The Bystander's Tale
My Account of RLJA's Birth
It's not a Rashomon homage without three
October 3, 2002
First, the end of this story: Rosanna Lyn was born around 3:20pm, crying and quickly turning a nice pink. The hospital staff quickly took her to the Neonatal ICU to check her for a couple of things they were worried about, but within a couple of days she was pronounced Fine and is now prospering at home with her parents. John wrote about the birth in his diary and Lyn wrote about it at All Too Cozy. This... is my version.
Now, the beginning:
It was a Thursday, and Lyn and I were prepared to get up especially early to drive up to Maryland for the birth of the child whose sex we didn't know yet (they wanted to be surprised, and their plans hadn't required knowing which variety they had). We knew it would happen that Thursday because Laura was being induced.
John & Laura let us know beforehand that we wouldn't actually be needed until at least 9, so we slept a bit longer than we had initially thought we could (cool...). We had enough time to go to Bob Evans to get a proper breakfast, then drove up to the hospital.
Now, you should understand that while Laura and John had taken childbirth classes, and while Lyn had read plenty of books on the subject of labor & delivery, I had not. I was not to be actively involved in anything complicated; I was there for moral support, to be an extra set of arms and legs if anything simple needed doing or fetching, and also to read out loud to Laura to pass the time if it needed passing. (The book she chose was The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, an old classic and a favorite of mine. On hearing of my assignment, faraway friends D and M had said something like "yeah, you tell us if you get to read any of it..." In the end they were right, of course.)
So my expectations for the day weren't well-formed, to say the least. I'd seen various dramatized births on TV, but of course those are nothing like the thing itself. I did have John & Laura's birth plan to go by, but it only gave the broad outlines. (The plan was printed up with multiple copies strewn around the room. I'd say about half of it got followed in the end.)
The (Not So) Very Long Morning
We arrived a bit after 9:00am, and Laura had started the Pitocin drip. (Having witnessed its effects, I think it should have a more descriptive name, like BabyOutNow™.) We had a bit of time to chat, with Laura occasionally pausing for mild contractions, but it wasn't very long before the contractions increased in intensity. We could tell because Laura had fetal and contraction monitors hooked up; we could also tell because Laura was getting much quieter. At one point, she layed down. Not too much later, John and Lyn were talking across the bed about nothing important when there appeared a hushing hand in the air halfway between them. Laura was requesting quiet as best she could, and we tried to provide it from that point on. No book reading now!
What surprised me was that even with BabyOutNow™ inducing labor, it still took many, many contractions and pauses before we were worth much attention from the nurses and the doctors; aside from a supposedly-hourly visit from a nurse to check Laura's numbers, we were left entirely alone for about five hours. I never got the sense from various dramatizations that even a sped-up labor takes so long.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't boring: monitoring a pregnant friend and trying to anticipate what she might like or need is very engaging work. I was just a little surprised at the slow ramp-up of activity. Sure I've heard about 14-hour labors (and longer) before, but I thought the pushing and commotion would start much sooner than it did.
Laura's contraction monitor (a belt-like thing around her middle) worked on an apparently arbitrary scale. A few times, after it had shifted on her body, John would ask Laura if she was having a contraction then; if not, he would hit a switch. This let the machine set a baseline. I thought at the beginning that John said it went from 0 to 100, but he must not have. Initially the contractions maxed out around 50, then 60, 70, 90, but as the day went on I was mildly alarmed to see them up around 120 and later 150+. Laura had made it clear early that she didn't want to know the readings at all, let alone from moment to moment, so my automatic urges to say 'wow' or 'holy cow' every time the peak number jumped a few dozen points had to be roughly snuffed.
The peaks weren't the only eyebrow-raising thing about the contractions; the later ones had multiple peaks combined with very sudden changes in magnitude, from say 60 to 130 to 90 to 70 to 140 in the space of two seconds. It was impressive and a bit scary, and I have to wonder how much the Pitocin contributed to the contractions' variations and severity. Or maybe the monitor just wasn't giving good readings. Or maybe it's all really that violent.
Since Laura had asked for quiet early on, we weren't doing any of the traditional vocal coaching during the early-to-middle contractions. One of the nurses' visits coincided with a contraction and she talked Laura through it, letting her know when the contraction was subsiding. She then admonished the rest of us to be doing the same so Laura would have some external clue about whether to expect things to be getting better or worse in the next moment. Lyn did some of that from then on, leaning close in and almost whispering (rather than cheerleading as seen on TV). Laura seemed to like that fine, or at least didn't ask for anything different.
So. John was standing near the bed and giving encouragement, Lyn was sitting down at head-level whisper-coaching, and I didn't have an obvious task. Mid-morning, Laura had complained of the temperature in the room to one of the nurses, who turned the thermostat down from (and these are air-quotes) "60 F" to "55 F" (when it couldn't have been cooler than 71 when Laura asked for a change). The room later did get slightly cooler, but Laura was clearly generating a lot of heat and could use more relief than the inaccurate thermostat could provide. At some point I remembered we had brought a bunch of washcloths from home; I went off to dampen one with water so she could use it on her forehead (or wherever). That seemed to help a little bit, but the faucet wasn't putting out very cold water no matter what I did, so it was only a little cooler than the air in the room.
