When we first started thinking about getting pregnant, I always thought I would be the one who would be carrying the baby. After all, I have big birthing hips according to some, and I present as more feminine. However, after I got a full time job, we soon realized it would be more practical for Amber to try to get preggo. Actually, Amber was the one who announced it one day: “maybe I should be the one to have the baby.” She was freelancing at the time, her schedule was more flexible, and she wanted to see what her baby “would look like.” It was a good enough reason for me. In fact, I was somewhat relieved when the pregnancy actually happened that it wasn’t my body. I thought I would idolize her – oh, look! I want to be the next one preggo! Not so much. But that’s a different blog post altogether.
The weeks leading up to the birth were – in one word – uncomfortable. And not just for Amber. Not many non-preggo parents tell this story (aka “traditional husband role or THR” – again, another blog post), but there is something to be said for living with a pregnant person for 10 months. Namely, it’s stressful and hard and emotional and annoying. Yes, I respect the fact that it’s not my body pregnant, that the pregnant person obviously goes through more, of course. There is a certain sacredness surrounding the pregnant woman’s body – and transitions into the cult of motherhood immediately after birth (forget about the postpartum body, though. It’s taboo to try to support that).
In the end, Amber gained 30 pounds total, which apparently was a good range. We found out later that 1/3 of the weight was actually baby. She carried mostly in her stomach, so toward the end, she looked like she was going to tip over. We knew going into this that her 5 foot, 1 inch frame may have some — challenges — carrying a baby whose sperm donor was over 6 foot tall. She couldn’t turn over in bed, she really didn’t want to go on walks, and when we did, they were more strolls that lasted a grand total of 1/4 of a mile. She started to have a little cramping in early September, but we let them pass and didn’t get too excited about them. In fact, even when she went into “labor” on her due date, neither of us really thought it was happening. I was already researching how to induce labor, policies for how long post-due date she could go before induction, methods of medical v non-medical induction, revising our birth plan, etc – you know the typical “Mel” worst case scenario pre-emptive behavior.
We had taken pictures on Sunday, September 7 with my sister in the park. Amber was cranky and so a lot of the pics are her glaring at me and/or us bickering. The pics we don’t post on facebook. I remember being surprised that we both weren’t more anxious because it could be “any day now”.
On Monday, September 8, we went to be at our regular time, around 10 pm. We look back fondly on that night simply because it was the last night we (thought) we would sleep 8-9 hours straight with no interruption. Amber had been getting up to pee for months, so when she got up at 1 am to pee and said she had a period-like cramp, I didn’t think anything of it. In fact, we just went back to sleep because she had been having these cramps for weeks and they would just come and go. We didn’t even identify them as “Braxton-Hicks” because, like Amber said, “I’ve never done this before, so I don’t know what Braxton Hicks feel like.” I secretly thought they were.
At 3 am, Amber got up again and had a longer period cramp. She then felt like she had to go to the bathroom again, so I was slightly suspicious something was different just because of the length of the cramp. When Amber was in the bathroom, she yelled, “I have a little bit of blood”. She had been having a lot of mucus the last few weeks, so again, I didn’t really think much, but she asked me to get up and look. It was definitely a streak of red, and so I got really excited and said, “I think that’s the bloody show.” At that point, we called the midwives and I busted out my cute little iPhone app for contraction calculations and started timing them. We called the midwives and they said just pay attention to how long the contractions were. I realized that shit was getting real when we were up, the lights were on, the animals were circling around us, and we were on the phone with the midwives. Cally was on call, and she told us to just call back when they were closer to 4-5 minutes apart.
After we got off the phone, Amber ran to the bathroom and said she felt like she was going to throw up. Our doula already wisely told us to get a “puke bucket” ready (I don’t think she called it that – but that’s what it is), and so when Amber told me she was going to puke, I proudly ran to the kitchen and got our cute, red, plastic Christmas bowl and ran back to the bathroom. Then Amber puked. A lot. I was glad I read those 6 books on pregnancy and labor because I remembered that this was another sign that she was in labor. I started to get really excited. I don’t think Amber was feeling the same way at that juncture.
