The Thinker

A birth experience (1989)

This blog entry was written before there were blogs, or even a web browser. In fact, the Internet was largely unknown when this was written. Its closest equivalent at the time was an entity called Compuserve. It was written in January 1990, approximately four months after my daughter Rosie was born, when I was still very sleep deprived from all her midnight feedings. Somehow, I found the time to write down the story of her birth, with the intention of making sure she finally read it by the time she became an adult. It existed on my home page but like most children, she never bothered to look at my home page, so she never read it. I wanted to make sure that she did read it eventually, so I slightly revised it and presented it to her last Friday on the occasion of her entry into adulthood, her 18th birthday. Here it is.

Our daughter Rosalind was born on Thursday, September 28th, 1989. I wanted to capture my own memories of her birth while the images were still fresh in my mind. I am doing this as a gift for Rosie. I hope someday when Rosie is old enough she will appreciate reading about her birth. So, Rosie, this is my gift to you, though it may not be read for fifteen or twenty years.

Pregnancy

First, I want to tell you how I felt about you, your mother and the whole pregnancy process. You were conceived, we think, on January 9th, 1989. You were certainly conceived in love. Our original plans for 1989 were to consider having you sometime the following year. Your mother did not want to be pregnant during a typical hot Washington summer. We wanted a final memorable year as a couple. We had plans for a driving tour of New England for the summer. Neither of us regrets having you. We both were ready to have you. I was 32. Your mother was 29. We had been together for more than five years, and had been married for more than three years.

We discovered your mother was pregnant in late January. A home pregnancy test kit showed that she was not just a little pregnant with you, but very pregnant. Any shade of blue in the test tube would have indicated pregnancy. Your presence was a deep, dark shade of blue.

For your mother pregnancy was a nuisance, a pain, a joy and more, all at once. I managed to stay fairly cerebral through the entire pregnancy. I found myself treating your arrival in rather abstract terms. My main concerns were financial. I was not sure how we were ever going to be able to afford you and a house at the same time. I had just changed jobs a few weeks before you were conceived and I was not at all sure I liked the job. Now suddenly my wife was pregnant and I had to make sure we had the resources to afford you when you came. We did without a lot of our usual luxuries in 1989. We saved our money. A lot of pet projects never got done. The built in bookcases in the library never materialized. A new vanity in our bathroom also suffered under the budget ax. But by the time you were born we had several thousand dollars in a baby fund to make sure we did have the money we needed to care for you.

We also busied ourselves lining up childcare for you. There was never much of a question of whether or not we would have to send you to day care. Your mother would have to go back to work since it took two salaries just to keep up payments on the house and car. In the Washington area at that time the general wisdom was it was never too early to sign up for childcare. Childcare was difficult to find, and very expensive if it could be found at all. And it was particularly hard to find someone who would take an infant. After a babysitter across the street moved out of town, we decided to put you in PALS Early Learning Center, where you started in day care. To give you some idea of how difficult it was to find day care we had to put a deposit for you at PALS back in May, more than 4 months before you were born.

We also both were careful to monitor your mother’s diet. I nagged your mother constantly to eat healthier foods and I made sure she got several large glasses of milk a day. It worked. You came out a big, healthy baby. In a way, we were busy parenting you long before you were born.

You should also know that while you were in the womb you were a very active baby. Many times during the day, you would continue kicking spells that would drive your mother to distraction. She enjoyed entertaining her friends by showing them the ripples from your kicks on her belly.

Toward the end of her pregnancy, things became very difficult. Your mother was hospitalized twice before you were born. The first time was in late August. She was sent to Fairfax Hospital to be monitored because she was contracting every two minutes. She had to take medicine every six hours for several weeks to stop the contractions. Although only in the hospital for several hours, it was a fright to both of us. Because of the rest, the doctor ordered for your mother, she was forced to stay home from work from that point on.

