you tell this is our first baby? — but Mary reminds me of what we learned during childbirth class: The hospital will send us packing if we show up too early. We time the contractions at ten minutes apart. Mary suggests we try to catch a few hours of sleep.
The call to the doctor
She wakes me from a fitful sleep at 4:47 a.m. A wave of guilt washes over me — Mary hasn’t slept at all, and the contractions seize her body every six minutes. We time two sets and call her obstetrician, who’s on call tonight. She tells us to head to the hospital. I’m happy to oblige — I’ve never seen my wife in such agony. Her moans are scaring our border collie. “I’m not even pushing and it’s killing me already,” she says. We hadn’t read about this: The baby is dropping so fast that a searing pain shoots through Mary’s rectum between contractions.
I drive to the hospital without causing too many multi-car pileups. We arrive at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California, at 5:27 a.m., and enter the main door. We’re whisked into triage, where a nurse applies a lubricant and attaches external fetal monitors to Mary’s belly. Mary’s water breaks and she’s dilated to 6 centimeters. The nurse nods approvingly and says, “Most first-time mothers don’t wait this long.” Mommy and baby check out fine, so we wobble into a nearby labor room, passing a crying newborn on the way. A beautiful sound.
A simple plan
Our birth plan is a simple one: “I want drugs,” Mary tells anyone who’ll listen. Dr. Eric Hunt, the anesthesiologist, administers an epidural — a mix of lidocaine and epinephrine — via an IV into the small of Mary’s back at 5:55 a.m. Her heart rate is 85 (60 to 100 is considered normal), she’s now at 8 centimeters, and the baby has slipped down to the minus one position of engagement. Mary receives a second epidural of fentanyl and bupivacaine. She starts to feel its effects after seven minutes, and her pain begins to lift. We begin to mellow out. We pass the time by listening to the thrum of our baby’s heartbeat on the monitor and looking out the window at pink clouds playing against a baby blue sky.
(A word of background: My wife — no relation to the author of Mary’s Story — and I are in our early 40s and got married 34 months ago. This is our first baby. At the amniocentesis, we learned it’s a boy. We have several friends who are trying to conceive, and we’re thrilled beyond words that Mary was able to get pregnant with just the use of a low-tech ovulation detector kit — and a little cooperation from me.)
At 6:54 a.m. Mary’s contractions are coming at 11/2 to 3 minutes apart. Remarkably, the pain has vanished. “This is a breeze,” she tells me, but it’s the epidural talking. “Just some pressure and a little cramping.” It’s as if she’s enjoying the contractions. My heart lifts, my frayed nerves start to heal. I put on an uptempo jazz CD by Diane Schuur. I fell in love with Mary at a Diane Schuur concert not far from here. The anesthesiologist leaves, and a nurse brings me a tray of waffles, cereal, and coffee. I eat at bedside.
The doctor is in
At 7:48 the attending physician, Dr. Katarina Lanner-Cusin, arrives and begins monitoring the contractions. Mary and I are mesmerized by the lines forming on the computer monitor: the contractions sketching a landscape of gently rolling hills. The epidural, not unexpectedly, has slowed down the contractions to every four minutes, so the doctor starts Mary on Pitocin to speed up the contractions.
At 8:27 a.m. I call Continental Airlines: My sister is already in the air, and she’s expecting me to pick her up at San Francisco Airport at 11. (“What if Mary goes into labor that morning?” my sister had asked. “Oh, please!” I said, my smug-male genes in full throttle.) A flight representative checks with a superior, then reports: “We’re not permitted to relay messages to passengers.” Appeals to our common bond as human beings get me nowhere.
We have dilation
The Pitocin is working. By 9:35 the contractions are coming 60 to 90 seconds apart. A half hour later, Mary is fully dilated to 10 centimeters and the baby has dropped to the plus-one position. We ask about the squat bar. The doctor says only 10 percent of the hospital’s patients use it, and women on an epidural can’t because the sedative causes a loss of sensation in the legs. At 10:18 the doctor says the magic words:
“It’s time to start pushing.”
It does not go as I expect.