These last two weeks have been a whirlwind for me. My wife, Mariana, gave birth to our first-born son, Nicolas. Up until his birth, we did everything by the book. Check ups, nutrition, birth classes, breast feeding classes, you name it, we did it. To be honest, her pregnancy could not have been more perfect. No complications, nothing to worry about, she had a very healthy pregnancy. Being first- time parents, we thought, “this is great!” I do not know what everyone complains about. Then it happened…
It’s Monday October 15th, we are sound asleep. She is corralled by her body pillow, pregnancy pillow, and I am in that little one foot of space left on the bed trying not to roll off the side. Being the light sleeper that I am, I hear her giving out grunts of discomfort. “Baby, what’s up?” I ask. She tells me how she started feeling pains similar to strong cramps in her lower abdomen. Mind you, our baby’s due date is November 2nd, so the thought of him coming now never crossed our minds. They were not major pains, but manageable. Since it is after 1:30 a.m., we decide to try to sleep it off and if anything continues we can call the doctor in the morning.
The following morning her discomfort continues. She calls in sick to work and then decides to call the doctor. The doctor mentions how this is “normal” (I have come to find out how much I hate this word), and that usually a week or so before labor she will experience this as her body is “prepping” for delivery. They tell her she is just experiencing a case of Braxton Hicks contractions. As the day progresses, her pain becomes more unbearable. Being the prepared parents that we are, we use all our resources from our childbirth classes and start monitoring her contractions. We follow the 5-1-1 rule. Five minutes in between contractions, with a one-minute duration, during a one-hour time frame. Upon my insistence, the hospital finally allows me to bring her in.
At the hospital, they put all these monitors on her. One for contractions, one for the baby’s heartbeat, which, at this point I am thinking how invasive this is, not realizing that this is nothing compared to what was ahead. After they monitor and check her vitals, they ask her to describe what she is feeling. Once she is done describing her discomfort, they then start to look at each other and it seems as if they want to burst out laughing thinking of how “wimpy” we are and that we have no idea what is ahead, but their professionalism allowed them to contain themselves. Going to the invasive part of our day, they check to feel her cervix and see if she is dilated. “I can barely get the tip of my finger in the cervix” says the nurse. She lets us know that means she is not even dilated. They then explain the same thing that was explained to us on the phone: that this is “normal” and that she is probably experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions, which can be weeks, if not days, before labor. “Trust me, you will definitely know the difference when the contractions get real” says one of the nurses. So by 6:30 p.m. we are sent home.
When we leave the hospital we are at ease because the discomfort has subsided a bit, leaving us to think that maybe the nurses were right all along. But as soon as we get back to our apartment, things take a turn for the worse. She starts experiencing excruciating pain in her lower back. To be honest, I cannot even try to describe what she was feeling, all I know is that I would burst into tears (apparently I have discovered that I am the biggest crybaby there is, and will cry over anything) seeing the pain and discomfort that she is experiencing. It is something I do not wish upon anyone; the feeling of helplessness, knowing that the woman you love with all your heart is suffering this great pain and you cannot do anything to help her through it. Again reverting to our childbirth class, we try different positions to attempt to ease the pain and pressure in her lower back. We use a stability ball, we try slow dancing and rocking side to side, we even try massages and it does not work. Every time a contraction comes, I am ready so she can hold my hand, squeeze with all her might and try to survive those 45 to 60 seconds of pure hell until it starts again four minutes later. We go through this for the next couple of hours. All we can think about is the nurses saying that this could be the next couple of days leading up to birth. “Is this really nothing compared to the real thing?” Mariana would ask? We think, there is no way she can tolerate this the next couple of days. This has to be the real thing.
It is now 12:30 am on Wednesday morning and the contractions have really intensified. She is barely able to walk or even stand. Upon my insistence, Mariana never wanted to go back fearing they would send her home again, I call the hospital again and have them admit us. Once again they hook her up to all these monitors, and they then check her cervix to see if she is dilated at all. One centimeter. Just one centimeter. Apparently you can go days being dilated one centimeter. Again, they see how she is suffering from these contractions and they again look at each other as if they think she is “milking” it. Finally a little sympathy comes over them and they tell us that they have a suggestion. They say that they can offer intravenous medicine (IV), but unfortunately it cannot be pain medicine. By administering pain medicine, they risk delaying labor because the medicine would filter to the baby, knocking him out as well, causing him to stop doing what he is supposed to do. So they offer medicine that will relax her and hopefully put her to sleep for a little so she can ride out her “Braxton Hicks” contractions until they appear later in the day or tomorrow (according to them). It is now 3 a.m. and they finally administer the IV medicine. She is finally knocked out cold and has some rest from 3 to 5 a.m. They tell me to try to rest too, but that is impossible. Even though she is asleep, you can tell every time she is having a contraction. Her body starts to move and contort as if she is possessed and an exorcist is trying to extract the demon. OK, maybe I am a little overboard with my description, but you can definitely tell she is having a contraction. I would give her my hand and she would squeeze while still asleep until the contraction was over.