Sometime in the morning, John and I found the unlimited-ice-chip machine (very nearby, thankfully). Laura ate only a couple of chips at first, then near the end asked for more whenever the excitement died down. It occurred to me around midday that the ice chips combined with cool water in one of the several little plastic basins (in case of nausea -- Laura asked for one early on but never used it) would be a way to provide better, cooler cloths. Thereafter I attempted to have two cool cloths available for her at any time; it was the most useful thing I could come up with to do, and it required attention that Lyn and John couldn't spare.
There were a few times I helped in other ways, like when there hadn't been a nurse in to check on us for rather longer than an hour. I went out to fetch "our" nurse, but not only was she not in evidence near the nurses' station, nobody else was either. I heard a bunch of them off in the back room having a laugh over who knows what. I tried to look like someone who needed immediate attention, and tried to get someone's (anyone's) ear with various audible signals. Finally somebody did peek out and standoffishly listened to my request for someone to come by. Dismissed, I went back to our room; a couple of minutes later, someone (not our regular) did in fact show up, which I doubt would have happened if I hadn't been available to go foraging for aid. Score one for having an extra body around.
And, aside from the occasional fetching of items not in reach of the principal and two secondaries, that's the extent of my participation until after the birth itself. As a lay observer, I can note the following for anyone who will be having or attending a birth:
- The specialized labor beds for delivery have many cool features: their height can be increased or decreased by the occupant or a nearby helper; they can even raise their upper and lower halves independently; they can have a section removed so the doctor has a place to sit in her/his catcher's stance, etc. What they do not have, however, is any kind of back support. Laura could have used something supporting her lower back (I don't know if tennis balls would have helped, but I'm sure a lumbar pillow would have.)
- Having an extra person around with no specific assignment just in case things need doing never hurts. :)
Now is the time when we push
Nobody checked how far Laura was dilated from before the time we arrived to about midday, at which point she had gone from 2cm to between 6 and 7cm dilated (or so the nurse said; the method for measuring centimeters is astonishingly imprecise, involving finger-widths, wind direction and invisible spots on the ceiling). Given how hard Laura was working not to push during her contractions, we were hoping she'd gone a good distance, and indeed she had. We all went from nervously hushed to cheerful and quietly talkative again once we got that news; things were progressing well. I told Laura "apparently you're good at this" but was hushed by John. :)
The delivering doctor was called, and eventually visited us. Through more contractions (now eliciting groans from the mom), she'd made it to the point of being nearly fully-dilated, with only a small lip remaining blocking the head. Doc told Laura she could push now, while he tried to move the lip out of the way. Laura was very relieved to be able to push (having successfully resisted the increasingly powerful urge until then), but then Doc just told the nurse "15 minutes" and took off, leaving us alone to interpret this as "it's still not ready, and don't push any more until I get back". Having no other options, that's what we did.
After about 30 minutes, he came back and they tried again. Still not quite there, but this time the doctor stuck around, and it wasn't long before the lip was out of the way and Laura was in the home stretch. With what I would later learn was an extraordinarily short bout of pushing, there was a baby's head visible. The birth plan had asked for a full-length mirror beyond the end of the bed so Laura could see what was going on, but she kept her eyes shut a lot at this point. John said he found it useful though, and Laura did at one point look and touch the baby's head when it was starting to show itself (she later said this was "very weird"). With only a few more pushes, Rosanna Lyn made her exit and entrance, loudly complaining at being pushed around so.
Everybody in the room was very happy! After being given to Laura briefly and declared a girl, the nurses took Rosanna and checked her out more closely. Though she looked great to us novices (breathing, getting pink, making noise), they declared something wasn't going as well as they'd like and gave her some oxygen. After a bit more fussing and the distribution of identi-bands to mom, dad and baby, they announced Rosanna was going to the NICU for more tests. Not having a lot of recourse, and being concerned in case there actually was something wrong, nobody put up much resistance. John accompanied them as far as he could (and so he could find the NICU again), then returned to us. Thus began the waiting.
"...I'd feel better if we had a baby..."
The doctor had stuck around for the placenta and to sew up a small tear, but was now long gone. A nurse attended to Laura, helping her clean up and attaching an automatic blood pressure cuff to take her BP at fifteen-minute intervals for an hour. Knowing they'd be vacating the delivery room for a recovery room soon, John and I took a bunch of our no-longer-necessary stuff back to our respective cars and left Laura and Lyn with the nurse.
When we came back, there had been no news, but the nurse assured us that we would hear something before she did and that the NICU would be in touch as soon as they knew something. Well, we waited through the hour's worth of blood pressure checks and there was no news. Then Laura was given a wheelchair and taken up to a new room while Lyn and I were instructed to go wait elsewhere while they got settled. After waiting the ordered ten minutes, we made our way to Laura's recovery room on the fourth floor. Still no news; this was increasingly frustrating.
