Papa Sez by Todd Hunter-Gilbert Issue #2
Papa Sez
by Todd Hunter-Gilbert

Birth Day Part 2 - October 2002

Past Issues

Well, before fast-forwarding to the present day, I have one more story from the birthing room.

We had headed to the hospital just about midnight, water broken and dilation starting. By 2AM, that unpleasant phase was over and we were moving to the birthing room. A nurse promised the pushing would be quick and we'd be out of there--and that might have been. Unfortunately, as we discovered 6 1/2 hours later, Quinn's umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and shoulder. The immediate effect of this was that, after every push, the baby would retreat back.

But we didn't know that yet. They got us in the room and prepared for a quick birth. They attached Denise to the fabled machine-that-goes-ping. This machine doesn't ping so much anymore. It has two functions. First, it measures the strength of contraction of the uterus. Second, it measures pulse and blood pressure of the baby--very useful for detecting emergencies during the birth.

So, the contractions started coming, Denise started pushing, and I started talking her through them with the aid of the MTGP. After the suggested few pushes, the doctor on call, herself 9 months pregnant, arrived. She was, apparently, not excited about having the graveyard shift. After a few seconds examination she declared that Denise "just wasn't pushing hard enough" and she left the room never to return.

She went off-shift at 8AM and we spent the intervening time contracting, pushing, counting, and watching no progress be made. I can't describe how difficult this phase was for Denise. I know that I was so drained, doing my little part, that I started sleeping between contractions--rising out of slumber every time I heard Denise's breathing increase. Finally, the new doctor came on shift. First thing he did was visit our room. He took one look and announced, "That baby's coming out now."

Let me divert for a moment to discuss birth plans. Guys, a birth plan is something your wife will say you need and you'll say okay, and it'll land lower on your priority list than buying cigars. Basically, it's what you do and don't want to have happen during the birth. Denise, being an organized person, had gotten one ready months in advance. We (i.e. She) had listed 2 things we didn't want. One was forceps. The others was a vacuum extractor.

Denise had prepared this sufficiently in advance that we were able to discuss it with our Ob/Gyn at one of the regular visits. She (the Ob/Gyn) suggested that we avoid phrases like "we don't want" and instead use "we prefer". The reasoning is that something horrible might happen and those items might be needed. But if we said no, it would be no. If we said maybe, it would be a last resort. You can see where this is going....

Back to the birthing room: The doctor got prepped--all the while performing a comedy routine to ease our minds. And, of course, it's time for the birth plan to go out the window. Out comes the vacuum extractor.

This lovely little implement looks like a small plunger with a tube out the top. The tube creates suction, giving an added boost to the mother's push. The suction isn't large, but usually deforms the skull slightly and creates a hickey-like effect, both of these take a few weeks to subside.

He waited for the next contraction, got the device on Quinn's head, and started pulling. He got farther than any other contraction, but still not even to the point where he was crowning. Then the extractor popped off, unable to pull hard enough to get the job done.

Skipping a few surgical intricacies next came the forceps. If this didn't work, we would be doing a caesarean. These forceps aren't like anything you've seen on MASH. Large, heavy, and oddly shaped--they're designed to wrap around a baby's skull. As he worked to get them wrapped around Quinn's head, my heart fluttered and I knew why we didn't want these things. They looked dangerous. Quinn was in trouble.

Another contraction and he started pulling, harder this time as he had a better grip. He pulled, felt resistance, but increased to match it. Quinn's head came into view. I looked over to get my first view of my son. Between two steel fronds I could see a small patch of his skull. Dead center in that patch was a tangle of hair, mucus, and dark, drying blood.

My heart stopped. Looking at that mess, I had no doubt my child was dead. During the seconds that followed my eyes passed the machine that goes ping and completely failed to notice the fine, regular heartbeat on the baby monitor. During those seconds the doctor figured out the umbilical cord issue and solved it in some way I never saw. Instead, I was busy wondering why he was bothering to clear the baby's mouth as though it might breath soon. Then he did breathe and I came zipping back to reality.

As the rest of Quinn's body made its debut I realized how I had made my mistake. The vacuum extractor had pulled with enough suction to get a mass of gunk (medical term, no doubt) to the top of Quinn's head. After he was cleaned, he was left with a small red patch but no other blemish, transient or permanent.

So why am I telling you this maudlin story? Well, they say that women often worry quite a bit, during pregnancy, about the health of their child. This was true for Denise and I would often poke fun at her or dismiss her fears (sorry, D). For my part, I've been quite confident of my own semi-immortality and managed to transfer that assurance to my son.

At the moment of Quinn's birth, I discovered the error of this assurance. And while I still see him as an incredibly vibrant and healthy kid, there've been a few moments when it has served me well to not simply dismiss issues with a nonchalant "Eh, he'll be fine."

Be well...

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