“There I am jogging down the road. Not just jogging — running. It’s freedom. I must be well over a mile in. I’m feeling great. I haven’t exercised in the past nine months of pregnancy due to bed rest, and I can’t believe my legs aren’t even sore. I’m hardly out of breath! I could go on for miles like this! I look down and see brand new running shoes with neon pink laces. Wow these shoes are amazing! I also see my huge pregnant belly. Wow, I’m running like a pro even though I’m nine months pregnant. Wait. That’s my bare pregnant belly staring back at me. Crap. I’m running down the road, like a pro, in my amazing shoes, nine months pregnant, and totally naked! Oh shit. I turn around. Luckily, no one is around to see this spectacle. Maybe I can make it home before anyone sees me. But wait, I’m not moving any more. I’m running in place, completely suspended. Now there is a couple jogging towards me. And now a car is pulling up behind me, too! This is mortifying.”
— The wife, dreaming, before suddenly waking up to her water breaking.
It was four in the morning. Less than five hours later, at 8:55 AM, our son entered the world. Most of that five hours was spent at home arguing over what time to leave for the hospital. The wife had this entire birth plan of laboring at home all day, and she wasn’t just sticking to it, she was militia-style enforcing it.
She says she has to act like that with me when I get like the way I get with things.
I have no idea what she means.
The wife announces her water has broken. It’s 4AM. I bolt awake from a dead sleep. You ain’t gotta rustle me awake. I can go from benzos to Red Bulls in seconds flat.
I immediately jumped up, grabbed the dog who sleeps in bed with us, carried her one-armed down the stairs, using my other arm to scoop up the hospital bags, and swiftly secured her in the dining room area. I did this without words, automatically, as though it were some kind of tornado safety drill. I have no idea why I did this, but the important thing was THE DOG IS SECURED, for reasons unknown.
I packed the car Tetris-style, automatically dressed myself in my outfit that I had carefully chosen weeks earlier, robo-called our families, forced down sustenance (err — I mean, cereal), and double-checked the security of the dog, our harmless fifteen pound poodle/beagle mix. She panted and quivered a little, nervously. The wife says I made her like this, a total weirdo, like me.
Whatever. THE DOG IS STILL SECURED (for reasons still unknown.)
ALL SYSTEMS ARE A GO.
Meanwhile, the wife is upstairs, half-casually packing her hospital bag and half folding some laundry, suggesting we take the dog for a walk.
Uhhh. The dog is already secured defcon five. So I made an alternate suggestion.
“Let’s call the doctor right now,” I said, with more firmness than fear in my voice, at least I like to think so.
“Calm down,” the wife said. I guess she heard more fear. “We have hours. I don’t even have contractions yet. I’ll call the doctor in a little bit.”
“Nope. We’re going to the hospital soon. Call now.”
“You didn’t read any of the baby books I wanted you to read, so now you’re freaking out because you have no idea how it works,” the wife lectured. “We have hours to go. I want to labor at home for awhile.”
I don’t know what she’s talking about. I did so read the books.
Well, no. I didn’t. I read something better, in fact. I read THE INTERNET.
Alright, I had to do some flash back now. Think. Think. What did I learn during all those birthing classes she dragged me to?
The wife has this new-agey hippy-dippy side — a side that likes yoga and meditation — and is open to trying to new things and new ideas. Despite her trying to get me to “come to yoga” with her for the last seven years of our relationship, I’m much happier being close minded and stiff in my lower back.
So when she had signed us up for something called a “comfort measures in birthing” class, I assumed it was just another standard birthing class through the hospital. That class had been an eight-hour marathon in which the fairy tale band-aid of where babies come from was ripped off — ripped directly off my eyeballs.
I didn’t know what a comfort measures class meant, except that the wife described it as a way to learn some all natural pain-coping mechanisms for birth. I assumed it was another band-aid to rip off, perhaps in gentler, all-natural way.
I also assumed the class was at the hospital, perhaps taught by the same burly war-storied nurse who had taught the last class, a woman who had described in great detail her experiences of pushing out three ten-pound babies. She didn’t just rip the band-aid off; she tightened the tourniquet, handed you a stick to bite down on, pulled out the amputation knife, and took off the whole limb. That’s a metaphorical way of saying that I learned the baby isn’t the only thing that comes out during birth.
Still, I like this methodology. I prefer this. Give me the amputation knife, plunge it directly into my chest. Give it to me. I can take it. The wife, on the other hand, prefers something called “comfort measures.” Those words again — and whatever they meant, were not taking place at the hospital or coming from the 1800s-era surgical nurse.
“Oh, the class is at somebody’s house,” the wife said, casually dropping this detail during breakfast, not realizing she had just spoken the most terrifying sentence in the course of humanity, even more so than “we’re going to a potluck dinner.”
“Whose house?” I asked cautiously.
“Oh you know, the doula’s house,” she said.
The wife had hired a doula to assist her during childbirth. It’s a non-medical professional woman who sort of plays a personal coaching role, providing comforting energy and experience. Basically it’s the opposite of me, who will be providing nervous pacing, nonsensical murmurings to self, and glasses of ice water, as needed.
So there we were a few hours later, sitting in a “share circle,” cross-legged in somebody’s house, with three other couples, birth balls, aromatherapy candles, and the doula — a small-framed, kindly-voiced woman whom you might mistake for a kindergarten teacher, if not for arm-sleeve tattoo and glint in the eye. It’s a glint that you’ll go over and over again in your mind, trying to figure out what it says, but whatever it says, you instinctively know not to cross it.
As for the other couples: there were the doctor-distrusting, home-birthing hardcore-ists. There were the neurotic hand-wringy couple who were overdressed — maybe they just got off work — but you get the sense they always dressed like that. Then there were the bubbly couple who looked like you might have run into them at the tiki-themed country bar in your old hometown. They were the ringers. That’s the only way I can explain them.
So what exactly are “comfort measures?” Well, I can tell you they are measures that would not comfort me. We learned techniques in little workshops, like holding a comb in one’s hands at certain pressure points, running a tasseled scarf along the body, or breathing in lavender oils. If I’m ever in pain, I can tell you holding a comb in my hand is not going to do shit. But the wife is open to all ideas, so she laid on the floor and I ran the tasseled scarf along her body, and the doula came over to correct my motion to a “massaging ocean-like” motion, and I listened because I wasn’t about to cross her.
GAH. WHAT DOES ANY OF THAT HAVE TO DO WITH REAL LIFE. WHAT THE HELL DO WE EVEN DO. HOW DO ANY OF US EVEN MAKE IT INTO THIS WORLD ALIVE.
Note: I’m currently over twelve-hundred words and three pages into describing leaving for the hospital. This is how the wife describes it, from her point of view:
1. We ate breakfast, showered, and packed up the car.
2. I was well aware of the time and we got to the hospital exactly at 7 AM.
She also sometimes tacks on number 3 — that I totally drove the wrong way to hospital, taking the way out of the neighborhood that entails driving over multiple speed bumps.
The next part of the story — the birth story is far less dramatic and embellished — because by now I’d taken a freaking Xanax to calm the fuck down. But it’s also a story that needs no drama or embellishments — it is simply the greatest moment of my life. But I’ll tell more, next naptime.