March 2, 2007

The Nitty Gritty

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.

posted at 10:16 AM by raul

Filed under: on kids

TAGS: birth (10) birthing center (1) delivery (1) labor (6) natural birth (1) newborn (3)


03/03/07 10:44 AM

I've been anxious to hear the story - the whole thing seemed to unfold awfully fast after our IM conversation in the early afternoon - I now realize that it was even faster than I could have imagined!

Glad all is well. I hope Raul Andres is enjoying his big brother-dom.

03/03/07 11:05 AM

Phew! Forwarding this to friends who are planning families. Big congrats from here, Raul.

03/03/07 01:19 PM

Oh, joy.

03/03/07 01:37 PM

Oh my! Your poor wife. Big web hug.

03/03/07 01:51 PM

Wow...that was a little too close for comfort! A story with a happy ending is always great to read. Thank you for providing one!

Is Raul excited about his lil brother? Keep on keepin on man. Till next time...

03/03/07 02:06 PM

What a great story. I've only delivered one kid in my career (though I have had many close calls). It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. My face was flush with the beauty of it but it certainly made a mess. eegad.

Congratulations. You have got to be the best dad ever.

03/03/07 04:43 PM

Congratulations on the new wee-one!

03/03/07 04:55 PM

It seems the second child is often in a bit of a hurry. A friend was in labour for all of one hour and fifteen minutes the second time around. Half 40 minutes of this was spent anxiously waiting for the baby sitter for child number one. After a high speed journey on the motorway the child was born six minutes after they arrived at the hospital. The father made it just in time after parking the car. Now, I thought that the 30 hours of labour it took our son to be born was a bit excessive, but at least we had plenty of time to make it to the hospital.

Anyway, glad to hear that everything went OK.

03/03/07 06:19 PM

Indeed Raul, Congratulations.

03/03/07 06:50 PM

Thank you for taking the time to give us this story. The photos are lovely. Congratulations again!

03/03/07 09:21 PM

fantastic! congratulations, all around!

03/03/07 10:17 PM

that is great! congrats to your family. look forward to meeting the little one. hope your "bruised" arms are healing. ha.

03/03/07 11:19 PM

No quotation marks, it was bruised, but obviously it's a trifle comparatively speaking...

Thanks for all the kind comments everyone. It's so nice to hear from all of you. Sorry if the writing was rushed and ungrammatical, but I was typing with one hand holding the baby in the other arm... (this will be my excuse for at least several months and then I'll have to find a new one)...

We just arrived home today. Things have been surprisingly smooth. Raul Andres especially has been a champ, that kid is so kind it breaks your heart.

03/04/07 01:37 AM

Congrats! Loads of congrats.

03/04/07 02:40 AM

Travis and I were glued to the screen while reading your story. I think I held my breath the whole time. So glad the little one is here safely. Love you guys!

03/04/07 03:40 AM

An English mid-wife told me that you meet the soul of the woman during child-birth. Jen must be a fine, fine soul.

03/04/07 04:19 AM

One memorable entrance. My grandma always said the more memorable the entrance the quieter the exit. Her house caught fire whilst she was being born. She lived to 103 and died in her own bed in her sleep surrounded by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. May Gabriel have such a life.

query: anglo or spanish pronunciation of gabriel and how does one pronounce min-gul

03/04/07 03:14 PM

many congratulations and thanks for sharing your story!

03/05/07 10:04 PM

Raul - excellent account. Just what I feared would happen to us two months ago. I'm glad it had a happy ending though and hope you're all home and happy.

03/06/07 06:33 PM

Thanks for the great birth story. I always love hearing it from anyone but the mother, but especially from the driver of a Mini stuck in traffic. We had our second in January- at home. With your wife's speedy event, you might consider it if you have any more!

03/16/07 06:09 PM

So nice to hear the story of your birth. I am a midwife who works in a Bronx city hospital, but I used to work at an out of hospital birthcenter on 14th street. It is so great to hear of your experience, how it was all about you guys and not the hospital staff. We midwifes working in our busy little hospital try to keep it focused for our patients who are mostly immigrants. For them, giving birth in a hospital is often not the norm. It is good to be remined that silence is so important. Thanks for supporting midwifery.

03/23/07 07:56 PM

we gave birth our second time at the birthing center too. I loved it and said also it seemed like a hotel. loved the big bed, we all slept together that night (I delivered at 9:15pm). who was your midwife? i had sylvie blaustein.

i love the sentence about the shadow of death that hangs over each birth...definitely feel that. both of mine were natural, though the first with an ob and nyu, i had no time for anything whole labor only 4 hours. second a bit slower actually. but he was over 2 lbs bigger.

nice to hear it from the daddy's point of view.

05/09/07 12:33 PM

I have always enjoyed your photos--this is the first writing of your writing I have read. It is beautifully documented, as I should have expected. I was drawn to this post from Flickr, having seen the newborn photo in my contacts list.

Our 2nd child is due today (things started happening last night then stopped). We also have a both a two year old son and a bridge between us and the hospital... However, the traffic in Portland, Maine is rarely so snarled!

I enjoyed your post, and now I feel a little more prepared for the upcoming event having lived it just a little bit this afternoon. Thank you (and congratulations!)

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