How my son was born

A month or so ago I made this blog to write about personal associations with songs, but after drafting a few posts I found I wasn’t really into it. That might’ve been due to the fact my wife and I were expecting a baby soon and my focus was primarily on that. Our son was born 10 days ago, on December 21st, and after the hectic first few days I wrote an email to the prenatal class we’d attended, describing the birth experience. The announcement to them was overdue and, since we were the first in the group to have a baby, I thought it might be useful to hear about how it went down. I was still under-slept and it felt really strange to be away from my son for the 90 minutes it took to type it out, so it might’ve been my still-crazy, or Natasha’s hormones, that inspired her to say, “This is intense, you should post it somewhere.” I don’t have Facebook or a tumblr, but I had this blog awaiting inauguration, so here’s the email:

To: (cc, etc)

Welcome Llewyn

(This is Aaron’s perspective. Natasha’s saw things a little differently but doesn’t yet feel she has it together enough to write it out).

As most of you know, because of a medical circumstance that predicts placenta malfunction after 38 weeks we went in Saturday December 20th for a scheduled induction. Prostaglandin was applied at 11:30 am and we went home and Natasha began having regular contractions at 2 or 3 pm and began early labour. In her memory Natasha treasures this time because it was when she got to experience the magic of labour often told about, but which she feared she would not experience due to the expected interventions. At 10pm we returned to the hospital for the second prostaglandin application, but this time was even more unpleasant for Natasha than the first application had been. She probably had lots of cortisol surge through her system at that time. We went home again and tried to recreate the magic from before, but the contractions changed and became longer and more painful and we became worried about the baby becoming fatigued so, early in the hours of the morning, we returned to the hospital where some of the main points of the birth plan were put aside to begin an intravenous pitocin drip, and non-stress monitors were hooked up, which Natasha found quite aggravating. We had to stay at the hospital from this point on, and unfortunately, despite other labour signs, the cervix still had not dilated yet at all. There was also a misunderstanding where the nurses told Natasha she was not allowed to eat, only clear fluids, and with the monitors and tubes dangling, there was not a lot we could do to make Natasha comfortable/oxytocin-conducive all day.

Now, about the doctors and nurses, some of them were good and others were not, but it wasn’t always a clear distinction about what was useful, and a lot of what the nurses did was just hitting systemized points. Debriefing about the experience later Natasha and I felt more ambiguous than we had previously about the whole medical versus natural childbirth camps. Basically we reminded ourselves that, through the annoyances, medical professionals do what they do because they don’t want anybody to get hurt, and the protocols, which can be viewed as oppressive/invasive, have been developed across hundreds of years to reduce mortality rates – it’s as basic as that. In other words science has been traumatized by mother and infant deaths and western medicine just wants everybody to be okay. But while we were going through it we didn’t really appreciate it from that perspective.

On Sunday evening, after a frankly awful day, we learned the cervix still had not opened and the obstetrician suggested Natasha go to sleep and we’d try it all again tomorrow. Natasha did not like that idea at all. She had not eaten, the contractions, now erratic, were still painful, and she was very stressed with the monitors hooked up. She did not expect to be able to sleep, but only become increasingly weary. And all of this was minor next to Natasha’s snowballing belief that active labour was not going to happen via induction at all. It was not that Natasha wanted a vaginal birth particularly, it was that she did not want an alienated birth experience, but she felt we were past that point now. She was hooked up to tubes and monitors and there were strangers all around and Natasha felt it was pointless to keep trying to simulate an idealized version of natural childbirth when it seemed to just keep getting weirder. She wanted to go with the plan from weeks before, when the baby was breach, and have a c-section. The o.b. seemed reluctant to advise a c-section, however – almost discouraging that course of action – and tried to redirect us toward what he maybe thought was our value hierarchy, vaginal birth being paramount. He advised we think about it and went away.

