Wednesday morning I was knee deep in finishing various final project for the semester, all of which were due in two weeks but that I had great hopes of finishing before Nico was to arrive. On May 11. Her due date.
About 8 a.m. I was finishing up a small response paper on a Spanish comic about a man stuck in a prolonged dream when I heard Marta say “OH!” from her office. It was a very distinctive “oh.” Not your ordinary “Oh, I dropped my pen!” or “Oh, I love that song!” but “OH! something big just happened.”
I went out to the hallway and found Marta in the doorway of her office talking about something “leaking” and some pain and pressure. I was confused. This can’t be labor, I thought. It’s too early. This wasn’t part of the plan. The plan, that is, that I would finish all my work by May 10 and then, presto, the baby would arrive and we’d both sink into new baby bliss.
Marta called the hospital and they told her to lie down for 20 minutes and call back if she was still leaking fluid. I was so convinced it couldn’t be labor, I took the dog for a walk. Marta agreed this only made sense.
When I got back she was counting her contractions.
“They told us to come in,” she said.
That’s when I realized it could actually be happening. Labor. The baby. Everything.
Marta, though, was still in denial. I told we needed to pack our hospital bag. She said there was no need, that they’d just send us home after they took a look at her. I insisted. She caved but told me to be quick. So I rushed off, like every fuzzy headed new dad in a bad romantic comedy. I threw everything that came to my mind in a reusable grocery baby: extra underwear, tooth brushes, granola, a baby and labor book our doula gave us, a notebook, my iPad, a novel (in case labor got boring?), and some peanut butter.
Marta was growing impatient. And her contractions were coming more frequently. Finally I called it quits and we headed off toward the hospital with what I had. I was twitching with excitement and complete and utter fear. We parked and Marta did her pregnant woman waddle up to labor and delivery, completely calm.
At that point we were both still expecting a “normal” delivery.
Once they had us checked into a room, we were seen first by a nurse whose accent was so thick we only understood about every third word of what she said and a paramedic student who told us he’d been on the floor all day without any excitement. He was practically foaming at the mouth when he realized Marta was there with contractions and signs of a broken amniotic sac.
Our midwife (the New Yorker) showed up next and she quickly took a look and confirmed it: Marta’s water was broken.
“So does that mean your admitting us?” I asked. She nodded. Though what I was really asking was: Does that mean we’re having a baby today?
She said that Marta was already dilated three centimeters. And that she could see the top of our baby’s head.
“I’m going to order an ultrasound,” she added. “Cause either that kid has the baldest head ever or she’s breech.”
An ultrasound team quickly came in, smoothed some gel on Marta’s belly and confirmed in two minutes what our midwife suspected. The baby was breech. And Marta’s water had already broken. Which is not a good combination.
They said things like “that little stinker, she’s upside down” and then they explained that they could try to move the baby, but Marta had already lost lots of fluid so it could be difficult. Also it would be painful. They recommended an epidural as soon as possible, then an attempt to move the baby and, if that wasn’t possible, a cesarean section. Then someone else came into the room, found out the baby was breech and said, “that little stinker.” I began to suspect this this was part of labor-and-delivery surgeon training: in case of breech baby, call said baby a “stinker.”
Marta and I were kind of stunned, but we agreed to that plan. A way too laid back anesthesiologist arrived and lackadaisically asked us about Marta’s allergies, medical issues, weight, etc. before explaining the options for cesarean. Then three surgeons came in and explained how they would attempt to flip the baby in Marta’s uterus. At one point there were three surgeons in our room, two nurses, the midwife and that annoying paramedic student. Marta started to cry.
“I just want to do what’s right for the baby,” she explained. One of the doctor’s with a heart said to the rest, “Guys can we clear out of this room and give her a little space.”
By the time the operating room was ready for Marta, they checked her again and said she was at six centimeters. Flipping was much of an option anymore, they said. By the time they got her into the operating room, she was at ten centimeters. They administered the epidural while I waited outside (some stupid hospital policy that still makes me angry when I think back to it) and then let me in as they were getting ready to cut Marta open.
