Not the hospital for us

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This morning we took a tour of the hospital where Wood had been planning to give birth to #2. You know it's not going well when your wife is already in tears waiting in the lobby for the nurse to show up to lead the tour. After fifteen minutes of waiting, a woman stumbles into the lobby bundled in heavy coats, not visibly pregnant but clearly experiencing advanced labor, her face in a constant clench. A tech in blue scrubs nonchalantly slides a wheelchair under her and the woman behind the registration desk asks her questions with the bored curiosity of a fast food worker inquiring whether one desires fries with a hamburger. "Will there be anyone attending the birth with you?" she asks, and the woman shakes her head No. There is no softness then, no hand on her shoulder to say, "we'll be here for you," nothing but the further cold queries of intake, and my wife is crying.

The first thing we are shown on the tour is the lobby triage unit. "There are births right here on the floor all the time," the nurse says, laughing, "And we're ready for them." She's so off-kilter and awkward---volunteering strange information about her personal life within the first few seconds of meeting her---that we can't even make eye contact, so instead we stare at the snow-wet red bricks of the lobby floor, the long wet winter mats laid out between the registration desk and the door. The nurse shakes my wife's hand but ignores me until I follow them into the hallway. "Oh, and you are her support?" She asks. "My husband, Jim," Wood says. She shows us to a small examination room, where an initial ultrasound takes place, and where dilation is checked. "Dad is not allowed in here," she says.

"Why not?" I ask.

She puffs out her chest indignantly and says, "Because this is where we ask the mother if the male with her is an abuser and whether she wants security to escort him off the premises."

"Oh," I said.

It became clear over the course of the tour that this hospital has different protocol when it comes to fathers than the one where Juniper was born in San Francisco. I think she mistook my yuppie enthusiasm and desire to be involved in the birth as some sort of effort to dominate or control my wife. I felt so much hostility as I asked questions about hospital policies, as though none of it were any of my business simply because I possessed a penis. The next room we were taken to was the "After Delivery" room where two babies quietly sat under heat lamps. "This is where babies are taken after C-section deliveries," she said. "It's hospital policy that post C-section mothers recover in the general surgery recovery area, where infants aren't allowed. Babies spend on average four to six hours here, before they are returned to their mothers."

"What about the fathers?"

"Fathers are allowed visit the baby in here for five minutes. If there is only one child in the room, we may allow longer visits."

"That seems horrible to me," I said.

"That's hospital policy, sir. We bring our babies back to their mothers."

"But that would break my heart."

"We bring our babies back to their mothers."

"Yeah, but what I'm telling you is that if I were only allowed to see him for five minutes, I think it would break my heart."

"We bring our babies back to their mothers."

"I heard you the first time."

This is a hospital that regularly experiences drama, I suppose, where not every couple arrives armed with their Bradley breathing exercises and copies of The Birth Partner. I considered that some might come armed with Smith & Wessons and Colt 45, and that these policies had been set and precautions taken to ensure the safety of all babies and their mothers, at the expense, perhaps, of a few yuppie egos. I couldn't think of any other reason for all the hostility. Now I'm not a guy who speaks about my wife's pregnancy in the first person plural personal pronoun. It's all hers; I'm just the flesh she gets to dig her nails in. I know this isn't about me, but I took my "partnership" duties pretty seriously during her first one, and I still want to ensure that this time when she is most vulnerable, she doesn't get swept away into the experience the hospital wants her to have rather than the one we know from experience she can have. And it seemed pretty clear that at this hospital, they would prefer me to pace the waiting room during the entire delivery with a box of cigars under my arm.

When we got done with the tour Wood was crying again. The whole place had upset her. She hadn't been in a hospital since her stepdad died, and the experience brought up memories of all those visits. I apologized for cross examining the tour guide about c-section rates and postnatal testing. She said she couldn't think about anything but those two perfectly-healthy incubator babies, how their mothers had to wait hours to see them after getting their insides torn open.

Before we'd crossed back over the red-brick threshold, we both knew we had to find someplace else.