On another occasion, about two and a half weeks before you were born, the doctors were so concerned about your mother’s swelled ankles (an indication of possible toxemia) that they sent her to the hospital again. This time she spent a whole weekend there. For a while, it looked like she was in labor. The labor turned out to be false. A sonogram did reveal that you were a girl. Both of us were pleased at the thought.

Labor

Your mother’s labor did not start in earnest until shortly before three in the morning on your birthday. The night before your mother said she felt “funny”. I was very skeptical that this was the real thing, even while she sat in the bathroom passing large amounts of cervical mucus. You were still a week early and we had been through false labors before. And your mother had passed mucus before too. But your mother had little doubt. The contractions she was feeling were not only powerful, but painful, radiating down the sides of her body.

By four a.m. we were both concerned enough to call our Health Maintenance Organization, Kaiser Permanente. Your mother was experiencing contractions three to four minutes apart, but their duration did not usually exceed 45 seconds. Kaiser told us to call back when the duration lasted a minute. They never got that long. By the time they reached 50 seconds I called Kaiser again. Fifteen minutes later, they called back and told us to get her to the hospital. We were both feeling scared and relieved. Both of us were anxious for you to come into the world. Nine months seemed like forever; it was hard to believe that you would shortly be in our arms and we would have a family.

We left the house around 5:25 in the morning. There was a hint of the winter to come in the air. The windows to the Sprint were covered in a cold, heavy dew. A couple of more degrees and I would have had to scrape off a layer of ice off the car windows. We had little packing to do. The labor kit and hospital clothes were in separate bags. With the car primed with quarters for the toll plaza, we hurried down the beltway to Fairfax Hospital, where you were born. I remember being surprised to find so much traffic well before six in the morning.

We arrived at the hospital’s Emergency entrance just before six a.m. It was a fairly quiet at the hospital. I had imagined things were always hopping in Fairfax Hospital’s emergency room, but there were only a couple of people there. Leaving the car your mother discovered that her waters really had broken; her jeans were soaked. By six a.m., the wheelchair had arrived and she had been moved to the Maternity Ward. She was placed in Labor Room 2. Our excitement was tempered by having been through this twice before. Your mother joked with the nurses that this time she was really here to deliver a baby.

In the labor room, your mother was quickly immobilized. A fetal heart monitor was placed over her abdomen to monitor your heartbeat. But it seemed impossible for Fairfax Hospital to leave it at that. All sorts of tubes and needles went in and out of her body. There was an IV in one arm to keep up her blood sugar. A catheter. A strap across her abdomen to measure uterine contractions. An armband to automatically measure her blood pressure.

Your mother’s contractions became more difficult and closer together. Every hour a physician or nurse would come by to see how dilated she was. This is a measure of how wide her cervix was open. For a while, things went very well. Your mother was three centimeters dilated when she came in, and by noon had made it to five centimeters.

Around ten in the morning, the contractions got to be very hard and very painful. Your mother really wanted to have you using natural childbirth techniques we learned in Lamaze class. As her coach, it was my responsibility to work her through a series of breathing exercises that were supposed to lessen the pain. Even with all the practice, it was tough to use these techniques during actual labor. Contractions continued every three to four minutes. It was hard for her to sustain that level, especially since she had not been allowed to eat at all. Her obstetrician, Dr. Henry Grimm, recommended that she be given an anesthesia and your mother finally agreed. She was given an epidural. This is administered with a needle that was placed near the bottom of the spine. The relief was nearly instantly apparent. Instead of an exhausted wife with a pained look on her face, your mother seemed very normal, almost as if she wasn’t it labor. I was glad to see her out of pain. She read the paper and worked on crossword puzzles.