We texted our doula Caleah, and realized that although we had planned for her to come to our house first and labor there as long as we could, since the contractions were already 5 minutes apart consistently for an hour, we told her to just come right to the hospital. Glad we made that decision. It all happened much faster than we expected – especially for a first time labor/birth. We had heard stories of 20-40-60 (!) hour labors, so we were ready for a marathon. In reality, I barely had time to feed the animals, call my mother and sisters, and get the car ready for my laboring partner to enter it.
At this point I realized that Amber and I had not fully packed our bags. Yes, after all the preparation and time (we had time then – ha!), we did not have our bags fully packed. We had a foundation of clothing and underwear and socks, but actually, what was more important was that we had all of our legal documentation in a folder. Power of attorney forms for me in case anything happened to Amber or Bennett and I had to make health care decisions. Our legal guardianship papers for Bennett. Our marriage license in case they decided I could be on the birth certificate (they said no – I got in a fight with the “unit coordinator” administrator, but that’s again a different blog post). Because I was more concerned about having any RIGHTS once we got to the hospital, underwear was second fiddle.
So, as Amber was bouncing on the ball having contractions telling me to keep track of the length on the app (and on the phone with her mother at some point), I was actually packing our bags. At 4.30 am. At this point, a neighbor said she walked by (yup – some of our neighbors walk their dogs super super early apparently) and said, “I saw your light on! Your light is NEVER on at 4.30 am! We knew something was up!” *wink* *wink*) …we then realized that Amber had been having pretty consistent contractions that lasted at least 30 seconds – a minute for over an hour. We called the midwife back and told her this. She said, “I thought it would be awhile before you called.” Amber couldn’t even really have a conversation with her – in mid sentence she said, “I’m having another contraction. You’re going to have to talk to Mel.” and ran to the bathroom.
In the midst of this, I think I took a shower and so did Amber to get ready to go to the hospital. Both of us knew that it was happening a LOT faster than we anticipated. We had heard and learned that many times contractions come at 20 min apart and then can stay that way for hours. So we were ready to chill out, maybe sleep, watch a movie, bounce, massage, chill, eat. Nope. 3-5 am we were at the house, puking, showering, on the phone, packing, feeding the animals, changing our sheets (my mom stayed to take care of Fred when we were at the hospital), trying to keep track of the contractions on the app – basically it was like a two hour busy ass morning in the middle of the night. I’m actually surprised we packed in that many activities in the midst of, you know, Amber’s contractions being less than 5 min apart.
Amber got in the car and actually started having contractions en route to the hospital. She was starting to moan through them and she had 3 on the way to the hospital. I knew they were pretty damn close because it was 5.45 am, the streets were pretty empty, and so it only took us 12 min to get to the hospital (I had timed different routes, different times of day, etc prior – can you tell I’m a first born?) … We parked and she had another contraction in the hallway on the way to the triage front desk for labor/delivery. We finally made it to triage and they had to put Amber on a fetal monitor. Ew. This was the first (and maybe only) time where I felt like Amber was pretty uncomfortable. She had been actually going to the toilet at home to have the contraction because it relieved the pressure on her butt and back, and so when she had these two cloth bands around her and had to sit upright on the bed, it wasn’t the best positioning for the contraction. I took note of this and realized that I may (and would be ready) to take them off in case she needed to, regardless if I was “allowed”. I didn’t care. I asked how long they had to monitor, actually I think I said, “are these going to be on just for 5 minutes?” The nurse said “no, 20 minutes” and I remember thinking that’s long but at least it will be off after that. Cally also did a cervical check, and said it was somewhere around 4-5 cm, but she didn’t seem concerned about the number. I was most concerned about supporting Amber through the pain, so I didn’t really care about any of the other assessments.
During the electronic fetal monitoring, Amber had a contraction and I told the nurse – she’s having a contraction, can we move the bed? But I didn’t wait for her to move it. I already knew where the lever was and moved the position because I knew it would be more comfortable for Amber. And it was – she felt much better and more at ease. I remember them asking her general questions about her DOB, due date, etc, etc but it was in the middle of contractions so I was more focused on supporting her and getting her in the labor room. Our doula arrived after we had been in triage for 15 minutes and I was relieved. We hired her because we weren’t sure what midwife we were going to get (they rotate between 8 of them) and we wanted someone with level energy as well as someone who knew us and was consistent. Also, the doula really helped support not only Amber but me as the birth partner as well, but I’ll get to that later.
