Every birth experience is different in one way or another. Sometimes they are very different. Other times, it’s just a minor difference. Either way, when your wife or partner goes into labor, the birth expectations, whether for natural (no medications) childbirth or not, are very important. They set an important tone and as us husbands are often times the biggest supporter, our expectations need to be of love and help, not of pressure or fear of disappointment.
My wife and I prepared ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally for the labor and birth of our first (and currently only) child. A lot of that was done by setting a tone and plan for how we hoped this to all go down. We knew, setting expectations was part of it all, but also knew that it was a tricky situation. Since there is no way to predict how a woman will labor and birth a child, we didn’t want to set ourselves up for disappointment. So we prepared ourselves mentally all along to accept however her labor would ultimately be. It was critical for me to make sure that no matter what, she felt proud, loved and respected.
During Jessica’s pregnancy, we took a 12 week course on natural childbirth. We were committed to the course and attended every one of them. Although, it was hard, we made sacrifices to make sure we were there each week. We knew the benefits of a natural birth and hoped for that for our son, if things worked out that way. We wanted to know everything we could about it and how to achieve it. We did our class homework, our exercises and we even read extra books on our own that weren’t part of the class. A few of the books we read, loved and learned so much from were The Birth Partner, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Husband-Coached Childbirth. They were all amazing to read and really opened up my eyes to the intense work we (more so Jessica) had ahead of us. During all of this, even with the encouraging and motivating stories of all these beautiful natural childbirths, we promised that we’d each keep our heads level and understand that this way of birthing was our ideal plan, but as long as the mother and baby are okay, we’ll take whatever happens and be grateful.
Of course, the last thing either of us wanted was a cesarean section, let alone any medical intervention at all. Our birth plan detailed what our desires were and that we’d only accept intervention out of necessity, not out of selfishness from us, the nurses, midwives or the doctors. That’s why we chose the hospital and practice we did. Both supported natural, no/low intervention childbirth, had great natural childbirth records and low c-section rates. Jessica’s midwives were all on board for her to have a natural childbirth and so was the hospital. She was cleared low-risk and we were ready to go.
Roughly three days, give or take some hours, before our son was born was when Jessica went into labor. She labored from home for a full two days. That was our plan. To spend all of first stage labor at home. We ideally wanted to wait until she was 6 centimeters dilated before we made our trip the hospital. After two very intense days of laboring at home, it was early on a Saturday morning when things took a turn and contractions were getting a little too intense and were happening a lot closer together and lasting very long. We grabbed our bags and headed for the hospital at around 4am. Upon our arrival, she was given a cervical check and was told she was only 3 cm. Yes, we felt somewhat let down. Jessica was crushed but she immediately leaned on me and we hugged and prayed. We were starting to pick up on the fact that she was a long laborer. We didn’t let that really get into our heads though and reminded ourselves of our goal. Her mother and grandmother were both long laborers too, so it’s possible genetics play into these things too. But really everybody varies. You just never know. Soon after, her water broke and once her water broke, there was no turning back and going home. We were there and we were having this baby. Words could not contain the excitement and anxiousness we felt over finally getting to meet our baby boy so very soon.
For the sake of keeping things as short as possible, I’ll cut to the chase. Jess labored naturally for 8-ish hours. Once the midwives decided her progression wasn’t adding up to the amount of pain she was in, they carefully advised we tried pitocin to help speed things along a little since a woman is really only supposed to be in labor for up to 16 hours after your water has broken. The pitocin kicked in and contractions got more intense. At this time, Jessica and myself had hardly slept at all in the last 72 hours and the pain was beginning to wear her down. A few hours later, we decided it was time for her to get an epidural. Although, not according to our idea plan, we remained positive. Jessica was certainly on board with it at this point. She had reached her max. Her birth experience up until then, because she just so happens to be a long laborer with highly painful contractions, wore her down to a point of total exhaustion. After the epidural, she was finally able to catch her breath and relax for a moment. She smiled at me for the first time all day. That was a moment that I didn’t realize really how much I needed until it happened. That night, she pushed for hours and hours and hours. It was hard to watch, but she was actually enjoying it now. There were so many moments when the midwives, nurses and our doula were telling us his hair color. HE WAS SO CLOSE!! They prepared his bassinet/cart thing and notified the doctor that a baby was about to be born.
