To no one’s surprise, it is 3:08 in the morning and I am awake, groggily awake. Unlike past bouts of insomnia, on nights when I couldn’t sleep because oh, I was going to start 3rd grade, or when I had to get up this early to make a flight, I am awake by means of a constant prodding from my son, Emile. And despite the sleep deprivation and little ways that it steals sensibility from a person (such as forgetting how to open a door), just writing his name in a blog post thrills me. I’m so happy he’s here with us.
Also unsurprisingly, my wife’s child announced his need to be born on his own terms. Neither she nor I lacks for obstinacy, and both of us have an automatic resistance reflex when we’re told what to do. I’m not a huge fan of DNA as fatalistic decider for human behavior, but I admit there are things like family patterns. And proclaiming that just because Susanne went into labor two days before our scheduled induction means the little one is as stubborn as each of us is premature but fun. Because I’m zonked out these days, I’ll take fun as a sustaining activity.
Walla Walla is a small enough place that if there are six babies born on any given day on the maternity ward of the Catholic hospital, it is a very busy day indeed. For people with a scheduled labor induction, the hospital restricts access to two per 24-hour period. So it is that our higher risk pregnancy bumped another couple back a day, to Friday. We learned this because we knew when we’d been scheduled, we heard from our couple friends that they’d been booted for a higher risk pregnancy, and when we asked our doctor about it, she gave a knowing grin and said, yes, that was them.
Susanne turned to me and asked, “what do you say to your friends whose induction you bounced?” At least they wouldn’t know who’d pushed them back a day.
At the doctor’s visit on Tuesday, September 6, she proclaimed that Susanne was progressing, and that our Thursday date with a labor professional near us was a go. We left Dr. Sarah Palin and went home for some lunch and a nap.
I admit that I’d been trying to stimulate labor with the food choices I made for Susanne over Labor Day weekend. I gave her watermelon, rib eye steak, whatever else I’d read could get things rolling, but that of course only entailed making far too many trips to the grocery than necessary. So I wasn’t thinking about the labor-inducing possibilities for a quiche that I threw together. I’d only been considering my convenience and what was in the pantry.
Susanne ate a wedge of quiche—spinach, yellow squash, and chicken quiche, to be precise—and proclaimed she wanted a nap. And then her water broke.
This meant two things:
- We needed to get to the hospital, pronto.
- I should market my quiche recipe to help millions of women everywhere start their labor.
I ran around the house, doing the last minute of the last-minute to do items. This meant starting the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, and making sure every bag we had tagged to come to the hospital with us made it into our vehicle. Susanne, for her part, watched me and assessed that I was a chicken missing its noggin, until she saw the method to my frenetic activities. Then it was onto the road to the hospital, and off we— no. We were stuck behind a car, seemingly compiled from 11,286 random auto parts, traveling at 12 m.p.h. I checked my blind spots twice and bolted around so that we could manage the four-minute car trip in two. Then I dropped Susanne off at the door, grabbed our bags, which were plenty, as if we were heading off on a trip around the world, circa 1910, and headed up to the birthing center.
The fanciest suite, 61, was ours. “Cool,” I said. The charge nurse looked at me with squinty eyes and said that had been Susanne’s reaction. She obviously has no idea how the baby class instructor was touting suite 61 to all of us. I smiled and walked to the back corner, and found my sweetheart already attached to half a half-dozen monitors. Putting our bags down, I assessed the room—spacious, with a counter in a far corner appropriate for my laptop/music player space, a thin foam bench I presumed I’d be sleeping on that night, three or four monitors that beeped with various information about mother and baby’s health, a 1980s-era television that I expected nobody would watch, a private bathroom, and a 2-person jacuzzi tub. Regarding my initial impressions of the space, I turned out to be wrong on all counts.
We watched the hell out of the television in the early labor process, turning to a years old tennis match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokavic as a low-level distraction from the contractions wave. My laptop refused to play music, either from my iPod or the machine itself. I didn’t think Susanne would appreciate me humming Billie Holiday or Beth Orton, so we committed to birthing the child sans melody, listening only to the galloping thump of the fetal heartbeat monitor that would later become the focus of our concern.
Our doctor stopped by to make an initial assessment, laughing because we’d just seen her a few hours before.
