Me and my kiddo

Me and my kiddo

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Father Memories

As I was considering topics for this week's post, I thought of something that I wish I'd supported more, capturing father memories.  Mostly, I have pictures that I've taken and many documents I've written (tool) which show my marvelous husband in the father role.  But, after my son was born, I asked my husband to write up his memories.  I read it again this week and it's so endearing to me because of its distinctive aspects that I recognize as characteristic of my husband.  It's the report of an engineer.  It's precise.  It's exact.  It's so different from my writing and so powerfully him :)  I'm wondering about ways to record more of these moments for my son.  I suggested writing a letter each year at my son's birthday that just mentioned what my husband likes most about being a father and about my son.  My husband is considering that idea, but I'm certainly interested in other brief, thought-capturing options that others have found effective.  Please do share in the comments if you have a tool / technique that's worked for you :)

So, without further ado, and if you're up for a birthing story, here is my husband's account:

Andrew's Memories 
Rachel's labor began while she was sleeping at about 02:35 on 10/10/2003 when her water broke.  Apparently, Cameron had done something unusually vigorous which simultaneously broke the amnionic sack and woke Rachel up.  After a few minutes of gushing, she turned and woke me up as well. 
After a few minutes of consideration, we decided to call the hospital and figure out what their policy was.  We'd figured that they would probably want us to come in, but we hoped that we could get a few more hours of sleep first.  Alas, they wanted us to come in soon, but said that we could take our time.  Rachel got up and showered while I packed a bag of things to take with us.  As we prepared, Rachel's contractions were rather mild and between two and ten minutes apart.  Finally, at about 03:45, we left for the hospital. 
At this point, I was feeling pretty excited and confident that things were going according to plan.  I knew that with her water broken, the doctors would to want her to deliver in less than 24 hours, and I was rather excited at the prospect that before the day was out, I would meet my son.  Rachel's calmness greatly quieted my own nervousness as we drove to nearby Providence Centralia Hospital in Centralia, Washington. 
Naturally, when we arrived at the hospital, things were pretty quiet.  There was one other couple in the emergency room, and nary a hospital person around.  After a few minutes, an admitting person showed up and called down to the Family Birth Center.  A few minutes later, we were shown into room 129 and began the process of getting settled in. 
On our arrival, the unit was nearly full, and so our first nurse was soon relieved by Jodi, a short, blond, middle-aged nurse who proceeded to guide us though the sign-in paperwork.  Very soon, the questions were asked and answered, vital signs taken, and Rachel was hooked up to the Maternal/Fetal Monitor (a device with measures the fetus' heart rate and the mother's contractions). The waiting had begun. 
At this point, Rachel and I chatted about various things and passed the time.  We both marveled on a number of occasions at how quickly the time was passing.  Rachel's contractions weren't severe, and it seemed as though things were progressing well. 
Around the change-of-shift, our nurse came in and said that she'd probably hand us off to another nurse, and thus we were introduced to our third nurse, Karen.  Karen was a tall, stocky, friendly woman who at once seemed very eager to help and was all business.  She was to be our nurse for the full day-shift: until 18:30. 
Having contacted the obstetrician (OB), she told us that Rachel's regular doctor, Dr. Yarter, was unavailable and that Dr. Demun was the doctor on call.  With much foresight, Rachel had scheduled one of her previous OB appointments with Dr. Demun (knowing that he was Dr. Yarter's back-up), and she found him to be extremely easy-going and pleasant if a bit rough with his Leopold Maneuvers (at type of pre-natal examination). 
It was about this point when Rachel got off the monitor and had her first vaginal exam. Rachel found this particularly uncomfortable, and I did the best I could to comfort her.  The nurse declared that she was about 2cm and 70% effaced. (The cervix, the opening from the uterus to the vagina, is normally several centimeters long and is completely closed.  During labor, it must reduce in length to paper-thin and open to 10cm.  The contractions serve to perform this function, and you can well imagine that it's not very comfortable). 
After the exam, Rachel was taken off the monitor and allowed to walk about.  We began what was to be a very common sight in the hospital over the next hours: Rachel and I walking along the hallways, stopping occasionally while Rachel had another contraction.  During these contractions, we would face each other, and she would place her head on my chest and sway back and forth. Meanwhile, I would massage her arms, shoulders or head.  When it was over, we'd simply continue down the hall. 
After a few hours, we returned to the room where Rachel got out the birthing ball (a rubber ball about three feet in diameter which is sturdy enough for an adult to sit upon), and tried it out. At first, she tried bouncing on it vertically, but found that this wasn't terribly helpful. After a bit of consideration, she tried simply bouncing very gently, and rocking back and forth during contractions. This was nearly as good as walking/swaying, and it allowed her to get off her feet. 
