So, what was it like on the day you were born? Many things! Mostly it was exciting, often hectic, sometimes scary, sometimes loud, and in the end, joyful. It was Tuesday, August 26th, when Monica found out that Kaela Gruninger had been born the previous day, about 3 weeks before her due date. Monica, who was now going to be the last mom in our birthing class to give birth, felt a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed in having a natural un-medicated childbirth. She was upset, came home early and mowed the lawn, borrowed Gilmore girls from the White’s next door, and watched a few episodes. Assuming that her induction method failed, she went to bed frustrated. At about 5:20 in the morning, Monica felt what she described as menstrual cramps, commonly known to feel like the initial contractions in labor. Doing her best to stay calm, Monica dismissed the pains as pre-labor, and tried to roll over and go back to sleep (but I was pretty sure that today was the day). When 2-3 more happened within the next hour, we decided this may be it, so we got out of bed, ate, and began to record the contractions in our notebook. From about 6-7 am, Monica had contractions every 3 minutes, usually lasting 40-60 seconds. At 7, Monica was convinced that today was the day. We both got really excited, but did our best to conserve the energy that would be required later in the day. Monica went to take a bath and shave her legs (women).
After her bath, Monica started an episode of Gilmore girls, and I went into the office to print out the Book of Encouragement, a book that I composed from letters from our family and friends wishing us success in enduring a natural un-medicated childbirth. The idea for the book came to me during one of our Bradley classes when I realized that, although we wanted to labor alone, others could participate in our birth by contributing a written word of encouragement to Monica, me, or the baby. After I emailed several of our family and friends, I received about 25 entries that ranged from inspiring words of confidence, lessons on life, and comedy interludes. When I gave Monica the book at about 8:00 am, Monica began to cry, she was very touched that so many believed in her and wanted to contribute to our birth experience. We read a few of the entries in between contractions, and Monica decided she wanted to save some for later. I left Monica so that I could double check that all of our necessities were packed and ready to go, constantly disrupted by my job to record the Start, Stop, that denoted a contraction. She was ok till about 9:30, at which point she desired my presence in the room.
From 9:30 till 10, she had contractions every 3 minutes, lasting 70-90 seconds. This means that she only had about 90-110 seconds of break between contractions. The methods we had learned in the Bradley classes were paying off, and Monica was performing brilliantly. She had no trouble relaxing during her contractions, unless of course I shook the bed a millimeter or so. At about 10:00, we decided that it was time to go to the hospital. Although this may seem early for most Bradley labors, Monica tested positive for Beta Strep, a bacteria in the birth canal, that required an IV of Penicillin 4 and 8 hours prior to the baby being born. If we failed to arrive 8 hours prior to the birth, there was a chance that the baby would have to be observed for a full 48 hours after arrival. This does not include the 8 hours that they were able to monitor the baby during labor.
Upon arriving at the hospital, Monica was working very hard during contractions to relax, even though some old maids in the waiting room of the emergency wing kept insisting that Monica carried a girl. Although we did have a girl, that is not the point. At 11:15, a pelvic exam revealed that Monica was dilated 3cm, and 80% effaced, with the baby at position 0. Dilated indicates the opening of the pelvis, and the effacement concerns the thinning of the pelvic tissue. They decided to see how she was progressing before we were admitted, so Monica labored for another hour and was re-examined. The results were the same, but they confirmed that Monica was in fact in the early stages of labor, despite the assurance from our OBGYN that a cursory glance could tell you that the woman was in labor.
It was 12:15 now, and we were officially admitted. Now all we had to do was wait for a labor room to open up. Even though I continued to press the issue on the Penicillin, the nurse, Samme, informed me that she would administer the IV as soon as we were transferred. At 1:30, Samme told us that the preferred room was now open, and contained a Jacuzzi, large window, and a couch. It was a nice room, but I didn’t get to try the couch out. A nap at this point was out of the question. After arriving in the room, Monica’s stomach was upset by the move, and decided to express itself… literally. Once we got settled into the room, I had Enya playing on computer speakers, and Monica was enjoying the IV to be followed by a toothbrush and a warm bath. The Jacuzzi can’t be used once the bag of waters is broken, but Monica’s bag was still intact, and she enjoyed the change of scenery. After 30 minutes in the bath, Monica decided that she liked the bath between contractions, but that it was hard to relax during them. She got out, put on a new gown and lied down in bed.
From 2:30 till 4, Monica was in hard labor. Interrupted only by hourly strips to record the baby’s heart rate and the progression of contractions, Monica was extremely focused on the task at hand. Relaxing required Monica’s full attention, and most of mine. I took a few breaks here and there to eat, drink, fill Monica’s bottle, and potty, but I had only 45-60 seconds to leave and return, because Monica wanted me there for every contraction. I rubbed her back, her hair, and told her that she was doing awesome (because she was). Samme, our nurse, was also awesome. She had considerable faith in the abilities of Monica to labor, and in my ability to discern her place in it. She told us that she would perform a pelvic exam when we were ready, and didn’t pressure us to ask for one. At 4 pm, Monica and I decided that we wanted to know where we stood, and Monica was rewarded with the knowledge that she was at 5-6 cm, and 100% effaced. The baby was still at position 0, but Monica was making progress. Around 4 pm, Monica’s bag of waters began to leak, indicating that the contractions would soon intensify.
