Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Duchess - The Birth Story

Well hello Ask Your Dad readers! A little context is needed for this post. I wrote it a long time ago, before Ask Your Dad was even a thought in the back of my mind. It is my half of Duchess's birth story. The first half, written by Stevie, has been lost to time. It basically said that she ate spicy Italian food, got a belly ache, and it turned out she was in labor. We went to the hospital, walked around for an hour to help labor progress, and then she was admitted to the hospital. She wrote it much more eloquently than that, I promise. Anyway...

The following is an accounting of Duchess's birth. It was written April 9, 2011. My wife first requested that I write it in September of 2010. I hope you enjoy it.   

Love, Dad (John)
Duchess's "going home" outfit. Taken the night Stevie went into labor. 

Duchess - The Birth Story

Excuses or “Have your started your part of the story yet?”

I know. I know. I have been putting this off for too long. Stevie kindly asked me to write the second half of Duchess’s birth story a while ago and I have been procrastinating ever since. The reasons for the delay, as relayed to my wife, have been as follows:

  • I’m tired.
  • I’ll do it later.
  • But honey, that one show that we like is on right now.
  • I’m tired.
  • I’m not in a writing mood.
  • Oooh look, something shiny.

All of those were glossy, vague excuses meant to hide the real reason I haven’t written the second half of the Duchess birth story. Fact is, while it would be easy for me to tell a fly-on-the-wall version of the story depicting myself as the smiling, eager and optimistic father to be, it wouldn't be honest. And while the story has an incredibly happy ending that all of you get frequent adorable pictures of, I have been hesitant to tip-text through the endless hours that led to Duchess’s birth out of the very selfish notion that I am incredibly hesitant to open that box of emotions. See, I was scared shitless. I’m not ashamed of this, or afraid of people finding out. I just haven’t had the emotional fortitude to relive it in my own words. Until now. 

Stevie’s patience with my delay has run out, and the consequences of any further delay now greatly outweigh the emotional perils of writing the second half of Duchess’s birth story. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that Stevie has threatened to withhold something very precious to me until the blog is completed. So here we go…

Waiting or “You’re still at a 7”

So, Stevie already told you about the first part. The drive to the hospital and the nervous, exciting tension that led to the nurse saying we were going to have a baby were spectacular. The 21 hours that followed were a slowly escalating descent into madness, but instead of finding a sweaty Marlon Brando at the end… we got an adorable baby! (Side note: Can you have an “escalating descent”?)

OK, it wasn't that bad. But here’s the thing. Every time I've been to the hospital to visit someone who’s had a baby, they talk about how easy it was and how the little one just popped right out in a few hours. That didn't happen with us.

After the nurse told us we were going to have a baby that night, they moved Stevie into a delivery room, laid her in her magic, inflatable bed, and equipped her with two separate heart monitors. They displayed Duchess and Stevie’s heart beats on an electronic monitor with two jagged lines, one blue, one red. These rising and falling lines would become my personal obsession for the remainder of the pregnancy. Every gradual rise of the red line (Stevie) would indicate a coming contraction (not what they play before movies) and my hand holding job would commence. Every slight, and later not so slight, dip of the blue line (Duchess) would add another pound of worry to the growing dread lump in my chest.

This went on for a while. Things were progressing slower than "average", so per the advice of one of the doctors, they broke Stevie’s water and gave her some drugs to make the contractions come faster. Stevie also had an epidural put in, which dramatically helped with the pain. Things fell into a rhythm. I watched the heart rate monitor. The red line would start to rise. I’d inform Stevie that a contraction was coming. Stevie’s belly would tighten up to the consistency of a bowling ball. It wouldn't really hurt, according to Stevie, because of the epidural. It would pass. I would kiss Stevie on the forehead and return to my little stool in front of the heart rate monitor.

Every few hours a nurse would come in and check how Stevie was progressing. We’d wait eagerly to hear the dilation number, and sink back into our chairs when it wasn't as high as we expected. The nurse would cheerfully tell us that she’d be back to check in another couple hours, leave the room, and the cycle would begin again with the synthetic tick of Duchess’s heart-beep carrying us slowly through the darkness.

