I didn’t expect that…

Around 7:00 PM, after we had been there an hour or so, the nurse called me over to look at something. “There’s the top of the baby’s head. This shouldn’t take too much longer.” Okay, I thought, if you say so. You’re the expert here. At the same time I thought, or rather, a terrifying thought consumed me: Holy Shit! This can’t happen. If that’s just the top of a head, there’s no way the rest of the head, a set of shoulders, arms, and a torso will ever fit through. The child is going to be lodged permanently in that silly straw of a birth canal.

The mother-child duo were going to expire right here, in this hideous “birthing suite” with its sandstone colored linoleum tiles, buttermilk colored walls, one of which was covered by a massive and incredibly dated nature mural wallpaper scene of some Montana high-country meadow, the mother-child immobilized like some offering in a bizarre birthing-chair-cum-torture-rack contraption at the center of a swarm of Culicidaetic machines each with a proboscis stretched toward the mother-child. The entire scene unforgivingly illuminated by severe fluorescent lighting north of 5500K. Off in the corner slouched the faux leather lounge chair that I was supposed to “relax in” during this process.

I stepped back so a small throng of nurses could finish connecting the Culicidaetic machines to the mother-child. One of machines jumped to life as soon as its belt-sensor is stretched around the mother-child. Suddenly a rapid and unnatural

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

reverberated through the birthing suite. On this Culicidaetic machine’s screen a bright green dot traced endlessly a sort of profile in miniature of the Grand Tetons, a new peak drawn each time the child’s heart contracted. Just as one range of phosphorescent peaks faded, the dot traced a new one. A separate machine with a similar screen and a similar bright green dot silently sketched a different range that has many fewer peaks.

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

The nurse ushered me off to the faux leather lounge chair, offered to get me a cup of coffee, and told me everything is going fine.

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

Nurses crowded around, the physician came, pushing ensued, nothing happened. Totally normal, I was assured. The mother portion of the mother-child expressed pain. Anesthesiologist was summoned. Unexpectedly, blood-curdling screams filled the hall and birthing suite. Followed immediately by more blood-curdling screams. The nurse’s previous efforts to reassure me pale in comparison to these screams, which convinced me that mother-child were going to die a horrible and painful death. I looked to the nurse, worry etched across my face, and asked when the anesthesiologist would arrive. Soon, she said. Don’t worry, she said. To reassure both me and the mother-child, a nurse confided that those screams were coming from a woman whose husband had decided that she should not use any pain management.[1]

Minutes later the epidural was in place, the mother of the mother-child duo seemed both physically more comfortable and less stressed. And judging by the incessant

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

the child bit of the mother-child was fine too.

My fears of the permanently lodged child, however, had not abated. Instead, when “we”[2] started pushing, my fears were suddenly shared by everybody in the room.

beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh

Suddenly the bright green dot was tracing not a miniature profile of the Grand Tetons but something that looked more like the Appalachians. Widely scattered dome-topped large hills had replaced the Tetons’ many tall, sharp peaks and deep valleys. I wasn’t the only person to notice the cardio-topographic shift. Nurses scrambled. The physician seemed to rematerialize at the far end of the mother-child. I was dispatched to the faux leather lounge chair so the professionals could work. They told the mother to stop pushing.[3] The Grand Tetons returned:

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

A nurse came over and explained that the child was stressed — probably from being crammed through a silly straw of a birth canal, I thought. Among other things, it was important to keep the child’s heart rate high enough to maintain blood-oxygen levels. “We” would wait a while and try again. “We” waited. “We” tried again.

beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh

Appalachians again. “We” tried a couple more times before giving everybody a break for a few hours. The mother was exhausted and needed to rest. She seemed to sleep, thanks no doubt to the epidural. The child continued unknowingly to draw Tetons in phosphorescent green on the little screen. I sank into the faux leather lounge chair, working my way through cup after cup of tepid coffee.

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

Sometime late in the night “we” gave it another try. Same Tetons-to-Appalachians result. Everybody agreed to try again in the morning.