After another hour or so of pushing, they noticed that our son had turned his head just so making it lodged against her pelvic bone. His parietal eminence (top rear part of his head) was being forced out and moving forward, but his forehead was caught on her pelvic bone. They worked to get him to turn, but because so much of the rear part of his skull had already made its way through, he was nearly impossible to turn. Jessica insisted on trying to push more. After all, she had already put in so much work and was ready to meet our son. After another 30-45 min, the doctor came in and checked things out. As she was doing so, during a push, our sons heart rate spiked and a minute or so after, the midwife noticed some meconium. This meant our son was in distress and considering his position, we needed to figure out something out quickly. Swallowing meconium could lead to a list of serious issues.
Shortly after, we discovered that because of the intensity of Jessica’s labor, at one point her temperature rose too high that her amniotic fluid became infected, which was not good for her or the baby. Because of this infection, Forrest was going to have to be hooked up to an IV and receive meds and close care for three days following his birth. So, I spoke with the doctor and we both agreed that it was time for an emergency c-section; the absolute last thing Jessica and I wanted in all of this, other than something tragic happening to her or our baby.
Yet, we both went into it, as hard as it was, knowing it was best and we weren’t going to let this ruin the birth experience. The entire length of her labor, I remained positive and reminded ourselves that no matter what, as long as her and the baby are healthy, we don’t care how he comes into the world. Looking back I am able to realize how truly important it was for me to keep myself together and stay strong, confident and optimistic for the both of us. Yes, we had our ideal situation, but the ultimate goal was to deliver a healthy, happy baby while keeping Jessica safe and healthy too. Going into the operating room was one of the hardest things I have ever done. To see my wife laying there, drugged and numb from the chest down was painful and I felt so helpless, but I tried my hardest not to show it. We held each others hands tight and when we heard our sons first cry, we both lost it. Nothing else mattered anymore.
To this day, I have never been more proud of my wife and the work she put into bringing our son into this world and our lives. By not holding too tightly onto the expectation of having a quick, perfect and completely natural childbirth, we were able to avoid guilt, depression and remorse. If you take anything from this, that would be the one bit of advice I’d say is most important. There should be no reason to feel bad in any way about your child’s birth story. If everyone is doing their best and working hard then it’s a success. If anything, I am even more proud of Jess for trying her hardest for nearly three and half days to get our son out completely naturally, then accepting that she was too worn down and had reached her breaking point, she’d keep up the hard work with medicated help and when we hit a bump in road again, she was so willing to do what the doctor, her mom, doula and I felt was best and at 8:06am the following morning, we met our son. We were in love with him and each other in such a fuller way that we didn’t even know we had the capacity to feel. It was breathtaking. Life changing.
After all that reading and preparing for a natural childbirth, our experience took on a journey that couldn’t have been any more different from what we planned for. And that’s okay, because that was just our ideal situation, not our absolute goal. All the information taken from our class about pregnancy in general was so insightful and invaluable to us. The goal we absolutely wanted/needed to achieve was to have a healthy baby and a healthy mother. Today, Jessica is still healthy and happy and is still exclusively breastfeeding a healthy (possibly too healthy given his weight – haha) almost four-month old baby boy who is developing just perfectly. Agreeing to not put too much pressure on expectations and go into it with more of an ideal plan with the understanding that we are not the ones 100% in control of how things will happen has allowed us to enjoy this experience so much more. It also left Jessica feeling far less pressure than had I been unsympathetic to her pain, the situation at hand or the overall well-being of her and our son.
All in all, my advice is to go into things with an open mind. Hope for the best, but realize that the number one goal in this whole birthing experiencing is for you to leave with a healthy wife/partner and a healthy new baby.