Labor Epilogue

All was calm when the midwife stitched S up. She had a tear below her urethra, and two incisions, one made laterally to accommodate the vacuum. This last cut, through muscle, would hurt the worst during the next weeks.

“How many stitches am I getting?” S asked.

“Enough,” the midwife said.

While the midwife wielded a nasty curved needle, she talked about the baby nonchalantly, assuring us that he’d be fine—we just needed to wait and see. I think she didn’t want us to get overly upset till we knew what was going on. After a while of discussing the labor and what S could expect during recovery we all but stopped talking about our son, as if getting through the labor itself was the point, and the birth didn’t really happen.

Looking back, I wonder if—in those first couple of hours—our parenting instincts just weren’t operating yet. We had seen him briefly and in such a state of exhaustion and upset that neither of us could’ve picked him out of a lineup. There was no time to bond, to soak him in through smell and sight and sound. And so our main concern was making sure S was as comfortable as possible and going to pull through ok.

The midwife showed us the placenta, a flat heart-shaped piece of gore in a shallow blue basin. Thick blue veins ridged one side, spreading out from the base of the umbilical cord in the shape of a tree. I asked for it and without hesitation the midwife bagged it up for me, handing it off with a warning not to show anyone in the hospital or we’d get in trouble. S had clutched one of our pillows on the stretcher ride from the Birthing Center, so we slipped it into the case.

I ventured out and bought sandwiches—egg and cheese for S, chicken salad for me. While we ate, we looked at the clear plastic bottle mounted on the wall above the baby’s warming table, its bottom red and goopy with the stuff they sucked out of his lungs. It was difficult to believe what had happened in this room, on the very table S still reclined upon as she ate. At this point, we still hadn’t called our parents, because we didn’t feel like parents ourselves yet. In fact, except for the friends who were going to give us a ride home from the hospital, no one even knew that S had gone into labor.

Later, a doctor came into the delivery room wearing scrubs. She explained that the baby had swallowed a lot of fluid during his long journey into the world, blood that irritated his throat and stomach and made it difficult to breathe. They had to hook him up to a respirator to help him out. Soon, she told me, I could visit him in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), but first we had to move to a post-partum recovery room and collect our stuff from the birthing center.

It was after this talk that we called our parents, and the trauma of the past twenty four hours began to sink in. Questions were raised as to why the labor went on for so long, or why S didn’t have a Caesarian. I explained that extreme interventions like this were never an option for us if they could be avoided. This was why we wanted to work with the midwives and use the Birthing Center. We trusted that if they thought S was safe than she was, and we continue to trust them. S wanted to give birth vaginally, and with a little help she did, soldiering through all twenty three hours without ever expressing regret, facing her fears of incision without blanching. I’m so proud of her for it.

Finally, after S was settled in a new room, I visited my son. The NICU ward was full of isolation boxes, most of them holding tiny, premature babies. Computer screens charted their heart and respiration rates, beeping to alert the nurses of any problems. An attendant introduced me to Felix, stretched out long under a warming lamp, a diaper on his bottom, an IV drip delivering glucose water attached to his right wrist and taped so that his whole hand looked like a paddle, probes stuck on his chest, an intubation tube in his mouth, and tiny plastic pipes in his little nostrils that delivered shots of oxygen whenever his breathing rate dropped too low. It was like he was part machine. The nurse explained what was going on and gave me a quick overview of the monitors and then left me alone with him.

I stroked his non-IVed arm and talked to him, and though he shifted and sighed in his sleep, he didn’t stir. It was impossible to hold or cradle him, or even get a good look at him—the tubes seemed in the way, and forced him into an unnatural position, mouth stuck open, head jutted up at an angle. After a few minutes I headed back to report to S. Right when I got in the room my brother called, and while talking to him I choked up, concerned for the baby, tired, upset, angry even at how things had worked out. These feelings would come up again later in the night, when I tried to bring S to see him and she nearly fainted with exhaustion. This was so far from what we had hoped.

But these were momentary blips. After seeing Felix, my fathering instincts came on full. I promised to do everything I could to get S through her stay in the hospital, and to get her and the baby—perhaps bruised and battered but recovering—back home safely.

This resolve would be tested time and again over the coming week.

Felix in the NICU

Felix in the NICU

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4 Responses to “Labor Epilogue”


  1. 1 Rachael June 12, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    This is the best and most important reading I’ve ever done on the subject of labor. All anyone writes about is the perfect labor. You read the accounts of the beautiful, the magnificent, the glowing births, but you know this sort of stuff happens all the time. I’ve been waiting to learn more about these types of situations. Thank you both so much. You, Brian, for watching and for writing, and you, Sara, for inspiring.

  2. 2 MoDLin June 18, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you so much for candidly sharing the truth about your son’s birth. It often isn’t the storybook delivery that everyone writes about. You both must have been terrified, that is when you had enough energy to think about what was happening.

    I’m so pleased that Felix is home and growing stonger by the minute. Happy HAPPY Father’s Day.

  3. 3 Erika June 23, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Hear, hear. Best birth account I’ve seen from the father’s point of view. Very well written, and it’s obvious how closely you were observing and feeling along with S. So glad you’re all home safe now!

  4. 4 briangresko July 3, 2009 at 6:25 am

    Thanks for your words of encouragement everyone!


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