She is able to sleep for two hours and at 5 a.m. you can tell the medicine is starting to wear off. She is now waking up every time there is a contraction, then falling back to sleep and doing it again. Once the medicine fully wears off, she is now awake and the pain is back and there is no way she can tolerate it. Every time there is a contraction, she tells me how the pain in her back is so unbearable. She begs me to massage her back during the contraction, but even that does not help. We keep this up until 6:30 a.m., and I am getting even more scared and crying more than before because every time she gets a contraction, I fear she will pass out because of the pain. I call the nurse and beg her to give her another dose. “I can’t” she says, “the doctor will come check her at 7:30 and she will determine if we administer another dose.” Not appreciating her response, I beg her again to please speak to the doctor or to reconsider. I feel my insistence might have worked because finally the doctor has walked in!
It is 7:10 a.m. and the doctor finally hears our cries for help! She again checks Mariana’s cervix, and as she takes the gloves off her hand and discards them, I can see she has a confused looked on her face. “Wow, 9 centimeters.” She was shocked that in less that 4 hours she dilated from one centimeter to NINE. “She’s ready” is all I hear, with an expression where she is acknowledging that maybe we were right all along. We were not “milking” it. Her pain was real. Now it was off to the hot tub in the hopes she can relax before she is ready for the hardest part of this whole process.
While this all is happening, she is still experiencing her contractions every four minutes. She still squeezes my hand and I still massage her back. The only difference is that now we transfer to the hot tub and continue the process there. While the jets are going, she is trying to relax and endure every contraction. After about 10 minutes she lets me know how she has the urge to go to the bathroom. I very calmly ask “number one or two?” and she responds, “two.” Again, very calmly, I tell her I will go get the nurse to help us. As I get the nurse, I tell her my wife needs to go to the bathroom. The nurse then asks me “number one or two?” Before I even give her my answer, she starts to freak out, saying she is getting everybody! I have no idea what just happened. She just has to go to the bathroom, what is the big deal? And then I found out…
That phrase is the sign that she is ready to push! The nurse freaked out because she did not want the baby to come and be born in the hot tub. Out of all the classes we took, all the preparation we went through, I forget the one important detail that would let us know that the baby is coming NOW. As we are walking to the bed, all I can hear my wife do is beg the nurse to tell the doctor to please administer the epidural. That her pain is too much, she needs an epidural. Once again, my eyes start brimming with tears because all I hear the nurse respond with is “it’s too late for that now, she’s 9 centimeters dilated, she’s ready to go.” That feeling of helplessness and knowing that she is in such great pain and it is only going to get worse is just this big punch in the gut and all I can think is, “what do I do?” They then bring her to the bed so the magic can begin. They try to get her comfortable to push in different positions, the traditional on your back, on all fours in a squat position, even on her side (she apparently did best in this position, which is not common, according to them) but once we start seeing the baby’s head making an appearance, they put her on her back again. My wife was a trooper, no epidural, under great pain, pushing in such a way hoping that baby Nicolas would come out in one try. She was amazing. Then she hit a wall.
The adrenaline rush she was experiencing was like no other. Unfortunately, not sleeping the last 30-plus hours combined with the pain of her contractions and fatigue, caused her legs to give out. She had nothing left in the tank. This was finally my chance to make my mark. During the whole process I was by her side, holding her hand, propping her leg up so she could push, but finally I was able to use my expertise to my advantage. She needed to control her breathing. She was doing a great job, but now she was tired. She needed to get those last pushes to help baby Nicolas finally enter this world. So I reverted to my strength and conditioning practices of breathing and bracing. There is a direct relation with her breathing compared to breathing just like someone who is about to perform a maximum-effort lift. Whether it is a max squat, deadlift or bench press, the breathing process is very similar. So I explained to her to take a deep breath, hold, brace her stomach and push as she held her breath. Who knew this direct correlation helped, and after she settled down, she was able to dig deep and after a couple of more pushes, he was here!
It truly is an amazing thing. Watching this baby boy come out and immediately be put on my wife’s chest for skin-to-skin contact is something else. I could not believe he was inside her stomach. The anticipation from day one of what he would look like, does he have all ten fingers and ten toes, whose features will he have, will he have a lot of hair or little hair, will he be tall (looking at his hands and feet I am hoping he did get one thing from me!) all were answered. It was truly an incredible feeling and those 30-plus hours of sleep deprivation went out the window. As the staff poured in and congratulated us, I could not help letting out even more tears, but now of joy for the birth of our son and the incredible sacrifice my wife put herself and her body through for us. She truly is amazing and my tears were showing her just that as I gave her a kiss, saying “thank you.”
In the end, I would not trade this experience for the world. I will say, every childbirth class, Google search, YouTube video or article can give you knowledge of what to expect, but every baby is different, every mother is different, and every situation is different. In the end you can think you are ready, but there is not anything that can really help you prepare for this great moment. I cannot wait for us to tell Nicolas about the day he was born.