Saturday, July 29, 2006

Birth Story, Part I--Say What?

Before I get on with all the stories about pooping that I'm sure y'all are just dying to read, I'll go back a little bit to describe 3B's birth, in response to some of the questions sent in by you loyal six readers.

As you probably know by now, Mama's contractions started around 6:30 p.m. or so last Thursday. At 10:30 p.m., Mama and I laid down to sleep--or try to sleep, in her case. I was able to doze in fits and starts until about 1:30 a.m. By then, Mama's contractions were frequent and painful enough that we decided to call the doctor's office. As we expected, they told us to stay at home until the contractions were coming regularly every three minutes. Since I had been asleep, we hadn't been timing them, but I started while Mama was on the phone.

When she hung up, Mama decided that a warm bath sounded good, so we drew a bath for her and timed her contractions as she soaked. Turns out that I could have set my watch by them--they were coming every three minutes. So, as she soaked, I bustled around, getting last minute items together such as the iPod, speakers, and charger. . .

. . .hey, I didn't put together that labor and delivery playlist for nothing. What if 3B was born to the soundtrack of hospital Muzak? He'd be scarred for life, that's what. Instead of dropping him off at Prince concerts, we'd be driving him to see Yanni perform David Hasselhoff's greatest hits.

We did also pack some essentials, like toiletries, but most everything that we needed was in the car already, including a bag of snacks for Grandmama (Mama's Mama) and me. During the 16 hours that we were at the hospital, those were essential to our survival. There is a full cafeteria and, as I found out in our previous stay, even a pizza place that is open until 1 a.m., but neither Grandmama nor I felt much like going down for a meal while Mama was laboring, although we did eventually take short breaks to stretch our legs and get some coffee or tea.

On one of these breaks, or one of my many trips to the snack room on the labor and delivery floor that the hospital keeps stocked with sodas, coffee, and popsicles, and which is the home of the benevolent ice machine, I ran into two other dads from our childbirth class. Both came in at about the same time that we did, and both of those moms delivered before Mama did, but all three babies ended up with the same birthday.

It was good to see them, and comforting in a way to hear that we were going through many of the same trials: contractions slowing down, steadily increasing pain, and dilation and effacement progress that seemed to race ahead and then stop for hours. I saw each of them after their children were born; one was so excited that he couldn't stop talking and the other was so choked up that he almost couldn't say anything.

Another person we met at the hospital was one of the midwives from our doctors and midwives collaborative practice who we hadn't seen during our prenatal visits. She was on call when we arrived, and she showed up in our room while we were getting settled. One of the first things she asked Mama was, "On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain you've ever felt, how would you rate the pain that you're feeling now?"

From our previous stay in labor and delivery, we expected that Mama would get asked this question repeatedly. I had been asking Mama that question as her contractions progressed because it helped me get a sense of how she was feeling. I think that it also helped her define where she was and even measure progress, with more pain equaling more progress, unfortunately. What we didn't expect, however, was the response from the midwife when Mama rated her pain as "about 5."

The midwife looked straight at Mama and said, "OK, what you've got to understand is that your 5 now is really just a 1 or a 2. This is hardly any pain at all compared to what's coming. OK? So I just want you to adjust to that. But what's most important is that you stay calm."


So . . . if you're going to rate her pain for her, why did you even ask Mama to rate it for you? And what a rather horrible way to devalue what your patient just shared with you. As soon as she walked out, right after dropping that little bomb on Mama's expectations, all of us expressed disbelief that the midwife could or would say something like that, especially given all of the positive experiences that we had with the various doctors and midwives during our prenatal visits.

Then to tell Mama to stay calm in light of that jarring news? Not exactly what I'd call a warm bedside manner.

The midwife, who had many odd things to say in her short time with us, had already told us that her shift ended at 10 a.m., however, so we decided to just stick it out. Besides, she wasn't coming in nearly as often as the nurse, whom we all got along with rather well.

When that nurse's shift ended, Nurse Kim came on, and was with us past the end of her shift, until she had to leave, just before 3B arrived. Kim was wonderful throughout a long day of ups and downs; she remained steady in what was for us a pitching sea of anticipation and disappointment. Before she started her shift the next morning, Kim came by to visit 3B in the maternity ward, and was visibly disappointed that he had arrived only 20 minutes after she left, but she was glad to see him. We were glad to see her as well; she had made a long and trying day much easier for all of us.

To be fair to our OB practice, the next midwife was fine, as were the doctors who stopped by both to check on Mama and to just say hello. In fact, it was nice that the doctors took the time for social visits given how busy they were--in fact, we got one of the last of the 35 beds in the maternity ward. Shortly after we arrived there, they had to hold all mothers and babies in labor and delivery until there were discharges from maternity. And it wasn't even a full moon.

The lesson that we took from this is that it's not the role, it's the person. There can be midwives who are fruitnecks just as easily as there can be nurses or doctors who are. And there can be nurses who are just as supportive, compassionate, and warm as any midwife. Or even more so, depending on the midwife. It's too bad that we got a wingnut when we first arrived, but it was good fortune that her shift ended soon after that, and that we got such a great nurse for almost all of Mama's labor.

It seems obvious now, but this lesson was a surprise at the time. Mama had picked this practice for the very reason that they are a collaborative practice with even numbers of doctors and midwives, making few distinctions between the two. We both still respect the good and necessary work that midwives do, and we certainly want one involved in any future births, however, we'll be sure to know ours better next time, and be more firm about exactly what kind of care we want.

I'll leave off there with the birth story for now. When I come back to it, I'll try to remember to go through the highs and lows of labor and delivery as succinctly as possible. Until then, thanks for reading, and I'll try to get you up to speed on where we are right now . . . after this next nap, maybe.


  1. Anonymous5:03 PM



    And yeah, answer those questions too while you're at it.

  2. After d.w. read that post, she said, "That was SO a birth story written by a man. It didn't have any of the important stuff! How long was labor? When was it? How big was he?"

    I disagree. Yours had ALL the important stuff in it. I never would have thought about what a good idea an ice machine and popsicles in the maternity ward would be.

    So there.

  3. Yee. I forgot about all the pooping. You're going to be needing twice as many plastic bags as before, no?

  4. What an awful thing for anyone to say to Mama!

    You should get Mama to write a guest post to give her perspective on the whole birth day... :)

  5. When Rebecca was born we had mostly good nurses in the maternity ward, though I remember being nonplussed by some.

    Then came the lactation consultant. She wore those sneakers with the little launchpad springy things on the heels, and after about 10 minutes I noticed the Star Trek pin on her shirt. But, she was a big help in any case.