This tastefully graphic slice of life completes an eight-year streak of one blog post per month. Ninety-six in a row.
Out of those 100,000 words or so, I dropped only one f-bomb. The second is about to follow because this story deserves high fidelity.
Shortly before 2 in the morning, I pressed the ignition of our RAV4 Hybrid and asked my wife if she was going to put on her seatbelt. She replied in a spooky-possessed tone, “Just fucking drive.”
I had deep reservations with this idea but complied. Not only was my wife not buckled in, she was on her knees facing the headrest with a death grip. (She later conceded she might have gone through the windshield in an accident, but she would have taken the center console with her.)
There were four contractions during the 8.7-mile drive to Hoag Hospital Irvine. That does not include the one on the garage floor before we left, which I had the presence of mind to ask my mother-in-law to photograph for documentation while I squeezed my wife’s hips to marginally ease the pain. It could have been a spicy intercourse position and place under vastly different circumstances.
Our barefooted protagonist battled another contraction in the hospital parking lot and another 30 yards from the entrance. We were quite the scene. A squadron of nurses assembled ready to deliver this baby right there on the sidewalk, and later I heard them cackle about how scared the security guard looked.
He and I were on the same page and relieved my wife made it to the room, where we immediately found out she was dilated to the full 10 centimeters.
She made it to 10.
That succinct statement holds special significance after what happened two years ago. My first son came down the chute wrong, a trend he has continued post-social security number, and my wife never could dilate past nine centimeters.
She pushed twice with everything in her soul while suffering unworldly pain, unmedicated, and ended up being rewarded with a C-section. It broke my heart to watch her break as the birth story she wanted unraveled.
We entered this one repeating the midwife’s sage advice to think of this birth separately, not as a way to fix the first. This made perfect sense, but I don’t know how you can stamp out every residual thought of dashed hopes and lingering trauma, second chances and redemption.
In the summer of 2019, we learned not everyone makes it to 10. My wife made it to 10 this time. She did it.
And let’s skip ahead to the happy ending. All the things she wanted and envisioned for a long time – going into labor spontaneously, laboring at home as long as possible, making it through transition and pushing without medication – came to fruition.
It was just about all we could handle, too.
Everything was foreign to us, and we acted like it. When her water broke around 8:40 on a Tuesday night, I was at my computer wearing headphones. Don’t think I’m weird because I don’t do this often, but at that moment I had felt compelled to look up on YouTube the scene from the final “Avengers” movie when a wounded Captain America is ready to take on the entire invading army by himself, and then all of his allies across the universe teleport to his side. Chills just thinking about it! Strange I never got laid in high school.
Through the headphones, I heard what I thought was a knock. I went downstairs and flung open the front door without checking the peephole. No one was there. Then I heard an exasperated call from my wife back upstairs, who had been banging on the bathroom wall, straddling some pink fluid on the floor, and trying to get my attention for who knows how long.
So that was my bad. Her bad was brushing off my suggestion to tell the in-laws to make their way to our place. It’s a 45-minute drive and we needed someone to watch the older one when it was go time.
My wife reasoned, what are they going to do, just sit there? The midwife instructed us to check into the hospital by 8 a.m., so I guess we pegged our expectations around a morning delivery. My wife was actually planning on going to sleep, laughable in hindsight.
Our next bad was ignoring numerous prompts from the contraction-tracking app to go to the hospital. I am unclear why we didn’t take the app seriously. It’s probably a similar reason to why I resisted getting the Covid booster shot. Surely our instincts should trump data. Why would we go to a safe, professional environment when we could just dial up this diffuser that changes colors?
Things escalated both steadily and abruptly, which I know doesn’t make any sense. At some point I was playing old-school Phoenix Suns hoops with an unrelenting shot clock. I would squeeze her hips during a violent contraction, then frantically try to do something productive, and race back before the next one started.
Our doula arrived around 1 o’clock, followed by my mother-in-law. I had to install a car seat so Grandma could drive my son to school in the morning. For the life of me, I could not get the stupid belt to tighten the stupid seat enough. I was beading sweat in the middle of a December night, hunched into a Highlander parked in a fire lane, trying not to panic while picturing what was happening with my wife inside.
It felt like 20 minutes, probably closer to 10 in reality, before I figured out the belt was threaded wrong. My bad. And while we’re keeping a tally, I also forgot to call the midwife. She didn’t know we were at the hospital until we were at the hospital. If this had been during rush hour on the 405…
Empty freeway notwithstanding, labor had started at arguably the worst time of day. My wife was the furthest removed from her last sleep cycle. Just about when her body was used to going to bed, she had to begin potentially the most challenging physical, mental, emotional feat of her life.
