So, childbirth is one crazy experience. One minute you’re drinking a beer and watching MTV’s ‘Catfish’ (how are there enough clueless chatroom fiends out there to keep this show going? SEVEN seasons?!?), and the next minute you’re 100% responsible for the life of a brand new human being.
What follows is the story of the birth of my son, Rohen Grey McCarthy. While every birth story is different and special and amazing, this is the only one that has happened to ME, and so bear with me as I recount the most intense day that I have ever experienced in my 37 years on this planet.
Pregnancy had been pretty easy on me. My wife was the one that had to literally create a new life in her belly, but my part (after the initial fraternization) was relatively limited. Sure, I rubbed some feet and cooked come meals, but my life was relatively unchanged for those first nine months. Which at the time seemed just hunky dory with me, although in hindsight, perhaps a little more ramp up into this whole parenthood thing might have been a tad helpful.
Our due date came and went (which I understand is a normal thing, especially for first time parents), and the following day we headed over to Methodist Hospital in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for a check up to make sure that baby and placenta was healthy and doing ok. During this visit, they checked things like the heartbeat, which were all normal, and they also did a scan to show the approximate size and weight of baby. When the doctors told us that he was 8.5lbs, my wife and I were somewhat stunned, knowing that this was a pretty hefty size for a baby that had yet to show his face in this world.
“Don’t worry,” the docs told us. “These scans can be up to a pound off, so he could just as easily be seven and a half pounds!”.
Well shit, I thought, that’s not good news. Your treacherous scanning means that our baby could also be NINE and a half pounds, did you ever think of THAT? Still, I tried to minimize those thoughts, because sweet jesus, I can’t imagine anyone trying to push a baby that big out of their bodies.
Anyway, the people at the hospital also asked my wife if she was feeling the contractions that she was having as they were checking baby. She, nor I, had any idea that there were any contractions even happening, and even if they were there, minor contractions can happen up to a week before the little mini-me starts to make his evacuation.
We got home and spent the rest of the day as we had most of our others, watching mindless TV and wondering when this little thing was finally going to make his entrance into our lives. We didn’t have to wait long.
That evening, as we were getting into the battle rounds of The Voice, my wife seemed to have a somewhat pained expression on her face through one of the songs. I agreed that they weren’t exactly hitting the notes, but my wife corrected me and said that she thought that she was actually having contractions, and that they were about ten minutes apart. Huh, I thought. Could this whole baby thing actually be real? Could it be HAPPENING? Nothing much progressed from that point, and so we went to bed.
It is important, at this point, to mention a couple of facts that feel very relevant to me. The first is that for the last month, I had been sleeping on the couch in the living room due to the simple fact that pregnancy had turned my wife’s airway into a bullhorn at night. The snoring was real, and there was no sleeping in that bedroom. The second point to be made here is that all throughout those nine months, from birth classes to OB appointments, we had been told that it was actually very rare for labor to start with water breaking, like it always does on TV. Normally you’ll labor for a while before it happens, and sometimes the water has to actually be broken at the hospital. So I was very prepared to labor at home for a while. We had candles, exercise balls, and our doula even had magic crystals that would bring peace to our person on their voyage to the Outerworld. I was Ready To Labor. So needless to say I was shocked when I was awoken at 1am by my wife waddling in to the living room, moaning in pain, yelling, “Dan, get UP, my water broke!”. A quick timing of contractions showed that they were 45 seconds long, and happening every three minutes.
What madness IS this, I thought? Where was this slow boat to China? This gradual ramp to labor? One minute I’m sleeping, dreaming of an episode of Catfish where everyone lives happily goddam after (he IS the man I’ve been talking to!), and the next minute, ZANG, I’m thrust into a sequence of events so unexpected that it took me a minute to remember how to speak english properly.
After some random mumbling, I called the labor line (yes, that’s a real thing, non-parents), and were told that we needed to get to the hospital immediately. Thank goodness I had prepped our fridge with the most monstrous sized Red Bull I could find that day. I chugged it, called an Uber, and we were off the the hospital.
The next few hours went relatively well, all things considered. We checked in to the Labor and delivery Triage, and my wife moved deeper into the throws of labor with a comforting ease. Now, I’m not saying that SHE was comfortable, far from it, but at least things were moving at the correct pace.
From 2am until noon the net day, things looked good. Our doula arrived around 3am (thank GOD for our doula - more to come on that later), and we were placed in our L&D room to await the moment that we had been waiting for.
At noon, however, things went weird.
When the doctors told us that everything was looking good and we were a GO to push, we asked the doula about how long this phase would take.