Sunrise on Duchess's first day on earth.

Brief Interjection or “Quit being a whiny little bitch John, you weren't the one pushing a baby out of your vagina.”

OK. Having read back over the last few paragraphs, and knowing what is coming, I think I need to lighten the mood and clarify a few things.

First, this was not all gloom and doom. The night was a very exciting and loving experience. From the second the nurse told us we were staying to have a baby we were elated with excitement. Our excitement factor was at a 10. We joked around with our nurse, and laughed a lot. The sense of teamwork in the room was amazing, and there were a lot of positive things going on. I don’t want anyone to think that this was a horrible experience. It wasn't, by any means. I was just really, really scared.

Second, I am writing a lot about how I felt during this whole experience. I hope this isn't coming across as whiny. I fully acknowledge that Stevie did all the heavy lifting during our stay in the birthing room. My job was to smile, be encouragingly optimistic, and tell Stevie what a great job she was doing. I did that, and like I said earlier, I could write that story. I just don’t think it would be as honest, or readable.

Pushing or “When is our doctor getting here?”

Stevie’s mom and sister arrived at some point during all of this. Since the time in the room kind of blended together in my head, I’m not quite sure when they arrived. It was sometime after midnight, and before sunrise on the next day. They were wonderfully helpful and encouraging. Candice, Stevie’s sister, worked as an informational liaison between our room and our family members that were slowly accumulating in the waiting room. As each new family member arrived, visitor passes were swapped and those who had come to lend their support came in and visited for a few minutes. The visitors helped to break up the plodding monotony of the "contraction, nurse, disappointing number" cycle. Before we knew it, Stevie had dilated to a number worthy of pushing, and the end (beginning) seemed near. Seemed.

Pushing meant we got a new nurse. She was a very kind and encouraging blonde lady whose confidence over the next 8 hours probably kept me from having a complete mental breakdown. Our doctor had popped his head in the night before and that morning, but since Stevie's progression was so slow he went back to his practice to see some patients and promised he’d be back in time to deliver the baby.

Now it was time to push and he had yet to arrive. This seemed strange to me. I was under the impression that once Stevie started pushing, Duchess would just pop right out and we’d be good to go. The Pushing Nurse (not an official title) assured us that it was OK to start pushing and our OB would be arriving soon.

It turned out that the pushing part of the night was very similar to the waiting part of the night. The difference was that instead of the slow rise of Stevie’s heart rate leading to a tightening of her stomach and a sweet kiss on the forehead, it now lead to a grunting guttural scream followed by gasping sobs. AND THEN a kiss on the forehead. This went on for awhile. Dr. Roth, Stevie’s OB, would periodically call and check on Stevie’s status, and continued to promise he’d come running as soon as he was needed.

Progress was slow and frustrating. Duchess’s heart rate would start to dip a little more, and I would notice the nurse clench her teeth when looking at the monitor. Externally she was a smiling bundle of confidence, but I knew that things were going slower than they should. I asked what the extended time meant, and to her credit, she was very honest about the time table we were dealing with. Births that take more than 24 hours after the water breaking were very risky for both Mothers and Babies. We were closing in on 20 hours and every time Duchess’s little heart beat line dipped, I held my breath until it came back up again.

Stevie was amazing. She never complained. Not once. When it was time to push, she pushed. She clenched her jaw, squeezed my hand, and pushed so hard her head would vibrate. Every once in awhile a tear would work its way out the corner of her tightly closed eye, but It was more like water squeezed from a stone than the water works I was holding back. My girl is tough. Still, as more and more time passed, and we still weren't any closer to holding our daughter, I could tell that she was even more worried than I was. We were smiling at each other, but our eyes told a different story. We were at the end of our ropes. We were exhausted. And then Dr. Roth walked in, clapped his hand together, and said “OK, Let’s have a baby!”

OK, let’s have a baby! or “What the $%!# have we been doing for the last 24 hours?!

