They say you never really know what it's like being a parent until you are one. Ridiculous, I thought, many of my friends are idiots who have needed taking care of most of their lives. I was that guy. I come from a big family, I've been around babies my whole life, I can do this. I have a dog. I have plants. My car's oil is routinely changed, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I hope you can see that at this point in my life, three days after baby Mabel Jayne Chew lit the match that blew up my world (and my mind), I have an appreciation for some of the things "they" say.
The first indication that we weren't quite sure what was coming our way was Wednesday afternoon. I was begrudgingly still going to work every day (like a chump), which was not fun at all. It killed me to be 40 minutes away when Jenna could go into labor at any second. It killed my co-workers as well. I could hear them as they walked down the hall that last week in a half. The hope:"Is his door open? I hope he's not here." The disappointment: "He's still here. Ahhh man!" People not wanting me around has never made me feel so loved.
Jenna had been having contractions for weeks. They came. They were gone. They became more frequent, increasingly painful, and at points very time-able. The text Wednesday afternoon around 3 had me in the car and on my way to Jenna, who was surely having the baby that night!
The next couple hours were a frenzy of phone calls to the doctors office, installing contraction timer apps, and anxiously awaiting what was next. The books, the apps, the birthing class and even the doctor said when contractions were timeable at 5 minutes for an hour it was time, so we were on our way!
Jenna was in pain. The pain was getting worse and the contractions were slowly getting closer together. When the woman checking us in asked Jenna if there were a million dollars in dimes on the ground right now, would she still be able to pick them up we should have known something was up. The answer was no, but our contractions were five minutes apart and it had been, like, an hour and a half at this point. This baby was on its way!
They were very nice to humor us. A couple of examinations (Jenna had been 3.5 cm dilated for a few days at that point) showed we hadn't progressed that much beyond where we had been the day before. Jenna rated her pain, on the ridiculously ridiculous scale of 0 being no pain to 10 being surgery without anesthesia (who could possibly know that?) at a 5 or a 6. They sent us walking the floor for an hour to see if anything progressed further. An hour later it really hadn't that much. Jenna's contractions still hurt pretty damn bad, they were 3-4 minutes apart at this point so we thought for sure this baby was on its way.
Two Tylenol PM and a car ride home later, we were instructed to get a good nights sleep and check back in in 24 hours. The contractions persisted, but the medicine did its job. We slept on the couch with Daisy that night, sure it would be just a nap before we had to go back. "We would know" when they were different and when to come back. They assured us she was fine, the baby was fine, and she was on her way, but at her own pace.
The morning came and my back still hasn't forgiven me. The one good thing is the contractions had changed and the 6 from Wednesday evening was a joke compared to the 6 of Thursday morning. We didn't want to be sent home again, so we hung out at home. Jenna swayed on the exercise ball and breathed through contractions for a couple hours. I had a piece of peanut butter toast and Jenna had some juice and half a piece of dry toast. The future regrets were already mounting up. We were back in triage by 10:15am.
The three extensive and painful contractions Jenna experienced while checking in got us right back to a bed in triage. At around 11am contractions were 3 minutes apart, significantly more painful, and Jenna was still 3.5 cm. Pushing 4 though!! They still considered this early labor and I started to feel like they were going to ship us back home once again.
Mabel started moving a lot and we quipped that maybe one of her movements would break Jenna's water and get the show on the road. That was just about when the monitor started beeping and our nurse, Ann, a trucker mouthed saint of a woman, and a couple of residents rushed in. Mabel's heart rate had dropped so they needed to do another exam. Oh god.
Boom! or Splash!!! Splash is more accurate.
We should have bought a lottery ticket, because there it was. Jenna's water broke and they were stuck with us! We merrily skipped to room 308, ready to get this done, let's have a baby! (I remember the skipping, but I seem to be the only one). I think it was around noon.
I warned you this was going to be long. Allow me to "push" through the next five hours. Get it... push through the next five hours. "Labor" with me here, my humor might not "dilate" your eyes, but it should at least give you something to... hmmm... contract. (I ran out of birthing puns)
I mentioned Ann. Those five hours were spent with contractions 2-3 minutes apart varying in severity. Ann taught us a lot. Jenna liked her, she was very supportive, but in retrospect I give her a large majority of the credit for getting me through the experience. She gave me a lot of confidence. She didn't worry. She was extremely protective of Jenna as well as our labor plan, and she offered both advice, support, and got us all the lemon ice and orange Jell-O I could feed Jenna. She also made a mean fruit punch.
We were in a rhythm. It was getting physically more demanding, but Jenna was rock solid. She wasn't opposed to drugs or an epidural, she had just decided to try as long as she could without and if she needed them, then she would get them. From the exercise ball, to sway dancing together, to holding onto the bed, each contraction came and went, but we hadn't made much more progress. After her water broke, we jumped from 3.5 to 6 cm and at 5pm Jenna was 100% effaced.
