I am always honored when students from my birth class ask me to be a part of their labor and birth. No matter what the role, attending births is a passion of mine. For Karen and Adam my role was to document the birth of their first child, Madeline (aka Maddie J), through photos. What I ended up capturing was much different.
The following is shared with permission to give others a glimpse inside an amazing labor that has changed my life forever.
12/21/12 – Karen’s due date and surprisingly the day she actually went into labor. She texted me at about 8:30 that morning to let me know her contractions were getting more regular but still pretty far apart.
The day went on with no major updates. Finally I got the call at 9:30pm. They were headed to the hospital! The last thing Karen said before she hung up was, “I don’t think I can do this”. I was so excited to get to the hospital to watch her prove to herself that she could!
I arrived about 20 minutes after Karen and Adam. She was dilated to almost a 7 and contractions were less than 3 minutes apart. A text-book perfect labor!
I love watching first time dads try to figure out labor. Adam was so enthusiastic and so nervous at the same time, it was heartwarming to see. Everyone in the room could tell he was ready to be a dad. Once they were in a rhythm, I couldn’t help but smile. As their birthing instructor I would love to take credit for their amazing labor skills but there are some things that can’t be taught. Like how whenever Karen’s breathing would start to speed up and she’d start to get tense, with one phrase, “breath from within”, Adam could relax her completely. It was truly beautiful.
Time went on and Karen moved to the tub (side note: hospitals that offer birth tubs are amazing and I think all others should follow suit). Signs starting pointing towards transition, I got excited and starting reminding them about what they could expect…”the hardest shortest part, the hardest shortest part”. Everyone was braced and ready for contractions to pick up but instead they began to taper off.
I learned, even before my own labor, that you never put a time stamp on when you think things will happen, so the hardest question to answer from a laboring woman is, “How much longer?”. Being reassuring without making promises is tricky when it comes to birth. All you can do is tell mom that her baby will come when ready. Another thing I’ve learned this past year in this field is that there is a connection between mothers. I had been in her shoes, the feeling that labor is never going to end, the exhaustion hurting more than the contractions. Honestly one of the most surreal moments of my life so far was when Karen said, “I can’t do this much longer”…. I looked her straight in the eyes and for a moment the room was silent, “You already have done it. You’ve got this and your daughter will be here soon.” Karen smiled, nodded her head, and had a new resurgence of energy. I have said things like this to other laboring moms but this was different. I was not the medical professional in the room, but I believed it with all my heart. Maddie was on her way and I knew her mom was going to have the perfect birth!
Karen moved to the bed to try to get some rest but contractions were picking back up. They were closer together and last longer. Finally the moment we’d all been waiting for, the urge to push! Without even being prompted to or being checked to see if dilation was complete Karen started pushing and Adam starting tearing up. He later described his emotions to me as incredible, that he couldn’t believe her body just knew to do that. He could not stop talking about how amazed he was by his wife strength both emotionally and physically.
The room got excited and cheered Karen on. Then before we knew it nearly 2 hours had passed. Baby’s heart rate was dropping every time she engaged in the pelvis. Progress had stopped. The midwife checked Maddie’s position and found she was too high for a forceps delivery and thought an epidural would be a good option so they could try to reposition her and avoid a cesarean. Hospital protocol required everyone but dad to leave the room so it was out to the lobby for the waiting game.
Another hour went by and finally Adam came out. They could not successfully reposition Maddie and had to take Karen back for an emergency cesarean. Adam sat down looking so remorseful. This is not how you’re supposed to feel at your child’s birth. He hadn’t even gotten to see his daughter yet because of minor complications. They had told him everyone was fine and he could come to recovery in a few minutes. “This is the worst thing that could have happened,” he said. My heart was filled with guilt. I knew once he got to hold his sweet girl and see Karen again he would bounce back, but until then I felt like I had to do something. We talked things through and by the time the nurse came to take him back I think he had begun to process the fact that they tried EVERYTHING possible and their cesarean was 100% necessary.
After some bonding time Adam brought my camera out to me and told me their midwife had taken it into the operating room and was able to get a few shots of Maddie just minutes old and photos of the first time he got to meet his daughter!
I left the hospital at 8:00 Saturday morning still not sure how to feel about everything. I didn’t want Karen to be angry at me. I didn’t want her to feel like I led her on when I told her she could do it. Then I got this text…
“Hey…Thanks again for all of your help. Karen’s spirits are high and we are perfectly fine with how everything turned out. We got to experience the miracle of a natural labor and it was AMAZING!! We would love to talk in front of your next Bradley class or even multiple classes and provide some useful information.”
Things don’t always go according to plan, but focusing on the positive aspects even in negative situations will take you a long way. I cannot thank Karen and Adam enough for letting me be a part of such an important day in their lives. Congratulations you two and welcome to the world Miss Maddie!