This was the pattern for most of her labor. She'd get an exam, use the birthing ball while she was hooked up to the monitor for a half-hour, and we'd head out walking for a few hours when she was done.  Eventually, we'd head back to the room to start things over again. The nurse, Karen, conducted the exams and got Rachel set up with the monitor, but Rachel did quite a bit of adjustment while peeking at the strips. 
For the first two-thirds of the labor (about 12 hours) we remarked about how quickly the time seemed to pass. Just thinking that we'd meet our son pretty soon, and the excitement of the situation seemed to make things go quickly for both of us. Rachel was dealing well with her contractions, and had figured out several techniques to make contractions bearable. I was focused exclusively on what Rachel needed and helping her though every contraction. Rachel made sure that I ate (sometimes extra trays of hospital food, sometimes stuff bought in the cafeteria) even though she wasn't hungry (not that they would have let her eat, anyway). 
The first exam at 4 AM showed her at about 2cm, 70% effaced, with Cameron in -2 station (the relative position of the baby's head to the mother's pubic bone. Negative numbers are above the pubic bone, 0 is lined up exactly, and +4 is the position at birth). Early on, Dr. Demun floated the idea of giving pitocin (a drug with induces contractions) which I knew was definitely not in Rachel's plan. She very politely refused the offer. This did, however, plant a certain amount of urgency to the labor... she was quite certain that she didn't want any intervention which wasn't absolutely necessary! Throughout the day, she made progress with effacement, but very little progress with dilation; she was only dilated to 3cm by her 15:00 check, but she'd gotten to 95% effaced and Cameron had settled down to a 0 station. We were somewhat disappointed by this news, but we kept hopeful that things were still moving in the right direction. The specter of intervention loomed larger... 
The next two hours proved to be the hardest part for me. By this point, I'd been helping Rachel for quite a few hours on little sleep and little food.  My back was terribly sore, and I just wanted to lay down for a bit. However, there's very rightly little sympathy for my part in all this, and I kept on giving Rachel all the help I could despite my own discomfort; she certainly had much more claim to sympathy than I! We spent most of this time in the room with Rachel on the birthing ball with me sitting or standing in front or behind her. For a while, we'd just rest our heads on each other's shoulders between contractions and sleep for the few minutes we had. 
My most frightening moment happened during this time as well. Rachel was on the sitting on the birthing ball hooked up to the monitor, and I was sitting directly in front of her on a stool.  We were both exhausted, and Rachel was getting some fitful sleep between contractions by resting on my chest.  I happened to be facing the monitor, and having been taught by such an expert as my wife, was able to interpret the squiggles as the state of our son. After one contraction, as I watched the machine, I could see his heart rate start to slip (one of the primary signs of trouble is a deceleration of the fetal heart rate after a contraction).  Starting at a normal and healthy 130, it starting falling by bits... 120, 110, 100, 90, 70...  I was getting starting to feel tinges of panic; should I wake Rachel and cause her the same panic? Should I call the nurse? How could I do so without waking Rachel?  Just as I was getting to the point of jumping up, the nurse flew into the room and proceeded to take charge of the situation.  Changing positions and getting Rachel moving around again produced a dramatic improvement as the baby's heart rate jumped back up to where it belonged. After a while longer on the monitor, he showed all the signs of recovery and no ill effects. Whew! Rachel says that such events - while potentially dangerous if left unchecked - are quite common, and most women experience them at some point during labor. Well, common or no, it sure got my adrenaline going! 
The next exam at around five o'clock showed Rachel dilated to 5cm and at 100% effaced. Finally, some progress! Dr. Demun had turned up shortly after this particular exam and was quite pleased with this turn of events. He said that pitocin was probably not going to be necessary, but that if she went beyond 18 hours (20:35) it would be advisable to give her some IV antibiotics. This was yet another step that Rachel wanted to avoid, and yet another incentive to keep with it! 
After the doctor and nurse left, Rachel's contractions took a definite turn. They became a little further apart, but much more powerful. Change of shift came and went, and we were introduced to our new nurse.  Denise was somewhat shorter than Karen, and more petite. Her ready smile and pixie-like features reminded me very strongly of one of our friends from Connecticut, Kim Turner. And although our previous nurse had done a great job, Denise's extremely caring attitude was very welcome. 
Shortly before 19:00 we took a short trip down to the cafeteria to get me some dinner. When we got back, it was time for another exam, and this time she was 10cm and fully effaced! Time to get down to business! 
