I am the 5 percent—that rare, elusive baby born on its due date. As Lauren and I awaited our first, due on April 13, we joked, wondered and—I dare say—hoped that our child might follow in his or her father’s footsteps. April 13 was a Thursday and we had a long-ago-scheduled midwife appointment at 8:30 that morning. Just before we left the house, Lauren remarked that “something [was] happening,” but cautioned me to keep my hopes low, saying she was unsure whether it was early labor, Braxton-Hicks or something else entirely.
After the appointment, I went to work, and Lauren, feeling “odd,” stayed home. By 3:00 p.m., she alerted me that something was indeed happening, but again, she cautioned me not to assume it meant anything, or that, if it did, we could still be hours or days from the main event. I came from work by 5:00 p.m. to find her showering. I glanced at her contraction tracking app and saw more than 10 contractions in the past hour, roughly 3-4 minutes apart. That was when I realized at long last: yes, something is happening.
When it became clear that Lauren was in some form of labor, we alerted our doula, only to find out that she had another client who was also in labor and that the doula would need to call in her backup, a woman we had never met. As the contractions increased in intensity and frequency, I finally phoned the on-call midwife, who, after getting some information, encouraged us to labor at home as long as possible. That was consistent with Lauren’s directive to me that she wanted to stay home until she was “miserable.” So, we did. Around 9:15 p.m., she had a contraction strong enough to cause her vomit, and at that point, she decided she was miserable enough to trek to the hospital. I asked if she wanted to wait out even one more contraction, and she assured me (as gently as can be expected) that no, she really, really did not.
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From what I can recall, the hospital was a 25-hour drive away. In reality, it probably took us only 10 minutes with light traffic, getting us to the hospital by quarter to ten. After arriving in the labor ward, I was led off to complete paperwork, provide insurance information, sign forms, etc., while Lauren was spirited away to a triage pre-delivery room. When I found her, ten minutes later, she was standing, in only a tank top, hooked up to a fetal monitoring machine, alone in a dark room. It was grim. Forgetting we would be moving to a delivery room, I began to dutifully setup shop, getting our music going, looking for a refrigerator for the food we brought and trying to find places for our hospital wares. A few minutes later, Melissa, our backup doula, arrived. There is nothing like meeting someone for the first time in the throes of labor, but Melissa was wonderful.
Mercifully, after being in the dark, cold triage room only long enough to ensure there was no trauma to the baby, we were led to a much more comfortable delivery room down the hall, where I could rightfully unpack and assume my chief duty: holding hands and getting ice. It was in the delivery room that I learned Lauren was 7 centimeters dilated when we arrived at the hospital and, thinking back to birth class, I realized that was a good sign that we had in fact stayed home until Lauren was miserable.
Once in the delivery room, things became a blur. Lauren labored on a birth ball, or standing, through a number of obviously very intense contractions. Near the end of one contraction, Melissa remarked to the student midwife in the room that Lauren seemed to be naturally pushing during the contraction, which sent everyone scrambling to fill the birth tub, summon the midwife and otherwise prepare for the imminent arrival of a small human.
We had not planned on a water birth, but we had heard that laboring in the tub can be therapeutic, so we completed the required training and came prepared. Lauren stepped into the tub shortly after they began filling it, and it seemed to be effective. Our text message history (courtesy of Melissa) suggests she stepped into the tub around 11:15 p.m. At some point, as she masterfully handled each contraction, I heard the student midwife remark that Lauren’s water had broken and then, as quickly as I knew what was going on, the water flushed a deep red and there, being scooped from the brine, was a small, startled baby. Our baby.
Lauren also apparently missed her arrival, grabbing her from the water and remarking with true surprise and unqualified love, “Oh my gosh. You’re here.” Panting from the exertion and excitement, Lauren held our new baby, realizing the enormity of what had just happened. We opted not to learn the baby’s sex before birth, and, within a few minutes of birth, the midwife slowly spread the baby’s legs, and, with as much grace as can be expected under the circumstances, she pointed between the baby’s legs to let me make the announcement. Full disclosure: It took me a moment to realize what I was looking at, but then it hit me—we have a daughter! After months of assuming (for no reason whatsoever) that the baby would be a boy, we were surprised and delighted. She was born at 11:34 p.m., less than 2 hours after we arrived at the hospital, and after what seemed like only five or six pushes.
A few minutes later, we helped Lauren from the tub and onto the bed so they could stitch up some second-degree tearing. While they got her situated on the bed, I held our daughter—Isla James—and marveled. I have never been a baby person, and I fretted for months about fatherhood and making a connection with our new family member. I don’t often find babies intrinsically cute, thinking they look too much like small, old men to really hit my heartstrings. But, as I gazed at Isla, I was struck by (1) my ability to be part of making something so pure, innocent, and beautiful and (2) how immediately I felt connected to her.
My takeaway from our birth experience was the amazing resilience of the human body and a deep, unshakeable pride and admiration for Lauren, who handled something as tremendous as birth with the utmost strength and dignity. She is my hero and proof that something as scary and unknown as birth does not need to be traumatic. To my great surprise, I would go through the whole experience again. And I hope to.
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