"and forget those newborn diapers, too." She was dressing the newest member of our family--our grandson,Tristan--after his entry into the world.
We'd met our daughter and her husband at the hospital about eleven hours earlier, at 6 a.m., after getting the phone call we'd been waiting for a couple of hours before that. Both were greatly disappointed to find that instead of being admitted to the Alternate Birth Care Unit (ABC), she'd have to go to Labor and Delivery (L and D). There are only three rooms in the ABC unit, and all were full. However, one of the rooms could open by late morning or early afternoon, in which case she'd be transferred.
This was a real blow, and I understood perfectly. Nearly twenty-five years ago I'd been moved from what was then called the Birthing Center to the hospital proper while in labor with my son. It meant moving from an individualized, comfortable, homey setting to a cold, medicalized one. It meant being at the mercy of electronic instruments rather than being guided by the care, experience, and artistry of nurses trained to think of childbirth as a natural occurrence requiring, for the majority of women, the least possible interference. It is indeed a blessing that modern medicine has made childbirth safer for women and that women at risk for complications or life-threatening conditions can now be assured the care that usually sees them through to a good outcome. But standard labor-and-delivery units in most hospitals in the U.S. are too often operated as if every pregnant woman and her expected child run grave risks that can be lessened only through the use of inflexible rules and the latest monitoring equipment, drugs, and malpractice-lawsuit-proof procedures.
The midwife (a certified nurse-midwife) had left instructions that in L and D my daughter was to be given food and drink as needed. This alone is a departure from the standard L and D procedure, which says that women are to be given only ice chips. What a contrast to the ABC unit, where laboring women are urged to drink plenty of water in order to avoid dehydration and to keep the uterus more supple. In L and D, the fetal heartbeat was monitored every 30 minutes for a full minute; that in itself was unusual, because usually women are hooked up to a monitor at all times. The midwife, however, left instructions that my daughter was to be allowed to walk around at will, since this can speed up labor.
However, my daughter refused to do anything that would speed her labor, because she wanted to be in the ABC. Besides that, I'm convinced that her anxiety about being in L and D, and her inborn stubbornness, completely shut down any progress she might have made. In any case, nothing happened for hours and hours.
My husband and I fetched bagels, cream cheese, and coffee for the four of us and brought it back to the room. Later, he and I went out to lunch and brought back food for the father-to-be. The mother-to-be was having a bit of nausea and couldn't decide whether she wanted to eat or not. Around noon she was transferred to the ABC unit, and the pace began to pick up.
Over at ABC, she had a lovely, large room with a tree outside the window. A luxurious jacuzzi was in the corner for use during labor. She was free to eat, drink, walk about, and decide what made her most comfortable. The nurses weren't happy with her lack of progress and immediately advised her on actions she could take to get things going. Back in L and D, my daughter would probably have had labor induced via medications, which can have some unhappy side effects. Here in ABC, different techniques were used, which I won't go into here, but which, I must say, proved to be quite effective.
By 3 p.m. my daughter was in active labor, and by 4:30 she was no longer comfortable having her dad in the room. (He'd brought along some professional reading in anticipation of this.) By now she was having a rough time. She got into the jacuzzi, and the nurses and midwife (who had now arrived) were great about locating the fetal heartbeat under water so she wouldn't have to climb in and out. They urged her to drink water and to take things one contraction at a time.
Finally it became obvious that the delivery was about to occur. Very hard work it was, with my son-in-law, a midwife, two to three nurses, and me all helping her, holding her hand, encouraging her, and monitoring her. At last my grandson, bruised but healthy, came into the world, at 7:39 p.m., June 23. All the nurses immediately said, "He's gotta be at least ten pounds!" They took bets, with the highest weight bet on being 10 lbs., 7 oz. Asked how she felt, my daughter said, "Relieved! And I never have to do that again!" I was an emotional mess, sobbing away out of joy, out of sorrow for the pain my daughter had been through, out of sheer emotional overload. I went out to tell my husband that our grandbaby had arrived.
The midwife had predicted the baby's weight at something like 8 pounds, 8 ounces to maybe 8 pounds 12 ounces. Weighing the baby had to postponed for a while as other things took precedence, but an hour or so after he was born, one of the nurses finally placed him on the scale.
He weighed in at eleven pounds, three ounces, one ounce shy of the biggest baby the midwife had ever delivered. All were stunned and amazed. All immediately felt compassion for the mom, who had just pushed out a gigantic baby. The baby's face was discolored from bruising, but he was magnificent. He had a great set of lungs that he put to use right away, demanding to nurse, which he did with gusto.
The midwife said that had she known the baby would be so big, she'd have had no choice but to have Hannah arrange for a Caesarian delivery. A baby that large is considered a risk in and of itself, and the insurance companies have a say in what medical protocol is these days. For the midwife to keep her malpractice insurance, there are certain protocols dare not breach. Had my daughter had the ultrasounds that most women are given these days, the size of the baby would have been known, and she'd have been prevented from choosing natural childbirth.
I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, I saw the size of that infant head as it emerged, and it frightened me (thank the goddess that the midwife is nothing if not a solid rock of calm, no matter what). I saw my daughter's suffering. And yet, when it was all over and the midwife was about to leave, I heard my daughter say, "Thank you. I'm glad it was a natural birth and not a C-section." Still, I had before my very eyes the proof of how risky it is to deliver a child of that size. I am thankful for the skill and experience of the midwife, because I can imagine other outcomes.
We left that night tired to the bone but happy to see our daughter smiling and with a hearty appetite after her ordeal. Our son-in-law, too, made us proud; never did he panic or behave in any way other than as a support and calming influence in a difficult situation. To see him hold his new son made me tear up; to see his tenderness toward my daughter cemented my feelings toward him.
I can hardly wait to see how our new grandson's personality unfolds. I'll tell you one thing: if he has half the stubborn determination and courage of his mom, he'll be more than a match for whatever life throws at him.