When I got to her, on the other side of a curtain separating her head from her belly, she was shivering from the epidural and crying. I tried to help her calm down but I was crying too. And on the other side of the curtain they were already getting started. There were a good 20 people in the room. I tried to hold Marta’s gaze and tell her would be OK. The anesthesiologist told me to sit in a chair rolled up beside Marta’s head. I gave him a look of death.
“Then I can’t see her eyes,” I said.
“You don’t need to see that,” he said, referring to the birth.
“No her eyes,” I snapped, pointing to Marta, and I stood back up and looked down at Marta, locking eyes and trying to help her feel less scared. Though I was scared out of my mind. It had all happened so fast, there were so many people, and suddenly when I looked over the curtain there was also so much blood. And then I saw a white body being pulled out, and it looked lifeless. It was a butt first, then legs and a back and finally a head. And for a moment there wasn’t a sound.
Then she began to scream. I started crying and Marta started crying and I followed the baby to a table where she was being taken (this is what we had agreed I would do, many months ago, when we talked about the awful possibility of an emergency c-section).
Under the warming lamp they were scrubbing her body pink. I cried behind my glasses and face mask and thought how this was not at all how either of us wanted the birth to be. But also how she was here and she was real and breathing and crying, screaming actually. I touched her little toes and tried to calm her. I found myself telling the nurses how we knew she’d have a full head of hair because Marta had so much gas during pregnancy (something we’d read in a study). I had the distinct feeling that I had no idea what I was doing or saying, that I was in some strange dream state that kept propelling me forward and all I could do was follow along.
Then finally they finished warming her and they let me hold her. I cut her umbilical cord. I carried her over to where Marta’s head was still being held hostage on the other side of the curtain. I brought Nico up to her head so she could see her daughter. It wasn’t like we hoped, that she’d be able to put her on her naked chest immediately. But it was the best we could do.
The rest of the story goes much like other stories of babies being born. Eventually Marta was sewn up and eventually I convinced the pediatric nurses that they should let Nico out of the nursery so that Marta could hold her. And she did. And Nico nursed for the first time, completely oblivious of the fact that Marta was hooked up to about a thousand wires.
Eventually we got to our room and we got to hold Nico between us. Eventually we were alone. It was probably about 2 a.m., a good 14 hours after Nico was born, that I realized she had really been born and that I was so happy. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy before. But the labor had been a surprise and the c-section traumatic. Only when we were finally in our double bed in the rather chic and septic hospital room on the “Baby and Mom” floor and Marta had finally stopped vomiting from the anesthesia and Nico was confirmed healthy and well and was sleeping between us, did I finally begin to feel that everything was going to be OK. Or more than OK.
We spent following three days in Room 1 on the Baby and Mom floor. We had a wonderful nurse named Sharon who asked us how we met and complimented us on our nascent parenting skills. We had passive aggressive nurses who ignored me and questioned us when we took advantage of the nursery at night, sending Nico there in-between feedings so we could get about three hours of sleep. We had guests bring us chocolate cookies and fresh fruit, salads and Coop quiche. And then my parents flew in and gave us their time and help with a thousand small and large things that suddenly come with having a baby. Nico slept and slept and sometimes opened her eyes up and looked around at the ceiling panels like they were thousands of big bright shooting stars. Mostly she slept.
The day before we left we got really good news. The Iowa Supreme Court had just declared illegal a state policy that prevented the legally married female spouse of a pregnant woman from putting her name on their baby’s birth certificate. The next day we filled out our birth certificate form, scratching out “father” and putting mother and my name beside it.
Today we went home.
We’re utterly exhausted, frequently weeping and I still often like I am in a prologued dream. But then I get up from the computer and walk into the other room and there Nico is. Her tiny hands are pushing up against her puckered mouth, her little leg raises in a kick. Sometimes I swear she even smiles.