Transition is generally known as the most intense phase of labor, the home stretch to full dilation. I can describe only from observation rather than experience, and I am truly not mad about that.
The screaming and moaning were wild. They were the kind of sounds you would expect from a human reduced to a basic state of trying to survive. It’s not easy to watch helplessly without a uterus and frame of reference.
It’s scary. You don’t know what’s normal and what might be wrong. I wanted to FaceTime my old dairy farmer roommate to have him take a look and confirm this is what happens with his cows, but it likely would have ruined the intimacy of the milestone life event.
During recovery the night after, we heard impossibly long-noted shrieking from somewhere in the hospital that I thought for sure came from a baby. The nurse deadpanned, “New patient.” It was clear when the epidural hit because of the swift silence.
My wife didn’t want any intervention, and she will be the very first in line to tell you there is nothing wrong with an epidural or Pitocin or C-section or whatever you choose or have to choose. An unmedicated delivery, as her mom did twice, was a longtime goal she held without any judgment of all the other beautiful birth stories in the world.
I will state the obvious, however, and point out anesthesia means an entirely different experience and pain tolerance. My courageous wife started this hellish transition phase probably right before the car ride. For coping, she had a headrest and an occasional rub from my non-steering hand.
It was incredible what she went through just to earn the privilege to push. This part was even more tense to witness, and not just because of the blood and other goodies coming out. I knew nothing was guaranteed, that this was when the door slammed shut last time with her crumbling against the frame.
There was the unforgettable pulsing effect again, as if all her muscle fibers were failing on the last rep of the last set. And I was just willing, praying, begging for this stupid baby to come out.
His grotesque bulb of a hairy head bobbed into view multiple times before sucking back in like a diabolical version of that arcade game Whac-a-Mole. It was demoralizing each time. I would be over-sanitizing if I didn’t mention my outward calm and pep were belied by dark questions swirling in my mind, which defaults to neurotic even in the absence of stress.
Is something wrong again? There has to be a tipping point when her energy is depleted too much to complete the job – how much time is left? Is this next push her last chance? Is it possible her body is just not built to deliver vaginally? Why couldn’t she have just gotten an epidural like everyone else? Why does she arbitrarily make things harder than they have to be? Isn’t it selfish of her to put me through this? I hate this. I never wanted any of this. This is possibly the worst night of my life. I will never do this again.
So I suppose I had my own dam-breaking flood of relief when the head popped out. My wife said it was like a switch being turned off for her. I snagged the moment on my iPhone if you’re down to come over and double feature with one of the “Alien” movies. If you cover up Sigourney, it will be hard to tell which is which.
I think I’ll always remember the gasp of exhilaration from my wife. There was so much going on physically, not to mention this was a moment she had thought about throughout her life and it finally happened a month before her 37th birthday.
She did it. She did it.
Now, happy doesn’t mean free of charge. The 3:13 a.m. delivery left me with a four-person household, three of them in diapers.
My wife suffered a second-degree tear and multiple lacerations. Her labia was split in half. She had to lie there, legs splayed open in front of a dozen strangers, for an additional not-so-golden hour while the midwife stitched away. My anxiety ticked up again.
She lost a lot of blood. They were using a garbage bag as the third-down receiver, although the midwife later clarified not all of the fluid was blood. I counted 13 soiled cloths on the tray, and that was definitely blood.
Normal hemoglobin range for a woman is about 12-16 grams per deciliter. My wife was at 8.5 and pretty close to needing a transfusion. They had two Hep-Locks in her arms ready to go at the first sign of symptoms. But she got by with iron supplements for a few weeks and a mother’s iron will.
She wouldn’t give in. She kept fighting for this. She found her limits and moved them. I was struck by her beautifully nonlinear scorecard: a miscarriage, cesarean and VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean, which does carry enough added risk to require signing a waiver).
My wife said she couldn’t have done it without our support. I loved our doula, but it seemed like the extent of our combined contribution was coming up with different ways to say “You’re doing great!”
The hero of this tale was going to leave it all out there regardless of who was in the room. She could have been in the woods alone, and it still would have been the same one-on-one game against herself.
And she would have won. I am so proud of her. I am so happy for her.
She won the first time too, just not how we planned. It didn’t make that one any less special, but I do believe it made this one more special. This spontaneously started, bravely finished December night certainly didn’t replace or fix what happened before, but I like to think they complement each other.
Every birth story is its own, and this was our sequel.
Writer’s note: If you spend any amount of your finite time reading the absurdities in this blog, we are either friends or highly compatible strangers. Thus I feel close enough to ask for your email address below. The only email you will ever get from me is one blog post per month until I die or you click Unsubscribe. Thank you.