“I guess this baby wants to come on its own time,” she said. We all knew she’d be jetting out at 6AM the next morning for an all-day training. If our little one didn’t arrive by the time she needed to leave, we’d be handed off to some random doctor we’d never met, a Dr. Van de Something I later decreed to end with Kamp. I didn’t want any Dr. Van de Kamp working on Susanne—what would he do, other than throw fish sticks at her? We weren’t going to aim Susanne’s labor to meet our doctor’s schedule—as if we could have any control over the process itself—but we weren’t wild about Mr. Gorton’s Fisherman pulling a baby out of Susanne’s body, either. Our Dr. Sarah Palin told us Susanne was progressing fairly well, but slowly. She’d check back in with us after getting through the rest of her work day with her other patients. Our nurse told us to start walking around the floor for a while. We learned quickly that St. Mary’s doesn’t have very long floors, so we amassed many laps in a 30-minute period. It was a little like walking around the Golden Empress on our honeymoon cruise to Alaska, only without the swaying, whales, or ice floes.
Okay, it was nothing like our honeymoon cruise to Alaska, but it did find us giddy and excited for having our baby in our arms.
Four hours later, the charm had worn off. Dr. Palin ordered Pitocin to increase the intensity of Susanne’s contractions. This it did very nicely, but it had the unwanted effect of decelerating the baby’s heart rate with each contraction. Labor, to put it bluntly, was an anxious balance of managing Susanne’s progress and the baby’s health.
Here is where I should mention that when the contraction pain got bad, we discovered there was only one anesthesiologist on call, and he was in a surgery expected to last past midnight. I looked at the clock.
It was 9:30PM. We’d hurried to the hospital at 1:30 that afternoon.
Our Dr. Sarah Palin-lookalike came back to the hospital around 11PM, and quickly changed into scrubs. Susanne had received a lone hit of Fentanyl to help her get out of the jacuzzi tub (FYI, it helped with cramps but made the idea of leaving the warm water horrendous), but the rest of labor was sans chemical assistance. I gave her my hand to squeeze to help handle her pain, and she crushed it like tectonic plates form diamonds. I helped her count through her contractions, along with our nurse, whose name was Gay, and no, I’m not making that up. The baby got stuck in a few places, and the heart deceleration what it was, our Dr. Palin called in an OB to do a vacuum-assisted delivery. Three rounds with an object that looked like a reject from an attempt by Tupperware to make a plastic pressure cooker, and we’d gotten the kid to the home stretch, where it was pausing again. Once the doctor could reach the top of the baby’s head, she would stroke it, and sweetly enough, the baby’s heart rate would climb.
Somehow the nurses on staff got wind that our little one was about ready to be born, and I looked over to see three scrubs-clad women standing around the baby warmer in the far corner of the birthing suite. I figured we were really close. I looked at the monitor and noticed the heart rate was down to the low 70s. My pulse was faster than this, and I wished we could trade just to get through this.
Two hours of intense pushing later, Dr. Palin told Susanne, “I think I need to do an episiotomy to get this baby out.” Then she turned to the OB doctor, a small woman who looked like a miniature version of the mother on Six Feet Under, and said, “She’s not on any pain meds, so I’ll have to wait for the next contraction.” Heart rate down to 62. Fine for a healthy 20-year-old. Not fine for our baby.
Susanne heard “episiotomy,” and out came the child. Since everyone was focused on its heart rate and Susanne’s well being, I announced that we’d just had a baby boy. He wailed—music to our ears. Dr. Palin put him on Susanne’s chest, and soon enough we were teaching him to breastfeed. I looked at the clock: 1:50AM. The electronic monitors declared his birth to be 1:48. I smiled, knowing that I’d get to tell my mother she shared a birthday with her youngest grandson.
The next three hours blasted by us—a quick bath, Apgar scoring, picking up all of our stuff that I’d rather effectively scattered across the suite, and moving into the postpartum room across the hall. After the initial 90 minutes of activity with him, he conked out and my mind raced through the past day’s moments before hypothesizing about the next 25 years.
It took approximately 0000.3 seconds for me to fall wildly in love with the little guy. We stared at every inch of him, marveling that his skin was so soft it seemed in places to not really even exist. I held him and sang to him until the sun came up, now having a person at arms’ length to share every song I’d learned in 41 years. I cooed at Susanne over and over, shocked at her strength and fortitude, but knowing all along that of course she was this amazing.
Lying in her bed, holding my hand as I lounged on the pull-out chair, which incidentally is a terrible concept in furniture, even for a hospital, she said through raspy breath that she loved me now more than ever.
She took the words right out of my mouth.
We named him Emile Dean Maroon-Beechey. He was born at 1:48AM on September 7, 2011, weighing in at 7 pounds, 14 ounces, and with a length of 20 inches. And we are so glad he’s here with us.