I clutched the steering wheel and shot a nervous glance at my wife. She flashed me an excited smile.
“This is it,” she said, happily. “We are having our baby!”
I smiled back, trying to look confident and reassuring. I hoped I had brought all of the bags she had packed for this event. She had poured over her list a dozen times, packing and repacking what she called the “absolutely necessary essentials.”
“Oh, here comes another one,” my wife moaned. Her attitude changed quickly from excitement to dread.
With one hand on the steering wheel, I reached to squeeze her arm. “Remember to relax and breathe,” I said.
She nodded, her eyebrows contracted tightly over closed eyes, and began huffing and puffing like a champion. I looked up to see the traffic light turn red and slammed on the brakes just in time.
Her arms flew out, grasping the dashboard, and she groaned like I beat her. “Don’t do that!” she hissed, still breathing hard.
The light took forever to turn green again, and I began to fear that we would have the baby in the car. Somewhere I had read a pamphlet on precipitous birth. Make sure the baby’s cord doesn’t come out before the baby does…don’t pull on the baby as it’s being born…keep the baby warm…um…my mind went blank. What if I couldn’t remember what all I was supposed to do?
Finally, the light turned green, and I turned down the narrow street leading to our birth center. Never had I been so relieved to see our midwife and her assistant greet us at the door. They looked so calm and happy. How did they do that? I shot worried glances at each of them, hoping they realized the severity of the situation.
They ushered us into a room. The candles flickered romantically, the air smelled like some kind of flower, and music played softly. My wife sighed and sank onto her knees by the bed.
“I’m so glad to be here,” she murmured. I was beginning to feel the same way. Anything was better than the drive on the highway, and I felt a sense of relief that we had arrived.
I was sent to bring the bags in from the car while the midwife checked on my wife. Again, I hoped I had brought all of her essentials. I dropped the bags in the closet as the midwife was finishing her exam.
“Hold your wife’s hand, daddy,” the assistant instructed me softly.
I had never known until this day how strong my wife’s grip could be. I leaned close and whispered in her ear, “I’ve got you, baby.”
Her eyes were shut but they crinkled at the corners with amusement. “No, I’m the one who’s got the baby,” she whispered pointedly.
I grinned, glad that she still had a sense of humor. That was a good sign, right?
“Okay, you are 5cm and you’ve got a bulgy bag,” the midwife announced cheerfully.
I searched my brain for the interpretation of this mysterious message. I was sure I must have read the translation in one of the books my wife had given me. Five centimeters – that was dilation, and I remembered we had to go to 10 centimeters before she could start pushing. Bulgy bag -- my mind could not recall any chapters on bulgy bags.
“Bulgy bag? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” I asked.
The assistant grinned. “It’s a good thing,” she said.
And with that brief explanation, my wife and I stepped into a time warp. I am sure that is what it was. Hours passed, ticking by with intolerable slowness and flying by in the blink of an eye – sometimes doing both at the same time.
During contractions, my wife breathed slowly and deeply, rocking back and forth. Her eyes were closed and she seemed to sink into a world inside herself, a world that narrowed to her and her baby. For a moment, I would feel left out of that world and then she would say “Rub my shoulders” or “Please play with my hair” or “Can you push against my back?” and I would realize that I was as much a part of this as she was.
In between contractions, my wife would open her eyes and laugh and talk. The assistant came in to time contractions and we ended up swapping stories. In moments like these it was hard to believe we were in labor.
After 2 or three hours, things started getting more serious. My wife moaned through her contractions. In between contractions, she laid her head against me and slept. The midwife and her assistant nodded and smiled, assuring me that this was a normal part of labor. I felt that I completely lost track of time.
“Thirsty?” the assistant asked me at one point, as my wife rested against my shoulder.
I looked at her rather blankly for a moment. I hadn’t even thought about whether I was thirsty or not. Then my wife took a deep breath and started her next contraction. It seemed selfish to worry about something as paltry as thirst when she was obviously in much more discomfort than I could ever be.
As the contraction ended, however, I felt a tap on my arm. Looking up, I saw the assistant holding out a cup with a straw.
“Daddies need to take care of themselves, too,” she said.
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” I said. “I can manage.”
She scowled at me. “We’ve still got a little ways to go and we don’t need you passing out at the end,” she scolded.
I grinned and took the drink. At the same time, however, I was hoping that we didn’t have too much farther to go. My wife was tired.
Not too much longer after that, everything changed again. My wife cried out during a contraction. Her eyes flew open. “I can’t do this!” she cried. I froze, unable to respond. I had never seen her so desperate, so at the end of herself. Was this how women died in childbirth?
The midwife slid into a seat in front of my wife. “Yes, you can,” she said, firmly but gently. Like a tender coach, she started talking. “You can do this. Take a deep breath, all the way down to your baby…” Her voice droned on, and I could see my wife latch onto her every word. My wife nodded and breathed. I still felt lost.
“I can do this…I can do this,” my wife murmured.
Part of me felt shame that I panicked. Obviously, at the moment, the midwife was helping my wife more than I was. But the other part of me still felt very worried. How did the midwife know that this was okay? I knew my wife, and I had never seen my wife like this before. I knew my wife was not a weak person – did the midwife understand how serious this situation was?
My wife’s eyes were closed again. “My back,” she moaned.
The midwife looked at me, nodded to me, expected me to help. I reached my fists down my wife’s back, applying pressure as I had before.
“Thank you,” my wife murmured with a sigh of relief.
The assistant flashed me a “thumbs up” signal. “You’re doing great.” I was glad somebody thought so. I leaned down and pressed my lips against my wife’s shoulder.
“Now let everything go,” the midwife instructed my wife. “Lean back on your husband. Rest.”