Staffing change occurred at 7:00 AM. New nurses, new physician, new support staff. Same mother-child. Same silly straw birth canal. Same cardio-topographic shift whenever “we” pushed.

beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh … … beep-whoosh

New day. New physician. New approach: “We” are told to think seriously about a C-section. The threat of a C-section gave the mother renewed energy to try again.[4] I am summoned back to the birthing-chair-cum-torture-rack for what I am told will be one last go. “We” pushed again. Some tectonic plate slipped. We still had Tetons.

beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh beep-whoosh

The new physician rematerialized, grabbed a pair of incredibly shiny stainless steel salad tongs, manipulated something, inserted one then the other, moved, adjusted, grasped, pulled. Despite everything I had come to expect and without warning I saw a head burst out, a head covered in fluids of various sorts, a head perhaps relieved to be in out of the silly straw but clearly pissed off about being brought into the world. A few seconds later, the rest of #1 emerged. The mother-child had become mother and child.

I lean over to the Mother and through silent tears tell her we have a son.

#1 sleeps on me sleeping on the floor.

A one-week-old #1 sleeping on me sleeping on the floor.

Twelve years later to the day, I am listening to #1’s heartbeat. He has, as usual, fallen asleep next to me after I read to him. No longer is he drawing Tetons with a green dot. No longer is each contraction of his heart announced with a beep. I lie here just listening to the muffled bump-bump … bump-bump … bump-bump. Twelve years ago I couldn’t have predicted what our life would become. And every day I am surprised by what it is.

I am not surprised that #1 has developed in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. He’s a wonderful boy, talented in ways I never was and never will be. And not talented in ways that I was, and he never will be. That’s the way it should be. He has been finding his way in the world since he got stuck in that silly straw of a birth canal all those years ago.

I look forward to what he will do next that I don’t expect.


  1. Turns out, this was not the first time the husband had decided for the mother that she would give birth without anesthesia. Apparently, it was not the second time or the third time either. For reasons I cannot fathom, the mother continued to give the husband the power to decide whether or not she, the person experiencing the pain, could use pain management options. And for reasons I cannot fathom, the husband had decided that the woman would forego pain management, beyond the oh-so-natural and traditional SCREAMING. While I appreciate that different women choose a variety of techniques and places and methods of giving birth. What seems important to me is that the woman choose, the person experiencing the process or trauma, pain, joy, horror, pleasure, or whatever. Why does a man who is at best an interested spectator get to determine what pain management the woman—one of two primary participants in this process—will enjoy or, in this case, what pain she will endure. I hope that each time he has to pass a kidney stone the size of a golf ball the wife decides for him that he should forego any pain management and should, instead, just scream it out.  ↩

  2. I don’t really understand why the nurses used “we” in this context. Sure, I was there. Sure, I did everything I was told to do by the nurses. Sure I tried to help out, whatever that meant. But really, I was at best a cheerleader offering words of encouragement and love and support. I did not push at all, unless you count pushing myself out of the faux leather lounge chair when the nurses summoned me back over to the birthing-chair-cum-torture-rack to offer my words of support and encouragement. We didn’t start pushing. The mother started pushing. I merely stepped forward, cradled the mother’s head, and offered words of encouragement.  ↩

  3. When the professionals stepped in, they dispensed with the inclusive first person plural and switched to the more accurate imperative.  ↩

  4. I confess, I don’t understand the importance mothers put on vaginal births. I appreciate that a C-section is an operation and more invasive. I appreciate that there is additional recovery time. I appreciate that nobody wants to be cut open for no good reason. But after 14 hours I think it’s worth reevaluating the pros and cons of a C-section. That said, I also accept that I am, as noted above, at best an interested spectator.  ↩

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43 thoughts on “I didn’t expect that…

  1. Good Read. Love your honesty and from a person having had to endure 3 c-sections after a failed vaginal attempt. I agree its easier and healthier for the baby. By the way I too experienced a screaming mother who eventually punched her husband in the face for not allowing her to have the meds. I’d say justice was served. 🙂

  2. I love how, at first, you seemed slightly disconnected from the scene. I actually wondered if you were just a friend of the “mother-child duo.” But when it shifted to you listening to your 12 year old son’s heartbeat, I teared up. And I really like afterthought number 1 about the man telling his wife to forgo pain meds. What a creep.

