A Joyful Gasp

Birth Story
Labor and Delivery

June 13, 2021

George just shy of one day old

As I write this, I jostle your six-pound body on my chest while Sabrina clamors for attention. An early morning on the back porch, I take in the day as your mom gets some sleep after filling your belly with her milk. This week brought feelings I never knew possible. Peaceful and overwhelmed – what I'm feeling now – is a prime example.

I've known you were coming into our lives for nine months. Your mom's belly grew and grew. Most days I'd find a package on the porch meant to prepare us for your arrival. Parenting books sit on every end table with a coffee-stained coaster. Every conversation with friends gets around to me soliciting advice. Despite all that, I hadn't fully processed your arrival until Monday morning.

The plan was to induce your mom on June 9th, a Wednesday. 37 weeks was the compromise of warding off pre-eclampsia's more severe symptoms and your fetal development.

On Monday, your mom went to her biweekly checkup on her blood pressure and your heart rate. The entire pregnancy you've been great. Your heartbeat was strong and flowed up and down like it should. Your mom wasn't doing as well. Pre-eclampsia is a mysterious disease. Her blood pressure crept up in the final weeks, but it had been high for at least the last three months. But this morning, she saw occasional flashes in her eyes, and her left foot wiggled for a bit longer than it should after the nurses pushed on it. That might not sound all that bad, but it could have turned life threatening for you both before you came out on your own.

After a few morning work meetings, Kayla called to tell me the induction was moved up to as soon as possible. They were admitting her into a delivery room. I hadn't yet packed, and my schedule was completely full of meetings over the next few days preparing my time at home with you. Frantic, I messaged as many as I could to tell them the news, cancellings meeting while I threw the essentials into my bag. Knowing I would not have a convenient time to eat again, I microwaved something from the freezer and burned my mouth as I wolfed it down. Alex's dad was going to give me a ride, but your mom wanted me there right away. I loaded up the Honda and was off.

I carried a backpack, suitcase, snack bag, charcuterie tray, and pillows up to the check-in desk at the hospital. A grey-haired lady with a gentle smile asked if I was headed to labor and delivery. I confirmed out of breath through my mask. She took my temperature, handed me a sticker, and sent me on my way. Off the elevator a nurse badged me through the door and walked me to room four.

Your mom was not doing well. Tubes led into her arms and cables came out of the monitors attached to her belly. She smiled when I walked in the room, but her eyes held fear and strain. I unpacked what I could and sat with her for a long while.

We found little sleep in the night. You left little room for her bladder already and the bags of IV fluids meant frequent trips to the bathroom. A high dose of magnesium ensured that she would not have a seizure, but it left her exhausted, disoriented, and with a pounding headache. I helped her to the bathroom by disconnecting her cables and wheeling her IV pole to the toilet. When she wasn't up and down to the bathroom, nurses checked her vitals and reflexes every half hour. At three in the morning, I helped her out of bed, and she stopped me as I began to wheel the IV pole. "How am I supposed to push a baby out? I'm so weak I can barely walk." The pain in her voice brought tears to my eyes as I hugged her and told her it would be okay. But would it be okay?

Gigi arrived that morning after driving through the night with Grandpa. Mothers make the impossible bearable. She put her back down, took of her mask, and went to work. Your mom's head was pounding from the magnesium. Gigi's head massage gave partial relief, but most of that was from her love, not the massage. We would get through this together.

The nurse started IV drugs early that morning that began the birth process, but progression was slow. Twelve hours in and little progress made, they let your mom rest for the night and eat for the first time in over two days. I'm skipping the details of cervical checks and Foley catheters that happened periodically throughout the day.

You should know that your mom is the bravest woman you'll ever meet. The medications they gave her stole her energy and hurt her spirit, she had no food since the night before she walked into her appointment, and she had no sight of relief on the horizon. On top of all that, you were coming early, and we hadn't measured you on ultrasound for more than a month. No complaints, no tears, no hesitations. She marched on through it all. I knew she was a special woman, but that day taught me the depths of her strength and her perseverance. I hope to one day give you the love she gave you that day. You are one lucky boy.

