Saturday, September 27, 2008, 2:00 a.m.
With Beatrice just fed and changed (again and again and again), I lay here not able to sleep. The Talking Heads song "Stay Up Late" keeps playing in my head and I keep the drum beat with my hands and feet (I may just add the song to B notes due out soon). Amy asks what I'm doing, I tell her I'm drumming and decide I need to write.
Before I get my laptop, I lie next to lovely Beatrice and stare at her, her arms rocking over her head. She bops me on the nose.
"I know honey bee," I whisper. "We didn't know it was your arm."
Five days and six hours earlier, Sunday night, September 21
We're watching the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards. Thank God because the comedy relief is just what Amy needs right now. The contractions are getting stronger and are coming 3-4 per hour. Amy's bouncing on the exercise ball and I call our midwife and doula to keep them appraised of where we're at. Everything is in place and we look forward to our planned home birth.
A couple hours pass and the contractions are getting more uncomfortable for Amy. I'm amazed at how she's taking it in stride, though. It's about 10:00 p.m. now and I again call our midwife with an update.
Maybe another hour has passed, maybe two. The contractions are definitely lining up like planes at O'Hare. Amy wants our friend and doula Annee to come over so I call her. She's on her way. Soon after that, I call our midwife and she's on her way.
Time is irrelevant to me at this point. The very linear nature of time expands with the moments' labor, stretching outward to the sky and filling all space in between, only to collapse again into broken seconds that line Amy's path. She's moving around the house, getting in and out of the birthing tub, staying on top of her labor. Kathe coaches her, Annee soothes and I do what I can to do the same. But it's not the same for me being a man, and no matter how I help, a helplessness seeps in. Sometime during the night she dilates to six.
It's early morning around 6:30 a.m. and Amy's water breaks. She's also fully dilated at this point, unusually quick for a first-time mom. It's time to push. Kathe makes a comment about the baby coming with the sunrise. Amy's worn out but amazingly keeps going. She's so completely in the moment with each contraction, embracing our baby with her very soul while her uterus works. Not even the most seasoned triathlete can compete with the strength and stamina of a woman in labor. Not even close. I am in awe. I am humbled. God is a woman.
Another hour passes. Another midwife, Laura, comes over to assist ours in what we hope will be the home stretch. We've been up all night now and it's taking its toll on me as well. We're trying all sorts of positions for Amy to push the baby out, but it's not moving, not passing the pubic bone.
Time is now a thick sludge we wade through. Amy's completely exhausted. The midwives and Annee are doing a great job but I'm losing it. Watching Amy go through this with me not able to do anything other than hold her and love her. Helplessness seizes me and I breakdown, shaking and crying. The totality of it all is overwhelming. All I can think about is being a little boy again, paralyzed with fear because of an abusive father and step-father. I can't get the fear out of my head.
I know this glorious day of our child's birth is not about me and my past, but all my courage has fled and hidden under the bed. I am no use to anyone.
Laura fixes us all something to eat. Scrambled eggs and toast. We all take a much needed break and let Amy rest for a few. She can't hold anything down at this point and her stamina wanes. I get it together again and am ready to help.
The baby isn't moving no matter how much Amy pushes and no matter what position she's in. We move back and forth from the baby's room to our room. No change. I get Amy in the shower and it's at that point I want to call the ballgame. Call it and go to the hospital. But we don't because if we can only get the baby's head under the pubic bone, we're home free. I breakdown again and Kathe tells me to pull it together for Amy. I recover quicker this time.
It's midday on Monday, September 22, and we've got Amy on our bed pushing again. Something's wrong, though. The baby's heart rate is decelerating fast and is cut in half with each push. That's the first time I see doubt in our midwife's eyes; she monitors the baby's heart rate and is shaking her head a little.
Calmly she says, "Okay, I think we've done all that we can do. It's time to go in."
More talk about d-cels and heart rates and I become surreal detachment; let's go I think but don't say anything. Amy's beyond exhaustion and she's dehydrated; her eyes track slowly from person to person and she howls with each contraction.
There's confusion. The baby's heart rate stabilizes. We need to go to Sutter to meet our OB/GYN, but we also call 911 to go to Dominican. The EMTs and ambulance arrive at our house and there's an exchange between them and our midwives but I don't really hear any of it. I'm thinking of what to bring and to get Amy dressed to go. Annee helps me find something for her to wear.