From 4-6 pm, Monica was working as hard as she could, with very intense contractions coming every few minutes, sometimes coming one on top of another. It took everything that she had to relax, but Monica was amazing. Between contractions, I was doing my best to remain hydrated, energized, and prepared. At about 6, I realized that I might not have another chance to set up the video camera, and asked Samme to fill in for me while I erected the tripod. I’m glad I did, because the next few hours were very intense.
At 6 pm, our doctor (OBGYN) checked in to tell us that he was not feeling well, and preferred not to attend our delivery in said condition. He empowered us by telling us that we were well prepared, that we were to run our show, and that he believed that we would have a baby right around 8 pm. Soon after 6 pm, Monica’s body began to overpower her at the peak of some contractions. With every contraction, Monica did everything she could to relax, but her bodies urge to push at the peak of the contraction began to overpowered her will. This was usually very brief, lasting only a few seconds, but the expression of pain on Monica’s face left me no doubt as to the sacrifice she made to endure each contraction.
At 6:45, we met the on-call doctor that was to deliver our baby, and he wanted to give Monica a pelvic exam to see where she was at. Monica was ready to hear the good news. She was ready to hear that she was fully dilated (10 cm) and that it was time to push. He told us that Monica’s pelvis was fully effaced, 6 cm dilated, and the baby was still at station 0; almost exactly where she was measured to be at 4 pm, this suggested that Monica’s labor had stalled. He suggested that the bag of forewaters was potentially slowing the descent of the baby, and popped it to “keep things going – i.e. make himself feel better.” He instructed us that if things had not progressed by 8 pm, that he was going to administer Pitocin to get things rolling. I knew that Monica’s body was working as hard as humanly possible, and that a dose of Pitocin was the last thing that she needed. With the shift change coming up at 7, our nurse instructed us that if it came to it, we should request the absolute smallest amount of Pitocin; also, Samme commended Monica for her efforts, and encouraged her that she was not a failure if our birth diverged from the intended course.
Although you may believe that these results would be devastating after almost 3 hours of hard labor, I told Monica to take the results for what they meant, nothing. I was by her side for every contraction from 4-6:45 pm, and I knew that she was progressing. Her contractions were different than they were at 4 pm. They were now more intense, expulsive, and extremely painful. I know we were getting close, because Monica told me repeatedly that she wasn’t sure how much longer she could continue. Although we were instructed by medical personnel to push only after a pelvic exam showed that Monica was dilated 10 cm, I was firmly grounded in Monica’s ability to listen to her body, and supported her to do as it commanded. I told her that it was not time to bear down, but that she needed to listen to her body and work with her contractions. Although she tried to relax as hard as she could, her stomach often overpowered her, tightened up, and sent pain into the depths of my soul.
At 7:30, I forced Monica to sit on the toilet one more time, just to make sure she wasn’t working against her bladder or bowels; it was then that I witnessed one of the most amazing events of my entire life. While sitting on the toilet, Monica began a contraction. Although I supported her and she did her best to relax, toward the middle of the contraction, her belly shot out 2 inches, lifted up, and began to hammer the baby repeatedly into the birth canal. I would sacrifice all of the video I took this week to have recorded that moment, but my attention was elsewhere. At this point, Monica had acknowledged that she no longer had the ability to relax, and that her body was forcing her to expel the baby. Labor was wearing on her, and she told me she couldn’t continue. After a few more contractions on the table, Monica’s bowels were expressed by the baby, and I knew that the baby had begun its descent. Biding my time, I managed to get a few more contractions out of her before asking the nurse, Jennifer, to give Monica a pelvic exam. Monica was dilated 9 cm, fully effaced, and the baby was on the way. Jennifer had much experience with the Bradley method, and often helped her mother with home births.
Within minutes, the room was transformed from a leisurely labor room, to a fully equipped delivery room. At 7:50, Monica was still on her side, writhing with each contraction, with Baby Wilkes moments from arrival. To this point, Monica had not actively pushed on the baby at the instruction of the nurses, who were awaiting the arrival of the doctor. At 7:58, word arrived that the ETA for the doctor was 8 minutes, and Monica wasn’t going to wait that long. After a moment of deliberation, they took the baby’s vitals one last time, and I pressed record on the video camera. The baby crowned during the next contraction, and Monica went berserk. When Jennifer told Monica that she could see the baby and that she needed to breathe, Monica regained composure and said that she wasn’t comfortable pushing on her side. We rolled her on her back, and with the next contraction, Blythe Leighlyn Wilkes came out. This was followed by “That feels so much better… What did we have? (me: Girl.)… Jason, can you believe we had a little girl?” We were excited. I attended to the baby while Monica got a few small stitches, and we were parents. The baby was gargling a little bit, but all was well.
When news got out that we had a little girl, the Grandma’s were heard shouting with excitement all the way from where we were. We knew that they were thrilled. Soon after, Joe and Debbie arrived, and all came into the room to greet the baby into the world. After I gave the baby a bath, and Monica fed the baby for the first time, we walked (Monica and I) to the a triage room where we were to spend the night for lack of a recovery room.
In the triage room, Lori, another godsend from the nursery, helped Monica breastfeed again. She said that few baby’s feed so well right out of the womb and that Blythe, and Monica, were doing great. Afterwards, I got to burp and change the baby, and we crawled into bed. Finally, I laid the baby on my bare chest, and for the first time, Blythe got to hear my heartbeat. Although she fell asleep in minutes, Monica and I just lay there, staring at Blythe, amazed at what we had accomplished. Without a doubt that moment ranks on the top of a very short list, equaled only by the moment I married her mother.