Terra sat up in bed around midnight. “Fuck, I feel itchy.”
Darci shook her head violently and her ears flapped like paper caught in a box fan. I forced my eyes open. I managed to square my mind enough to see Terra’s pregnant shadow reach for the old brass doorknob in the half-light of the moon creeping past the thick red curtains. She tuggged once, tugged again, and tugged harder still, until BANG! The vacuum released and light poured into the room. I drifted away again.
At 1:50 a.m. Terra was shaking my arm saying... something... what? I can’t hear focus... OH SHHHHIIITTTTTT!! I jumped from the bed and ran to the living room. The room was full of glass shelves and table edges. The carpet was a dirty white, dulled by footprints and dogs. I looked at Terra.
“I’m having really bad stomach cramps… get down Darci… GET DOWN!!!"
“They are contractions Terra,” I uttered mechanically. I grabbed Darci by her collar and pulled her off of the couch. “We need to go to the hospital right now.”
“I don’t think they are contractions,” Terra sneered.
“Terra, you are a week overdue… come on.”
After a lengthy discussion, she begrudgingly agreed to get ready, but made it clear she would NOT be hurrying. Over an hour later, she had finally finished putting her make-up on and lint-brushing her sweater. (WHO IN THE HELL LINT BRUSHES THEIR SWEATER WHEN THEY ARE IN LABOR?!!) Every couple of minutes she was doubling over in pain. My nerves were tattered as I tried (unsuccessfully) not to appear impatient and hostile as I ushered her into the car. She rolled her eyes.
We dropped our big Boston Terrier, Petey, off at Jo’s house, just down the street from the hospital and I took every turn like an Earnhardt. Into the emergency room parking lot, and out like a loaded spring to open Terra’s door. I held her arm as we (or I) rushed up to the labor and delivery unit. It was 3:30 a.m.
A nurse guided us into a delivery room, and they checked Terra’s dilation and and took some other stats as I paced. Terra continued having contractions so I remembered from our birthing class that I should hold her hand.
The minutes ticked by into hours.
By 7 a.m., Terra has realized that she had no idea what a bad contraction was until right then. She screamed and screamed and looked downright confounded. From 7 to 9:30 a.m., Terra howled in pain. At 10 she decided that she was wrong about the whole natural childbirth thing since this kid was obviously coming out sideways. She said "maybe I WILL have the epidural" sort of casually, in the same way she would say "maybe I WILL have another margarita."
It had slowly become apparent that SOMETHING was not quite right. She had contractions that didn't stop, a couple that go on for a full 5 minutes. After some tests, Dr. Sa quietly says “the baby seems stuck slightly sideways.” (Holy shit, this kid really WAS coming out sideways!! So much for my tension-lightening jokes!) When they attempted to reposition Terra, Mason’s heart rate dropped and Terra was told to remain on her back.
The contractions became longer and more painful, but she was not progressing very quickly. Fear emanated from my face, and Terra returned it with side-glances.
I exited the delivery room occasionally to let our extended family know that we still don’t know anything.
When Dr. Sa returned to check on Terra, he informed us there has been some meconium expulsion (according to Wikipedia "Meconium is the earliest stools of an infant... and unlike later feces, is viscous and sticky like tar"), which means that the baby could be in distress and might have inhaled it. More tests were done. It was determined that the baby was okay for now, but that Terra should be prepped for an emergency C-section, you know, just in case. (WHY DIDN'T WE PAY ATTENTION TO THE C-SECTION BIT DURING BIRTHING CLASS?!! Oh yeah, because were were going all-natural, and the child was going to be born after exactly 3 hours of labor.)
“Please, please, please,” I heard myself chanting. The nurse in the room assigned me the task of removing all of Terra’s jewelry. I didn't realize it, but while removing her necklace, I accidentally pulled out her epidural. (Where were you on THAT one, Birthing Class?)
At 5 p.m., Dr. Sa finally gave Terra the go-ahead to begin pushing. After an hour of this, he looked at her and said, “you can continue pushing for as long as you like, but there has been no progress with the baby. At this point, a C-section is looking more and more likely.” Terra glared at him, angry, horrified and teary. He stuttered “b-b-but that isn’t to say you can’t try for as long as you like, as long as the baby’s vitals are in good shape.”
Terra, never one to want to deviate from a set plan, decided to keep pushing. She was in an incredible amount of pain, but kept at it for another 3 hours. (This is a woman I have often seen near-weeping over losing a specific table pen). She was unable to writhe and could not turn her body. She had to lie there, motionless with the only outlet for her pain being her violent facial expressions. I felt inadequate and unprepared. I held her hand and tried to shuffle my jean jacket on with my free hand. "WHY ARE YOU PUTTING YOUR JACKET ON?!! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!!! KEEP. YOUR JACKET. OFF!!!!!!" I did as I was told.
