It was a Tuesday, just like any other. Well, it was Rachel’s birthday. But we were ignoring that.
Actually, I take that back. It wasn’t just like any other Tuesday. It was the first day back after a 3-day weekend. Martin Luther King Day. Aaron and I had worked on the holiday and I was feeling pretty good about the day…I was ahead of the game. There was stuff happening at work, but nothing too crazy. Nothing too crazy yet.
Rachel had had a rough night…she felt like the baby had done a flip to change positions…she had felt this way before. She didn’t sleep well, but was up and at ‘em and soldiering on towards her last day…that coming Friday. She’d have 2 whole weeks of at-home bliss before the baby was due, and she had big plans.
We both went to work. She was uncomfortable, but what was new. I went about my day and all was well with the world. We had a baby on the way, but he was still packed safely away in the middle distance. Still not here yet.
At about 12:15, Rachel called me at work and asked if I would take her to the hospital…she was feeling strange. She did not think she was in labor, rather, she was relatively convinced that she was experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions which would be normal for this stage of her pregnancy. No big deal, but could we please go to the hospital.
After fighting the brief urge to ‘there-there’ her into settling down, I agreed to meet her at the house at 1:15, and we’d head up to Roseville (about a 30 minute drive, all told) and check things out. And so, here I was, with about 35 minutes to gather my thoughts and prepare things for Aaron to take over (who was home, in bed, sick, asleep) just in case I was gone all day. Much less, in case I was gone for a few weeks starting…now.
So I made a list. I sent a few emails joking about the fact that I was chasing ‘the Braxton Hicks monster’. I left the office at about 1:05 and headed to the house.
“So I made a list. I sent a few emails joking about the fact that I was chasing ‘the Braxton Hicks monster’. I left the office at about 1:05 and headed to the house.”
I got to the house before Rachel and did the normal things: let the dogs out, made a snack, and waited for my wife. She got there and we did a check-in…she seemed OK, but definitely uncomfortable. She said she had been experiencing some severe discomfort all morning, but I don’t think that at this point she had mentioned the word ‘pain’ once. One of the Execs (an OB) in her office had joked about clearing off a desk and delivering the kid in the office. It was a joke met with rolling eyes, I think.
We loaded into the truck, peanut butter sandwiches and a half a bag of gummi bears in hand. I proceeded to get us onto the freeway and in the direction of Roseville like a sane person. But then Rachel started having her ‘contractions’ and we decided to time them to see what was what. They were ON. TOP. of each other. One was 30 seconds, one was 45 seconds…and I don’t think any of them were more than 90 seconds apart. Weird. More evidence that this was B-H. It did not, however, stop me from driving like a maniac and speeding East at rates upward of 100 mph. We got there in record time.
Our arrival at the Kaiser Roseville birthing center was hum-drum. Saw the doorperson and let her know that we were very much not in labor. Sorry for wasting your time. Maybe we should just turn around. We were very very sorry to be overreacting. But, she checked Rachel in, I went and parked the truck, and then followed the line on the floor to triage.
When I arrived, I was seated in a waiting area while Rachel was using the restroom and changing into her gown. Before I was allowed to go see her, I entered another room through a side-door where a lovely woman sat me down and asked to see my credit card. It was time to pay for the baby. I mentioned to her that, hey, this wasn’t the labor. We were just being nervous new newbies and we were sorry for being so ridiculous. She said, that’s OK…you pay now, we’ll give you a receipt, and all will be remembered. No problem. I spent a few moments with her going over paperwork, proving that I was married to this woman who didn’t have my same last name, and, well, straightening out all the bureaucracy. Woo. Jonah was paid for. A steal at ten times the price. Easy peasy.
Now it was time to go find Rachel. She was admitted into a small, maybe 8 by 8 triage room where she was lying in bed and waiting to be seen. She was hooked up to a fetal monitor and we could see her ‘contractions’ coming and going on a monitor to her right. They looked like Mt. Terror. Erebus. Everest. Spiky peaks and tall flat tops; plateaus of pain atop stalagmitic stumps of shooting shock. Craziness. They kept getting bigger, and they were no further apart than when we started.
“This was happening. 2 and a half weeks early. On Rachel’s birthday.”