“Generally an hour, and maybe up to two,” was the answer. My wife was not pleased at this answer, but we both told her that even if it was two hours, that we would be there with her the whole time, and that she would get through it. If only I knew then what I knew now…
I must digress here for a second to make a very important point. The absolute best thing that we did for this pregnancy was to hire our doula, Jillian. Going in to this whole thing, I wasn’t sure just how much of a purpose she might serve, considering we would be at a hospital with doctors and nurses and all that jazz. And when we skipped the whole ‘labor-at-home’ thing, I was even more skeptical. But oh my good god was I wrong. Having her there was what made me able to actually maintain any semblance of normalcy as the rest of this afternoon progressed. If you’re currently expecting and are on the fence about getting a doula, jesus christ man, HIRE HER IMMEDIATELY. Having Jillian there in the room with us for the whole day was a life-saver; we had someone that knew what was going on, and was on OUR team. She could advocate for us, and explain things to us when the going got weird.
Anyway, back to the madness. I won’t get into too much detail at this point, but the pushing part of this gig lasted six hours. It was probably six of the hardest hours of my life, seeing my wife in that much pain for that long, with nothing that I could really do. She had the epidural, she started pushing, nothing. Change positions, push, nothing. Ok, now let’s add some pitocin! Nothing? This is getting serious. Let’s increase the pitocin! Nothing. Wait what, you can feel that? It shouldn’t hurt! More epidural! Break? Sure. MORE PITOCIN! Nope, still no head. Well keep pushing, and for the love of god, let’s increase that pitocin! You know what they say; the more dope, the better.
By 6pm, there was no baby, and my wife was on the brink of passing out. Even the doula looked concerned that there was no head peaking out. So I was absolutely goddam relieved when the doctor finally said that he just wasn’t coming, and that they would have to perform a last-minute C-section. While a cesarean wasn’t something that we really wanted, by that point we were all so relieved to hear those words.
She was wheeled away to the OR while I was given scrubs so I could sit with her in the room while they operated. The relief of the pushing coming to an end was short-lived, and the fear of major surgery was setting in. I kept telling myself that this was something that happens all the time, and these are professionals, goddamit, and they were here to Do Their Job. When I was finally let in to the OR, I sat next to my wife’s head and waited for the surgery to start.
It didn’t take long, or at least it didn’t feel long. I sat there, holding my wife’s hand, and that’s when I heard this baby crying from the other side of the curtain. I don’t think there is any way to explain the emotion that you feel when you hear your baby cry for the first time, but I just sat there, weeping, holding my wife’s hand, thankful that we had gotten this far, and that everyone was healthy and ok.
They took my son and put him on the scale, where it showed his birth weight at 9lbs, 7oz. The entire OR was shocked at the weight, and then the six hours of fruitless pushing suddenly made so much more sense. He was just too big to come out. I was allowed to hold him, I cut the cord, and then he was taken away to be checked, while my wife was sewn back up. Rohen Grey McCarthy had entered my world.
The next few days were a mix of intermittent sleep and vending machine dinners. Due to the fact that my wife had spiked a fever during the six hours of pushing, Rohen had to spend a few days in the Neonatal ICU (or NICU for short). This meant that we could only visit him during certain times, and we had to get him out from his incubator for any actual skin-to-skin time, or even just to hold him. It was tough seeing him there, but I also realize that there are many babies that aren’t as lucky as him, and I counted my blessings every time I was able to hold him.
By Friday afternoon, after a bout with jaundice and a scare involving a skin tack on his ear, we were finally cleared to take him home. The relief and fear set in at about the same time. We were going home with a baby. Good lord, help us.
I learned an incredible amount in those few days spent at Methodist. First, there is absolutely no experience on this earth quite like childbirth. That’s an obvious one. But I also learned that having a true teammate as your partner makes everything ok, even when you have no idea how you’ll get through what is going on. And I learned that my wife is the absolute strongest person that I know.
I also learned that having a doula is an absolute MUST. And that I certainly did not bring enough snacks or changes of clothes for an event of this magnitude. So if you’re reading this and preparing for your own birth, here’s a short checklist of things that you will absolutely need, in addition to whatever other list you may have already made:
- Caffeinated beverage(s)
- Other snacks
- A doula, but you should already have this one already
- Changes of clothes! You’ll be in a stressful situation for hours (days?!?) at a time, and sweating through your clothes just makes you smell bad. Trust me, you’ll want this.
- Cell phone portable battery charger with at least enough charge to refill your phone a couple of times. You won’t be near a wall outlet, and while you shouldn’t be using your phone often, you will want it to be on and close at all times.
- Fucking snacks, man.
- Comfy-ass slippers.
With these things, you’ll be alright, as I was. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time.
As our time at the hospital finally ended, a good friend of ours came and picked us up. They had the same car seat we had, and he installed our seat in their car so I wouldn’t have to worry about it. A seemingly small thing, but in my weakened mental state, it was a hero’s task. As we drove home with this tiny (almost 10lbs...) new person, I was still mostly in shock. I kept turning around to make sure he was breathing. We got home, and went inside. The three of us. We introduced our newest roommate to the cat, and started to settle in.