Juniper's Birth Story, Part 1

Posted by jdg | Sunday, January 29, 2006 | ,

Note: Today is Juniper's First Birthday; while we celebrate, we wanted to share her birth story. We're writing this together, in the tag-team spirit of our blog, and we'll probably finish the story tonight or tomorrow.

Dutch: I had planned to videotape Juniper's entire labor, the whole process. When it came time to sit and look at the footage I did take on January 29, 2005, there wasn't much. The first scene on the DV tape is Wood sitting in the rocking chair in our living room watching The Wizard of Oz, sucking on a fruity popsicle; the camera stays on her smiling while she talks. Her water has just broken, she says. While she smiles and talks to the camera a palpable wave of pain breaks in her eyes, which clench shut as her whole face buckles before the camera turns off and I rush to hold her through it.

In the next scene we are in the intake room at the hospital; Wood has vomited all over the floor and she is sitting back in a hospital bed, like a postcoital demimonde in a photograph by van der Elsken, her face first recovering from and then anticipating pain. She raises her arms, her hands clutching each other behind her head like a POW after surrender. My quivering voice is heard off-camera, describing what this valiant wife has gone through the past nine hours, words of encouragement veiled as narrative drowned suddenly when the next contraction hits, and the cameras shuts off again as I again rush to her side.

The next scene on the DV tape is full of the sound of screaming. A nurse in blue scrubs rushes across the frame, away into the corner of the room, and the camera tilts and falls on Wood's face again, calm now, and tired but infused also with sparkling adreneline. "She's born," I say, and then my wife looks back at me and smiles, "yeah."

That long shot is followed by hours of frenzied footage of a chirping creature, blinking at the hospital flourescents with her tiny black eyes, poked and prodded, measured and weighed.

It is a strange memorialization of an even stranger day. As film it lacks drama. It lacks tension. It is all climax and denouement. There is no exposition, no complication, no conflict, no progression. Only pain and then no pain. In that way it is nothing like the day itself, which was all pain and confusion.

But the hours missing from the footage were hours that mattered, I do not want them lost in memory or eclipsed by the joy this child has brought us. I couldn't film those moments, hunched over my wife in our last hours as lovers and not parents, my head up against hers on a hospital bed while the pain dragged across an endless graphed page next to us, her body a seismic force unto itself, concave with pain, filled. I stood there empty, wishing I could take it from her. I understood why ancient men had written of this as punishment from God, as if to appease their overwhelming guilt. Nurses slithered in and out of the little room in their Danskos offering the constant temptation of a needle in the spine, and for hours the doctor announced no progress in dilation, finally ordering pitocin, while the woman in the bed writhed in a sea of wires and tubes and sank deeper into some place where I could not follow her.

Wood: On the morning of her due date I woke up at 3:11 in the morning, recording the time in my head before I even figured out that the contractions had started. I laid in bed silently, surprised in the sort of way where you aren't surprised at all that my labor would start precisely on the day that I had been counting down to for 9 months. I ticked off the minutes between contractions -- which felt exactly like the menstrual cramps my friend had described -- and waited. They were ten minutes apart, then seven, then five.

At around 6:00 a.m. the contractions were strong enough that I couldn't be still or silent any longer, causing Dutch to wake up. As I worked through a contraction, I heard Dutch realize what was going on and get excited. He jumped up and down on the bed, shouted something about my hospital bag, tried hugging me and said "We're going to have a baby today!" But I was in a contraction, so I think I replied with something like, "Uuuuuuguuuuuggggggh." And then the contraction was over, and I started to cry really, really hard. Hearing Dutch say out loud that the baby was coming made everything seem real and terrifying and unbearable.

I spent the next couple of hours at home with contractions about 5 minutes apart and lasting for 30 seconds. Everything I'd read about labor and childbirth had convinced me that I needed to stay at home as long as I could possibly bear it. All of those stories in Ina May's book about hippies walking around her farm and going about their normal business while in labor had convinced me that I could do that same. And so, when really faced with labor and contractions, I was determined to stick to that part of my plan. I wanted to watch TV! How can you think about pain when there is TV! So I had Dutch put in the Wizard of Oz. The movie was my choice, an old familiar drug to take my mind away from the pain. I wasn't going to sit through one of his Kurosawa films. Not this time. I sat a few feet in front of the set and forced myself to watch. But in between contractions all I could think about was how soon the next one was coming and whether or not I was going to throw up. Not even munchkins riding in teeny-tiny carriages pulled by teeny-tiny horses could take my mind away.

