Part 1, Part 2
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We have just surpassed the average labor duration of 12-14 hours for a first child and the little girl we have been so eagerly waiting to meet is nowhere near ready to come out. While the contractions have gotten more painful, they are still irregular enough to let us hope for an afternoon nap. Tightly wrapped in the fetal position, I begin to doze when: there's that pulse again. It sounds a little different from this side of the room. I try to place it: horse hooves on a castle drawbridge? The gentle drum beats of some quiet ritual?
Nine minutes later I wake to the quiet moan that means Shannon is having a contraction. I remind her to "breathe deeply and relax, let the contraction do its work." Over 30 hours are riddled with this sort of entreaty.
We have chosen to have a drug-free, intervention-free, natural childbirth, but this means that Shannon's ability to cope with extreme pain and discomfort will be very dependent on my ability to help her relax.
We have been practicing for months the techniques, exercises and visualizations that are to be our alternative to the usual pain medication or epidural.
"When you inhale deeply I want you to imagine a warm golden energy filling you and flowing all the way to your toes…"
"And when you exhale, that energy is going to ooze out your pores carrying away any tension from your muscles…"
"You're doing a really great job, love."
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It is 9:00 pm now and it is clear that this is going to last well over 24 hours. We are both getting quite tired and concerned. So we agree to modify our birth plan and accept Pitocin—a synthetic version of oxytocin--to augment the body's natural contraction-inducing hormone.
Within an hour, the clear drips from her IV bag have increased the frequency and intensity of the contractions.
This is when my job, as labor coach and relaxation specialist, gets especially challenging.
Toward the end of her pregnancy, the pre-packaged scripts, combined with soothing touches or massage, could turn Shannon to spaghetti pretty quickly.
But now, nearing hour 24, with no end in sight, the words start sounding hollow. "Good job" and all such encouraging phrases have long ago passed the benign ignorability of cliché and have now become meaningless irritations. I stroke her disheveled hair to soothe her but that too has gotten irritating; she pushes my hand away.
Contractions are nearly unbearable now and there is little more than a minute between the end of one and the start of another. It is just enough time to waddle from bed or birthing ball to toilet, with me carefully pushing the rolling IV coat-rack behind her.
We decide to try the bathtub. Many women swear by water births and Shannon loves baths. The problem is Shannon has so much technology hanging off her body that we're not sure if hydrotherapy is such a good idea. Trene, our new nurse, doesn't know either: "the IV drip will be fine; we can just roll it over there. But I don't know about those things." She points to the diodes bulging beneath her gown.
Finally, more than two hours later, the doctor visits and tells us that a bath will be fine. She gets in, gown and all, and the warm water melts her. If the contractions weren't coming so hard and fast I'm sure she'd be asleep in seconds.
But the relief does little for the pain when her uterus, stretched taut around our unseen baby, decides to clench with all its might. Even still, however brief, the short respite between contractions is a much-needed visit to heaven between the predominant hell of labor pain. Heaven. HHHEEEEEELLLLLLLL. Heaven. HHHEEEELLL.
Trene, who is wearing pink crocs and gold hoop earrings, enters the bathroom with a perky "hey you" and then just stands there, watching. She sneezes and enthusiastically excuses herself.
My relationship with the nurses is a love-hate relationship. Well, actually, mostly hate. When you stay at the hospital your room is the only privacy you've got. In some ways it is even more private and intimate than your own bedroom—or at least it ought to be. My wife is in agony in the bathtub. We are weathering one of the extremes of human experience, possibly the most special moment of our lives and there's just this strange lady standing there. Shannon tells me it doesn't really bother her, and I know the nurses mean well and are looking after our needs, but I hate that Trene just met us and acts like it's no big deal to sneeze in our bathroom.
Unfortunately, I can't really ask her to leave. This is her workplace. She spends a heck of a lot more time here than I do and knows a lot more about labor and delivery than I do. So I shouldn't be affronted when she reminds Shannon to keep breathing deeply, but I am. I know it's good advice but I feel like Trene is trying to steal my role.
"You're not the coach, Trene!" That's what I want to yell at her. "Take your sneezes and your pudgy self somewhere else!"
These are the kinds of nasty things the laboring woman is supposed to scream during the throes of travail, not the husband. I hold it in though. I'm pretty sure hostile verbal attacks won't exactly contribute to the kind of environment Shannon needs right now.
Eventually Trene informs us that the doctor needs to do an exam to see if Shan's progressing at all. That means getting out of the bathtub.
I can handle the nonchalant loitering in our bathroom and the presumably unintentional job stealing. But removing Shannon from her watery tranquility?! Again I bite my tongue.
Because Shannon is still wearing her gown and is attached to an IV drip, getting out of the bathtub proves surprisingly difficult. We try sliding the gown off along the IV tube but it won't go over the rack and it pulls too much on the insertion point, so we end up cutting it off.
The doctor comes in to tell us she won't be doing the vaginal exam on Shannon because she has an emergency C-section to do, so Trene will do it.
It may be the most uninformative exam ever. After sticking her goopy, gloved fingers up there she says, "Somethin's goin' on there girl…"
And it doesn't get much more specific than that. She thinks there might have been some progress.
But not much.
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Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9