But Natasha had a gut feeling and was decisive and told a nurse to inform the doctors a c-section was what she wanted to do. We believed the stress from earlier had kicked a protective instinct into gear and she was not going to deliver any time soon, regardless of induction strategies. But of course we needed to deliver a.s.a.p, before it became unsafe for the baby to remain inside, so when the next o.b. came on shift we confirmed the c-section and began to prepare.

I have to say, I was really scared for Natasha and the baby at this point. Natasha says she was not afraid for herself and knew the baby was doing fine, and asks me to emphasize that caveat here, but I did not have her intuitive resolve. I had not slept either and there were emotional processes happening in me I had never felt before, and it was surreal with all these people around just doing their jobs. A couple of those people doing their jobs – the anesthesiologist and the nurse assigned to us who came on night shift – I had gratitude toward at the end of the day. The anesthesiologist was good interpersonally. He gave a clear picture of what to expect and two things he said became important: 1. Natasha might shake very badly from the medication, and 2. it would be extremely bright in the room. I am very glad he told us these things, because a short while later, after I waited in the hallway for what seemed hours but was actually about 30-40 minutes, unsure if my legs would work when it came time to stand, when the nurse came out and led me into the room, it seemed as bright and blinding as the sun would be if you flew stupidly into it. All I perceived was red and yellow, but the nurse said “Don’t touch anything blue” and guided me through the tables around to Natasha, who was indeed shaking, and I burst out crying.

Now I know a lot of attention was given in the prenatal class to how many people are in the room for a c-section, but my experience was that it was still incredibly intimate and beautiful for Natasha and I in those moments. I was glad every single person was in there, taking charge of their part of the task at hand so Natasha and I could just focus on each other in the vulnerability of it all. I had been resentful and actually quite angry at some of the people working in that hospital for 30+ hours, but in that room, they knew what they were doing and had it together and I was extremely grateful for all of them.

Llewyn Henry Golbeck was born at 10:04 pm Sunday December 21st. He weighed 10.2 lbs, and a lot of that was carried in his head and shoulders. As they delivered him, several attendants exclaimed “You made the right decision getting a c-section!” and indeed I think it would’ve been a real problem getting him out of there otherwise. We think maybe that is part of the reason the cervix was still closed – Llewyn’s head was too big to engage.

They gave Llewyn straight to me for skin-to-skin and I brought him down onto Natasha, and the nurse (who’d been moving my arms and legs, telling me what to do because I couldn’t figure out simple things for myself) took my phone from my pocket and snapped a picture of the moment (that is the the one you see in the birth announcement). Natasha and I cried with happiness and relief and then they led me and Llewyn over and checked over and weighed and measured him and I was never more than a few inches away, talking, sharing jokes and building rapport with my son while they sewed up his extraordinary mom.

We stayed in the hospital until Christmas day, which was a drag. Natasha was healing well and we would’ve left sooner, but Llewyn had high-intermediate bilirubin levels and was at risk for jaundice and they wanted him in a phototherapy bed, which they wheeled into our room. He hated it in that blue bed, though, and we didn’t put him in there often enough because we were busy holding him close, and they sent us home with a phototherapy blanket, which we didn’t use correctly either, and we returned it the next day after finding Llewyn’s bilirubin levels were moderating on their own. We still had to go back to Children’s a couple of more times and test his levels again to make sure the trajectory was continuing toward the normal range and today (December 29th) he was definitively cleared of the jaundice risk.

With the Christmas season these first days have brought all kinds of other considerations, and a piece of advice is don’t commit yourselves to a lot of visitors and family and friends at first. The nesting urge is very strong. And we find we don’t like a lot of people passing around our baby, never mind if they’re our parents or siblings. We just want to be alone with Llewyn bonding and focusing and loving him as we do more than we thought we were capable of loving anyone ever.

Anyway, that’s what happened in a nutshell. If anybody has any questions about it, I’m happy to answer more. A lot that was foggy seems clear to us now, as it will be to you all soon too.

Best of luck with your own birth experiences. We’re looking forward to your announcements.

And happy holidays too!


The photo the nurse took