I saw a baby come out of my wife

I should have known that something was different when R told me that I should drive the car. It was the due date, and up to that point, she had continued being the primary driver, enduring through pelvic pain and kicks.

Even though it was the due date, I was still in denial that the baby would come any time soon. I knew that at the beginning of the pregnancy, there was only a 5% chance that the baby would actually come on its due date, and given that we had already reached the due date, the chance of spontaneous labour was much lower. Indeed, we had found charts that said that there was only about a 75% that labour would occur spontaneously at all, before it would need to be induced.

But I should have known better than to trust those anonymous charts. From the beginning of the pregnancy, our baby had insisted on being right at the median. In the 8 week ultrasound, its length was at the 49th percentile. At nearly every appointment, R’s uterus measured the same in centimeters as it did in weeks along — exactly as the midwives hoped.

In any case, in the early afternoon, while we were out doing errands on December 20th, 2014, R started feeling something more than regular Braxton Hicks contractions. They still weren’t too bad, but we elected not to go and continue some work we were doing on new shelves for our pantry, and go home instead.

We were planning a home birth, and nothing had yet changed our minds about going ahead with that. We live quite close to the hospital, so we didn’t think transferring in case of an emergency would be a big problem. Plus at home they provided nitrous oxide to help with comfort, which is not available at Grand River Hospital. That was a big selling point.

The contractions slowly increased in intensity over dinner, and by the evening, it became clear that something was going on. We called the midwife (our primary midwife was oddly off call on the due date, so we called our backup midwife). She said that this prelabour could take quite some time, and that it would be better to have the child the next morning, so to take some gravol and try to sleep (and not do anything to try to make it come faster).

We were planning to have a student doula (a non-medical support person) attend the birth, so I contacted her as well. I said we probably didn’t need her just yet, but were waiting until things got a little more intense.

Finally, after maybe an hour (I think it was around 9pm by this time), R said that the contractions were much more intense, and that we should call the midwife a second time. We did that, and I also let the doula know that she should come over as soon as possible. This time, the midwife decided to come, though she suspected it would be too early.

Through all this, I was rubbing R’s back, since she was complaining mostly of lower back pain during contractions. When the doula arrived, we were sitting on the couch in the living room, with R lying with her head in my lap, and with me giving her back rubs. The doula helped out with some comfort measures while we waited for the midwife to arrive.

Around this time, R’s mother also showed up. She brought gravol with her, but by this time it wasn’t necessary.

Shortly after, the midwife did show up. Since she was the backup, she hadn’t been to our condo before (the primary had been for home visits a couple of times), but apparently found the place without an issue.

She did a quick initial check of R on the couch (checking baby’s heartbeat, along with the strength of contractions, I think), but needed R on the bed in order to do a cervical exam. R wasn’t yet in too much pain to easily move, so it wasn’t too bad to do the transfer to the bed. She took a quick pee before going to the bed, and had a contraction on the toilet. From her reaction, it seemed that contractions while sitting were the worst. I comforted her the best I could in that awkward position, and once it passed, she moved to the bed.

On examination, the midwife discovered R’s cervix was 3–4 cm dilated. This was good, since it meant the midwife wouldn’t have to leave and come back later. Active labour was imminent.

We had to clean off the tops of the dressers in the bedroom so that the midwife could set up her various instruments. We also put a shower curtain under the top sheet on the bed. The midwife took a generally hands-off approach to labour, presumably because R already had me and the doula to provide comfort measures.

At one point, the midwife brought in a couple of canisters of gas, to which R said, “Oh good, you brought nitrous.” But they were just oxygen. Fortunately, the nitrous was indeed waiting in the other room.

For a while, R laboured on the bed, with the doula and me providing comfort. I hadn’t eaten properly (since labour had started awkwardly around dinner time), so I took this opportunity in early labour to make myself pasta. It was very nice that the doula was there to help make R more comfortable, since it allowed me to take a couple of breaks. People had said beforehand that the doula was in some ways more for the father’s benefit than the mother’s, and I could see what they meant. It still felt like abandonment to leave R’s side, but at least I knew she was in good hands.

Shortly after this (maybe after another cervical check) the midwife insisted that R spend some time on her feet, since labouring in the bed, while more comfortable, was also slowing the whole process down. She stood for a while, and went to the bathroom again. Soon after this, she returned to the bed again for another check.

It was found that she had dilated significantly, to about 6 cm. R’s water still hadn’t broken, so the midwife offered that this might be a good time to break it (artificial rupture of membranes), and that it might speed things up a bit. R was pretty out of it at this point, but listened to the explanation and decided to wait to see if her water would break naturally first.

She spent some more time in bed. The doula brought out this cool vibrating massage gadget that I used for R’s back. It was less effort than using the non-vibration massage tool I’d had before, so I was happier. My arm was pretty tired.