We finally got to the birth room around 630 am and it was already set up with cool white Christmas lights as well as music to set the mood. I loved it. The nurse started drawing the water birth tub water because Amber had originally planned to have a water birth, and she wanted to get in it asap. As soon as the water was drawn, Amber got into the tub and completely changed. She still moaned through contractions, but her face looked a lot more at ease and she got really into the labor at that point. We all did because we knew – this is the physical location where this is going to happen. No more driving to the hospital. Done. No more triage. Done.
We were here.
Amber had a lot of back labor. We had prepared for this because her mother had back labor for her. Once Amber was in the tub at sun rise, she wanted hard pressure on her lower back/butt every time she had a contraction. Amber was mostly on her hands and knees at first in the tub, but we tried to change positions. I started out outside of the tub to get more leverage with the back pressure. Laboring was a physical experience as the Other Mother, too. I felt like it was doing a body pump class times 30 plus the psychological “centeredness” that also had to be present. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
They say that it’s a good sign to have rituals during every contraction. At first, Amber’s ritual was going to the toilet, but then it evolved into back pressure and the water sprayer (not seen in the pic) on her back. For the next few hours, Caleah and I traded off doing the hard pressure. Amber also tried to eat one of the organic cashew protein bars, but took one bite, and we could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t going to eat anymore of that. Juice to the rescue! Caleah came back with juice for Amber and coffee and snacks for me. I love having a doula. When Caleah was gone, the midwife tried to be the one with the sprayer during the contraction, but apparently she wasn’t putting it on the right location on Amber’s back, so Amber grabbed it and changed locations. Amber is not the most aggressive type of personality, so I knew shit was getting really real. Amber asked at that point for me to get in the tub, and so I put my swimming suit on (a requirement for the birth partner – I wouldn’t have minded being naked, but I do follow some rules).
Amber’s contractions started to become closer together around 8 am. I remember the sunlight starting to come through the room and thinking “we’re having this baby today. Sooner than I think.” I saw the nurse typing away in the computer in the room, but I didn’t need to see the numbers. I knew because I felt like I was pushing on her back every few minutes and she stopped talking in between. Her eyes just stayed closed and I tried to tell her to relax, this is her break, and she is doing incredibly. I’m not sure how much she heard, though, because she was really transitioning.
We knew that the midwives would switch shifts around 8 am, or at least that’s what I predicted based on my research. We had a midwife appointment the day before, and we asked the midwife if she knew who was going to be on call the rest of the week so we could know who we were going to have. Before I went to bed on Monday, I remember looking at the midwife schedule, and thinking “If Amber goes into labor tonight, we’ll most likely have Denise deliver this baby.” We were so excited because Denise was one of our faves and when she came at 8 am, we knew we were in good hands. The nurses also changed, and an African American nurse came in. I was somewhat surprised because the number of African American nurses at Meriter is quite low, and I was so happy that this was going to be our labor team. Our doula of course was an intentional choice, but the other two people were out of our control. Now we had the balance of an awesome, “game time” midwife, a calm doula, and a nurse who happened to be a person of color who told us later about her birth stories in Atlanta and other east coast cities. I was relieved, and knew it was going to happen soon.
We got out of the tub, Amber moved to the toilet and had some contractions, then the stool, and the bed, back to the stool, standing up, and then back in the tub. In the midst of this, I managed to go to the bathroom down the hall and remember thinking that the halls were quiet, and it seemed like we were the only ones there. Since I had my wet suit on, the nurse offered me a hospital gown. I found it funny that I was the one in the gown, but Amber had always said she wanted to be “completely naked” and did not want clothing on her during labor (I would probably feel the same way!) so I was fine being the one wearing the gown.
When we went to the bed and Amber tried the traditional “on your back” position, she said she did not like it, and only tried it for a few contractions. Their advice seemed to be change positions as much as you can, even if you don’t like them, so you can get the baby moving. I liked it. It reminded me of almost all challenges and journeys in life – no changing, no gains. The only constant is change. Nothing about the labor and birth was stagnant. I loved that. I also switched the music at this point to Pandora – and Tracy Chapman actually happened to be playing when Bennett came into the world. When Amber was on the bed, Denise said it was a good time to do a cervical check. I knew it was close. 9.5 cm. It was time.