And so we started a new normal. During contractions, my wife was barely kept from the brink of desperation by the midwife’s steady coaching. In between contractions, she leaned back against me and appeared to sleep.
“I can’t keep doing this,” my wife moaned quietly. “I need a break.”
I had to agree. How much longer before she couldn’t do this anymore?
“You won’t have to do this forever,” the midwife said. “This is the hard part. It doesn’t get any harder than this. This is the hard part. You can do this. You are doing it! You will get a break when the baby is out, okay?”
My wife nodded again, whispering under her breath, “I can do this…I can do this.”
The next contraction started and my wife talked herself through it, murmuring “I can do this” through the contraction. I found the words playing over in my own head. Suddenly something changed and my wife jerked in my arms. She shrieked like someone had startled her and her eyes flew wide open. My adrenaline went through the roof.
“Ahh,” she protested, seeming to have lost her use of English in the excitement of the moment. I looked down and saw water seeping everywhere. It was running down her legs. The puddle spread across the floor. I felt some wetness soak into me, and my stomach turned. This was asking too much of a man.
The midwife and assistant, on the other hand, seemed thrilled.
“Good work, mama!” the midwife praised my wife. “That was your bag of waters that you popped. Nice job!”
The assistant grabbed a towel and cleaner and started cleaning it up with a huge smile on her face. My wife responded to their praise with a cheerful, lopsided grin.
The next contraction was hard again, but my wife had a tone of confidence as she murmured “I can do this” through that contraction. Even I felt a surge of hope. Surely this was a sign that we were getting closer.
The next few contractions were the same, hard but exciting. I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that the assistant was double-checking the birth equipment. Were we that close?
“My back,” cried my wife. I pressed harder against her back. “No,” she moaned. “It’s not helping.”
“That pressure is not going away, mama,” the midwife said. “That’s the baby’s head moving down.”
I moved my hand away, figuring that it was useless if it was not helping.
“No, no! Come back,” my wife yelled. I slid my hands against her back again, feeling like a naughty schoolboy for moving them. As the contraction faded, my wife reached a hand to squeeze mine. “It helps a little, after all,” she said.
The next contraction started as the one before it. Then my wife caught her breath involuntarily in a little grunt…then again…then… “I have to push!” she shouted.
“Okay, let me check you,” the midwife said with a nod. A quick exam confirmed it, and, just like that, my wife was cleared for pushing.
The atmosphere in the room changed. My wife, who had been so tired only moments before, was suddenly awake and energetic. She shifted around until she found a position that worked for her and then she started pushing with contractions.
Pushing was hard and long. I did not understand how it took so long to move the baby only a matter of inches. The midwife kept saying things like “great job” and “your baby is coming” and “you are moving your baby with each push.” But we did push after push after push, and I still saw no baby.
“It’s a process,” the midwife said. “You are slowly stretching with each push, letting the baby come down a little bit more.”
Finally, the midwife said, “I see hair!”
I half rose out of my seat behind my wife, trying to catch a glimpse. “He’s out?” I asked, breathless.
“Oh, no,” the midwife said. “He hasn’t even come all the way under the pubic bone yet. He is still inside.”
The pubic bone, as I soon found out, was a formidable obstacle to birth. The midwife was very calm and cheerful as she told us that he was rocking his way under the pubic bone. But contraction after contraction passed, and he was still “rocking his way under the pubic bone.” I felt a sense of worry again and wondered if God really meant to put that pubic bone there.
My wife was frustrated with the pubic bone as well. She pushed with all her might, but he was still “rocking under the pubic bone.”
“Can’t you please just pull him out,” she asked the midwife.
The midwife laughed. “No, honey,” she said. “You’ve got to do this part yourself. You are doing great.”
And so my wife continued to push – farther, harder, and deeper as her midwife told her. Sometimes she held her breath and then let it go in a little scream. I clutched her shoulders as if I could hold her here on this earth.
“Not so tight,” she moaned, brushing her fingers against my hands.
“Okay, push, mommy!” the midwife said. “Push hard!”
…As if my wife had not been pushing this whole time.
“Come on, mommy! Don’t pull away from it! Push! Push!” the midwife said. There was an urgency in her voice, and my already rapid heart rate increased again. My hands felt shaky.
“Okay, blow, blow, blow, blow!” the midwife called. The assistant put her face in front of my wife’s and coached her to blow instead of push.
“Head!” the midwife called. I felt the room swirling around me.
“Time of birth, somebody!” the midwife’s voice rang out. And suddenly she was passing a limp form from my wife’s legs to her chest. The assistant was there with a blanket to wrap it, rubbing the bundle vigorously. And then I heard the screaming cry of a newborn infant.
“Awww, sweet baby!” the midwife crooned.
“Daddy!” the assistant’s voice snapped through the fog that was gathering in my brain. “I need you!” she said. She was looked sharply at me as though she sensed that I was fading away. “Help me settle the new mommy and baby into the bed.”
The fog cleared and I slid my wife back onto the pillows. Then I crawled up next to her. She was crying and laughing. “We did it,” she exulted. Her face had never looked happier or more beautiful. “That was amazing,” she said. She looked at the midwife. “Thank you so much,” she said. Then her eyes found mine once more.
“I love you,” I said.
She settled into the pillows like a contented little bird in her nest. “Look at our baby,” she murmured. “She is so beautiful.”
I peered into the blankets at the newborn baby. Her eyes were open already, staring wonderingly at her mother’s face.
“Hey, little one,” I greeted her softly, rubbing my finger along her hand. She was so perfect.
Suddenly her hand opened and then closed over my finger, holding it firm in her little grasp.
“Look at that,” the assistant chuckled. “Wrapped around each other’s fingers already.”