    • Thanks for reading. I hope I am the Mother’s friend but not just.
      I can’t explain what a great duo they are, the Mother and #1. I’m incredibly lucky.

    • You said what I was thinking ‘Kimrauker’. I was tempted to not continue with the story because the “mother-child” disconnected thing was starting to bug me. But I so love to get the man’s point of view on this subject & I figured if he took the time to write this I needed to see it through. Then- the shift to the 12 year old son…..
      I so loved your insights, ‘Main Line Dads’ about the miracle your son has been and your admiration for this young man. The story became perfect. I realized the birth process description was explaining how surreal the experience was for you. I too appreciate the afterthoughts- very insightful. Thank you for sharing your experience spanning 12 years. Wow, what a gift. Keep appreciating what you have been given and sharing.

  3. My daughter was born three years (and one week) ago. I still remember the day (wait, the night and day) that it took her to fully ‘arrive’; and the calm then chaos, calm then chaos that ensued around that bed (if one can even call it a bed) in the ‘birthing room’. However, the staff was wonderful, the mother was wonderful, and the little girl that showed up that day has stolen my heart completely since the moment I was privileged to give her the first bath/diaper change. (I assume that is to get the husband out of the room so they can ‘clean up’ from the birth without making it too much of a scene…
    Nevertheless, this was a wonderful story. I’m glad that you shared. Thank you for posting it!

  4. I understand the situation. I was present at my wife giving birth to our daughter with a midwife. I was also present when that same daughter gave birth to our granddaughter. What a remarkable experience.

  5. I loved reading this! And, I would venture all women appreciate your sentiments on the birthing process, the we’s and pain management. Thanks for the post!

  6. I loved reading a dad’s perspective on the birth process. I don’t think we get to hear that often enough. My first was born (19.5 years ago!) by C-section after 36 hours of labour. So the stopping and starting really resonated with me!

  7. I love your recount of your son’s birth. Your picture with your son is just so tender. I love it.

    I have given birth with and without pain management. While I do remember screaming and being completely horrified I got to the hospital too late for an epidural, I don’t remember it being so bad that I wouldn’t do that again.

  8. I enjoyed reading this great post. I can relate in many ways. My wife had an all natural birth, yes it scared the day lights out of me. But, it was very important to her that I supported in terms of not taking any medication or having a C section. It’s tough seeing your beloved in so much pain. I’m happy to say that she got through it and I wouldn’t change a thing. I cried tears of joy mostly because she survived. Great post!

  9. Great writing! I gave birth twice without pain relief….not that I didn’t want it! I just was extremely lucky and didn’t have time! My husband would have supported MY choice if I felt I couldn’t get past the pain. I liked hearing your side. My husband said it was the most awesome thing he ever experienced, and the 2nd time was just as awesome, and I always suspected there was an unspoken “but” that he was afraid of it even while he was awed by it for all that he now had to lose. Thank you for sharing this extremely personal story with us. It is always nice to get a different perspective.

  10. I remember hearing my daughter’s heartbeats for the first time, when she was still in the womb. It was amazing, But nothing compared to the way she slept in my arms and I could feel her breath on my neck, so beautiful those moments..

  11. Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I’m not a mother yet, but I hope to be when the time is right, so I appreciate hearing bits and pieces from everybody. Usually I hear the woman’s side. Congratulations on the new addition! 🙂

  12. Just yesterday my 10 year old son was asking me about what it was like giving birth to him. It was interesting recounting the tale directly to him – I am pretty honest about this stuff and told him everything he wanted to know, but it really made me realise how my husband’s role that day was key. So it’s lovely to read a dad’s account.

