“That was awesome!” I exclaimed several minutes after my wife’s bag of waters completely exploded on my socks and left pant leg from the knee area downward. A split moment of surprise, followed by wondering how long it would take to dry, quickly passed as the next contraction demanded my attention; stroking my wife’s back and arms in a downward motion and forcefully pushing on her hips and sacrum to provide the mildest relief from excruciating pain. It was several minutes, or maybe 10, before the nurse entered and the doula told her of the water breaking, and I made my exclamation of how great this experience with my wife’s water had been.
I had heard that the bag of waters can trickle or gush once it breaks, but no one ever said “explode.” I guess when the pressure builds until the cervix is at 9 centimeters and the fetus is gradually moving downwards, the bag bulges with a lot of pressure. Once it breaks, it carries a lot of force. I imagine something like the force of a John Elway pass to Shannon Sharpe, one of the hardest thrower’s in NFL history. Luckily, there was nothing that I had to catch; just absorb instead. Luckily I had taken off my shoes just minutes before the water came.
The previous night, Tessa hadn’t slept very well. She said that she felt weird, a little different; and that maybe she was having some digestive issues. It was 3 days before her due date at that point, and we had half expected to go a bit beyond the due date with it being our first pregnancy and not really knowing when we had actually conceived amidst our move from eastern Washington to Seattle. Therefore, we weren’t really thinking much of anything of these sensations and I slept soundly as my wife tossed and turned. Waking up in the morning, strange sensations continued and Tessa started to ponder the possibility that these sensations were indeed contractions. Calm and collected, we got ready to drive to Tacoma in order to see our midwife for a scheduled appointment, bringing our nicely prepared hospital bag just in case this was the start of labor. For a moment I thought that bringing the labor bags was a bit unnecessary, but I conceded that, yes, just in case, we could bring this stuff along.
With our dog Alfie in the trunk of the hatchback in his kennel and Tessa to my right, baby car seat and bags in the back, we drove across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from Gig Harbor to Tacoma. We waited briefly in the waiting area with 3 or 4 other couples, all with barely a baby bump. A toddler played on some seats in front of us and HGTV played on the tv, as had come expected from several midwife check-in visits. The midwife checked the diameter of Tessa’s cervix and announced it was at 1 centimeter dilation and suggested that we see the NST technician for a stress test to monitor the frequency and intensity of contractions, as well as the baby’s heart rate. She also suggested that we drive back home and perhaps bake some bread or go for a walk. At this point, I still thought that this was one of those “false alarms” and that these contractions would stop.
We did the NST and Tessa was clearly in pain at this point. She had 7 contractions within a 40 minute period of time. I had no idea what this meant, but the technician mentioned that she normally sees women admitted to the hospital at this point. Very unsure of what to do next, we called our doula. Thank God for our doula!
We spent a bit of time talking out the details of whether to drive home or admit to the hospital. Tess and I had both planned to do early laboring at home, until contractions became frequent and intense. Talking to the doula, we had decided to drive home, expecting that we would labor at home for several hours, then return. We got off the phone and left the NST test office and made it maybe 10 steps before another contraction started and Tessa had to take a seat on a bench in the hallway. Two women that worked at the hospital asked us if everything was okay and we explained our situation. They were very friendly and offered their help in any way they could. Still uncertain of what to do, we went back to our car and sat there to discuss our next step. I reflected back Tessa’s core message, as far as I had heard it from sharing her thoughts, that she wanted to feel settled. We decided to let go of our vision of home laboring and admit to the hospital.
We left the parking garage to drive 50 feet across the street to the hospital from the midwife clinic. Suddenly, seemingly short distances had become very long indeed. As we approached the valet attendant, he almost comically informed us that valet cannot park a car with a dog in it and the nearest self parking was across the street, exactly where we had just come from. I could not leave the side of my laboring wife to let her walk into the hospital alone, so I thanked the valet for the information and re-parked the car in the garage and Tess and I then walked across the street back to the hospital.
At this point, I think we both felt a little silly for admitting to the hospital still only being 1 centimeter dilated, thinking that we could normally wait until 4 or 5 centimeters if we were laboring at home. Thus, I was somewhat surprised by the reaction of the admitting personnel. They seemed entirely sure of admittance, exclaiming that a woman was in active labor, with a hint of urgency sending the message that we must get her admitted quickly. It didn’t really occur to me that this was an admittance area for the whole hospital and not just giving birth; just one example of the confusion and lack of clarity that can exist throughout the process and still have it proceed very well.
