This is the second in a series about the birth of our son, Simon Alister. To read the whole tale, start here.
I spent two nights sleeping in Rebecca’s room at the hospital. Her suite included a mildly uncomfortable couch with a removable cushion, when set aside the couch could be used as a wholly uncomfortable cot. I wanted to stay more, but Rebecca kept sending me home saying that: “one of us should be well rested when Simon arrives.” And I knew this to be true.
At the end of her first week of internment I stayed and awoke feeling exhausted. The padded vinyl seat had begun the night clammy and stiff, met the morning like a block of ice thinly wrapped in foam and covered with a sheet. I tried to mask my discomfort, but Rebecca sent me home to rest before lunch and knowing that we had passed the last statistical hurdle between us and 34 weeks, I complied.
Again, on the eve of induction I insisted on staying. We were scheduled to go to Labor & Delivery at 5AM and there was a cartload of clothes, snacks, and other items that would have to go with her. As I steadied myself upon the thermally unstable cot, I felt waves of relief and anxiety about the next day—I was relieved that the waiting would come to an end but was anxious about everything that meant; the process of labor and delivery is a nexus of events rife with potential difficulties for mother and baby. I tried keep my mind away from the worst-case scenarios as I struggled to fall asleep.
At 4:30 AM we stirred, and with blurry eyes we began to pack up the room. Our haphazard efforts were interrupted when a nurse came in to inform us that there were no rooms available, and that it would be some time before we were sent down to Labor & Delivery. We took this as a godsend and crawled back into our beds. A few hours later, when we were properly awake, we gathered what remained and waited until they came to take us to the delivery room.
This was about 10:00 AM and we were both relieved that the waiting was almost over. The delivery room was larger than the suite on the fifth floor, and there was extra equipment to accommodate the coming child and extra furniture for the mother’s birthing team. Rebecca had chosen Mary, her sister, as the third member of our team—a role Rebecca had during the birth of Mary’s son some 18 years ago. Mary and I settled in over breakfast while the nurses got Simon on the monitors and started Rebecca’s IV.
Intravenous Pitocin (a delivery of synthetic oxytocin) simulates the hormonal changes that take place at the onset of labor and can be used to jumpstart the process in situations where the process needs to be jumpstarted. As we probed the nurses for information, we discovered that the waiting was not over—it had just become more intense.
It was beginning to dawn on us that while we were all very eager to meet Simon, none of us knew anything about inducing labor or how long the process could take! We searched the internet and asked every passing nurse—the estimated wait times varied from a few hours to several days. In the face of the exhaustion that had come the past 11 days in the hospital we hoped that Simon would be born that day.
The afternoon became a blur of conversations between the three of us, text messages to family, and frequent visits from nurses and doctors to adjust or add monitors and track progress. I found myself admiring Rebecca’s resolve to endure any discomfort that came with ensuring the best outcome for Simon. At 3:00 PM the anesthesiologist was called to place her epidural. The procedure was quick, but the medication caused some distress.
It was frightening to observe as the nurses administered Ephedrine and Phenylephrine to combat Rebecca’s reaction to the drug. I remember feeling a great well of fear for the safety of my wife and our unborn son and dreading the whine of the epidural pump spinning up every 15 to 20 minutes. After about an hour Rebecca’s vitals had stabilized, but the frightening event had set us back. At the onset of her reaction the nurses had stopped the Pitocin drip. They restarted it at the lowest setting and dialed it up slowly to monitor for potential interactions while they prepared us for the next phase—the peanut ball.
To the uninitiated, the peanut ball looks like a manufacturing mistake—a long rubber ball, dimpled in the middle, as if the machine had a hiccup 3 quarters of the way in and finished by trying to make another ball. The result is something like a pair of conjoined workout balls. In effect, it does resemble a peanut; a perfectly symmetrical peanut several thousand times a peanut’s normal size; ours was bright orange.
We helped the nurse turn Rebecca, now numb from the waist down, onto her side, and the peanut ball was placed between her knees. Then we found out what the peanut ball was all about. Rebecca would spend time in 3 positions, one on each side and then a third sitting up. She would be in each position for about an hour, but that could be adjusted according to how well mother and baby tolerated it. To quote the nurse, the process would “move things along.”
The next few hours were a buzz of activity. Mary and I did what we could to help whenever the nurses came to adjust Rebecca’s position, which was a lot considering her lack of feeling from the waist down. As we cycled through the positions, the nurses began coming more and more often, spurred on by how Simon reacted to the change.
As their frequency increased, they began saying less and less. A visit would begin with a statement like: “Baby doesn’t like that.” And they would go to work. As they said less, more of them came, and my help was increasingly in the way. Being less informed, my mind drifted over darker potentialities—I feared that something was wrong, that at any moment we were going to be told that our hopes of a normal delivery were out of the question or worse, that mother and son were in peril.
Rebecca was sitting up again; Simon wasn’t tolerating any of the three positions—the nurse decided it was time to check Rebecca’s cervix before we went on. After a further adjustment of position, latex gloves, and some lubricating jelly, she declared Rebecca “complete,” and left the room to make some necessary calls to the obstetrician and the NICU. Among us, there was a sense of relief—and around us the team of nurses went to work transforming the labor suite into a delivery room.
To be continued…