On May 1st, my wife, Courtenay, and I had our first child. We are overjoyed to have our son out in the world and in our arms. But it was quite the ordeal to get him here. For 9 months we did all the pregnancy planning. We filled our world with books, lists, websites, apps, maternity clothes (for my wife), baby stuff and plans for the labour and birth. We filled our hearts with hopes, dreams and fears for this child.
And then as the due date came and went, we were booked for a routine fetal assessment (extra involved ultrasound), and all of a sudden we found ourselves, with potential complications to an otherwise healthy pregnancy, being admitted to a High Risk Labour and Delivery unit – not where we planned on being for the birth.
Throughout the next 48 hours, neither of us slept for more than a couple hours and we endured a medically induced labour, all the way to the pushing stage, when my wife was told to stop pushing (and go back to the really painful part of labour) to help things progress. A few hours later we were faced with more waiting or a riskier than normal C-Section. Over the 48 hours, there were things about labour and delivery that I learned that no one teaches you in prenatal classes and that you cannot read about in a typical pregnancy book or website. They were the hardest 48 hours of my life. Here are some of the things I learned, from a husband’s perspective, about High Risk labour:
1. Things don’t go as planned. When you are expecting a “normal” birth and show up for a routine ultra sound at a different hospital than your birth hospital and you hear the words: “We are keeping you here, looks like you’re going to have your baby today” – it is NOT COOL.
2. No seriously, when things don’t go as planned (and often they don’t) it sucks. Like the websites and books say, make your birth plan and imagine how you want birth to go when the day comes. And then be prepared to scrap it all, because when it doesn’t happen like you planned, you can be thrown for one of the biggest loops of your life.
3. No amount of preparation will give you a sense of being in control. You can throw out the lists, hospital bags, books, iPhone apps etc… You don’t actually need any of that stuff when doctors start talking about low amniotic fluids and uncertain kidney function. You can show up to have a baby with just your wallet, phone and your wife’s purse – and that is too much stuff.
4. The sounds of labour are… weird and frightening. Women will generally sound like they are dying, shout profanity and cry out funny and ridiculous things in labour – and you can’t laugh. Well, not too loudly anyways.
5. Sometimes things don’t make sense. If the one questionable issue that landed you in the high risk unit turns out to be false you won’t get to leave. But the totally cool staff is going to come and hang out in your room as a place of refuge because you are friendly and chill. Especially, if your wife loves to chat them up and hear their life stories, even while she is in labour.
6. Singing happy birthday is not funny on a labour and delivery unit. You will think it is funny for about 2.7 seconds and then realize it isn’t. Not at all. Don’t sing it.
7. Be prepared to do nothing. Most of labour and delivery can be doing nothing. You will just sit around, check heart beats, do more nothing, drink a glass of water, do nothing, take a walk, do nothing, sit around the hospital room looking at each other having exhausted 13 hours of conversation, then more nothing.
8. There are real life Dr. Houses (from the TV show House M.D.). There are doctors who will decide to admit you, decide your treatment, decide where you go and you will never see them, meet them or speak with them. I have been making hospital visits as a pastor for 6 years and I spent 3 months doing chaplaincy in a mental hospital – the fact that mystery, eye-in-the-sky doctors exist still shocked me.
9. Be funny. All the massaging, birth coaching, breathing stuff, being supportive is not as important as being funny. I don’t mean cracking jokes like an idiot. I mean being funny in ways that make everyone laugh especially the mom-to-be. Humour lightens the mood, keeps people relaxed and adds perspective. If you can keep the mom-to-be, other support people and hospital staff laughing, things will be so much better.
10. Labour does not look like the TV shows, websites, pre-natal class videos or grandmother stories of pre-1950 birth. Contractions can happen every five minutes like clockwork, of feel like general never ending menstrual cramps, or anything in between. Don’t expect anything, and you won’t be surprised.
11. You will not know when it is going to happen. Every time you feel like the baby about to come, it probably isn’t. Every time labour picks up a little steam, the baby is not about to come. The baby only arrives when the baby is good and ready.
12. Birth complications are terrifying and you will feel helpless. Doctors and nurses will be hesitant to give you definite answers. When hospital staff check vitals or labour progress and pause before speaking, the heavy weight of those silences will crush you. You will know that something isn’t right immediately and you will have no power to do anything about it.
13. You will not know what worry is until your wife and unborn child are in danger. The fear of something happening to my wife and child were the scariest things I have ever encountered. Even after a few days of parenting now, I know that the extra caution you take while driving with a newborn on board, or the heart-skipping-a-beat moments when you sleepily almost lose your grip on a squirming baby are one thing. But knowing that if circumstances don’t change, as in some kind of extreme medical intervention i.e., C-Section, and the two most important people in your life are in grave danger, is entirely another level of worry.
14. You will never be as grateful for a baby’s crying than at birth. Standing behind the OR screen, with your wife, waiting for the doctors to pull that baby out is an indescribable moment. You only get to be there once, and you only get to feel that feeling with those three people once. Once is enough to last a lifetime.
For Courtenay and I, it had been 48 hours of waiting and labour before we finally got to meet our baby. Forty-eight of the most difficult, tiring, hard hours of our entire lives. But a healthy recovering wife and a healthy and beautiful baby boy was worth every moment of fear, concern, worry, sleeplessness. To see my amazing wife through the whole ordeal only makes me love her all that much more. And today, I look at the little miracle baby that finally emerged from the chaos and I cannot help but feel like Mufasa from the Lion King.