    I did it all without pain meds, from choice. I would do it that way again (call me strange if you like). I’m not for a second suggesting that it was easy. It wasn’t, it was the most painful thing I’ve ever had happen to me I think, and definitely the hardest physical challenge I have ever faced. And I made a LOT of noise. But the pain is very different from an injury or something. It’s a productive pain. You understand why it’s there, and it disappears instantly after the baby is born. I actually think ‘labour’ is a very apt name for it – it’s really hard work. But that is what the pain feels like – it feels like your body is working really hard.

    As a complete aside, I have in recent years taken up martial arts. Every so often I have to do a belt grading, which involves several hours of hard physical endurance. When it gets tough, I remind myself that it’s a heck of a lot easier than giving birth (with or without pain relief). If I can manage 25 hours of labour, I can manage a piddly three hour belt grading. That thought has got me through a lot!

  13. Thank you for sharing your experience, and in such an enjoyable style. Up until I reached the end of the post, it all felt very fresh. Time is a funny concept anyway 🙂
    Best of luck to all of you!

  14. I am glad to hear a man’s point of view, definitely. I know my daughter’s father about had a heart attack when I was giving birth to our girl. The disconnection from the mother and child throws me off entirely, which led to skimming over portions of the writing, which in turn led to confusion about point number 1. My second husband was definitely the sort who would have tried to decide for me what I could or could not use. However, by then, I couldn’t have more little ones anyway so he didn’t get to. 🙂

  15. Really good account of childbirth from the father’s perspective. My own experiences were many years ago in Britain and very different from the way things are done now in America. Fathers were not allowed in the delivery room when my first son was born!

  16. I enjoyed this perspective. Having gone through a natural vaginal birth, which was painfful. I know first hand what you write of. Was it worth it? Yes! I watched my sister-in-law who pretty much had too many pain meds before having the baby because they sent her home several times before the day she had her son. She was so out of it, they told her to push several times, and the baby came out not quite aware…I was happy to do a vaginal birth, no surgery for me…
    My daughter was fully awake and ready for the world. I was fortunate to have a quick labor.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure my husband would share similar views.

  17. I love this. I can’t imagine listening to the heart of a little being of your own flesh. Wow.
    As a medical student I’ve delivered 25 babies and assisted in about six C-sections. I used to be a big “natural only” proponent, but I’ve changed my mind so much that one day, I might have an elective-C.
    C-sections are so quick and easy. My mom gave birth to her first two “naturally” and had a C-section with #3. She says that had she known how easy a C would be, she would have done it for all three! (Both my sister and I went into distress during natural birth and both times mother-child nearly demised.)
    So I agree with you that C-section needn’t be quite such a horror – but everyone should choose their own preference, of course.

  18. It was great to read about the delivery & life 12 years on from a Dad’s perspective. Although I do think Mum & Baby are first priority, I am often concerned for the Dad who must feel a bit lost & confused during the whole delivery process. Congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed.

  19. Great post! I love your honesty. As a physician I thought I understood way more about child birth than I actually did. Now that I have had 2 very different vaginal births myself, I can honestly say, “I didn’t expect that!”

  20. We were hoping for a better birth experience; we’d prepared for hypno-birthing, and the techniques helped, but we experienced something very different ………..

  21. Beautiful piece of writing sir. I have a two year old boy currently potty training (more miss than hit) and another baby due in March. Trying at times but 100% the most amazing thing in the world isn’t it.

  22. Im amazed that any woman would hand over the decision of pain killers to a man Any birth story still bring tears to my eyes 18 years after my first and 8 years after my fourth child.

  23. This is such an incredible piece. Thank you for sharing that view into your life. And I completely share the frustration about husband deciding pain management….seriously??? Why??

  24. I like your post. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! I think that the man’s role in that whole birth thing is pretty nebulous. My own husband describes the birth of our first child as simply, “a long day of standing.” It is cool to read the father perspective.

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