The final day (June 25, 2012) of the 2011-12 school year passed without an event. The typical feelings relief and accomplishment were strong, but overshadowed by the impending arrival of our baby. I was looking forward to several days of relaxation before going into overdrive to prepare for our July 7 due date.
While celebrating another successful effort with my colleagues, my wife called. She met with midwife/naturopath — platelets were still low; baby was becoming larger by the day; she'd be taking two doses of castor oil to accelerate the progress.
I ordered another gin and tonic, downed it forthwith, and headed home. I spent the next few days doing baby chores — I believe I built several mobiles and purchased a few remaining supplies for the home birth, among other things — and caring for my wife who suffered greatly through the first dose of castor oil. Time passed, and I tried to prepare myself mentally while remaining supportive.
On June 27, I prepared a smoothie and the second dose of castor oil for my wife, who had chosen to sleep on the couch due to its close proximity to the toilet, before heading to bed. At 12:15 AM, I heard her:
"Babe? Can you come hang out with me a bit. This fucking castor oil is killing me." I fumbled with my glasses, pulled myself out of bed, and joined her on the couch.
"Did you call the midwife?" I asked.
"Well, no, I don't know. I think it's just this damn castor oil wreaking havoc on my intestines again," she replied.
"OK, well keep an eye on –"
"Urrgghh!" and my wife darted to bathroom to vomit.
Upon her return, she seems a bit better before the onset of extreme lower back pain. At her behest, I applied consistent pressure to indicated points on her back. Despite my uneasiness in this sort of task, I placed my trust in my wife. (She is both a certified yoga instructor and licensed massage practitioner.)
This continued cyclically until 12:45. The power went out. We later learn that there was a random once-in-a-decade equipment failure — go figure. In any event, we're quite accustomed to dealing with blackouts in our neck of the woods. I lit candles and rejoined my wife who was regularly suffering large bursts of pain. As I applied pressure to her back, I felt what seemed to be a small spheroid pressing towards her spine. Of course, as a lay-person who can barely differentiate the femur from the humerus, I said nothing.
Shortly after one o'clock, we snuff the candles and attempted to go to bed, this time together as the castor oil has passed. At 1:15 a.m., my wife woke with a start and phones the midwife. "Babe?" She pushes my arm. I'd fallen back to sleep. "Doctor says to get the birth tub ready. She's on her way."
With a surge of adrenaline, I leapt out of bed. I inflated the birth tub in record time, beating my trial runs by a considerable amount. My wife was marching up and down our small hallway, claiming it was providing her relief. She seemed fine, so I focused on my tasks. As I prepared to run the hose from the kitchen to our living room, a grim thought crosses my mind, and I shout: "Shit! Damn! Fuck! The heating pump doesn't have any fucking electricity. Babe! I'm going outside to get the propane stove and a headlamp!"
I darted outside to the shed, using my cell phone as a crude flashlight. It's about 1:45. Fortunately, we keep our camping gear impeccably organized. I located the headlamp promptly, and retrieved the camping stove and reserve propane shortly thereafter. As I headed back to the house, my wife yelled, "Babe! I need you to get over here! Doctor's on speaker phone for you."
"Oh, OK. That's cool." I placed the stove on a bench, "Hey, Doc."
"Hi, it's me. So, you're going to be delivering the baby before I can arrive. I'm going to be relying on you to describe what's happening and talk you through the process."
"Oh, sounds good." We'd somehow wandered back inside. My wife was lying on our living room floor. She emitted a primal roar. I inferred the necessary position and sat between her legs. This is actually impressive if you recall my previously-stated deficiencies in anatomical knowledge.
"Can you tell me what you see?" the midwife inquired.
I peered downwards, silently praising my sage decision to grab the headlamp. "It looks like the baby may be crowning, but I'm not sure." My wife roared.
"Alright, I need you to get a towel." I grabbed a towel from our homebirth kit. There are a few more contractions, each accompanied by a roar. I described the progression of the crowning. "OK, on her next push, the baby's head will likely emerge."
As the midwife said this, my wife pushed and there was our baby's head. It looked like a balloon — it was quite surreal. "Can you keep describing what you see?" the midwife chimed in over speakerphone.
"Um? It looks like a balloon."
"Oh. It looks like you'll need to break the sac."
"How in the hell am I supposed to do that?"
"Use your fingers. Be careful."
"OK then." I peeled the sac away from the baby's face, licking the tips clean since I hadn't had an opportunity to wash after rooting through our grimy shed.
"Why isn't he crying?" My wife interrupted the lull with a panicked shriek. I restated the question to our midwife who calmly reminds us that the baby won't cry until he's fully out. She then tells me that the next push will be the one.
I readied the towel, and gently eased the baby into it as he's born, promptly handing him to my wife after checking gender at her request.
It's now two o'clock in the morning if you're still keeping track.
The midwife instructed me to shroud mom and baby with blankets and to check for bleeding. "A bit of a trickle, doctor," I replied.
"Oh? Well, you need to prepare some cinnamon tea and I will be there immediately. Keep them warm." I applied additional blankets to mom and placed a hat on our son then step outside to make tea on the camping stove.
While outside, I stared at my cell phone's clock for what seems to be an eternity. After reentering the house, I continued staring, wondering where our midwife could be. After forty minutes, she arrived along with her assistant who's our family chiropractor.
The midwife immediately tends to mom and baby as I flopped into a recliner, nearly crushing our cat. I dozed off slightly, only to be interrupted by the midwife exclaiming, "Woo, that's quite a knot in the cord. Good thing you're so efficient, Mama." I sighed — loudly. They giggled.
At that point the electricity returned, allowing my wife to be tended to by the doctor. She required about two hours of stitching while I sleepily cradled our son. I was mercifully kept well away from the process, but I hear it was some damn impressive medical suture work.
Later, I made her a smoothie at the midwife's insistence. When the stitching was finished, I made myself a sandwich. The assistant supervised to make sure I actually ate it. She's our chiropractor and knows I refrain from eating when under stress. It's frightening how shrewd she is.
The midwife and assistant departed after finishing their work, and we fell asleep with our son between us.
I spent the next two months caring for wife and child. Since I am a high school teacher, the calendar placement of our son's birth could not have been more convenient — two marvelous months devoted to nurturing and bonding with my family before I returned to work.
Fatherhood is different than I expected. Rather than limiting our lives, our son has motivated us to do far more with ourselves than we otherwise would have. I'm thrilled that our son has already been on eight hikes across the state, from ocean to river valley to mountaintop, and I'm surprisingly excited for whatever comes next. He is awesome.
You can read Zack's wife's version of the birth story here.