I keep waiting for the right time to sit down, tell the birth story, and share week one. Finding enough time is much harder than I thought, so I’ll get out as much as I can in an unpolished way and know that the whole of it will always be elusive.
Sunday, September 23rd, was a beautiful day in NYC. After brunch, we went to Fort Tryon park, to our favorite spot on Abby’s Lawn to do some yoga. Dorota was already having some contractions, but they were faint, like pre-menstrual cramps. Later that evening, after a large comfortable dinner (steak and au gratin potatoes for her, veggies and potatoes for me), the contractions were coming on harder. We thought a bath and massage might slow things down so we could sleep through the night and maybe deliver in the morning.
At 1am, Dorota woke with a strong contraction and knew that we weren’t going to make it until morning. I started timing them. 10 minutes. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 5, 8, 6 minutes. 10 minutes, 5, 4, 7, 5, 3, 6 and so on. We were definitely moving into active labor. We called the doctor and she said, yep, sounds like active labor to me, it’d be good to come in. At 330am, we called a car service (thank you High Bridge car #94!) and headed to Roosevelt Hospital. The moon was a big yellow egg hanging over the Hudson and we were both hyper-alert, with Dorota’s contractions still coming every 5 minutes or so.
First triage to gather information for the doctor, and then, her room in labor & delivery. By this point, we had at least 2 rounds of the same questions (from nurse and doctor), Dorota had an external fetal monitor recording her contractions and the baby’s heart rate, and an IV tap (just in case). Her water had already broken, probably on Friday. It hadn’t broken in a big gush, and since this is our first baby, we didn’t know the difference between broken water and show. In retrospect, not knowing probably worked out better for us – I’m guessing that with broken water and no contractions, the doctors would have induced labor or pushed for a c-section.
In the room, we setup my MP3 player with Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald and requested a yoga ball for Dorota to bounce on during contractions (it seemed to help quite a bit to have some movement as a contraction distraction). Another round of the same questions (they put it all into a computer each time, so I don’t know why they need to keep asking – we had other things to think about). The big meal before her bath was not such a good idea. In addition to the contractions, Dorota had to deal with nausea. They gave her a little plastic kidney shaped bowl just in case, and all I could think was if she has to vomit, there’s no way that bowl is going to catch it, it’s going to be a complete mess. But Dorota managed just fine.
We had unplugged her from the fetal monitor so she could sit on the toilet and hadn’t plugged it back in. The doctor came in and plugged it back in – the baby’s heart rate was low and, with no prior heart rate measurements, they were very concerned. Dorota had to lay on her side and take an oxygen mask, and they inserted an internal fetal monitor (a wire that pokes into the scalp of the fetus and gives more accurate measurements). I was worried they were going to over-react and call for a C-section, but they gave time for the heart rate to normalize, which it did. Behind the intense concentration of the contractions, Dorota was still worried about the heart rate and asked about it a few more times. So that was one more thing I had to reassure her about.
Now that she was on her side, we couldn’t move around as much and most of the massage techniques I knew were out the window. I ended up doing a lot of percussive techniques along her calves, thighs, hamstrings, and outer legs. We also relied on vocalizations. I asked her to make the ‘om’ noise and Dorota started saying ‘om noise, om noise, om noise’ over and over (I really had to hold myself from laughing – she said later that it didn’t really matter what she said, just having something repetitive to latch onto helped with the pain of the contractions). I used some yoga and Buddhist chanting to give her something to focus on as well (primarily the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad I.iii.28 and the short Medicine Buddha mantra).
Eventually, the contractions were so intense that she didn’t think she should could keep going, imagining there were hours more of active labor ahead. She was tired, with only two hours of sleep and 4 house of intense periods of pain. She wanted an epidural. We had talked about this ahead of time and agreed that we would try our best not to use one, but leave it as an option (though we never did agree on our codeword to indicate that she really meant it). We let the nurse know and then we didn’t hear another peep about it until Dorota was fully dilated (we found out later that the anesthesiologist was busy with another woman).
Dorota was also saying that she needed to push. Now, as a man, not having a uterus and not have the capabilities of bearing children, I did not realize that this need is not a need like I need a sandwich or I need to do some yoga. This is a deep biological urge that will not be denied. I had been glancing at the fetal monitor to see how far apart her contractions were and how long they were (there was no way I could follow my watch while being present for her). To me, it still looked like she was in active labor, hadn’t even been through transition yet. I was worried that if she started pushing, she might tear herself. A woman’s body is way wiser than we are consciously.
When the doctor came back in and checked on her, she was fully dilated. Despite all the pre-natal classes and workshops talking about how lying on the back with the legs in the air is a more difficult position to birth in than squatting or hands-and-knees, this ended up being the position that worked best (we were also a little limited by the internal fetal monitor). I held one leg, the nurse held the other, and Dr. Johnny Bench prepared to catch. She probably started pushing a little past 7am (I was a bit beyond time myself by then) and after maybe six rounds of pushing and easing off, Jakob was born at 748am.
‘Summertime’ being sung by Ella is the last song I remember playing before he came out (it’s one of Dorota’s favorites though she was in her own world and didn’t even know).
When he came out, the cord was wrapped around him. Again, we were lucky, as that’s another thing that might have caused an emergency c-section. Jakob decended so fast, I don’t think they knew it until he was out. The doctor had to clamp and cut immediately, so we weren’t able to wait until the cord pulsing stopped and I wasn’t able to cut it.
So there it is, the story of Jakob’s birth. It is an incredible thing to watch a baby being born, to see it’s head mold itself as it is gradually pushed out the opening vagina, a connection to something much larger than ourselves.
This first week has been tiring but exciting. In the last few days, he’s opening his eyes more, moving his head around more, and becoming aware of his surroundings. But he has a pretty limited set of states: sleeping, eating, recovering from eating (which involves burping, farting, pooping and peeing), and alert (listening and looking, though I realize he cannot focus his eyes yet or really discern objects, just contrasts). For now, it seems easy compared to the challenges to come when he starts to move around.
Happy one week on Earth, Jakob!