Ice chip boy
by Jon Worley
Barbara and I had it all planned out. We spent seven Sunday evenings at Bradley childbirth classes. We read countless books. We practiced all sorts of massage and relaxation techniques. We were going "natural," no doubt about it.
More than one sage has said a few things about such rigid planning. Turns out there's a reason such folks are considered wise.
If you are unfamiliar with The Bradley Method (the name is trademarked, by the way), it's apparently about as popular as Lamaze. There are a lot of similarities between the two methods. We picked Bradley because it's more holistic and doesn't focus so much on specific techniques such as breathing patterns, instead giving couples many different ways to combat various difficulties that can arise during labor.
The books didn't mention what to do about incessant vomiting--like every two minutes even though the contractions were tolerable. So much for walking the halls and hanging out under a hot shower to stave off the pain.
After about nine hours of labor, our midwife prescribed some drugs to keep Barbara from heaving up her large intestine. She had to be hooked to an IV and put in bed. And so our shot at a natural childbirth ended almost before it began.
Barbara spent all of Sunday morning (beginning just after midnight) laboring without progressing. When the first drugs wore off about noon, the midwife said we needed to use Pitocin (a labor inducing drug) to get things going, as Barbara's water broke as her labor started. Folks in hospitals (and our midwives are part of a traditional OB/Gyn practice) don't like it when women don't deliver within 18 hours of "membrane rupture" (a somewhat more technical term for "water breaking"), and in fact they run antibiotics at that point to ward off infection. Once Pitocin became necessary, with its intense contractions, Barbara took an epidural.
This is where I balked. I was still mad at myself for not saying anything when the first drugs administered in the morning, and so I asked a lot of questions. The midwife said she was less concerned about how we (well, I) wanted to do the birth than with getting the baby out--and making sure Barbara was healthy as well. She was nice when she said it, but in effect she pointed out that I wasn't the one in labor, and my opinions were only so useful.
Many OBs and people who believe that a medicated birth is a modern birth say things like "I hate seeing mothers make martyrs of themselves." Yeah, me too, but we spent an awful lot of time preparing mentally and physically for a non-medicated birth. A birth that allowed us to work together as a team and allowed our baby to arrive alert and free of sedatives. Oh well. As soon as the first drugs hit, Barbara fell asleep. And she also slept most of the afternoon as the Pitocin opened her up fully, the pain erased by the epidural.
An epidural affects the lower part of a woman's body. She can still push, but it is more difficult to feel and understand what she is doing. A much larger percentage of epidural births involve the vacuum (which is a plastic cup attached to a hose which is pumped tight against the baby's head), forceps or, worst of all, a Cesarean section. With C-sections there are serious possible dangers to both baby and mother, and so many people--a good many doctors included--believe that the procedure should be the birth of last resort. Thing is, at some hospitals the C-section rate approaches 50 percent or higher. And it is true that once you start down the medicated path, chances of a C-section increase rapidly. I didn't want Barbara or our baby end up there unless it was absolutely necessary.
So I balked at the Pitocin and epidural, though I gave in after Barbara insisted. I read a Fletch novel while she labored silently, occasionally dropping an ice chip in her mouth when she stirred. Medication demoted me from "husband coach" (Dr. Bradley's book is called Husband-Coached Childbirth) to "ice chip boy." Oh sure, I held her leg and hand when she pushed, and I rubbed a wet washcloth across her face as she tried to shove our baby out (even though the pain was greatly diminished, labor took just as great a toll on her body and strength). Eventually the doctor was called in. He tried the vacuum, and then went to the forceps.
We saw a lot of videotaped childbirths in our class. There was a lot of grunting and sweating and screaming, but nothing like what I saw with the forceps. When the doctor got a grip on our baby's head and tried to yank it out, I thought the brain would explode. Our baby's head looked like Stretch Armstrong's as it snaked it way into the world. Freaked the hell out of me, though apparently I managed to hide this unease from Barbara, who was, of course, still pushing. Maybe she was a bit too busy to notice my shaky hands, bulging eyes and rapid breathing.
After a couple of yanks, our baby's head fully plopped out. From there, the body followed quickly. Even before the feet fell out, I could see that it was a boy. He hadn't even cried when I leaned up to Barbara and told her. She smiled that pleased, exhausted smile that all new mothers share. And then she told me to do my job and take care of the baby while the doctor and midwife took care of her.
I'd been sulking so much about my demotion to ice chip boy that I forgot about my post-partum duty: Follow the baby around to all of its necessary stops (Vitamin K injection, eye drops--more of an ointment, really, weighing, measuring, cleaning and all that). When our boy hit the scales, we learned why forceps were needed: The "little" guy we were told to expect came in at nine pounds, eight-and-a-half ounces. Twenty-three inches long (though the nurse estimated that his actual length would be a mere twenty-two and a half after the "conehead" effect wore off). A huge child in any book. A perfectly normal child, a boy whose forceps bruises would wear off in days. In the end, that's the goal, right? A healthy child and mother.
Earlier that afternoon, after Barbara was on the epidural but before she started pushing, we had a chance to chat with our midwife. The midwife mentioned in passing--not in relation to one of our questions--that the midwives in Durham had a C-section rate of 15 percent and an epidural rate of 33 percent. Both of these figures show that our midwives--the people we put our trust in nine months ago--don't press for medication capriciously. After the midwife left to check on another incipient mother, I told Barbara I wouldn't have been such a butthead about the epidural if I'd known the stats the midwife quoted. Nonetheless, in a moment of crisis, I lost faith in the people I needed most to heed. I'd bought into the whole Bradley "the medical establishment is out to get you and your baby drugged out" spiel and forgotten about the real reason for Bradley or Lamaze or any sort of childbirth classes. Drs. Bradley and Lamaze and everyone else want the healthiest, happiest babies and mothers possible. Many times this is best achieved without painkilling drugs. Sometimes drugs are necessary. Barbara needed them. Our baby didn't suffer because of them. He's healthy, happy and already a pro at breastfeeding after only two days of practice. Barbara is exhausted and sore, but also healthy and happy.
It's great to have fathers involved in the births of their children. I think that it very well might help many fathers create an early bond with their children. But the people who matter most at the time of birth are the mothers and babies. If the fathers have to get their feelings hurt a little, so be it. And if I had to put up with being ice chip boy for a few hours to ensure the healthy birth of our child, I can honestly say I'd take the demotion every time.