[I started to write this in the hospital, and am just now getting back to it almost two weeks later. Such is the state of my internal clock.]
I’m at the point where I’ve forgotten just whom I’ve told the story to, and in how much detail. When some friends dropped by to visit today, they were confused when I mentioned something about the labor, because I hadn’t filled them in yet. So here’s the story of how we got here.
On Monday afternoon (Feb. 4), we had another doctor appointment to see how Kim and Roo were doing, which we expected to go like the others. After more than a week of waiting past Roo’s due date without much activity, we were surprised to learn that Kim had dilated to 3 cm. Progress! The word was that we would probably have the baby within 24 to 48 hours.
That evening, she started having noticeable contractions that were different from the Braxton-Hicks contractions she’d been having for weeks. We watched a movie on TiVo (the original Thomas Crown Affair, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway), and I started jotting down the times of the contractions and making notes here and there.
By the late evening, we checked in with our doula, who suggested that Kim take a warm bath to slow the contractions so she could get some sleep before the morning, hopefully, or at least some rest before labor. The times were pretty scattered – 8 minutes here, 12 minutes there – so we weren’t too concerned.
By about 11:30, the contractions were getting stronger, and around 9 minutes apart, although still not the consistent methodical schedule we were led to expect. Midnight passed and Kim was decidedly uncomfortable, and finally at around 1:00 am we tried the bath. It didn’t make a bit of difference, so shortly thereafter we called the doula back and said this looked like an all-night labor. She and her apprentice arrived sometime around 2:00 am, I think, which was a big help. Having someone experienced who could suggest alternate positions and pain-management techniques was invaluable.
The contractions kept going, and seemed to be dramatically increasing in duration and strength. Jane (the doula) suggested that Kim moan from deep in her diaphragm to help her through the contractions, which was helpful. But at about 3:30 am, it was clear that we needed a change of venue.
Now, I had pictured the house exodus often in my head for weeks, and although our bags were packed and everything was ready, there was still confusion. For example, what happened to my damn shoes, the ones I specifically put in a place where I would easily find them? I did have the sense to grab my toiletry bag and toothbrush, which I’m sure was a great relief to all who visited in the hospital later.
The drive to the hospital was surprisingly sane. I think I drove the speed limit exactly, with Kim moaning in the front seat and me on the phone on hold with the doctor’s office so that we could be admitted to the Swedish labor unit right away. Traffic on I-5 at 4:00 am, by the way, is wonderfully sparse, and the snow I had been eyeing warily all week didn’t materialize.
Arriving at the hospital, however, was an enormous pain in the butt, because you need to park in a separate lot and go in through Emergency in the middle of the night. That’s complicated by construction, so the most obvious way to reach the parking garage is blocked, causing me to circle the hospital at least once. When we finally did park, we had to cross the street. At that point, Kim was starting to feel the urge to push, leading to a very short, very intense conversation that mainly consisted of Kim proclaiming, “I am not having this baby on a street corner!”
Right at about that point, a nurse coming on shift came by and asked if we could use a wheelchair. Yes! That made a huge difference, and if you happen to be reading this, kind man in the middle of the night, we are forever in your debt.
When we arrived at the birthing triage area, the nurses dutifully asked if Kim could give a urine sample, and being amenable even in the midst of unbelievable pain, she and I headed to the restroom. After another contraction hit, the nurses nixed the urine sample idea and put Kim in a stretcher.
When they checked her out, we were all surprised: Kim was at 10 centimeters! She was basically ready to deliver. We had no idea the labor had progressed so quickly, expecting that we’d get to the hospital and work for several more hours to get to that point. One nurse asked if Kim was having an all-natural birth, and I assured her that Kim was quite ready for an epidural (Kim concurred with our epidural code word, “frog legs”).
They wheeled Kim to a delivery room, and immediately people were there: the anesthesiologist was ready to go, and the nurses hooked Kim up to an IV – which we learned was the fastest IV the nurses and our doula had seen. Kim was Step-B positive, which meant that she needed a round of antibiotics before the baby could be delivered. (Strep-B is a normal bacteria that exists in all women and typically isn’t a problem, but if the levels are higher than usual, the baby can pick it up as it exits the mother, which can lead to some health issues right away; the antibiotics reduce the number of bacteria to a level that won’t harm the baby.) After about 20 minutes, the epidural began to kick in, and Kim’s world improved greatly.
From that point, things slowed down considerably as they waited for the drugs to kick in. After two hours of waiting, the doctors determined it was time to deliver the baby! When a contraction hit, Kim gave three hard pushes, then rested. One complication here was that the cold she’d been fighting all week decided to make itself known again, so in addition to being in labor, and in addition to pushing, her head was congested. This resulted in an unexpected sequence: push, push, push, grab a Kleenex, then blow her nose.
However, it was great: Every time she blew her nose or coughed, it helped push the baby just a little more, sometimes more effectively than pushing! After about an hour of pushing and blowing and resting and pushing, Roo emerged quite suddenly! We had a baby…
One of my jobs as Dad was to notice the gender and tell Kim (rather than have a nurse or doctor tell her)… but I couldn’t see! First a leg was in the way, and then the umbilical cord. I stretched my neck to see and couldn’t tell.
And then the doctors whisked the baby away: Since Roo was eight days past the due date, the uterine fluid was filled with meconium, which is the black, tar-like waste that accumulates in the baby’s intestines during the last weeks of the pregnancy. At some point the baby expels some of it (basically, baby’s first poop), and normally that happens after the birth. But because the meconium was present in the fluid, a team of four doctors and nurses immediately went to work clearing out Roo’s air passages so that the baby wouldn’t inhale it as part of the first breaths (which could lead to early respiratory problems). When I say immediately, I mean it: the cord was cut (I didn’t do it, nor did I feel a burning need to), and the baby was moved to a table nearby. I followed, and as they worked, I finally learned the surprise we’d chosen not to know beforehand.
I stepped back over to Kim, kissed her on the forehead and said, “Roo is a girl!”
After a few more minutes, Roo was bundled up and I brought her over to meet her mother for the first time face to face.