The next experience with “not as planned” came with a lengthy wait in the waiting area of the hospital, until a room was actually clear for us to enter. No length of wait is given, and at this point Tessa continues to throw up with every contraction into several blue plastic disposable throw-up bags. A family sits across from us, with the youngest child sheepishly attempting to catch glimpses of this women with eyes closed, grimacing in pain, and vomiting into a blue bag, attempting to sip water; man by her side, attempting to comfort with caresses and infrequent words, yet uncertain with what to do next.
Very friendly nurses and health aides came by to inform us that a room would be available shortly. Knowing my wife wanted the room with the water birthing tub, Tessa asks first if one of these two rooms is available. As we enter a room without a birthing tub, they inform us that one of these two prized rooms is available, but the midwife on call is too short to deliver a baby in a birthing tub, thus we cannot have it. We accept this situation and move into the room to get settled. I’m hanging onto the fact that this room still has a small bath tub for laboring in, which I know will help relieve Tessa’s intense back pain that has persisted before and throughout pregnancy. I text our doula to let her know our room number. The nurses do various check-in procedures and monitor the baby; which is a nuisance to Tessa, but left me with the feeling that the professionals knew what they were doing and I just had to be with my wife to comfort her.
I begrudgingly have to admit that there was one moment early on where I felt a twinge of frustration after Tessa asked me to do something for her. I cannot remember what this was, but she said, “seriously, youre already frustrated with me?” I denied it and carried on, knowing she knew my denial was bullshit. Nevertheless, I can honestly say that from that point onward, I was all in it for Tessa, to assist and comfort her anyway she needed in this intense experience. If it weren’t for the doula reminding me on two occasions to take a break during the labor, I probably would have stuck by Tessa the whole 12 hours. With that said, it was a totally good call to take those two breaks to eat and urinate. It allowed me to return refreshed, energized, and able to give my mental, emotional, and physical attention to Tessa.
Tessa was very inwardly focused throughout the labor, which I half expected. She spoke briefly at times throughout the experience, and she was incredibly sweet. She spoke to our daughter in a comforting way, like they were a team getting this done together. Soft-spoken, she once said that she could not do this. I had no idea what to say, but the doula very quickly stepped in and saved the day. She very matter of factly, told Tessa, “you may not feel like this is true right now, but I want you to say Yes I can do this.” Tessa rolled with it. Without skipping a beat, she used this positive intention to change her attitude and perspective.
At another point, the doula felt like we needed to talk directly to Azalee to help get her moving and positioned properly. After asking the doula what I should say, she told me to take a try and just say what came to me. I too, jumped right in, taking direction like Tessa without skipping a beat. I spoke to my daughter and after a couple moments burst into tears. I think the intensity of the experience just exploded into a few intense sobs. Tessa reached out to me in an act of comfort; which I greatly appreciated. I knew this experience was all about Tessa and doing what she needed for the entire process, but her moment of care shifting from herself to me was very special.
Before the final stretch of this marathon, I had left to eat and pee and walk Alfie. I emailed some family and friends ending my brief note expressing that the experience was intense and great. A superlative of great is probably needed here, but the experience is hard to describe in words. My arms were a little tired at times from constant caressing and massaging, but not really bad at all. The blood and fluids did not faze me one bit, although I am normally squeamish with blood and bodily fluids. As the father, with no direct experience of the pain involved, I can say that the experience was exciting and fun, in addition to intense. I was in the moment and I felt more alive, in some sense. There was a feeling of unknown, not knowing what Tessa was thinking or feeling, as she was very internal. I wanted to know, but also did not want to disrupt her, also hoping that she was staying open to the experience as a more full experience than just pain. I told her I loved her a few times, I kissed her a couple times, but I also wanted to respect this as her experience and only assist as needed.
After joining Tessa during the transition phase with making “ba ba ba” moans; which weakened to become “wa wa wa”, we came to the time to push. With Tessa’s face red and bulging during pushing/contractions, I held her foot up and her legs open, as I watched the crown of my baby’s head emerge and gave positive, encouraging words. A total rush came over me, with my eyeballs fully welled with water, as Azalee slid out and I felt great joy with everyone in the room. In fact, a paramedic student had joined us to observe, and I felt grateful that he was there to witness the experience. Upon reflection, he seemed to be glowing amidst our miracle; a complete stranger with a fleeting connection. My favorite moment was when Azalee was placed on Tessa’s chest. I cannot remember what Tessa uttered, but seeing her in this moment was the pinnacle of the experience, a million times better than reaching the summit of an arduous mountain hike, yet fleeting and somewhat now lost in history. A faint memory in my mind and no regret over having not captured it with video; as like a testament to being truly in the experience, rather than being preoccupied with capturing it for a later reminiscence. I can now see that so many more precious moments come and go every day with my new family, in various moments, teaching me that I do not have to hang on to every single one, because I know that more will come.