March 2, 2007
Close readers of this blog will notice that I made a post about my wife being in labor at 6:24PM on Thursday and that the baby was born a little over 2 hours later. This is the story of those 2 hours:
Earlier that Thursday afternoon Jenn had been in a light pre-labor, "I think I’m having contractions" she had announced nonchalantly. They aren’t that bad." Then she went about her day and we guessed we might have to go to the hospital in the morning. I was writing that blog post when I was called into the laundry room, so I finished up and hit send. Downstairs my wife was crouched down on the floor, "We have to go now," she announced. I was asking a follow-up question when she put up her hand to stop me and started making a low non-human noise I recognized from the birth of our first son. It was a noise that had preceded the actual birth by only an hour or so just before she went into transition. It was time to GO.
I sprinted down the street to the garage only to find it backed up. "Calm down" I kept telling myself... "Everything will be fine." A few minutes later driving up my own street, I was almost sideswiped by a truck running a very red light. "Inauspicious." It took a full 4 minutes to get Jenn from the door of the house to the door of the car. The contractions would release, she would walk a few steps, and then they would come again. At this point the contractions were coming about every 2 minutes. Not ideal, but not critical yet.. I briefly considered running over to the emergency room of a nearby hospital instead of our assigned birthing center, but the contractions seemed steady so I headed across the Brooklyn Bridge and onto FDR for the drive uptown. A little geography for non New Yorkers: We live in Brooklyn which is across the river from Manhattan. Our birthing center is at St. Lukes Roosevelt on 10th Avenue and 58th Street on the west side..... It’s an 8.4 mile drive but traffic is unavoidable. I was counting on a 30 minute ride. The FDR is an aging highway up the eastern edge of Manhattan. It has no shoulders. Traffic is heavy, and exits are few. Once you hit the FDR, you’re committed. Of course just as we hit the FDR Jenn’s contractions started coming faster... about every 45 seconds. Now if you’ve never been in a Mini Cooper on the FDR with a woman in full labor, screaming bloody murder with each contraction, whimpering and breathing heavily with each release, and holding your arm so tight it’s bruising, well... um...I don’t recommend it. I was trying to focus on driving, speaking in platitudes, giving Jenn updates on our location, and quite frankly, saying a few silent prayers. But platitudes were not what my wife wanted. "JUST SHUT UP!" she bellowed. At about 22nd street traffic stopped dead. We were inching forward. Jenn was banging the windows with each contraction. I realized we could become one of those stories on the evening news. Woman Gives Birth on FDR. I didn’t want to be on the news. I thought about the opening scene in Wings of Desire where the angels float over a highway peeking in on the small self-contained worlds contained in each vehicle... The Punjabi cab driver two lanes over might be thinking of his wife's curry. I noticed a guy talking to his girlfriend who was staring out the window at the city beyond—what was she thinking, and what about the trucker smoking and singing to himself... they were all unaware... I willed them to move. Didn't they realize what was going on? Just as I was losing hope traffic began to move. I decided as long as Jenn was saying, "I can’t do this. I can’t do this" we were fine, but the minute she said, "We’re not going to make", I was going to veer off and find a closer hospital. If she mentioned pushing it would be time to stop the car. I make the mistake of asking if she wanted music. "MUSIC?!!" she responded. Ok my bad. Finally exiting the FDR we made it to 57th street which is littered with red lights (all unbearably long), was clogged with traffic, and was busy with pedestrians... At each stoplight crowds of people hearing the long howls and stop dead in their tracks. At 57th and 5th we drew a crowd. Jenn was completely obvious, she was going internal. One guy gave us a thumbs up. A woman wearing a fur coat blew a kiss. An old lady crossed herself. One guy shouted "She's having a baby!"
A few eternal minutes later we finally screeched into the hospital driveway we were almost rear ended by another car. It was our midwife whose scramble had been just as frantic as ours. She took one look at my wife and said, "We might have to deliver in the lobby."
We did not deliver in the lobby. After much heaving and ho-ing we manuvered Jenn into a wheelchair and rushed her up to the birthing center. Minutes later she was in a large tub of warm water which sent her straight into transition. A few minutes later the midwife, myself, and a labor nurse were all on the bed holding onto legs and arms as she pushed the baby out in what seemed like record time. The midwife caught the baby and put in on jenn’s breast complete with cord. Jenn was sobbing. I was drenched in sweat and viscera... but the moment was oddly quiet almost silent. We were there with this brand new kid, still steaming from the womb. He was blinking and alert, turning toward his mother whenever she spoke. The shadow of death which hangs over all births had passed, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. It was at this point that I realized in the rush I had left my camera bag in the car—a final ironic twist. The moment would be undocumented. I'll just have to put my brain on record," I thought.
This birth was completely unlike the birth of our first son who was delivered in the same hospital, but in a standard hospital labor & delivery room. In that birth, mother and child were both connected to a tangle of monitors and tubes. Doctors and nurses were running in and out of the room, and right after birth the baby was taken away to a nursery for a battery of hospital tests. It was noisy and chaotic and anything but private. At the birth center it was just the four of us (well eventually 5). There were no beeping monitors or needles or anything else. Minimal tests were done and mother and baby were both alert and sharp afterwards. Physically the natural birth took less of a toll even though it was exponentially more intense. Jenn said the hardest thing was the total submission to pain without modulation. She and another fresh-from-labor mom were comparing notes this morning... "There are no words," said my wife. "There are no words," echoed the woman. Later when we discussed things, Jenn said couldn’t outright recommend one type of birth over the other. The lack of relief in this birth was terrifying... She missed the epidural induced pause of the last one. And all those monitors and tubes and needles that had bothered me so much about about the first birth... she had never noticed them, so they weren’t really a factor with her. Of course in this particular birth we wouldn't have had a choice anyway. The wouldn't have been time for an epidural. She did appreciate that I was allowed to stay overnight in the birthcenter, and that the room was our own. No roommates, no nurses interrupting us every few minutes hours. We even had a decent view down 10th Avenue. It was like being in a hotel room.
Late in the evening, lying on the bed with newborn Gabriel between us, we heard another woman in heavy labor—the familiar deep moans, curses and cries penetrating the walls. During lulls we heard her husband saying things, like "just relax, it will be ok. Breath. Try to relax honey" and it sounded so... so... impotent and ridiculous... he sounded like he wasn't even convincing himself... "he should just shut up" Jenn said. "True true," I agreed. We both laughed.