At various times while waiting, any of us would end a sentence with a form of: "...but I'd feel better if we had a baby here."
<aside> My annoyance at the wait was exacerbated by my continued exposure to utter morons throughout the hospital. At every entrance, and at the exit of every elevator, was a prominent sign declaring NO Cell Phones. In a prior orientation session, it was stressed to us that cell phones operating inside the hospital were potentially hazardous because they could interfere with the operation of certain sensitive life support equipment, or something similarly dire, so either turn them off or leave them outside the hospital.
Back at the ranch, I was agitated and agitating for a call to whomever we had access to to find out what the hell was up. Eventually it was agreed upon, and John and I went down to the NICU to submit a polite but firm inquiry as to the status of their daughter.
Well, gosh, lots of people either can't read or won't listen, because there was a guy in the labor 'family' room on one, someone in the waiting room whose phone rang when she wasn't around, and a pair of young women walking around on the fourth floor chatting away on one. I wanted to shout at them, smack them... I don't know how strictly the hospital enforces the rule (though cell phone fool #1 did get corrected by the nurse accompanying us), and I don't know if there's a 'safe' number of cell phones to have active... but my instinct is, if it's worth it to the hospital to repeatedly make a point of emphatically saying 'NO', then you comply lest you cause somebody harm. Clearly there are people with other models of behavior. And they're uncaring and stupid, and one might wish on them that their own life support machine hiccup someday due to a moron just like them.</aside>
"Usually people come by sooner!"
We arrived at the NICU, John told the nice people at the desk his name, and a woman standing nearby recognized it and said "LastName? Oh yes, she's fine, would you like to see her?"
Stunned, one or both of us said "Yes!" and tried to elicit the reason we hadn't been informed that it was OK to see her. I still don't remember an actual substantive answer, just that it "slipped through the cracks" -- oh, and besides, "usually people come by sooner and ask." Aha! Of course! So the concerned parents were kept away from the newborn child because they followed directions. Gah!
Leaving the outrage for later, John very clear-headedly sent me upstairs to fetch the mama. (It's important to remember who still has the infant in their care before releasing rivers of invective their way such as John's thought-but-not-spoken "You motherless, goat-fucking, insensitive bastards.")
Arriving back on the fourth floor, I very carefully led with a straightforward "Rosanna's doing fine, John's with her and you can go see her now" rather than something more conversationally clever like "The good news is, she's fine, the bad news is, the people there were never going to tell you" or the even worse "Guess what?"... Never mess with a brand-new mom; you don't want to give them any unnecessary worries, even if only for a split-second.
After getting Laura's nurse to locate a wheelchair again, Lyn, Laura and I made our way down to the NICU. Mama was allowed back to see Rosanna, and Lyn and I waited at the NICU front desk for a long while. John came back and got Lyn first to take her in (only two people were allowed back there at a time, and I'm generally a more patient wait-er than Lyn). John and I caught up on the details, and finally Lyn came out and sent me in. I got to see Laura and Rosanna finally together, which was a very welcome sight. (Unfortunately she was hooked up to IVs and monitors, so not even Laura could hold her right away.) After chatting a few minutes with Laura and touching Rosanna's hair briefly, I left to let someone else back in.
John and Lyn were camped out in the hall. After some discussion (visiting hours would end soon, and we visitors wouldn't be allowed back at all then), it was decided that Lyn would go see mom and baby one last time and we would go.
John and I compared notes some more. I was surprised at his apparent lack of outrage at some of the things that had been done for (and to) them in a worse-than-desired fashion, and he simply noted that if he had reacted fully to each little thing along the whole nine-month journey that hadn't gone the way they wanted, well... it would be hard to function. In the end, they did have their baby, and Laura seemed undamaged, and those were truly the things to focus on now (though various people may be getting letters down the line).
Lyn returned from the NICU, we said auf wiedersehen and congratulations, and headed back to Virginia, pausing for dinner at Macaroni Grill.
On Friday, I was thoroughly beat, to the point of staying in bed much longer than I usually do (and I was well aware that I had very little excuse compared to anyone else involved). We didn't hear much news about her status, but we didn't expect to either; they needed to focus on Rosanna, not on keeping extras apprised. We did speak to them on Saturday, and Rosanna seemed well enough that she'd be going home in the next week. They okayed a visit from us on Sunday, which Lyn wrote about here (with pictures!). There, each of us finally held the untethered, beautiful baby.
In all, it was an amazing, moving experience for Lyn and I, and decisively bonded us to the little girl; we're excitedly looking forward to being her doting local aunt and uncle. Thanks to John and Laura for allowing us into a very intimate, momentous event, and Rosanna Lyn, when you read this: remember that we saw you born and held you when you were just three days old, young lady. You have to at least listen to us. ;)
-- Steve Bogart