My most distinct memory from this period is of R’s altered mental state. Though contractions were a few minutes apart, R was very subdued between them, definitely in a different mood than I’ve ever seen before. It was a state of intense concentration.

Again, the midwife insisted that R get up in order to speed things up. We decided that water might help with the standing position, which made it harder for R to manage the pain. We tried the shower in the ensuite bathroom first, which turned out to be a bad idea, mostly because it was hard for us to get in there with her to help (without getting very wet ourselves). She sat on the floor of the shower and it didn’t seem to help much with the pain. We quickly decided we should stop this, and that the bathtub might be better for relief (and we’d be able to reach her in the bathtub). It was a bit of an ordeal to get her out of the shower, but we managed it after a couple of minutes (again, it was very helpful having two support people, since we each lifted R by one arm), drying her off and getting her into a bath robe (she wouldn’t fit hers, so she wore mine).

The bathroom with the tub was at the far end of the condo, so we started the long walk, with R pausing every few steps for another contraction. We soon reached the tub, though it felt like quite a long time. Although we didn’t know it at the time, it was around this time that R was entering transition (when the cervix dilates to 8–10 cm, and pushing starts). She got in the tub, but it didn’t help much with managing the pain. She started describing a need to push, and that she felt some sharp pain. The midwife mentioned that there was probably some extra pressure because R’s water still wasn’t broken, and that she would be a little more comfortable (relatively, of course) with it gone.

The midwife did a check in the bath and determined that the cervix had reached 8–9 cm, which meant things were close. She mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to easily give nitrous oxide in the bath, which R really wanted, so we decided we should go back to the bed, since it seemed like things had progressed.

The way back from the bath was even more of an ordeal, but R made quicker time, probably because she knew that nitrous was waiting for her in the bedroom. Once she reached the bed, she got in.

The midwife wanted to break R’s water right away, but wanted to wait for the backup midwife to arrive (there are always two present at the actual birth — one for the mother and one for the baby). Since things had progressed so quickly, the second midwife took a little while to arrive, which seemed like quite a long time, since by then R was in mostly unnecessary pain due to the unbroken water. She was feeling the urge to push, but it wasn’t being productive. By this time it was around 1am.

Finally the backup arrived and the midwife broke R’s water. This caused a large spurt of fluid. Some time shortly after this, pushing really started. We opted initially for a side-lying position for pushing. R stayed in this position for a while, but the midwife wanted to try something different to help things progress. So we decided to try a squatting position on the bed. This was really awkward, and kind of hurt my back. The bed was too squishy, so R complained that she felt she was too low. We soon went back to the side-lying position.

Whether I liked it or not, since I was in front of R’s face, and she was lying sideways, I had an excellent view of what was going on. While she opted not to have a mirror to see the baby emerge, I watched with interest. It isn’t every day that you get to witness a childbirth first hand, and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t watch. For quite a while there was no sign of the baby from my point of view, though the midwives kept saying they could see it. All I could see for a while was the pulsing of R’s labia with each push.

At this point, R had been sucking down the nitrous oxide quite ferociously. The midwife made some comment about the gas not helping with pushing, but I wasn’t sure why it wouldn’t. Soon she clarified to say that the tank had been almost completely drained, so R had probably been getting a placebo for the last little while.

It was time to really bear down, and R pushed with all her intensity. Finally I could see the top of the head at the end of some pushes. This was still less than thirty minutes since pushing had started, but it felt even faster than that. R hadn’t made too much loud noise during labour until now, except some borderline shrieking during transition, but now as she pushed, she was quite intense. The midwife instructed her to not breathe during pushes, because she was letting the energy come out of her mouth, rather than being used to push out the baby. R followed this instruction and bore down almost silently with each push.

Crowning baby heads don’t look like heads. It actually looks like the baby’s brain is coming out, because the baby’s skull plates overlap (hence why newborns have soft spots on their heads), and the scalp wrinkles up. This helps the baby to fit through the birth canal. Fortunately I knew about this phenomenon, so I wasn’t too freaked out. All in all, watching crowning wasn’t very traumatizing for me. The vaginal opening was quite red, but there was no obvious damage, and not too many other substances, except clear amniotic fluid and some small bits of the broken membrane.

At this point, the mother is supposed to wait a few moments to allow the baby to stretch the opening, but it wasn’t particularly well communicated to R that the crowning was happening, so she pushed through this right away. Within a couple of hard pushes, the baby’s head was all the way out, with the rest of the baby’s body still inside. I remember this moment distinctly, and thought to myself how odd it was to see a human’s head sticking out of a vagina.

