The Birth of A Father
Last night Alicia, my partner of a year, lost her cervix plug. After furiously scouring Google and articles that relate to it, we took a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief. At the time she wasn’t feeling any contractions, and there was no flood of water. Most articles said that losing the plug could mean you were having a baby in a day or two weeks.
We went back to bed.
We both were hoping for an extended pregnancy. Hitting that 42-week mark seemed okay to us and Alicia would sometimes say, “I love being pregnant, I could go another 8 months.” In some ways, because our relationship was so new, I think we both wanted to wait as long as possible. Mother Nature, however, proved to have a plan of Her own.
This is probably a good place to describe how we envisioned our birth. Alicia and I are pretty progressive, and she wanted to have an all-natural birth. No drugs, no Pitocin, nothing but her and I and our Doula, Tina George Dawson. At one point we considered having a home birth, but due to cost we settled on Mad River Community Hospital’s Birthing Center. This hospital is as close to a home birth as you can probably get in the US.
We read up and did research on just about every type of birth out there, and scrutinized everything from Spiritual Midwifery to Birthing Without Violence. She wanted to have a natural experience. I, probably like most dads-to-be, wanted to have a healthy baby and partner when it was all over. Even so, I respected the choices Alicia made. She’s the most courageous person I know.
So, the next morning – Alicia being at 38 weeks – we head out to North Country Clinic for our weekly appointment. It’s interesting what you remember about a single day. The sun was shining on the far northern end of the California coast. The sky was washed in a sparkling blue and a small breeze was blowing across the pastures in our little town of Arcata.
Alicia had dressed up, and for the first time since I have known her, she wore earrings. The earrings were probably the only item she had that her Mother had given her. She had grown up in Montreal, Quebec and, like me, was an avid traveler. We both lived and traveled lightly. The earrings were a nice touch though, and because she’d never worn a pair, they stuck out in my mind.
We arrived at our appointment a bit late, but in a few minutes we were in a room waiting for Certified Nurse Midwife Ellen Drury. When Ellen arrived she asked all the standard questions and then asked how Alicia was feeling. I sat there and listened while Alicia told her that she was feeling great, her pregnancy had been easy by anyone’s standard. No morning sickness, no aches, nothing. I felt like I made out like a bandit. I thought about it throughout the pregnancy and as it went along I knew it wasn’t so much me getting lucky, but Alicia’s la joie de vivre. In any case, Alicia talked about everything but loosing her plug. I had to bring it up. I think, maybe, she was trying to block it out at the time. I can’t be sure but, — as I am know to do – I piped right up and said, “Hey, you should also mention you lost your plug last night.”
Ellen looked at me, then looked at Alicia and said, “Really?”
Alicia sheepishly, like she had just remembered, said, “Oh yeah, I think it all came out last night.”
Ellen told her to drop her pants so she could take a look at her cervix. Alicia did, hopped onto the table, and immediately her bag of waters broke.
With a quick cervical check she was 80 percent effaced and 2 centimeters dilated. No contractions. No pain whatsoever.
Ellen asked, “How long has this been happening.”
“It just happened,” Alicia replied.
“Well I think we should get an IV in you and start stimulating the labor.” Alicia was positive for Group B Strep so an IV was necessary for penicillin.
“What exactly do you mean by stimulate,” Alicia asked.
“We should do a Pitocin drip as well.”
This was not how we had planned things to go. Already the birth seemed to be going off plan so we told Ellen that we would head towards the birthing center for the IV. What we actually did was drive around to the back of the hospital into a field where a few horses were lazily grazing. One horse mounted another and I couldn’t help but think, “That’s how I got here, horse.”
We sat down and called our doula Tina, filled her in on what was happening, and she said she would be at the hospital in 45 minutes. We waited. Alicia had her first contraction. It seemed, to me, that it was all happening very quickly. I couldn’t wait to get the IV over with so we could go home and labor there for a while.
Tina showed up and calm reasserted itself in the moment. She agreed with us that we should get the IV and then get home until we were ready. We went in, checked in, and were sent to a triage room. It had been an hour and a half since Alicia’s bag of waters had broken.
I want to stop here for a minute to describe how important it was to have Tina with us. Through the entire process of our pregnancy, Tina asserted a sense of calm. She exuded calm like a force of nature. During labor she was our emissary and advocate to the hospital staff. She made sure they knew what we wanted, and Tina and the nurses worked seamlessly together. Whatever suggestions Tina made, I backed her 100 percent of the time. She played so many roles that day that I can’t list them all here, but afterwards I can’t imagine her not being there. We would have drowned.
In the triage room, while waiting for the penicillin to finish, Alicia’s contractions went from every ten minutes to every four. Her rest periods between contractions were filled with an increasingly intense pain in her lower back. Tina suggested that the baby might be in the posterior position.(As we discussed and processed after the birth, she told us that posterior births are extremely painful and usually last between 20 - 40 hours.) Ellen came in to check Alicia’s cervix again. She was 100 percent effaced and 5 centimeters dilated. It had been two and a half hours since she lost her water.
Tina said what we all were thinking. “I don’t think we are going home to labor.”
They transferred us to a birthing room, and Tina began to fill the tub with hot water. By this time Alicia’s back pain was worse than the contractions. Her contractions, and the supposed “resting places” in between, were excruciating. She didn’t cry out though, she spoke calmly, and when she did make any noise it was quiet moans, and the words “Okay, okay, okay”. It was as if she was giving acknowledgement and acceptance to whatever was happening.
