by Stephen Vernon
So there I was resting my head on my pillow, closing my eyes, and hoping for a nice night of sleep. I had become accustomed to splendid rest ever since I moved to the couch 8 months into the pregnancy. It was Friday the 15th of October around 11:00 pm and I was snuggling into my couch bed when L woke me with excited eyes and said “I think it’s time.”
Being someone who values a good night’s sleep, I instinctively did not believe the validity of her claim. “Really?” I said. “It can’t be.” After all, I had just closed my eyes! “No! I really think it is time,” L said, breathing through an oncoming contraction. I pushed back, selfishly hoping to just lie down after a long day. “Well you know what the Midwives would say. When you first go into labor try and get some rest.” But one look at L’s face and I realized this was the real deal. Springing into a flurry of action, I hastily cleaned up a pile of dirty dishes while simultaneously timing contractions and calling our midwives. After 41 weeks of preparation, the labor had begun and my time to become a father was drawing near.
While we waited for the cavalry to arrive, my wife and I tried to enjoy our last few moments alone. I squeezed her hand during the intensifying contractions, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Our three midwives trickled in one by one over the next several hours, setting the stage for what we hoped would be an uneventful and quick labor. They transformed our small two bedroom apartment into a comfortable birth cave - complete with a steamy tub, a birthing stool, and a vast array of midwifery equipment. We dimmed the lights, lit some candles and streamed a soothing assortment of music to create the calming atmosphere we had envisioned for this birth. The first night passed before we knew it, while L and I found our groove as a birthing team, and I gradually came to grips with my own fears about the birth process. As I learned during pregnancy, there is a lot of well documented information that would scare the hardiest of dads (and moms). My biggest concern was how I would react to L being in pain. Let’s face it, no husband enjoys standing helplessly by while his wife is in distress. I don’t even like when L gets the sniffles, so how was I going to be strong when she struggles through the peak of contractions?? When the time came to address my fears, something inside of me just clicked and I was able to be the stoic birth partner that the moment demanded. Our midwives kept reminding us that the contractions are simply opening and softening the way for our baby to make his entrance into the world. “Strong is good, strong is good” they’d repeat in soothing voices during the height of a contraction. “You’re safe,” they would tell L again and again, reminding her that the pain was just a normal part of labor. This made me feel safe, too. My fears began to vanish (along with my thoughts of getting an ounce of sleep anytime soon!)
Daybreak was a welcome sight as the rainy night gave way to a brisk and bright fall morning. We took the opportunity to walk (incredibly slowly) around the yard and soak in some sunlight along with the contractions. I wore flip flops as a last ditched effort to hold onto summer, and the cool, wet grass felt refreshing on my feet. We worked our way around the yard and eventually retreated back into the cave for the work still to be done. For the rest of the day, L worked and I supported. The day turned into another night and I faced new fears about how much longer this labor would go on. At one point, I looked candidly at the midwives and asked whether L was doing well. Was it time to transfer? How long can she go on like this? How long can I go on like this!?! They calmly and confidently assured me that L was doing fine and there was no danger to her or the baby. Maybe it was my anxiety to meet our little one or just my sleep-deprived nerves speaking, but my impatience wasn’t helping. The midwives, sensing my anxiousness, ordered me to go on a walk. Despite my hesitation to “abandon” the scene, I finally relented. It was really bizarre to leave the intensity of the birth cave to walk the familiar streets of our neighborhood. What else is there to think about when your wife is in labor? I took the opportunity to sit on a nearby park bench, take in the peak fall colors, and make a few phone calls to update our families. This brief break from the action helped me recharge, and I headed back to the cave ready to jump back in as L’s number one cheerleader.
We were now about 25 hours into active labor and both of us had been awake for more than 40 hours. Truthfully, the sleep deprivation and intensity was starting to catch up to us both! We laid in bed for a while and tried to “sleep” which meant dozing in 3-5 minute stretches between contractions. Ever tried that? It doesn’t really add up to much sleep. We roused ourselves at the midwives command to try several natural induction methods: climbing the stairs two at a time, nipple stimulation or “nipple stim” as the midwives called it, getting in and out of the birth tub, and we even tried smooching to kick things into gear. I was able to take small breaks from the action here and there while our incredible midwives took over. They were supporting L as much as I was - rubbing her back, holding her hand through contractions, and reassuring her in their nurturing, motherly way. They had been awake almost the entire time as well! While L was supported, I retreated into what I now affectionately call my “chair of despair.” I spent several hours slouched in this small, uncomfortable chair in the corner of our bedroom while the midwives took turns supporting L. I propped my legs up awkwardly on a nearby dresser and would inevitably fall asleep, wake up when L had another contraction, and drift back to sleep until my legs came crashing down to the floor with a thud. In my delirium, I pretended to be awake the entire time and mumbled “good job” in an attempt to give the impression I was fully awake. I don’t think I fooled anyone!
Twenty-nine hours into active labor we found ourselves reaching the limit of our patience and stamina. To all outward appearances, L hadn’t made much progress and she was getting downright exhausted. Around 2:00 am, one of the midwives came into our bedroom to on check L’s progress. To her great surprise, L was fully dilated! Yes, our baby’s head was a mere inch away from being born, and everyone agreed that L was finally ready to begin pushing. This news came just as we were beginning to despair facing yet another long day of labor, and our spirits were uplifted anew. We were going to meet our baby...today! A few more hours passed, and the contractions were strong and consistent. L was working hard with new determination to birth this baby, and I was impressed with her sudden surge of energy and strength.
As the dawn of Sunday, October 17th broke, L was pushing, I was supporting and the midwives were coaching. We tried several positions until L found one that was working for her and the real pushing began. Her new position did not allow me to be too close to her but watching her from a short distance was amazing. After all this time in active labor, where was she finding this strength and courage? I stood in awe at the sight that was before me. The midwives had instructed her to hang on a sheet they attached to my pull up bar in a doorway, while she stood and bore down. At this moment, my wife had become something I had never seen before. It was primal. It was beautiful. She moved to a birth stool for the final few pushes. Our baby’s head was starting to crown. “Whoa....this is getting real,” I thought. The midwives told me to go wash my hands. At this point in any labor, when your care provider tells you to do something, you do it without question. I was a private and they were the generals. “Yes! Right away, ma’am!” I dashed to the sink and began washing my hands and forearms like a doctor readying himself for surgery. No sooner had I returned and positioned my hands under L when out flew our baby like he was careening down a slip and slide. The midwives placed the warm, silky baby into L’s arms. She held him close and I desperately tried to take the moment in. Did this really just happen?? After nine months of anticipation, suddenly we were holding our newborn.
Up to this point, we had not even checked to see if it was a boy or girl. L looked at me with awe and said “It’s a little boy and he’s perfect!” I cut the umbilical cord (it was a lot tougher to cut than I had expected!) and the midwives handed me my son while they attended to L. He and I crouched in our hallway and stared at each other for what felt like a long time. Looking into his eyes, I was surprised how awake, alert, and strong he was as he kicked his feet and flailed his tiny hands. My first few moments being a dad are ones I will never forget. We spent the next several hours resting in bed as the midwives cooked a delicious breakfast and cleaned up nearly all evidence that a birth had just taken place in our 900 square foot apartment. After breakfast in bed and final instructions from our doting midwives, we snuggled together in bed as a family of three for a well deserved sleep. My new life as a father had just begun.
Stephen's wife Lesley gave birth to their son, Mason John, on October 17, 2010 at their home in Portland, Maine.