Within a second or two, the midwife pulled the baby’s body out. He was covered in white fluid but otherwise looked good. He let out a loud wail so I knew he’d be okay. I watched eagle eyed for his genitalia, and noticed before the midwife that he was male (I suppose they had better things to worry about in the instant after birth). I proudly announced to R that we had N (our chosen male name — the girl name was A). I wanted to be the one to tell her.

He was quickly patted down and laid on R’s chest, cord still attached and pulsing furiously. For some reason I didn’t touch him right away. It seemed like I would be interrupting something magical. R had a very relieved expression, and snuggled N on her chest.

I remembered that the placenta would be coming soon, and we wanted to keep the placenta in the freezer to eat later with friends (vegan meat), so I realized I should get a big enough bucket to contain it. I ran around for a bit trying to find a bucket, and finally settled on a far too large orange rubbermaid bucket and brought it back.

Soon the placenta emerged, and before placing it in the bucket, the midwife showed it too us, showing us the baby side and the uterus side, showing that there were likely no pieces left inside. One of R’s biggest fears was a hemorrhage due to a piece of the placenta left inside, so this was reassuring (although I’m not sure R was in a state of mind to care). I asked the doula to put the bucket with the placenta in the freezer, but it was too big. She found an alternate bucket and transferred it, and finally froze it.

While we were waiting for the placenta to emerge, R’s mother reminded me that I should probably tell my parents that the baby had been born (she had been emailing to her family, but I had said nothing on my side). I was initially kind of annoyed at the interruption, but realized she was probably right. My phone wasn’t in my pocket, so she got it for me. It was off because it hadn’t been charging, and was almost out of batteries, so I turned it on and tried to send my email before it ran out completely. I sent a quick message to my family.

The baby was born at 1:51am, 8lb 3oz, but this was hardly the end. Unfortunately, R ended up with many second degree tears — in our amateur opinion because pushing had gone so quickly, and little time was spent lingering before crowning fully. The midwife asked if R was a natural strawberry blonde, since she said that redheads tended to tear more. R isn’t, but it was an interesting factoid.

Luckily, the tears were not severe enough that we needed to transfer to hospital (that would have been an unfortunate anticlimax after an otherwise successful home delivery!), but they did require stitches. What followed was a sight I never expected to see in our bedroom: home surgery. The midwife brought all the equipment needed to do stitches. She put R’s bottom on a cookie sheet at the edge of the bed, and set herself up on a stool in front of her. The light was bad, so we had the doula hold a floor lamp pointing downwards at where the midwife was working. Sketchy home surgery.

They froze R so the stitching wouldn’t hurt so much, but on one of the initial stitches, it hurt anyway, and R kicked just the right place to send the midwife’s instruments clattering to the floor. Fortunately, they had brought several backup sets of sterile equipment, so they tried again. This part I didn’t want to watch, so I stayed near R’s head and helped comfort her. The tearing was fairly extensive, so required a bunch of stitches over (I think) about 45 minutes. The freezing seemed to work for the most part, but at several points it obviously didn’t, which was hard to watch.

Once the stitching was done, it was time for R to have a shower to get cleaned up. She was able to walk after birth (no epidural!) so she was able to get over the shower and do it herself. While she was doing this, the midwives changed the bed sheets and cleaned up a few blood spots on the carpet using hydrogen peroxide. The baby was given to me, and I removed my shirt so he could lie skin to skin on my chest on the couch.

I didn’t feel the overwhelming rush of love that some parents describe. I think most of my feelings toward the baby initially were driven by commitment and cognitive dissonance. We worked hard over the last 9 months to have you, so we’d better want you! I tend to be slow to warm up to people, so I wasn’t too worried. I knew I’d find my connection with N at some point. Mostly I was just relieved that the birth was over without too many complications, and overwhelmed at the prospect that starting right away, we’d need to figure out what to do with the baby. I’d vaguely worried before, but now realized that I wasn’t sure how the first night would go. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t sleep much, even if the baby was quiet. Too much excitement.

Once R was done showering, she returned to the now cleaned bed. I returned the baby to her chest and we tried to do an initial feed. We put the baby on one breast and I don’t remember what happened, but he started turning purple, and the midwife pulled him away. His nose had been buried in the breast so he wasn’t able to breathe. Oops. We tried some more and something happened, but the baby probably didn’t get much colostrum at this point. We’d work on this more later.

Soon the midwives cleaned up and they and the doula left. R’s mother stayed overnight in the second bedroom (mostly so she didn’t have to drive home the same night). We were left with some garbage to dispose of, and a bunch of laundry to do, but otherwise the place was very clean.

We settled into bed for our first night with the baby. It was about 5am by this point, over three hours since the actual birth. We were exhausted, but excited, and we talked for a little while before sleeping. It was strange, because even though we had a baby in the bassinet beside us, it didn’t really feel to either of us like anything had really changed.

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