And then our doctor entered. Dr. Lares. Young. Pretty. Charming. So, totally nice and kind. Exactly who you want to see when you’re wondering what’s going on. By the time she entered, I think I had folded and re-folded Rachel’s clothes about 6 times. I guess I was nervous. Dr. Lares came in and immediately put us at ease. After getting to know her a bit (read: talking to her for about 10 seconds), she told us that she was going to check Rachel’s cervix and see what we were dealing with. We both—Rachel and I—apologized AGAIN, in advance, for wasting her time. We were sorry for being so jumpy. This was probably nothing. We are so dumb. Etc.
5 Centimeters. 5. Five. Out of Ten. Halfway there. With slacks on.
Rachel arrived at the hospital at 5 centimeters. Had probably been in ‘actual’ labor since very early that morning, and was now in ‘actual’ ‘active’ labor. I wish I had a picture of our faces when we learned that. All of a sudden we were apologizing for apologizing. We weren’t going anywhere. Not home, not work, not nowhere. We were admitted. This was happening. 2 and a half weeks early. On Rachel’s birthday.
We spent a few more minutes in the triage room while the nurses prepared to move us to the delivery room. Kaiser Roseville’s facilities are bar-none…all of the rooms we used during the course of our stay were private and luxe. Amazing. A tile hotel.
The admitting nurse recommended that Rachel put on two gowns…one backwards and one forwards to conceal both her heaving bosom and wagging tail, but once she did, she felt like it was too many layers, so she ended up making the trip half-naked. She was beginning to be at the point where she didn’t care.
When we arrived at the labor/delivery room, we met our new nurse, Stephanie, who would end up being with us throughout the whole ordeal. She was…amazing. She had a very confident but tender way of grabbing Rachel’s attention throughout the course of a contraction….something that Rachel has gone on to speak about since. A very very soothing presence throughout the hardest parts of the labor.
By this time, it was about 2:30…maybe pushing 3. Rachel was dilating and the contractions were becoming more painful, and after lying in bed for a moment and then trying to sit up, she came to the conclusion that standing was her best bet for fighting through the pain. Things proceeded like this for about an hour to 90 minutes…contractions coming relentlessly and Rachel sort of blowing them off. I for one felt like tits on a boar; I think I was doing a good to pretty-great job at birth coaching, but I think that’s like saying I did a good job at riding in a car; I kept my composure the best I could and tried to contribute where I could while making sure I didn’t get in the way.
“I think I was doing a good to pretty-great job at birth coaching, but I think that’s like saying I did a good job at riding in a car…”
Up until this point, Rachel was on her own, pain-wise. By the time she had reached about 8 centimeters (out of a total 10), she decided that the pain was too great and that she’d like to get the epidural in-process. We had agreed that we were going to have a free-flowing and flexible birth-plan (I called it the Jazz Plan) and sort of improvise when we got there to see what was what. Kaiser recommends that you know what you want from the doctor staff, pain-management-wise, but we wanted to see how it went. So, after getting most of the way there, Rachel decided she wanted some help with the pain. Totally understandable.
So they got in touch with the anesthesiologist. I can’t remember her name. She came into the room and started to get her gear ready while Stephanie and I stood and watched and while Rachel fought through another few contractions. It was very helpful (I think) for me to be able to tell Rachel that we were taking steps to get her some help, but no matter what, she would have to get through the contraction that was currently happening…there was no stopping ‘this one’. That got us through another 6 or 7 contractions while the pain person got set up, and once she was ready to go, I had to move. Kaiser has a strict rule that while an epidural is being administered, the husband has to be seated, on the opposite side of the bed from the technician, with his feet flat on the floor. Rachel was forced to sign her own waiver, and I could only touch her hands while she leaned into this sort of Iron Maiden contraption designed to support her weight while the tech did her thing. It was…pretty brutal-looking. And the problem of course was that Rachel’s contractions were so close together (still) that she wasn’t able to sit still for long enough for the tech do get the hugely long, katana-like needle into Rachel’s spine so the catheter (and eventual pain meds) could be inserted.
I have a problem with this whole scene. The entire time that we spent in the Kaiser system, I got the distinct impression that all of the NPs, OBs, and other medical professionals that came into contact with us were handicapping each other and trying to polish their stats. Everybody had an opinion on due date, baby size, dilation, etc., and everybody was very sure to remind us to let them know once the baby was born (or whatever) so they could see if they were right.