The doctor walked in on your birthday eager to get things moving along. Impatient with your progress, he jumps started the birth process by breaking your mom's water and restarted the medication to welcome you to the world. He prepped us for a C-section as the most likely outcome of the day. Of course, we didn't want a surgery, but we'd welcome you no matter how you came into this world.

A few hours later, the powerful contractions started as you made your way down the birth canal. Nurse Angie checked on your progress and reported that your mom may surprise us all and have a normal birth. Giant smiles filled the room. "Praise God!" Gigi exclaimed. The birthing pains grew as your mom's uterus contacted harder and harder to push you out of the womb and into our hearts. An epidural lessened your mom's pain as she prepared for the part that gives "labor" its name.

It was a busy day for the maternity floor, and we had to wait a bit for the pushing to begin. Early afternoon, they checked your progress, and you were ready. Every contraction, we held your mom's legs in the air as she held her breath and pushed as hard as she knew how. For a count of ten she held that steady pressure before releasing her breath, gasping for air, and starting the process again. Repeat three times per contraction. Because of the magnesium that may well have been saving your mom's life, labor was slower than it would have been otherwise. It slows everything down.

Over an hour into pushing, we could see your little head ready to burst into the world. You had hair! A few more sets of pushes and you'd be out. Nurse Angie called the doctor and baby nurses to prepare. They arrived with a table of sterile equipment covered in a large blue cloth. In a different setting, you might mistake it for a dinner table with tablecloth. Onto the floor, the resident doctor spread a large plastic sheet, also blue. Along with it goes a sheet attached to the end of the bed with a large pocket attached to the front. The pocket is to catch most of the non-baby stuff that comes out. Probably enough said.

With the doctor at the ready, your mom pushed again and again. Your head crowned. You were moments from entering the world. Another push – count one, two, three, four, five, six. Your head was out. "Umbilical in hand. Deliver through it," the doctor called out. He grasped your body and pulled you into the world. Gigi cried exuberant tears. I gasp, a joyful gasp. Never have I felt this feeling before. Love. Immense, encompassing love fills my entire being. Tears swell into my eyes. You gasp much like me moments before, and I hear your first cry. Short but reassuring. You are alive and breathing. George, my son, you're alive and breathing. My joy and elation persist, but they're met with concern. The doctor hands me scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Trembling with the rawest of emotions, I cut, and nurses whisk you away to the incubator. They aspirate amniotic fluid from your lungs and check your vitals. I hear rapid chatter of precise exchanges among the nurses. Are you okay? Is your mom okay? I pace back to your mom. The doctor and resident are working on your mom. I don't want to interrupt anyone to ask.

Someone asks me a question. I don't remember who or what they asked, but I was incapable of speaking. I'm staring at you in the incubator. Your reflexes are weak. Your crying stopped. Your limbs flop. It's from the magnesium they say. I want to disappear, to hide until all is well. No, I can't. Now it's my turn to be brave as the joy is matched by swarming anxiety. What's asked of me is pathetic compared to what you or your mother's gone through, but I step up to your mom and grab her hand. "Is he doing okay?" she asks with a touch of exasperation. "Yes, he's fine," I reassure her even though I don't know if it's true.

"Can we put a diaper on him?" we hear. I ignore the question, but it comes back. Oh, it's me they want to answer. As soon as you were in the nurses' arms, you started to pee. Six pounds seven ounces and nineteen inches long as soon as they could measure you. You lost two ounces with the pee. "Yes," I say even managing a slight laugh.

I look on as the nurses finish their work on you and bring you over to your mom. You snuggle against you mom's bare chest overwhelmed along with us all. "He's okay. He's okay," I tell your mom, actually believing it this time. I place my hands on your mom and more gently on your back. I release a deep exhale. I let go of the gasp. The joy – it stays. It's deep in my chest. You furrow your brow and take a deep breath. I look into your eyes, and the joy releases anew.

Our joyful and exhausted family of three