At this point, I remember feeling a huge surge of adrenaline... In just a short while I'd meet my son! Rachel seemed to take the news considerably more calmly as she was still very focused on pain management and just getting through everything.  I think she was at least a little excited, though. 
With a flurry of activity, and due to the change of shift a new nurse, Denise, the room was prepared for delivery.  Out went the normal chairs and tables; in came the doctor's table with all the tools of his trade.  A birthing bar, a simple padded, metal tube, was placed across the bed to allow Rachel to kneel during the pushing stage, and Rachel clambered up on the bed. The stage was set. 
For the next few contractions, Rachel valiantly tried to push while kneeling on the bed. This was a definite change in difficulty as Rachel now had to really focus on that area instead of thinking about something else. After a few contractions and deliberate efforts to push, Denise sagely noted that Rachel really wasn't making the kind of progress she should. Aptly suggesting that Rachel may be better off lying on her back, something she'd wanted to avoid, she managed to convince Rachel that it really would be a better option. Gingerly, and with considerable skepticism, Rachel lay back and took on the next few contractions. Sure enough, Denise knew her stuff, and Rachel made very noticeable progress in the new position. Before too long, Dr. Demun arrived fully scrubbed and dressed in medical garb. 
By this point, one could see the crown of Cameron's head when Rachel pushed, but he slid out of view when she stopped. With Dr. Demun present, Rachel continued her amazing performance.  Before too long, the head remained in view whether she was pushing or not, and eventually one could see more and more. 
Rachel's true grit really began to show as the baby descended lower toward his ultimate destination. One began to clearly see Rachel's body bulge and stretch as he came closer and closer. Though it all, Rachel kept her cool, but was very clearly in great pain and distress. While not quite able to speak more than a word or two distinctly, she communicated volumes in determination and self-control as she panted, grunted, and strained though the contractions. Never once did she begin to lose her focus, and with miraculous self-control, she forced herself to relax and go limp between contractions. 
In what seemed like only a few moments, but was really the better part of a half-hour, Cameron was born. First, one could only see the abundant growth of dark, curly hair on the back of his head. Then, after a mighty push and a loud, rumbling groan, one could see his head up to the eyebrows. With another push, he was clear up to the neck, and the nurse cleared his airways with a suction bulb. Another push and a little tactical assistance from Dr. Demun cleared one shoulder, then another, and then in one swift motion Cameron was drawn out into the light! 
Relief, amazement, joy, and a dozen other emotions fought for dominance as Cameron's body dangled in the air before me. I don't think I'll ever forget that first sight of my son. Though it was only a second, that moment will be etched in my mind forever. Within moments, I had cut the cord, and he was placed on Rachel's bared chest and covered with a blanket. For long moments we were both too stunned to do much more than just stare at the new arrival. The placenta was delivered nearly as an afterthought, and Dr. Demun started to repair the few minor tears Rachel had suffered.  Meanwhile, the nurse had taken Cameron and had started to weigh, measure and otherwise perform the first few necessary care items. Once the first few of these was done, she handed him to me. 
When the nurse placed that neatly wrapped bundle in my arms, and he looked up at me, it just felt right. Despite previous feelings of uneasiness holding small babies, holding my own son seemed very natural and easy. As I held him and walked about the room, Dr. Demun continued to repair Rachel's wounds while she chatted easily with him about a number of light topics. I joined in after a while, and finally the mess was cleared away, Cameron placed on a warmer, and Rachel's bed was once again converted to a place for sleeping with a nicer mattress for Rachel's bed and a roll-away cot for me. 
Once the room had been fully converted back into a sleeping chamber, the nurse returned to determine that Cameron had sufficiently warmed up to take a bath.  I decided to film the bath, and once I was ready, the started to unwrap him... and he immediately began to pee all over her! One gets the impression that this wasn't the first time since she took everything with good humor and merely proceeded to give his bath. Once finished, he was wrapped up and placed in the bassinet, and after a little while talking, Rachel and I decided to call it a day. 
In hindsight, one must admit that the experience wasn't nearly so bad as I had expected.  Certainly, it was very difficult, long, and trying (and that was just my side of things!), but overall, the stories one hears were much worse than our experience. I have to say that Rachel's neigh-heroic bravery made the difference. Through each contraction, she simply focused her mind on what she needed to do and never faltered. She had her plan and persevered through it all. I knew my wife to be an amazing person, but I have never personally witnessed such resolve and determination. And it is that strength, purpose and resolve that makes me love her as much as I do. 

New daddy and son, shortly after the finale at 8:35pm

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