I was getting excited, but maybe smiling was a little over the top considering Amber’s look on her face in this pic. She said at this point she knew she was “too far along” to ask for any meds, and she never said a word about them. She just kept trucking through. I was so happy for that tub, but I’m sure Amber even moreso. The second round in the tub was a lot more intense. By now, Amber’s contractions were close. Like really close. Like a minute apart – maybe a little more. When I put my hands on her back, I could actually feel her entire body jiggling when there was a contraction, as if there were a battery-operated vibrator in her body. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to freak her out. All in all, I was pretty impressed with my lack of commentary during the labor / birth. I was there for her – as her support, comfort, and love. In the tub during one of these “jiggling” contractions, I felt a “pop” from within her stomach. I wasn’t sure if Amber felt it, but a second later she said, “I felt a pop.” Her water broke! Denise asked if there was any meconium or brown, but the nurse said it was all clear. I remember thinking – now Benny is getting ready to go even faster down the canal! Go Benny Go! It was 1030 am, and I knew she might have this baby before noon!
There was a turning point in the tub. Denise asked Amber if she was pushing, or if she felt like she had to push. Amber said she did, but it hurt, and she was OK with the contractions, but the contractions WITH pushing was more painful. We figured out that Amber was getting a little too relaxed in the tub to really bare down and push the baby out. “You are the only one who can do this. You can push. Chin down.” Denise suggested we get out of the tub since we could all then give more resistance to Amber. I agree – the tub was awesome, but her feet and legs kept slipping around, and although she was riding the contractions like a rock star, it was time to push the baby out.
Amber finally said that she liked the all fours on the bed the most at about 1115 am. She remembered seeing a particular birth in a birth video where the baby was bigger and the mother gave birth on all fours while squatting. This also seemed to relieve more pressure from her back. She got on all fours and bared down. Denise gave her another pre-game talk about the physical act of pushing. It’s seriously a physical and mental challenge – Amber was luckily strong with both to get through it. She pushed for about a total of 1 hour in 5-6 different positions, but finally the all fours she started to feel burning. She looked up at Caleah and I, who were on both sides of her, and said “I feel burning!” We looked at each other, and I said that’s great. You are amazing. You got this. Through every contraction, she pushed, I kept telling her “chin down. bare down.” and the other techniques we got from Denise’s impromptu pushing lesson. Amber gritted her teeth, moaned, yelled, and growled.
I knew shit was getting real because Denise and the nurse got their blue scrubs on. I imagined blood spewing everywhere on them, and thinking it was funny that Caleah and I would just have to be sprayed. Amber finally said, “I feel like I need to push.” Caleah and I looked at each other and said, “go for it!” Suddenly, the head was out. I was so glad (again) that we watched all those birth videos, perhaps more than reading all those books, because I would have been FREAKING OUT if I saw a head out of my partner’s vagina that wasn’t moving, eyes not open, not breathing. I didn’t know, you see, that the baby doesn’t start breathing until after it’s all the way out. I could see Bennett’s face, and it was surreal. About a minute later at 11.45 am on 9/9, the rest of her body came out, her arms were open wide, big hands, and I got to catch her along with Denise. I pulled her up to put her in Amber’s arms, and she said, “look at her, babe!” Amber turned over to lay down, and put Benny on her chest for the first time. The umbilical cord was still attached for at least two minutes before I got to cut it, and all the staff supported all of our wishes of delayed cord cutting, no suction, no eye ointment, no medication, etc.
Amber said, “this is surreal.” Denise asked, “it’s surreal after all of that pain?!” It was surreal to me, too. After all of this hard work, going through the lawyers and fertility doctors and finances and time and polyp surgery and more IUI’s and more time, this separate human entered our lives, our own little social justice warrior, our family.
Oh, and Amber was eating her Jimmy John’s italian cold cut sub in the hospital bed. While she was getting stitches. Damn right. That’s my partner.