With the anesthesiologist, every time she had to retract the needle and try again (three times) I could see in her face that she was getting annoyed. Her stats were being tarnished. it was like the scene in ‘A Christmas Story’ where the dad is trying to change the tire and Ralphie wrecks his time…just like that. When she couldn’t get the needle inserted on the third try, Rachel started to get a bit spooked and we all decided to take a break and re-assess. The Anesthesiologist sort of huffed away and scrapped all of her now-non-sterile gear and I felt like she was pouting. It was…ridiculous.
“Much to my surprise—I think people who preach natural birth are…wait for it…RIDICULOUS—I was starting to think that, maybe Rachel SHOULD try and get through it without the drugs.”
And so here we were. At about 8 or 9 centimeters. The doctor checked her again, and no, it was not yet time to push: there was still some cervix hanging out. Rachel was in extreme pain (duh) and we were still uncertain about how to deal with the pain management. There was still some question as to whether or not we’d—ahem, SHE’d—be getting an epidural or not. It was…stressful. Dr. Lares had just come in from taking a call or something, and Rachel was looking to me: what should we do? I of course wanted to be very sensitive to the fact that this was her body and she can do whatever she wants with it. If the kid comes out cross-eyed or whatever, big deal…my focus was on her. I didn’t feel like I could tell her to get or to not get the epidural, however, and, much to my surprise—I think people who preach natural birth are…wait for it…RIDICULOUS—I was starting to think that, maybe Rachel SHOULD try and get through it without the drugs. She had come. so. far. Plus, I was sketched out (as was she) about the fact that she wouldn’t be able to stand or feel the lower part of her body…nor would she be able to push as well. It was…confusing.
I finally said to our nurse Stephanie and Dr. Lares: “Look, I know that you’re not supposed to tell us what to do here, but I need you to cut the shit and just tell us what to do. I know you’ll support whatever we decide, but she’s panicking and it’s making it worse. What do I tell my wife?”
It was clear, the moment I asked, that neither the nurse or the doctor thought we needed the epidural. It was actually quite clear that that’s how they felt from the beginning, but it took them saying ‘You can do it without…’ for Rachel to truly believe it. She was…a tiger. An amazon…an Apache thirsty for blood. Her mantra was “I Can’t I Can’t I Can’t” but it was so incredibly clear that she could. She could have gotten a tattoo and done Sudoku at the same time…she was owning this experience. So capable. So strong. Once she heard the doctors’ advice, she bore down and settled in for the final part.
Her water had still not broken. She was hovering between 9 and 10 centimeters, and the staff had started discussing breaking her water to speed up the process. Rachel had seen the contraption they use for this process—it’s basically a knitting needle—and she had decided to be scared of it. Terrified, even. Stephanie, our nurse, told Rachel that if her water didn’t break in a contraction or two, then they would need to break it for her. After giving me a look of despair between contractions, another wave of screaming overtook Rachel. In the middle of her tirade, she yelled at me ‘Holy Shit my water just broke!!!’ and I informed her that yes, indeed, it had. It was like…Double Dare. Everybody kept telling us how a water breaking was in no way like it was on TV but, well, it was. Exactly like that. In the opening scene of Peewee’s Big Adventure, when we’re looking at his Rube Goldberg breakfast machine, there’s a point at which a balloon inflates and pops to scare a chicken into laying an egg. I, for some reason, have mapped this footage against Rachel’s water breaking. It was a dramatic moment.
And now the real fun was to begin. Pushing. All in all, this went amazingly fast. Rachel pushed for about an hour. We did have, however, a bit of doctor drama.
Stephanie told Rachel that it was time to push. She was going to call Dr. Lares (who was out doing her rounds) and the show would really pick up steam. She dialed the Dr. and very quickly came back to us with terrible news: Dr. Lares was involved in another delivery. We had missed our chance at her. Would we like a Midwife? Rachel said, with no uncertainty, absolutely not. Keep that hippie bullshit for gals who need to top each other at Yoga class. I couldn’t agree more. But what to do? We had to make do with the backup doctor…a Dr. Macmillan. No big deal….Dr. Lares was, after all, new to us as well…we had just bonded with her so neatly in the short amount of time we’d known her.