I threw up a lot. I guess it was the pain of the contractions; it seemed like every other contraction sent me running to the toilet. It was eventually the force of puking that broke my water, sending fluids spraying and gushing all over the bathroom. Unfortunately, through, the broken water just gushed into my oversized sweat pants, which, I have to admit, was kind of a bummer. I had always pictured water breaking by splashing down and puddling on the floor, and it had never dawned on me that if you were wearing pants that didn't happen. Instead it was just like I wet my fat pants.

By this time it was noon and it seemed like time to go to the hospital. With herculean effort I managed to shower, put on clothes, and get to the car, where I finally called my best friend so that she could start calling the other friends who'd said that they absolutely needed to know when I went into labor. It went something like this:

"Hi, just wanted you to know we're on our way to the hospital."
"Um, hold on, a contraction just started. . . "
"Uh. . . "

At least my friends had a phone tree set up so I only had to have one of those conversations.

When we got the hospital I was already patting myself on the back. I imagined the nurse congratulating me on laboring at home for 9 hours and waiting to come to the hospital until after my water broke. I was sure that by the time she checked my dilation I'd be at least 3, 4, or maybe 5 cm dilated. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself.

Instead, when checking my dilation, the nurse said this: "Oh, honey, you're not even one centimeter. Not even an itty-bitty fingertip. You're going to need to go home -- I can give you some morphine. This baby isn't going to be born today."

After hearing this news, I puked all over the examining table and floor, simultaneously forcing out some more amniotic fluid all over the clean towels I was sitting on. The nurse examined the towels and found some nasty black and green baby poop (or mecononium for those in the know). This caused her to change her mind. Instead of going home, my not-really-dilated-at-all cervix and I were sent up to a labor room to maybe, if we were lucky, give birth early the next morning.

Devastated, I went through contractions for the next hour or so in a semi-catatonic state, drifting in and out of consciousness while connected to all of the things I hadn't wanted: a fetal monitor, a uterine contraction monitor, an oxygen mask, and an IV.

Dutch: An incompetant nurse kept losing the baby's heartbeat on the fetal monitor, confusing Wood's for the baby's. I watched as she tried over and over to get the heartbeat right. She claimed that when Wood sat up or moved at all, the baby's heart rate dropped dramatically, which meant the baby couldn't get enough oxygen. So Wood remained motionless and on her back. The nurse encouraged her to breathe only through the oxygen mask. It was exactly where she hadn't wanted to end up, horizontal in the bed weighed down by a sea of wires and tubes. The doctor had ordered pitocin and the nurse failed to put any in the IV stream, which was fine with us. Wood's birth plan had been to do this without any drugs. No drugs at all. Pitocin would increase the intensity of the contractions and make the pain worse. We didn't want it.

At some point we almost lost hope. We were left alone in the room for such long stretches, just sitting there watching the contractions on the seismometer thing, waiting for each peak to recede. It was just the two of us. Having scared off a potential doula months earlier, I had taken it upon myself to be as knowledgeable as I could be. I'd read a half dozen books on the birth process, from The Birth Partner to the same Ina May book on smokey mountain hippie childbirthin' that Wood had read. I had been giving Wood perineal massages for months. I had prepared a kit of relaxing music on a portrable mp3 player and some aromatherapy bottles. I knew what questions to ask the doctors when they recommended pain relief. I had read about dozens of ways to help her through the pain. I looked at my wife and realized that it was taking all the strength of her mighty will to get through these moments, and that this imposed posture was gradually wearing down that will. I went over to her at the end of the next contraction and told her we needed to get up. I dragged away the oxygen mask and the baby monitor (which wasn't even picking anything up). I led Wood and her IV into the bathroom and had her sit on the toilet. We practiced big breaths. I asked her to breathe like a horse does, and her cheeks and lips vibrated with exhaled breath. I saw the yoga ball in the tub and asked Wood if she wanted to get on it. She told me she did. We pulled it back into the delivery room, and sat on it and started bouncing. I was grateful for the ease by which I could hold her in this position when the contractions came, and Wood seemed to like squeezing the crap out of me when they came. It was a long time before the nurse came back and scolded us for leaving the bed and taking off the fetal monitor, but soon the doctor came in and scolded the nurse for not putting the pitocin in the IV. We just faded into the background while she really let the nurse have it.

I hadn't eaten since dinner the previous evening, and at about 2:00 or so I began to think it would be a good idea to go grab something to tide me over the coming hours. The doctor had said in her last examination that the baby would be born late that night after all, and not the next day. So with the doctor there I left Wood's side for the first time in eleven hours or so, and rushed out of the elevator to the closest cafe to grab a sandwich and bring it back up to the room.

And when I got back, everything had changed.

[to be continued soon]

Click here for part 2 of the Birth Story