“Births are all kind of like that, aren’t they?” I asked Deborah, eyes still on my laptop.
Deborah, sprawled out across the couch and faced directly at the TV, just sort of smirked, “no of course not.”
I lifted my head out of the computer and squinted with my eyebrows. My face felt visibly puzzled. We had been watching a British show called, One Born Every Minute. Some documentary makers just follow couples as they go into labor. There’s an ad that kind of looks like the show. It plays every commercial break right before the show returns from all the other ads. In the commercial, the woman’s water breaks, then mom and dad go from home to hospital -of course- from dad’s point of view. The woman is in pain and the dude is just driving along. He spurts out some unhelpful advice like, “just breathe honey.” Maybe I was always ignorant of births or maybe this commercial tricked me by playing the same scenario, over and over and over again, but Melaya’s birth didn’t go anything like that.
Just as I imagined it, Deborah’s water broke in the middle of the night. I don’t know what happened before my eyes opened, but by the time they did reluctantly bite that bullet, Deborah had already extended herself across me trying to get out of bed. Apparently she needed the restroom, but no sooner did she make it out of bed when it happened: she dropped her cup of water on the ground. Or at least that’s what it sounded like. We were already five days late, so it didn’t take long to put two and two together. The blanket that was covering my body suddenly found itself in the air as I lept to my feet. With eyes bloodshot but wide open to absorb all of the light in that very dark room, I began pacing rapidly. I’m not sure if I was just nervous or actively looking for everything we needed. The hospital bag was already packed, so there wasn’t actually anything to find. My reasoning then and memory now are both a bit fuzzy. What really remains, though, is the memory of the pulsing fear that came with every heartbeat. Was there excitement muddled in there? Yeah of course there was, but I think the fear is what made me stumble over my words when I called the hospital.
“Hi, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital,” the voice on the other line said..way too calm for the situation.
“Hello?” I asked.
“My wife is–uh, erm, in lab-water just broke. My wife’s water just broke,” answering her questions.
“Yes, it was like a cup of water falling on the carpet.”
“Can I have the hospital number?” She asked.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she wanted that. Reluctantly, I started reciting the phone number I had just called, “0208-”
“No, not the phone number. Your wife’s hospital number..it’s written on her booklet.” I could tell she was holding back laughter through her instruction. Why would I have any idea what that is? I’m just the dad.
Me talking to Deborah: “ok they want us to come in right away.”
We called Deborah’s mom, Fereshteh, who was gracious enough to pick us up and drive an hour to the hospital at 2 am. Deborah wasn’t actually feeling any symptoms, which we both thought was odd. When we got into the reception area of the hospital, Deborah was her usual cheery self. Queue the woman actually in labor. It almost felt like we were faking it. This Canadian woman was huffing, puffing, moaning. She was bent over against the wall, and her husband looked cluelessly trying to just be useful. I looked over at Deborah and she was smiling. I asked her if she was having any contractions.
“Maybe I feel something, but I’m not sure.” She was just imagining it. And of course, I was carrying a suitcase and two other bags full of stuff plus all Deborah’s pillows for the night. Man, I felt dumb. The water breaking signifies that the show is starting, right? Wrong. Apparently. We arrived at the hospital, took the wrong elevator, “hand-sanitized” our hands, walked through the giant scary doors, gave some very personal information, only to be told, “sorry, you’re not in labor. Time to go home.” Upon hearing the words, the fear that was pulsing around my whole body, quickly turned to exhaustion. My legs began to ache. My eyelids grew very heavy, as if whatever was keeping me awake had lost its grip.
The three (four) of us arrived back home with two things: a dash of disappointment and a doctor’s appointment at midnight. We were told that since Deborah’s water had broken but she was not in labor, she would need to come back in 24 hours for an inspection. At the 24 hour appointment, they told us, we would need to start discussing an induction.
We went about the next day pretty normally, trying (but failing) to forget about..you know..whatever it was that was coming. Deborah had convinced herself that a water birth was best decision even before getting pregnant. To our surprise, the NHS in the UK does not allow induced women to have water births. This has nothing to do with being mean and everything to do with the fact that they have to attach those women to electronic equipment that can’t get wet.
We spent the day doing the normal things that women do to go into labor, like walking and eating spicy food, but mostly napping. Deborah needed to get some sleep, because we had no idea how long the next night would be. I meditated on what was to come, writing this letter in the process.
In the Hospital
We arrived at our midnight appointment. Deborah didn’t want to get induced, so we had already convinced ourselves that we’djust be going home in an hour or two.
However, the person inspecting Deborah said that most women go into labor within 24 hours of their water breaking (already passed),
but almost no one goes into labor in the 12 hours after that (this turns out to
be false), and we would need to come in again 12 hours later for another of these appointments, at which time we would be “almost required” to get an induction. She explained, “it is, of course, your decision, but we strongly recommend you get induced now.”