“Would we like a Midwife? Rachel said, with no uncertainty, absolutely not. Keep that hippie bullshit for gals who need to top each other at Yoga class.”
In comes the new doc. She’s gotta get all bootied and scrubbed up…all the while, Rachel is beginning to push. During the entire labor, Rachel had become a very very vocal person…lots of screaming and shouting and grunting. Exactly what she’s supposed to do. Except, when it came time to push, they started telling her that she needed to bottle up all that shout-energy and send it outwards and downwards into her uterus. Use it to push. Rachel, for her part, was trying, but it was hard. During a contraction in which Rachel was making some noise (and pushing), this new doc came over, looked at Rachel, and said (with a straight face): “Yeah. You’re not gonna get anywhere pushing like that. We’ll be here for hours yet.”
We…had a moment. A moment of total despair. It was…terrible. This was not who we wanted guiding our child into the world. Not at all.
But! We were stuck. This was it. And here came another contraction. So pushing commenced. Rachel did her best to keep quiet and channel her screams down into and out of her…parts. Several contractions came and went, and, well, that’s what it was.
“Pushing. Scratching. Clawing. Warrior. Black Magic Priestess Queen. Berserker.”
And then! And then! Right when Dr. Negative was about to really suit up and get involved with Rachel, who walks in but Dr. Lares. I cannot describe my relief and excitement at this moment. It was probably more than when I first saw Jonah. I was so elated. This was the closest to tears I got that day…I looked over to Rachel and said ‘Yay! Look who it is! We’re saved! Positivity!!’. Rachel—I think—was just as happy as I was. It was a moment. A turning point. NOW we could get down to having this kid.
Pushing. Learning how to push the right way. More pushing. Rachel bit me at one point. Scratched my face. Scratched my arm. Pulled my hair. It was all good. Whatever she needed. Each contraction usually meant 2 or 3 pushes. They were…excruciating for Rachel.
We can see his head. We can see his hair. We can see his head. We can see his hair.
And by ‘we’, I mean the staff. I was giving Rachel her privacy. It was…working for both of us.
We can see his hair. We can see more of his hair.
Pushing. Scratching. Clawing. Warrior. Black Magic Priestess Queen. Berserker.
We can see his head. We can see his hair.
Fighting. Words of terrible fright; crushing defeat, shrouded in pure assertion. A sort of gilded capability. Crocodile Tears. Sad and Deadly. Screaming.
We can see his ears.
Rachel kicks out of Apache Automaton mode and bears down. This is it. Fuck The World. Guns blazing, mouth full of sand. This kid is coming out. Right now. Universe be damned. Five pushes in one contraction. We can see his head. We can see his shoulders. We can see his nipples. He is out.
Our son is out. Jonah is out. Jonah is here. His name is Jonah. He’s for real.
And he is beautiful.
“You did this. You did it. The doctors couldn’t help you. I couldn’t help you. You did it, all alone…”
The docs lie him on Rachel’s chest, but—and this is just for a moment—she’s not Rachel yet. She’s not Jonah’s mother yet. She’s somewhere between this weapon she’s been for several hours and her old self. She’s changing back. Blacked out and dangerous…done with giving and ready to take back. Her eyes rolled back into her head; she looked at me, she looked at him, and then back at me. This is our baby. This is your baby. You just did this. It was…terrifying. You did this. You did it. The doctors couldn’t help you. I couldn’t help you. You did it, all alone, and I can only imagine how cold and lonely that must have been. But he’s here now. We are three. That kid is your kid.
It was a strange 90 seconds. But awesome, too. Like setting a clock after the power goes out…you know it’s going to go back to keeping time like a champ, but you almost want to let it come around the horn on it’s own. I wanted to disappear with the doctors and let Rachel and Jonah figure it out on their own. She could eat him or clean him…the universe would accept either answer.
And then he peed on everything. And Rachel snapped out of it. She looked at me just as I looked at her and we both said it at the same time: ‘Mazal Tov!’. Our beautiful little Jew. So tired. So angry. Telling the world that he was here, ready to take back what belonged to him. That it was his. We were his. So take that.
Here’s some pee.