On Saturday, while I was finishing up my four day residency in California, Shannon started having pretty regular contractions. They started about 15 minutes apart but quickly increased to every 10 minutes.
Shannon called me to let me know what was going on but neither of us were too concerned since we've heard so many false-alarm stories. It seems like almost every mom has a story about getting sent home from the hospital because they were duped by Braxton Hicks contractions. We talked about whether or not I should head to the airport to catch an earlier flight, but since I was scheduled to fly in seven hours anyway and it would likely cost us a portion of Qwanesha's college fund, we decided to hold off unless the signs started pointing more emphatically to imminent delivery. I told Shannon to keep timing the contractions and call me back soon.
I hung up and immediately thought, "What are you thinking?! This could be the birth of your first child! Of course you should get on an earlier flight!" My classmates--especially the female ones, who were glowing and bubbling like it was their own child on the way--echoed that sentiment and we arranged for someone to drive me to the airport.
Shannon called back and reported that the contractions were now eight minutes apart and they weren't stopping even though she was staying active, which was one way we were taught to distinguish between false labor and real.
Everything went surprisingly well at the airport and I was on a flight within the hour at no extra charge.
The flight was unbearable.
I felt completely powerless. Stuck in a giant, air-conditioned Pringles can flying through a darkening California sky, cell phone rendered useless, not only could I not help or comfort my wife in what might be the most painful hours of her life, but I had absolutely no way of knowing what was happening. For all I knew Shannon could already be laid out in a hospital gown in travail, pushing our baby girl irrevocably into a strange and sometimes cruel world.
And I wasn't going to be there.
I did everything I could on the plane in case I got there in time. I reviewed and wrote down everything I had learned in our birth class: about first stage labor, and second, and what a coach can do. I mentally reviewed our birth plan and all our medical preferences. I made a list of items we would need to bring to the hospital in case Shan hadn't a chance to pack our bags. I made a list of people we would call.
And then, in case I didn't make it in time, I made myself very attentive to what it was like to be in Seat 31 F on Alaska Airlines flight 435 on Saturday, January 26, 2008. I described in my mind the transition of the twilight below me from watercolor peach and robin's egg blue to ashen cobalt and inky darkness. I described the relentless thrum of the turbine, which, on this plane, an MD-80, was attached beside me, not on the wing, but directly on the rear of the fuselage, making it's throbbing drone unusually loud--and oddly suitable as a soundtrack to my fatherly disquiet.
Upon landing I immediately called Shannon and she told me, to my great relief, that our little girl was still fully ensconced in her bulging belly. The contractions were at seven minutes now. You're supposed to go to the hospital when they get to intervals of five and I still had a two hour drive home from Seattle but I wasn't anxious any more. I was making progress and I had a working cell phone.
When I got home the contractions were still at seven minutes. We packed our bags and called the doctor to tell him what was going on and see if he had any advice. Given Shannon's description, he too thought she was in actual labor but told us to wait until the contractions got more frequent and stronger. So we went to bed, to prepare for the uterine marathon. And that's when the contractions pretty much stopped. Throughout the day, Shan had noted that whenever she sat down the contractions seemed weaker, but she thought maybe the position was just making it harder for her to feel them. Weird.
Anyway, it's been two days since and the practice contractions have gone back to being less regular (but sometimes stronger). We were disappointed at first that it wasn't the real thing since all that excitement built up our anticipation so much, but it's a good thing she didn't come yet. Now we can pack our bags and install our car seat and do all the other little undone things this false alarm made us so acutely aware of.