Still, there was reason for concern. As the afternoon began, Dr. Grimm became concerned because your mother was “stalling”. Thanks to a new internal fetal monitor (attached directly to your head through the birth canal) and internal uterine contraction device we discovered that labor was no longer progressing. Your mother had stalled at 5 centimeters dilation and her contractions didn’t look like they were going to be powerful enough to push you out. To complicate matters your temperature and heart rate were going up too, since you had lost all the amniotic fluid when your mother’s waters broke. By three p.m., it became clear that labor would have to be induced. We conferred with Dr. Grimm who recommended that you be delivered by Cesarean Section. This meant that you would be delivered through the abdomen rather than the birth canal. We were both upset with the idea because we both wanted you to be born naturally. By four p.m., we agreed that a C-section was the way that you would have to come into the world. In one way, I was relieved. I knew that this long pregnancy process would soon be over, and that we would have you in our arms. At that point I think even your mother was relieved that labor would come to an end.

Delivery

It didn’t take too long to prepare. There was a short wait since someone else was ahead of your mother in the operating room. I was instructed to get my “scrubs” from the nursing station. I ran back to the Father’s dressing room and put on my outfit. The mask seemed to fog up my glasses every time I exhaled. By five p.m. your mother was being wheeled into the delivery room.

I had to sit out in the cold hallway for some time while your mother was prepared. She had to be given more anesthesia. Now she could feel no sensation at all below her waist. After what seemed like a long time, but was probably only ten minutes, I was allowed into the operating room. I found her just about ready to be opened, and in good spirits. Your mother was joking with the nurses and anesthetist.

It turned out that I had a much better view of your birth than your mother did. They put up a little border that kept her from seeing pretty much of anything. I took my station by her head and gave running commentary. I expected to perhaps be a little sick but never even got lightheaded.

The room was bright, but cold. The air conditioner was down way too low. It felt like it was sixty degrees. There was a machine that made an annoying squeak every couple of seconds. The doctors and nurses worked quickly. I made a point of not trying to see too much, but I watched as they cut into your mother, first on her outer skin, and then into the uterine muscle itself. They used a clamp to pull her skin apart. I remember being surprised at how tough her skin was. They were pulling her apart with the force of two people having a taffy pull. There followed more cutting and more pulling and more clamping and more annoying sounds from the squawking machine. The nurse called out your heart rate and your mother’s blood pressure.

For a moment, they could not even find you. “She’s much further down than I expected,” I remember Doctor Grimm saying and I watched his gloved hand go deep into your mother’s abdomen. I tried to report what I saw to your mother but there wasn’t much to see. The hand went in and out a few times and I could see blood on the doctor’s glove. The machine with the squawk still made its annoying sound.

“She’s a big kid,” the doctor said and he now worked rather quickly. He pulled up with both his hands suddenly and there you were, or rather, your head. All I could see was a head covered with a lot of hair. So far, you were silent, but you seemed very pissed.

“I can see the head,” I told your mother. “Black hair.”

And then, quickly, with a loud squish and you were out. You almost seemed like an albino you were so white, which made your black hair all the more starting. “The baby’s out,” I told your mother. My own heart was racing and I found myself suddenly on the edge of tears.

I watched as they clamped the umbilical cord and then severed it. You spoke; you cried. “You have a little girl,” the nurse said. Somehow, I snapped a picture. In an instant before even your mother could see you they had pulled you over to a side table. They gave you an APGAR test (to measure your physical strength) and put you on the scale. Somehow, I took another picture as they weighed you. “Nine pounds and one ounce the nurse said.” You were crying. Your irregular but persistent little shrieks filled the room. Instantly a lump formed in my throat and I found tears in my eyes.

