Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
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Shannon is naked now. Pain has crowded out modesty and embarrassment. After wincing through a contraction on the toilet we quickly readjust to a standing position, Shannon's full weight and forehead pressing on my shoulder like preparing for a plane crash.
I have stopped reciting our relaxation scripts. The room is dark and still and all I can hear is Shannon's breathing and that ever-present crrmp crrmp of our child's heartbeat. That is when I realize it is the same sound I heard that night on the beach, the steady footsteps of our togetherness. Our child, this mysterious manifestation of our love for one another, the as yet unknown fruit of our intimacy, beats out the tempo of our togetherness. It is the metronome of our love.
Shannon is not having these poetic thoughts. Shannon is doing her best to not scream or hyperventilate. And neither are the thoughts quite so well formed for me in that moment. It is more like a feeling, an intuited revelation. It is an assurance of our abiding bond. A gift that will sustain us on the next leg of our journey.
While they surely don't inspire poetic musings for Shannon, these quiet moments do seem to minister to her needs. She kneels down and drapes her chest over the birthing ball and dangles her arms. She breathes out her mouth, pushing her lips out as she exhales, but there is no fear or desperation any more, even during contractions. There is just a calm resolve, a quiet acceptance of this excruciating process. I swell with love and I hope with all my might that this newfound resolve will last. I am beyond tired now. I can't imagine how Shannon feels.
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Our nurse, Trene, who has already proven unable to insert herself into delicate situations with anything resembling subtlety or grace, pushes the entryway curtain aside and surprises me with unprecedented sensitivity. She sees Shannon on the ball relaxing through a contraction with perfect composure and, instead of interrupting, she silently watches. When it is over, Trene, in a hushed tone that betrays bad news, asks, "You're really comfortable in that position aren't you?"
She had been monitoring the baby's heart rate from the nurse's station and came to tell us that whatever we were doing needed to change because baby's heart rate was dropping.
Looking back, it makes perfect sense that Magnolia's heartrate would drop. Her mother—a.k.a. her environment—had just changed from hurricane warning to partly cloudy with showers. I even heard our next nurse, in a teaching moment with a student, questioning some of Trene's heart rate related decisions. But I need to let go. As special as it was, that moment of relief that was, for me, accompanied by an acute awareness of our emotional and relational solidarity, had to come to an end sometime. Like the mundane conversations after the nourishing silence that night on the beach.
That's the thing about life. Moments of great significance are always followed by let-downs. Profound connective silence on the beach gave way to the smell of wet dogs and spoken trivialities. And what was for me a defining moment in my life with Shannon, in that dark labor room, ends with a woman we barely know barging into our intimacy and telling us to stop.
Do I sound bitter? I'm not really—or at least I'm trying not to be. I wish that dark, quiet moment could have lasted but even with the unpleasant and abrupt end it will remain for me the central moment of Magnolia's birth story.
After I reluctantly help Shannon off the birthing ball we re-try some of our previous positions. Sitting on the ball leaning back into my belly, head lolled to one side, resting on my forearm. Embracing like dance partners. Nothing works. The pain and fear rush back.
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Having planned a natural birth, it was always understood that in the inevitable moments of seemingly unbearable pain and self-doubt it would be my responsibility to reassure Shannon that she was doing wonderfully and was more than capable of a natural childbirth. It would also be my responsibility to advocate for her pre-expressed wishes to the doctors and medical staff, to keep them from pushing pain medications or unnecessary interventions on her in a state of weakness.
And, man, did we hold out.
But, man, was it hard.
I can't speak for Shannon and I don't pretend that my job as coach was anywhere near as difficult as her ordeal, but navigating the balance between upholding Shannon's wishes and easing her pain was the most emotionally difficult thing I've ever had to do.
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Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9