I stood behind her and rubbed her lower back, squeezing her hips together. I didn’t speak through most of this process. I just rubbed her back, while she was in the tub, while she was on the bed, when the birthing tub came, when she was back on the bed.
One brief reprise from the serious vibe of the room came when the birthing tub arrived. We were not prepared. We had three bags at home full of things we would need, cameras and clothes, and especially swim trunks for me. I was just wearing a pair of jogging pants, with no underwear. The doctor asked me if I would be getting in the tub. I said yes, if no one in the room minded if I was naked. All I had was the sweat pants. The two nurses, Ellen and Tina all exchanged looks. This was obviously not something they dealt with, naked men, on a day-to-day basis. Normally it was just the birthing mother who was naked. Do you remember when your mom told you to always where clean underwear in case you were in an accident? I remembered it right then and thought it was sound advice.
Alicia was in the tub for an hour, and was fully dilated and ready to push. I sat behind her and rubbed her back, as I had for the last three hours, but she was not pushing well. She pushed a couple of times per contraction but it was hard for her because now her contraction period was her rest period from the lower back pain.
It was brutal watching her face contort and her mouth come open as the baby’s head slid painfully along her sacrum and lower spine. She later described it as two sumo wrestlers trying to pull her spine apart piece by piece. So we had to get her out of the tub and onto the bed. Tina and I spoke and agreed that the baby needed to come out so she could stop the pain. By this time she had been in labor for five hours.
For the next hour Alicia hung from a bar in a squat, pushed on all fours, but finally went into the tried-and- true method of sitting, grabbing her thighs and pushing for all she was worth. The baby’s head started to crown and her cries of anguish, though soft and muted, were like nails in my heart. I did this to her. I felt so responsible, and I started to cry. Tears streamed down my face as I watched the baby’s head come closer and closer to the surface, sink back, then come further still. I put my hand on Alicia’s shoulder and heart and cried as she tucked her chin and pushed. We had an incredible nurse named Erin who coached her through this last part like a champion basketball coach. Erin would say, “That’s it Alicia, half breaths, half breaths now push, push again, push again!” Alicia would cry out and push through gritted teeth.
And then she was here. Tears streamed down both of our faces, and I caught our daughter and pulled her tiny body onto her mother’s chest, skin-to-skin as we had been taught was so beneficial for the baby. Alicia glowed, and cried, and kissed her head and I held them both and cried some more. Tina ushered everyone out of the room for a few moments and we sat, not speaking, just staring at the life we created. I’m tearing up now recalling it all. To say it was life changing is a bit cliché, but it was. It changed my heart, my soul.
Alicia had gone through the fire, Tina would later say, with the kind of grace, passion and determination that’s a rarity in the birth room these days. I saw it on her face; she was a mother now. A beautiful example of what I wanted in my life. And then it all came crashing down.
Alicia was anemic through the pregnancy and was on iron supplements. I was wrapped in a sheet like a sarong, barefooted, when Ellen, Erin and Tina came back in to help Alicia birth the placenta. I hadn’t had a chance to change back into my sweat pants and just had time to throw on a t-shirt.
When the placenta came out Alicia bled. Then more blood came out, then some more and then more until I was standing in a pool of blood the size of a hula-hoop. The joyous chatty conversations were over and Ellen and Erin became all business. The smiling faces became poker faces. I was staring at my feet and all the blood and as I looked at the Ellen I knew something was wrong. I looked at Alicia as Tina took the baby.
She started having a seizure.
Her eyes rolled back in her head.
She passed out.
Her heart monitor dropped to 65 and her pulse jumped to 150.
I remember calling her name, over and over again as time stopped, and a third of her blood spilled onto the floor. They put in a catheter to drain her bladder so her uterus could shrink. They put fluids in her IV.
They gave her Pitocin to simulate contractions to shrink her uterus. So fast. Everything was happening so fast. I held onto her shoulder. My tears streamed and landed on Alicia’s chest. The baby cried in Tina’s arms. Tina had her hand on my shoulder. I had my hand on Alicia’s shoulder, creating a linked chain of energy from baby to mother.
And, in a moment I understood exactly, to the minute detail, what I had. What I was about to lose. I understood her value to me as a partner, as a person. I knew how much beauty, love and peace she shared with the world on a daily basis. I knew what she meant to me with no misunderstanding. She was my world.
Her eyes opened as her bladder drained. Her tongue was thick in her mouth as she tried to talk. She looked at me and tried to say, “Where’s the baby?” It came out slurred, like she was drunk.
“The baby is with Tina,” I said.
Ellen put her hand on me and said, “She’s going to be okay.”
I sat on the bed beside Alicia and wiped blood from my feet the tears from my face.
A week later Tina came to our home to check on our budding family. We sat and talked about the birth, and as we talked I realized the labor and birth was Alicia’s fire; her preparation and her transformation into motherhood. The thirty minutes afterwards was my birth into fatherhood. In those moments I understood just how important Alicia was to me.
The bar was set during those six hours of labor. Now I have a lifetime to prove I am worthy of what she went through.
Fiametta Orsola D’Entremont – “The Fire Bear Between the Mountains” – was born on May 21st at 9:20pm. We gave Fia, as we like to call her, Alicia’s Grandmother’s and Mother’s last names. When asked why I didn’t give her my last name, I answer:
“It was an easy choice. Women should be able to pass on their names to their daughters. This patriarchal world we live in is coming to a close, and it is time we honor our women and our mothers. Revere them whenever possible. What better way to start than a tradition of giving daughters their mother’s last name?”