Up to then, the doctors wanted to keep Jenna on monitors and confined to the 8 feet her cords stretched due to some high blood pressure issues she had throughout pregnancy. Though, another thing I didn't understand was they always talked about it like it was an issue, but as soon as they put her on meds she consistently had text book perfect blood pressure... anywho.
Garret, the resident from Wednesday night, was back as the shift change approached. He won Ann's respect by suggesting we get off the monitors and get Jenna in the jacuzzi. Yes! That had been one of our goals the entire time. Nightly baths had kept Jenna calm and cool for most of the third trimester. The water was running and the jacuzzi portion of the tub was broken, but it was a welcome change and a relief.
It was 7pm at this point and Ann said we were in good hands. She had picked Laura out to replace her, because she thought she would be a good match. It's amazing how close you get to someone when they are helping you through an intense situation. I didn't think there was any way Laura could come close to being as helpful as Ann. I'm very proud to say I was wrong.
The bath was relaxing, but the contractions started to increase both in intensity and pain. Our rhythm wasn't exactly working anymore and Jenna was in a whole new level of pain. I'd say Wednesday's 6 was a weak 4... max. Around 8:15pm our doctor, Dr. Morningstar (whom we hadn't really met, but has a badass name and seemed very pleasant) came in to do a check herself. Still 6cm and 100%. She also found another pocket of waters she was going to break and see if we could get things moving.
Breaking the rest of the bag of water did a couple things.
- It revealed meconium (Mabel had pooped in utero) which can be dangerous if inhaled or swallowed (high concentrations of ammonia). At the very least the Pediatric Special Care Unit would be present for the birth, potentially having to whisk her away.
- It made (at least led to) an already painful beginning to hurt like a mother. Jenna made her best decision since marrying me. Epidural me!
In explaining what the epidural would do and feel like the doctor said it would take away most pain and still feel like uncomfortable pressure. Either Jenna or Laura compared it to Braxton-Hicks contractions... if you're still reading this beast you probably know what those are. If you are still reading and do not, you must be one of our very best friends or family members and we love you back, so much! About 2% of the time, he said, the epidural worked overtime and the patient wouldn't feel a thing. That's where the luck came in. By 9pm the epidural was in and Jenna was chillin. No pain, feeling relaxed, feeling like a million bucks.
Luckier still was the relief provided by the epidural also got things moving again. Jenna was 7.5 cm dilated and moving along like gangbusters. Everyone told us how great of a job they were doing. Basically the entire hospital staff told us how impressive Jenna was and how great she was doing.
By around 11:15pm Jenna was fully dilated and they started making arrangements. There was no rush. Since she had the epidural and couldn't feel the pressure or contractions, her body was doing some great work for her. They call this laboring down. It's basically just waiting to push even after you're ready to go to make it that much easier when it comes to pushing time.
Jenna's great grandmother's name was Jayne (where we got Mabel's middle name) and her birthday was January 10th, so we were hopeful that they would share birthdays. Laura and Garret thought there was a chance, but the time came and went. Jenna started feeling the pressure from the really big contractions and we started talking about what pushing would be like with the epidural. Laura talked about practice pushes and getting a hang of it before we really got into it. Not necessary. Jenna started pushing around 12:45am and her first push was identical to her last.
So this is the part I was scared of. I didn't have time to be too scared of anything else. But this was the moment of truth. I wasn't planning on watching. I was worried it would freak me out or I'd be the guy who passed out or that aliens would break in and I would be too busy defending the room to helpfully contribute. To be honest in that situation I didn't know what I was scared of, but I was definitely scared. Looking back I was terrified the entire day... more on that a little later. But when we started, like really started, there was no looking back. I averted my eyes until they mentioned hair. I had no idea what I was looking at until more and more of Mabel's head could be seen and Laura was curling her long filthy hair around her fingers.
There she was... just a few inches of her, but there she was! Slowly but surely, which should have been our motto for the day, she was getting closer and closer. Dr. Morningstar sauntered in with the Special Care unit close behind her. She smiled, said hello and went to work. At 1:32am on January 11, 2013 Mabel followed her abundant, long curly hair into the world.
There was no cutting the cord. There was not dirty baby right to mommas chest and there was no ceremony. Instead we were honored with a stunning display of care and precision. Dr. Morningstar and Garret went to work making sure Jenna was okay, hands moving like lightning. Pure concentration in their faces. A bomb could have gone off and they wouldn't have flinched. Laura was on make sure Jenna and I are okay duty. Killed it. And the Special Care Unit had Mabel. She was making some noise, but nothing significant. They were furiously clearing her chest, throat and eventually stomach. They washed her up and she was wide awake and beautiful when I was told I could go take pictures and say hello.