We're outside, Amy's on the gurney, and now the ambulance guys are telling us they can't take us to Sutter because there's no emergency room there. Kathe negotiates while monitoring the baby but I just want us to go.
"Let's just drive ourselves there," I say. "Get in the car."
Get in the car, I keep thinking. Get in the car.
We get Amy off the gurney. The EMTs are explaining something to me but I don't understand what they're talking about. I don't understand anything except getting in the car and going to Sutter.
Kathe gets in the back with Amy and I drive. The baby's heart rate is still strong. We're there in less than 10 minutes.
We check in and get our room and Amy is done. "No more pushing," she says. "No more pain." They give her a mild pain killer and start giving her Pitocin, everything we wanted to avoid, but now everything I wanted her to have. Our OB in the meantime, the one who was meeting us at Sutter, is trapped in gridlock on Highway 1 because of any earlier accident.
The OB finally arrives but they still aren't starting the delivery. She give the okay for the anesthesiologist to administer what's called a spinal (like an epidural) and it takes effect immediately giving Amy relief. Only problem is that her right side isn't staying numb, so the anesthesiologist has to keep adjusting it.
It's been hours and we're confused and inpatient. Amy's spinal finally works on her right side. The contractions are constant and she wants to get the baby out. We're supposed to deliver right there in the room.
Around 6:00 p.m. I go downstairs to get something to eat. Three minutes after I order a cheeseburger and fries Annee runs into the cafeteria telling me to come now. My first thought is the baby's coming. But as we're running back up the stairs, Annee says, "The baby crashed and they went to the OR!"
The baby crashed and they went to the OR.
The baby crashed.
I feel like my body has fallen away and I'm flying towards the room. Kathe and Annee are yelling things I can't comprehend and they tell me to get the blue scrubs on. They lead me to the operating room and a nurse lets me in.
"You're the husband? Come this way."
Stark whiteness washes over me and I'm immediately sat next to Amy. She's shaking but strong and ready to go. I'm out of my mind but not showing it. The OB is there. There are nurses and the anesthesiologist and everyone's moving around doing things I don't understand. The leg clamps don't work on the table, so two of the nurses actually hold Amy's legs up. Amy pushes and pushes and the OB coaches her along. They didn't let our midwife in so it's just me holding Amy's hand and urging her on. And praying. I even joke at one point to offer my help in doing anything to get the baby out.
The OB says we're making progress and gets the vacuum ready. Based on what she's telling us, she's only going to try to vacuum three times and then we're doing a Caesarean. But the vacuum isn't holding any suction and they have to change it two times. The OB keeps encouraging Amy to push and push. The baby's heart rate stays in the safe range.
She pushes and pushes. Two sets of labor and two different experiences in 24 hours – at home and at the hospital. Finally the OB hooks the vacuum up and pulls and pop – she looks startled, falls back and smiles.
"There we go. It was the arm. The baby's arm was up over its head."
The baby's arm was up over its head. Wow.
A second later the baby is out, umbilical cord is cut and the baby is rushed over to a side table and cleaned. Amy's still shaking but smiling. She whispers, "I'd better pay my co-pay." The baby cries. The pediatrician who was in the operating room calls me over to see the baby and identify the sex.
I'm still flying when I see that B is a girl – our little Beatrice – 7 lbs. 8 oz. (although that was wrong in retrospect; she was actually 7 lbs., 14 oz.), 21 inches long, and born at 7:08 p.m., September 22, 2008 (which is also the anniversary of me quitting smoking).
From that point on we're rushed along this newly formed river, spilling over falls after falls after falls, the water sweet, cool and fresh like snowmelt in spring.
We spend two nights at Sutter, Amy nursing herself and the baby. Wednesday morning we come home, but Amy's not well; her neck is sore and she develops a spinal headache (which started right after birth actually). We sleep off and on. The baby feeds, sleeps, poops and pees. We become semi-pros at changing diapers within 24 hours. Friday afternoon we head back to Sutter so the anesthesiologist can give Amy a blood patch in order to quell the headache.
While Beatrice and I are waiting for Amy, I change her twice and her crying is minimal. She's such a good baby. I hold her gingerly, watching her gaze out the window at the world beyond us, a lifetime of possibility before her. My heart is full and I thank God for my Amy and my B.
Now we're home and Amy is better and Baby is sleeping sound.
Thank you all for your thoughts and prayers. Now we know why we called it plan B.