Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms
When my friend Dick’s wife went into labor, Dick rushed her to the hospital, then paced in a room just outside the delivery ward. After hours of waiting Dick confronted a nurse, convinced that the birth had happened but they forgot to tell him. No, the nurse said, just be patient. She said the same thing two hours later, and again hours later. The waiting room had nothing to read, and Dick nearly went crazy. After the longest night of his life, Dick finally got word he was a father.
Dick was no dummy, so he was ready for the birth of his next child. He staggered into the waiting room with a stack of books several feet high. Dick plopped into a chair and opened the top book. Suddenly a nurse was in front of him saying, “Mr. McCabe? You have a healthy baby girl!” Dick was outraged. “You can’t be serious! Look at all these books! I just got here! Surely the baby needs a few more hours!”
When my erstwife and I prepared for the arrival of our first child, we attended birthing classes. A couple we met there had one bit of advice: “Bring FOOD!” They hadn’t been able to eat during a very long labor, and by the time the baby finally came they were hungry enough to eat the hospital drapes.
Based on those stories and others, I became convinced every childbirth is unique.
My only personal experience with childbirth was typical enough for people like us in the late 1970s. I was eager to experience the whole event, staying with my wife in the delivery amphitheater. We hoped to avoid drugs, and we wanted this birth to be supervised by a nurse-midwife. Our midwife, Anne, was friendly and reassuring.
The only unusual element of our plan was that we would have a witness. Ellen was a dear friend and fellow grad student. Ellen had recently decided she was gay. She asked to share the birth of our baby because, “As a lesbian, I’m not likely to experience childbirth myself.” We agreed, and Anne was happy to include Ellen.
Things began well for us, and then not so well. Our baby girl got hung up halfway into this world. We understood the birth would be tricky when we learned the umbilical cord was wrapped around our baby’s throat. Anne told us the delivery was going to be done in the delivery room, and she could not perform it. Hospital rules dictated that a doctor would now supervise the birth. Because the hospital had a rule against extra people in the birthing room, Ellen wasn’t welcome.
And that is how the birth of my only child morphed into a feminist drama. We had suddenly lost control of the birth, and the doctor in command was a stranger. Because he was a man, we feared he would be unsympathetic. Anne stuck a scrub suit on Ellen and gave her a surgical mask. “You are now an intern nurse,” she said. “Keep your mouth shut. If the doctor throws you out, well . . . that’s that. But if we pretend you are an intern maybe he won’t make an issue of it.”
Then we rolled down the hallway to the delivery room. The young doctor looked hard at Ellen. But he said nothing, and we all got busy with the birth.
Having Ellen present was a joy with unanticipated benefits. My wife was totally occupied with the pain and effort of birth, so she saw nothing. I couldn’t see a thing because I was crying uncontrollably. But Ellen saw everything with clear eyes. She wrote up the experience with affection and specificity and later gave us a copy of it.
I think childbirths are like snowflakes. No two are alike.
Do you have any childbirth stories?