I'm not sure I can explain how something can be both heart breaking and breath taking and perfect all rolled up. "They" say it changes you and you'll never be the same, but "they" don't know what the hell they're talking about. It's so much more than that. It's the prettiest bus in the world nailing you at 60, but instead of liquifying you from the inside out, it liquifies you from the outside in. I was, I am, I'm scared I am destined to forever be just that. Liquified. I am putty in her tiny little hands... I really hope she never asks for a pony, because that shit will be roaming our back yard within hours.
Back to the story.
They told us they had to take Mabel, but they let us hold her and be with her for a few minutes beforehand. Watching them walk away was wretched, but I was focused on Jenna and we were sharing the awe of the day.
|First Family Photo.|
Mabel was with the Special Care Unit, but they insisted she was doing better and would be back soon. The main parts of Jenna's business were done, but when Laura and the residents checked to see if the bleeding was subsiding, there was no clotting, and Jenna's uterus was tightening and firming up there was more blood than they liked to see. Every five to ten minutes they would come back and check again. They tried three different medicines, but just about every third check there was a significant amount of bleeding. It just wasn't stopping and eventually they gave her half an hour to stop bleeding before she had to go to the operating room. During this time Laura did an amazing job at handling our distress. She was honest, but positive and supportive. A new handful of residents were on our case and they couldn't figure it out. Dr. Morningstar was back to take over.
A brief ray of light allowed me to take Danielle (Jenna's sister, who, along with their dad, was there for the long haul) to the Special Care Unit to visit Mabel. Once we were there, the next best surprise allowed us to take her back to the room where Jenna was able to feed her and spend some time before she had to go in for surgery.
This is where the story could get really sad and scary and I could tell you about the feelings of helplessness and terror, but I won't. So many thing could go wrong, and a lot did. Mabel struggled to regulate her temperature. There was a 24 hour period of potential blood transfusion that stuck with each of us. I didn't have any news about or from Jenna for way too long, but eventually and sooner than later, we were in our recovery room as a family. Dr. Morningstar had found a floating piece of placenta hanging out stealing Jenna's blood. It was removed and Jenna was in recovery. Mabel needed some formula and a heat lamp and she was good to go. If you count our trip Wednesday, Jenna was in labor for around 34 hours. I don't. I count the trip in Thursday morning, which still added up to a long 15.5 hours. (Authors Note: Reading this part five years later made me squirm. Jenna did the work, I was her support. It all hurt, it was all part of it, it all counts. Sorry about that. - TC) None of which moved more slowly than when they took Mabel and Jenna away and the clock stopped.
In retrospect, the day flew by. It just kept happening and there wasn't any time to think about anything but taking care of Jenna and hoping for the best. Jenna's pain, Mabel's struggle, my fear and anxiety paid off in spades (never understood what that saying meant). Both Jenna and Mabel were very closely monitored. Jenna had lost a lot of blood and they were worried that might effect her milk coming in. I went back and forth fetching food, drinks and whatever else we needed for the next two days. I saw a dozen new moms in their hospital gowns pushing their screaming babies through the hall. By the 11th hour in our room, my wife was in her yoga pants and my daughter was calmly feeding and barely shedding a tear.
They kept checking Jenna's blood counts and bleeding. It was better than anyone could have hoped for. When she asked about a shower or getting out of bed they looked at her like she was crazy. They warned her of becoming light headed, doing too much, and kept asking how much pain she was in. We cruelly mocked them as Jenna did jumping jacks in the shower... just kidding. But she did shower, she did walk around, Mabel regulated the shit out of her temperature, and we won the award for breast feeding on the floor. (I use the term we loosely, of course, but I doubt they could have done so well if I hadn't made such good fruit punch in the nurses kitchen juice machine.)
|Picgtured: Regulating Temperature|
First outfit competition: Winner - Katie and Ben
We could argue the semantics of it, but I know, without a doubt, that within the walls of that hospital Jenna and I each became different people. Better people. We no longer had to speak to a belly, Mabel was with us and we were a family. I almost just typed I wouldn't have had it any other way, but that's ridiculous. I would have loved to avoid all of the speed bumps we encountered, but that wasn't the case and we got through it. We got through it stronger than we went into it and we got through it together. Just like we will for the rest of our lives as a family. Jenna, Mabel, Thomas and even Daisy... and if you're still reading this, you too. Anyone who makes it through this much of my rambling must love us enough to be family and we thank you. Thanks for letting me share this story and thank you for being part of our lives... and Mabel, whenever you read this, ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, I just want to say Hi Mabel, it's your dad. I love you.