Labor, part 3

I helped the nurse move S’s IV as the midwife assisted her onto the stretcher. A contraction hit as she shimmied her legs off the bed and the midwife told S to keep herself from pushing, and instead “bear down” to let it pass. S’s body trembled as she struggled to keep her balance, her eyes went wide, and she shrieked. Her whole being wanted that kid out and at least pushing went with the pain. Not pushing meant fighting it, and after such a long time laboring, her body was barely able to stand the strain.

“Let it out, sweetie, do whatever you need to get through this,” the midwife told her.

S curled into a fetal position on the stretcher, clamping my hand in a vice grip. They threw a white sheet over top and we rolled her out of the Birthing Center and to the elevators. She continued crying and screaming along the way, and as we rode up to the next floor I imagined how we must look to the other expectant mothers in the ward—the obvious pain and terror in S’s yells, the exhaustion evident in her collapsed body, the IV and fetal monitor and stretcher, the brown blot spreading on the sheet between her legs, the lack of control. What a fucking nightmare. Still, we could only consider ourselves lucky for being in a good hospital, and not deciding to give birth at home.

The Labor and Delivery room was small and full of people—the doctor, several nurses, a pediatrician, our midwife and nurse from downstairs. S was transferred to the labor table, which elevated so she reclined in a half seated position with her legs strapped into stirrups. A blue bag was attached at the end, beneath her, for catching blood. The lights were bright and the walls full of machines and monitors and I had no place or role among the hustle other than to hold S’s hand and try to stay calm.

S received another shot of local anesthetic, though the doctor made sure S could still feel a certain amount of sensation, so she could push properly. I keep up a stream of positive nothings—as much for me now as for her—and don’t watch the second incision being made to accommodate the vacuum, though I caught the doctor assembling the device, a white circular thing with tubes. The tubes applied pressure, clamping the circle onto the baby’s head, and the doctor then pulled along with S’s push, the two of them working together to bring the baby out.

At this point, the birthing center nurse was minding me as much as S. Several times she directed me to look at my wife and not at what was going on between her legs. She must’ve known how close I was to breaking down.

For the most part I followed the nurse’s orders, but I couldn’t help myself from watching the birth as it happened. After the first couple of pushes the top of the baby’s head emerged. I still had trouble imagining a whole baby beyond this red, vaguely lemon shaped thing protruding out of her, but I noticed little brown hairs curling off of it, and I told S excitedly. Again the nurse told me to pay attention to Sara, as (I think) the doctor reattached the vacuum.

A few moments later I witnessed the most amazing thing: the majority of the baby’s head sticking out of S. It was surreal, this large and complete head emerging from between her thighs. The baby’s eyes were closed, his bottom lip sucked in tight below the puffy upper, and his ears so tiny. His skin was pale and covered in red gunk, and immediately the midwife stuck a rubber aspirator in his nose to remove the mucus and blood. I’m in tears now, telling S that she’s doing it, but she’s so inward she doesn’t respond.

After the head the baby slid out quickly, and with it the ghostly white umbilical cord and a lot of yellowish brown meconium—he shat himself on the way out. S burst into tears of relief and I stroke her head.

The doctor cut the pulsating cord and our son was whisked off to the pediatrician, who put him on a table in the corner of the room where I couldn’t see much of what was happening, except that the baby’s little arm had turned purple.

For a moment I’m stunned, and then—and this sounds like a made-for-TV movie, but it’s true—S said, “Why isn’t the baby crying?”

I realize that the room is silent, the doctor and midwife and nurses all attuning to what’s happening on the pediatrician’s table.

“We have a heartbeat,” the pediatrician says. “It’s strong.”

There’s a sound of suctioning, like they’re using a wet-vac on him, but too many people are crowded around him, and I can’t tell what’s going on.

We asked if he’s ok, but the doctor told S she needed to focus because she wasn’t done yet. Another couple of pushes and the afterbirth—a red floppy thing, like a fresh cut of meat—oozed out of her and into a basin. Often, it takes ten minutes or more for the placenta to come out. S’s quick passage of it would lead our midwife to speculate later that the baby’s umbilical cord was short and that the placenta acted like an anchor, holding him back. But no one measured it in the moment, so this remains only a guess.

Finally the baby began making strange grunting sounds, and he’s brought over for S to hold. Notes were made—he was born at 2:14pm, and weighed seven pounds three ounces, and scored a five on the APGAR test, which I didn’t realize was low.

He continued to grunt like a little pig when S held him, and bubbles formed around his mouth. We said his name and S cried a bit, but then the midwife took him and banged his back with her cupped palm, after which the nurse tried, massaging it. The nurse handed him to me to hold, even though I wanted S to have him. I worried about dropping him—I had never held a baby before—and after such a long effort, I thought S should have her reward. But he’s thrust into my arms, small and motionless with his color all blotchy, and still he frothed at the mouth whenever he breathed, making a foam of yellowish bubbles around his lips.

“Is this normal?” I asked, and it was obvious from everyone’s responses that it wasn’t.

The pediatrician took him and this time I watched as he stuck a thin tube down my son’s nose and sucked bloody fluid into a canister mounted on the wall. A lot of fluid, considering the baby’s small body. And then—and again I can’t remember quite the order of events or how this was communicated to us—the baby was gone, taken by the pediatrician for special care.

We have no idea where to, exactly, or for how long he’s going to be apart from us, or what they’re going to do to him. We’ve barely seen him or held him or experienced him as an actual living human being. Just like that, we’re not parents anymore, we’re just Brian and S, exhausted and traumatized and as childless as we had always been, in an empty hospital room with the midwife. It felt really weird.

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