Dr. Roth is a Doctor’s Doctor. He was referred to us by Stevie’s primary care physician. During Stevie’s prenatal appointments Dr. Roth’s no-nonsense demeanor was at times off-putting and at other times down right disturbing. During one appointment Dr. Roth related a story to us about one of his patients who refused an episiotomy and experienced a tear up the middle of her clitoris. He then looked me directly in the eyes and said “That would be like if I tore the head of your penis in half.” I shuttered, permanently damaged by something I could never, ever un-hear. He laughed and asked if Stevie was keeping up on her prenatals. 

All was immediately forgiven when Dr. Roth walked into the delivery room. He sat down and had a quick, frank, and highly appreciated discussion with us. Duchess needed to come out as soon as possible. She was showing signs of distress and was in danger. So was Stevie. He was here to save them both. Decisions needed to be made quickly. His clinical matter-of-factness, which he had previously terrified/disgusted me, was now a port in the storm. Our slightly creepy penis tearing doctor was here to save the day. I could hug the guy.

The plan was presented very clearly. Due to the fact that Stevie has a larger than normal tailbone, Dr. Roth informed us that it was unlikely Stevie would be able to get Duchess out on her own. (Something they maybe could have noticed hours before…) He wanted to try assist Duchess out with a vacuum extractor, and if that didn't work he would perform a cesarean. We immediately agreed and he ordered the vacuum doohickey to be brought in.

The next part was rather graphic. I don’t want to go into too many of the traumatizing details, but there are couple things you should know about the vacuum extractor.

1. It didn't work.
2. It is not gentle.

About the not gentle part, I’m serious. It was not gentle. It hurt Stevie. A lot. She cried. I cried. It was absolutely horrible.

Dr. Roth finished the last attempt and said that it was time for the cesarean. We agreed. I looked back at Stevie and could tell she wanted to say something, but she was trying too hard not to cry to even open her mouth. I held her hand and told her everything was going to be OK.

“I’m so sorry,” she stuttered in increasingly fatigued sobs. And when I realized that it wasn't the pain that had broken her down, but the feeling of defeat, I began to sob too.

Cesarean or “Holy shit! I can see your guts.”

The sob session was just what we needed. After we cried it out everything kind of just went numb. It was business time. I changed into surgical scrubs and Stevie got a new special "C-Section edition" epidural. Everything went quickly from there. They wheeled Stevie into the operating room. I stood up near her head and watched the surgery from there.

Everything was so meticulous! From the way a one of the doctors put on Dr. Roth’s coat, to the way he approached the table. It was all so deliberate. It was all so calming.

I alternated between looking lovingly into Stevie’s eyes and then into her guts. Eyes, guts. Eyes, guts. The gore didn't bother me at all. It all felt very clinical. I just wanted to see our baby… and then…AND THEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


See! This is why I waited so long to write this. Now I’m crying… AND I’M AT WORK!!! My first thought was that she was huge. My second thought was how much she looked like Stevie. She had blonde hair and was perfectly pink and screaming. I babbled about how wonderful she was and told Stevie that she had the proper amount of finger and toes. Her eyes were wide open and she was looking right at me while they did all the immediate post birth things they do.

They wrapped her up and I carried her over to Stevie who was still strapped to the table while they put her guts back in. I held Duchess’s face close to Stevie’s and she met her daughter for the first time. She said hello and cried and kissed her forehead. I told her how proud I was of her and knelt down so we could all be on the same level. And there we were. Everything else in the room just faded into white noise while Duchess, Stevie and I hung out for the first time, breathing endless sighs of relief and getting ready to introduce our daughter to the world. Best. Day. Ever.

And now more pictures!!

Baby feet

Baby silly face

dad and baby

The Duchess - Week 1


  1. This was wonderful. I cried reading this, as I know the gut-plummet caused by a baby's dipping heart rate, and the feeling of drowning in defeat when the doctor says it is time for a c-section. This was my experience also. I hummed during the entire procedure, trying to get my mind out of my body. Then, there was a baby. Nothing else mattered.

  2. Ahhhhhhhhh-mazing. Great post, great story, great birth! WOW! I really need to write mine.