At 8 p.m., Dr. Sa walked in and informed Terra that there still has been very little progress. He asked us if we would like a moment to talk to each other alone about a C-section. Terra nodded, with her hair matted to her neck and her eyes swollen and crusty with tears.
I did NOT want to let Terra see my eagerness to get into the operating room. I mean, self-preservation is important. I sat with her, quietly.
“What do you think?” she asked between contractions.
“It seems like its inevitable, but it’s totally up to you. What do you want to do?”
“Well, I guess I don’t have a choice.” She looked defeated. I felt like crying. And I was REALLY pissed about that worthless birthing class.
I walked out into the hallway to signal the nurse. “I guess she’s ready for the C-section.”
Quickly, there were nurses and Dr. Sa in our room. He explained what they were going to do. She would be taken down to the operating room. She would be given a local anesthetic in her back. After that, she would be given a spinal. They would shave her privates and set up a sterile environment. At that point, I would be able to join her. I was handed a mask, hairnet, footies that would cover my chucks and scrubs. A nurse, prepared to lead Terra down the hall, loudly proclaimed: “No wonder you are in so much pain. Your epidural is not all the way in!”
I realized, instantly, that I was the reason that Terra had been in so much pain. I guess that's one way to ensure you do it naturally: marry a proactive idiot. Not being a COMPLETE idiot, I chose to not to broach that subject at that particular moment. I stumbled backwards into the bathroom to put on the scrubs. I had an awful time getting the footies over my shoes with shaking hands. I stepped out of the bathroom and asked a nurse for help. Terra was already gone.
Once the covers were placed over my shoes, I was pointed down the hall and told to stop just short of the operating room doors. There were some chairs there. I should sit and wait there for further direction. What was I, a covert operative?
I sat and cried, exhausted and frightened. “Please, please, please,” I repeat.
Twenty minutes went by (I know this because there was a clock on the wall, probably deliberately located so that expectant horrified fathers could listen to watch and listen to the ticktock of time going backwards) The double doors, at long last, swung open.
“You can come with me,” said a masked nurse. I was led around to Terra’s head. There were sterile barriers constructed from Terra’s neck down so that I couldn't see her belly. I was relieved. I sat down and kissed her forehead. Her eyes were wet and panicked. I reached for her hand.
“Okay, you’re going to feel some pressure,” Dr. Sa said.
I heard the buzz of a cutting instrument, a horrible “squish squish”, and a loud suctioning sound.
And then, the greatest audio experience of my life. I heard Mason wail.
The sound sliced up my spine and stiffened my body. I was breathless with a gushing love, like Niagra Falls, only you know, supersized. I was in love with him before I even saw him.
“Here he is!” someone said.
I turned around and saw him. He was bright red and wriggling. His head was elongated into a cone-shape from the 3 hours of being crammed into a birth canal. Dr. Mo, a pediatrician, suctioned out his lungs. “You can come on over,” he said.
“Is he alright? Is his head alright?” I listened to myself.
“Yeah,” Dr. Moore laughed, “just keep a hat on him for a day or two.”
Mason was born at 8:44 p.m. Exactly 20 hours and 52 minutes after labor began. Mason Henry Childers. As I stared at him, I lost time. I did not collapse or black out, but 20 minutes actually disappeared as I locked my eyes on him. The first half-hour of his life was... indescribable. For one thing, I couldn't believe there was now another person in the room! The love continued gush mercilessly. I was washed away in it. It felt, literally, like a miracle.
The operating room nurses cleaned him up, and finally, they handed him to me. I walked over to Terra, crying. She was also crying, exhausted. “Is he okay?” she asked. I nodded and kissed her forehead. She was shaking, shaking, shaking.
“Dad,” Dr. Mo said to me, “do you want to take him down to special care nursery, or do you want to stay with mom?”
I followed Mason as they wheeled the entire contraption he was on out the door and down the hall. When the doors swung open to the lobby, I saw our family, their red eyes glowing and their breaths sucked in. I put a thumb in the air, and Mason was wheeled into the nursery. I followed and stared. Someone informed me that they would need to get something called "an Apgar score," so I backed awat and into the arms of my mother. I pulled my mask back and we sobbed. My father sobbed. Ka sobbed. Terra’s father hugged me. Je hugged me. Relief washed through the lobby.
“Where’s Terra?” Her mom asks, impatiently. Oh yeah!! Her!! Crap.
I ran back through the swinging doors, and Terra was just outside the operating room, lying flat on her back on a hospital bed. Her shoulders were convulsing and her face was twitching.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I can’t stop shaking."
A nurse nearby heard us and offered to give Terra something that would help with the shaking and the pain. “It is hormones,” she said. She put something in Terra’s I.V., and she was wheeled off to a recovery room, as I scampered behind. Within moments, Mason was brought to us, slightly squirming and alive. I took him and placed him on Terra’s chest. She was drugged and smiling now, and she touched his head. I leaned over her, and I was crying again now (good GOD, I hadn't cried like this since I was in single digits.) Tired and ragged, we three were a family. A family.