This is the Third in a series about the birth of our son, Simon Alister. To read the whole tale, start here.
Our obstetrician, Dr. Seagle, was on call for The Veranda, and had been on the way to the hospital for his evening rounds before going into the night. He was in the parking lot when he got the call and said that he’d be right up. We had been seeing Dr. Seagle since the beginning of Rebecca’s pregnancy, he was the most familiar with our situation, and we were comfortable with his mannerisms—the thought of meeting a different OB just before delivery had been a nagging anxiety during the hospital stay. We were relieved to discover that Simon would be delivered by our doctor.
While we waited, the nurses went to work around us, hurriedly setting up for the delivery. Anything not needed was moved out of the way, the foot of Rebecca’s bed was removed and replaced with stirrups, and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) sent over 2 nurses and an incubator, to attend to Simon after delivery.
Our staff had grown from 1 or 2 nurses to more than 8, including Dr. Seagle. As her legs got situated in the stirrups, he gave us instructions for the delivery: pushing during contractions, with Rebecca in a kind of knees up crunch. Mary and I were to help her pull her knees back toward her chest as she leaned froward—we had just gotten into position when the first contraction came!
With her knees up and her shoulders forward, we breathed through the first moments of delivery. There was almost time for 3 pushes during that first contraction, and as we relaxed, waiting for the next contraction, Dr. Seagle looked at me and asked, “Is Daddy going to cut the cord?” My mind was in the wash of new information, the conflict between expectation and experience was striking and while I hesitated, considering the differences, Rebecca answered.
“He wanted to catch him.”
She was right. The idea had come weeks before when we sat down to outline our birthing plan. The question was raised as we read through templates—did I want to cut the cord? I was hesitant. There wasn’t a reason, it just wasn’t the gesture I felt I needed to make. She went on—did I want to catch him? I was so surprised by it I remember exclaiming, “Is that an option!?” When we discussed the birthing plan with Dr. Seagle a few weeks prior he had agreed that it was an option, but after her hospitalization I wasn’t sure how much of the plan was still viable.
He answered, “That’s right, well, you should get on some gloves.”
I left Mary at Rebecca’s side and prepared to help deliver my son into this world. A nurse brought me a pair of gloves and started to explain how to put them on—she stopped short. I had been watching them put on gloves like these all day and knew that special care was to be taken to avoid contaminating them. As I reached the foot of the delivery bed, what was left of it, I looked down to where I could see the crown of Simon’s head, Dr. Seagle looked at me and asked:
“Are you a righty or a lefty? And don’t say ambidextrous.”
“Mildly ambidextrous,” I replied, “primarily right.”
“You’re not going to faint, are you?”
He shuffled a little to the right and beckoned me closer so that my right side was in the middle, where Simon would come out. With the next contraction building Dr. Seagle went to work coaching Rebecca through another sequence of pushes, and I found myself mystified by the overwhelming calm in the room. Delivery is often billed as high drama with doctors, nurses, and soon to be parents and grandparents frantically rushing around scream filled rooms while mothers cuss fathers and contractions come without warning, and I won’t say that can’t be the case, just that, for us— it wasn’t.
Here we were, mid-contraction, the doctor focusing on Simon’s passage through the birth canal, Rebecca being coached by her sister and our attending nurse, a team of Labor and Delivery nurses ready to bring anything necessary to the bedside, and a team from NICU ready to care for Simon in any way needed post-delivery— and there was a calm. We were surrounded by professionals, who we trusted, who were prepared for whatever came next. As the contraction came to an end, Dr. Seagle got my attention.
“Ok Daddy, I want you to take two fingers and put them right here,” he indicated a place on Simon’s head, “baby will try to move his head in the birth canal, we don’t want that so keep pressure right there.” While they went to work adjusting Simon’s heart monitor, he explained what would come next. “Once baby’s head comes, I’ll turn him and bring one shoulder out, after that he’ll come out and you catch him and carry him up onto momma’s chest—NICU! If we have a healthy, screaming baby we’ll do 60 seconds of skin to skin then to you for 5 minutes to check him, clear?”
There was a statement in the affirmative from the NICU team, but another contraction was building, and we were all engaged with the work at hand. As I looked down to where my fingers were keeping pressure on Simon’s head, I saw a trickle of fresh blood.
As the contraction eased, Dr. Seagle quickly identified the tear and its cause, our son, at 34 weeks of term, had a full head of hair, and it was counteracting the natural lubricant of the birthing canal—lubricating jelly was employed to prevent further tears and pressure was kept on the wound to minimize blood loss between contractions.
As we waited patiently for the next contraction, Dr. Seagle reviewed the delivery process again. We could see and hear the pulses of Simon’s heartbeat on the same monitors. I stole admiring glances at Rebecca, even in the sprawl of the delivery room stress she was beautiful, and I felt thankful for her. Her expression changed and the next contraction began to build. The idle hands around the delivery bed went to work.
“Ok, now push!” Dr. Seagle said. “Breathe, and right back again—Push! If we’ve got time for a third one—Push!”
With her every effort I can feel Simon moving a little closer to this world. Then the contraction ebbed, and a few moments passed as the room began to relax. Then I heard the nurse quietly say, “I can’t get baby’s heartbeat.” A shadow passed over my mind as I thought the worst and wondered if it could really happen that fast. “What?” Came the doctor’s reply. “I can’t find his heartbeat with the monitor,” she repeated.
His words cut through the relaxation like a knife, “Mommy, baby needs to come now, I need you to push!” There was a confused pause from Rebecca and Mary. He went on, “baby is in the birth canal, we can’t get his heart on the monitor, so he needs to come out now, contraction or not—PUSH!”
After a confused moment Rebecca began to push and the next few moments were a blur. As Simon’s head cleared the birth canal, he took a deep breath and screamed. Dr. Seagle took hold of him and deftly freed one of his arms, at which point I took him by the shoulder and clutched tightly as my son spilled into this world. I held firm and lifted him up onto Rebecca’s chest as he began to cry. I moved around to her side, and we cried together through the first moments of his life.
The tears washed over us and there was a wave of relief. The twelve days that brought us here had been a difficult and emotional journey. We wouldn’t have made it without the love and support of our friends and family, or without the help of the medical professionals we met along the way. Now, Simon was safely in this world and the real work was just beginning.