It’s hard to describe the power of those few minutes. Nothing really prepared me. Perhaps it is so powerful because it is nature’s way of preparing the father for the considerable work ahead. There is this overwhelming feeling of joy, such as I’ve never known and have never experienced since. At the same time I felt such a pity for you, being newborn, and the pain and difficult times that were ahead. And I felt more than a little terror, for neither of us were certain we were up to the challenge of parenthood. From a biological point of view, this was a climax, for we had succeeded in reproducing ourselves. Maybe it was this primal release I felt. All I wanted to do was to hold you in my arms and tell you I love you. But for the moment I could not do that. Instead, they wrapped you tightly in a receiving blanket and you were brought down next to your mother. There were tears in her eyes too as she saw you for the first time. “Oh, she is so beautiful,” your mother kept saying. And then, it could hardly have been a moment, mother and baby were moved away from each other.

The doctors were already working hard stitching your mother back together. There were certain things that had to be done first, such as removing the placenta and any remaining amniotic fluid. There was no place for your mother to go, but they were about ready to take you into the post labor room. “I’ve got to go with the child.” I told your mother. “One of us should be with her.” Your mother understood and I hurried as I followed you into the nursery just down the hall. You cried all the way.

Recovery

A nurse immediately took over. You were not happy at all about what was happening to you, but they took excellent care of you. There was so much that you needed to have done so quickly. You were cleaned up, not well enough to remove all of the cheesy material that was on you, but enough to get the amniotic fluid off. They put a vitamin cream in your eyes. Using a razor blade, they made a small cut in the heel of your right foot and got some blood samples. They also put a thin tube down your windpipe and removed an impressive amount of fluids from your lungs. You could hardly breathe without coughing. You screamed at the indignity of it, but within minutes, you seemed far better.

Finally, gratefully, you calmed down. You had the warmth of a heat lamp above you to bring your body temperature up to normal. And your eyes were open, but just a sliver. Perhaps you could tell there was light out there; I doubt you could see much else even if all that cream hadn’t been in your eyes.

Me? I was making a blathering idiot out of myself. After being instructed to wash my hands with a special soap, I was allowed to touch you. I touched your hand, gingerly at first and you instinctively grabbed it. I kept saying, through my tears, “It’s all right, Rosie” and “There’s nothing to worry about. Daddy’s here and Daddy love’s you.” The nurse asked if I was all right. I told her I would eventually calm down.

After being stitched up, your mother was moved into the recovery room, which was just across the hall from the nursery. I kept running back and forth between you and her, hoping that your body temperature would get high enough so that you could come across the hall and be with your mother. Eventually they wheeled you across the hall for a visit. You were very quiet and taking in your new environment with a very intense look on your face. Your mother got to see you for a good long time. We could not believe how beautiful and small you were. Your mother made some phone calls: collect to her Mom, to Jane, to Aunt Sharon. The word went out that we had a new Rosie in the family.

Your First Days

You were born on a Thursday but your mother was not released from the hospital until Monday morning. You spent most each day next to your mother in her hospital room, and spent the night in the nursery down the hall. We learned how to feed you and how to change you. Your mother offered you her breast, which you took, but it was still too soon for her to produce milk. Within a day, a flush had come over your face; for about a day you looked like a sunburned Indian. But by Sunday the flush was gone and you were a happy, healthy pink little baby again. You came home from the hospital Monday morning. Grandpa and Busia arrived that night and stayed for a week while we settled into our new roles as parents.

That is your story, as I recall it. It is now nearly four months after your birth. You have kept us so incredibly busy that I have tried to finish this many times and have not been able to. But you are growing sweeter and more gentle every day. You see the world with exploratory eyes now, and you smile and love as if it were instinctive. We have endured many sleepless nights, but you are worth it. Now you are becoming a bit more controllable. You feel a part of the family. It makes me feel so happy that you feel this way. We love you Rosie. Happy birthday!

Love,

Dad

 

One Response to “A birth experience (1989)”

  1. 9:59 am on October 5 2007, Heather said:

    I just had my own daughter 3 weeks ago. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about my experience, but wondered whether she would ever be interested in reading it. You’re post has convinced me. (I was going to name her Rose, but I was ultimately out-voted.)

    You’re daughter must have been so thankful for you’re account, memories of her before she had memories.

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