A screen with lines that looked like stock prices drew my eyes in. It was measuring Melaya’s heartbeat and Deborah’s contractions. I then looked at Deborah, and asked her what she wanted. She knew it meant there would be no water birth, but she also knew it meant we did not have to drive an hour back home and another hour back here whenever she did go into labor. “Well, I suppose I have little choice.”
There we were, sat on the induction bed. Or at least Deborah was. The whole thing was just the bed, a chair, and all the medical equipment, surrounded by a bedsheet that sectioned us off from other people, also presumably waiting for an induction.
“Is there any way I can still have a water birth?” Deborah asked.
“There are a few steps in the induction process. If one of the early
steps triggers your labor, we can transfer you to the birth center and you can have a water birth.”
Deborah was visibly excited at the new information. A small smile crept across her tired face.
“I’ll be back to start the process in about four hours. Try and get some rest before then.” Our midwife did everything in her power to make us comfortable, and not a single effort was spared. I’d like to say right now that all of the hospital staff we encountered went above and beyond what was ever expected of them. You wouldn’t believe how hard these people work, how long their hours are, and how -despite that- cheerful and genuine they managed to stay. We’re extremely grateful for the care we received.
The heat and discomfort of the chair didn’t deter me from falling asleep, but it wasn’t long before my eyes, once again, were interrupted. Deborah grunted in discomfort and hung her legs over the side of the bed.
“Are you alright, Love?” I asked.
Deborah didn’t answer. Instead, she got up and took very small steps until finally reaching the restroom across the hall. The screams that came out of that restroom will haunt me. The next hour was a simple combination of love and panic, manifested in pacing, hoping her midwife would notice what was going on, and unhelpful questions like, “are you alright?” I thought about how useless the poor guy from last night looked. I probably looked exactly the same.
Deborah found a midwife and said to her, “look, I’m in labor and it’s getting really serious. I feel like I’m going to give birth on the toilette.”
The woman then asked, “is this your first pregnancy?”
“You have nothing to worry about. It’s going to be a while,” she answered with a bit of a smirk on her face, but Deborah knew her body.
I finally got the guts to ask somebody what I should be doing and wandered over to the information desk down the hall. “My wife is supposed to be induced in about two hours, but she’s pretty obviously in labor. I don’t think she should be in this room.”
“Your midwife is on break right now, but I can come over and take a look.” The woman followed me back to the bed, but Deborah had already attracted the attention of a different midwife who was currently giving her some sort of inspection.
“Ok, you’re in established labor, so we can get you started. Soon you’ll go over to the birth center, and you can take the gas and air.”
Right about then, Deborah’s original midwife returned from her break and took over.
“Looks like I missed a lot! Let’s get you over to the birth center.” We had been to the birth center once before, and it only took the one trip for Deborah to decide THAT’S where she wanted to give birth. Walking from the rest of the hospital into that room is akin to walking around Vegas in the middle of the Summer and finally finding a casino with air conditioning. Basically, the epitome of refreshment. The vibe is modern, the room is enormous, the lights can change colors, but best of all, there’s a spa-like tub right in the middle.
By the time we arrived in THE ROOM, it had been two hours since Deborah went into labor, one hour since I woke up and only about 15 minutes since she was turned down by one of the midwives. Guess how long it took her to give birth. I’ll give you a hint: it was before she was scheduled to be induced.
We walked into the room for the second time. Deborah was in more or less debilitating pain (she made it look effortless though). Two more midwives joined us. Our original one held Deborah’s arm as she walked to the other side of the room, where the “birthing area” was located. This was something of a yoga mat covered in towels and pillows. Apparently women don’t give birth on beds anymore (or maybe this was always just a childless man’s assumption). The two other midwives walked over to the whole reason Deborah wanted to give birth at this hospital: the tub. One hooked up the gas and air, while the other ran the water. Though, at this stage of labor, it became clear the baby was coming in the next few minutes. Deborah was never going to get in the tub. The window was just as big as I remembered and shining through was an orangish glow. In Spanish, you say “give birth” as “dar a luz,” which literally translates to something more like “bring forth light.” This expression is a lot more romantic in my opinion. Sunrise on a new day: it was the perfect time to bring a child into the world.
Two years earlier almost to the day, Deborah and I met for the first time. Our love quickly flourished, because that day had been two lifetimes in the making. Every moment, every decision, every good and bad experience was creating the two people who would stand before each other at the altar. And in one moment, with a flood of tears overflowing from unexpected emotion, Deborah brought forth the light of a new life: the product of both our lives and all of our love.