I woke up to the sound of my wife’s voice. Groaning. Moaning. Repeatedly catching her breath.
“You okay?” I asked. “Do you think this is it?”
“I’m not sure,” she replied.
It made sense that it would be labor. My wife was two days past her due date. Still, we were both intensely aware of the fact that most expectant parents with first-time pregnancies think they’re in labor before they actually are. We weren’t going to be those people, we told ourselves.
But the pain continued. My wife described it differently than she did the Braxton Hicks. Lower. More intense; more consistent. I sent my boss an email telling her I would not be working that day. “We think my wife’s in labor. . . .” I sent our midwives a text.
A week prior I had built a birthing tub and set it up in our living room. I hooked up the hose to the sink and began to fill it. I was trying not to get my hopes up, but I was excited. My wife grabbed a yoga mat, spread it on the floor of our living room, and got on her hands and knees. “Ohhh,” she groaned, arching and bowing her back.
I ran around the house, trying to make everything perfect. I hung the rainbow lights my wife loved above the birthing tub. I fed the dogs. I let out the cats. I brought her breakfast, coffee, water. Lots of water. Tea. I got my Birth Partner book and propped it open to the chapter marked “Labor.” I checked the water temperature.
“Is the tub ready?” my wife asked. I looked at the water. It wasn’t even a third of the way full. I looked back at my wife and shook my head. I felt the hose—cold. Damn our little water heater, I thought. I turned off the water to wait for it to reheat. My wife reached over and ran her fingers across what little water filled the bottom of the tank. She stripped down and got in.
I texted the midwives, who told me that my wife could labor in that state for quite a while. Days, even. Really? I thought. They said she/we should eat. They said that while the tub’s relaxing for her, I really should try to get her on a walk if she wanted to “get things going.” I looked over at my wife, her face scrunched in agony. I wished myself luck as I asked if she wanted to go for a walk. She looked at me like I was nuts and said, “No way.” Eventually we did get her to walk around the yard, but that was about as good as I could get it. I never could get either one of us to eat.
For the next several hours she was in and out of the tub. I was running water over her. Rubbing her shoulders. Rubbing her back. Asking questions and getting snapped at (my fault). Watching helplessly as she suffered. Hearing her desperate cry of “help me” and not knowing what to do.
Early afternoon, it sounded like my wife was in pain every second. Maybe I should time the contractions, I thought. I got a chart I had printed and asked my wife to tell me when the contractions were starting and when they were stopping. “They don’t stop,” she said. “They just get slightly less intense.” I opened the stopwatch feature on my phone and recorded the times as best I could. They were really close together.
I sent the midwives a text with all the information about her contractions: duration, interval, observations, notes. They asked if we wanted them to come over. Just as I was about to respond that we were fine, my wife’s water broke. “We’re coming.”
“Ahhhhhhh!” my wife shouted. The pain was increasing, and my ability to be useful was decreasing. I tried to think of everything I could do to make my wife more comfortable. Music. My wife loves music. She has her phone hooked up to a special Bluetooth speaker and creates all sorts of playlists. However, she’s always the one who puts the music on in our house, and I had no idea how to work her devices. I picked up her phone and tried to figure it out. I pressed a button that looked like a music note and then I pressed play. Mariah Carey blasted through the speaker. I cringed. I looked at the playlist – something about “liked” or popular songs. I had no idea how to change it. Apparently this baby would be born into a 90’s dance party. Oh, well!
My wife was on the floor when Midwife 1 arrived. She took her blood pressure. She took her pulse. She listened to the baby’s heartbeat. Strong. I stroked my wife’s back while the midwife placed various items around our house, pausing every so often to ask me where certain things were. As she distributed her belongings, she swayed to Mazzy Star. She boogied a little to N*Sync. She jammed to Phish. I shook my head at the ridiculous hodgepodge playlist. “Sorry!”
Midwife 2 arrived. Together the three of us helped my wife to the bathroom. She labored backwards on the toilet for what seemed like hours. The midwives stopped her every so often to listen to baby’s heartbeat. You could hear the heartbeat echoing off my wife’s pelvic bones. The baby’s descending.
I walked out to the kitchen to find Midwife 2 knitting. I offered our guest bed if she needed a rest or if this continued on for a while. She looked at me and chuckled. “Your wife is pushing,” she said. “You’re having this baby very soon!”
Throughout the whole evening, my mind and emotions had been vacillating between focus and fog. In one moment, I was sharp. In another, I was lost. But throughout the entire experience there was one emotion that remained constant: excitement. This was really happening. We were having a baby.
My wife continued to labor on the toilet. Eventually, Midwife 1 looked at me with urgency in her eyes. She whispered, “This baby is coming now. We need to move your wife.” We coaxed and prompted, but were met with resistance. Finally, we got my wife off of the toilet and onto a low to the ground, crescent-shaped birthing stool.
“You can see the head,” Midwife 1 said. She held the flashlight as I looked in. There it was! A little brown swirl of hair. My heart skipped a beat and a huge smile spread across my face.
“Do you want to see it? Do you want to feel?” I asked my wife, but she was so lost in her pain that she couldn’t do it. All she could do was push. I positioned myself between my wife’s legs as INOJ’s Let Me Love You Down pulsed through the speakers in all its teenage glory.
She pushed once, and a head began to emerge. “This hurts like hell!” she screamed.
Second push, and the head was out. There was a pause between the contractions. I cradled the head in my hands, the first person to ever touch this little being outside of my wife. My daughter. This is my daughter.
Third push, and a little body slithered out of my wife and into my arms. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and body, and the midwives and I twisted and turned her around until she was untangled. We heard her sputter and then we heard her cry. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard. I lifted her tiny body up to my wife’s chest as she cried, “My baby, my baby, my baby. Oh, sweetheart.” I wrapped my arms around my wife and began to sob. I was overwhelmed with love and admiration.
Blood poured down between my wife’s legs. The baby had pulled part of the placenta off the uterine wall when she came out. The midwives ran about, attending to all my wife’s needs. They gave her a shot of Pitocin to contract the uterus, the first drug my wife received throughout this whole process. They gave her herbs. It felt like a movie where my wife, my baby and I were in focus as the rest of the world moved around us in a hurried blur.
We moved over to the couch where my wife continued to cradle our child. We stared into our daughter’s little face as my wife birthed the placenta. “Oh, you’re perfect,” I repeated. My eloquence long lost to overwhelming emotion, I showered my daughter and my wife in short statements of adoration. I reached out my finger, which was quickly grasped by the tiniest hand I had ever seen. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest right then and there.
The midwives took care of everything as my wife and I held each other and snuggled our baby. We could not stop staring at her, touching her, kissing her wet new skin, telling her how loved she was. I pulled myself away long enough to cut the umbilical cord. The midwives stepped away to cook us food, clean our house, and eventually help us up to bed. After several hours of snuggling in our bed-nest, Midwife 1 performed the new baby exam. 8 pounds, 6 ounces. 22 inches long. Born at home at 7:38 PM.