Grace Son, Part 3

Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 2.

Midnight was rapidly approaching, and four souls were wide awake in our quiet rural home.

Two of the four were contorting their bodies (one regular-sized; one tiny) in the noble, protracted, and anguished pursuit (one conscious; one hazily grasped) of a long-envisioned outcome. The third was a trained professional who had seen it all before and seemingly harbored no fear about what lay ahead. And the fourth was yours truly, a husband and soon-to-be father who had seen none of it before — save for a handful of YouTube videos in pregnancy class — and was busy quietly harboring quite a bit of fear about what lay ahead.

I am someone who traffics in worst-case scenarios. While I am under duress, or even just while I am daydreaming on an ordinary day, I can envision chilling developments in such graphic detail that shivers run up my spine. I picture catastrophic outcomes so vividly that I get choked up and momentarily feel devastated.

It’s as if I can live through an event without experiencing it. Have you ever tried to live vicariously through the colorful adventures of a friend who’s traveling the world? This is the flip side of that. I live vicariously through the hypothetical traumas of real and fictitious people (some of whom are myself) in the diorama of my own mind.

I am hypersensitive, and I have a hypervivid imagination. This is not an ideal combination for a husband who is meant to calmly coach his wife through a natural birth journey.

Danielle, on the other hand, has a preternatural ability to educate herself about various possibilities but then choose to remain only in the moment. Not to get ahead of herself for no good reason. Not to furrow her brow over dramas that will likely never transpire. Not to assume that the worst outcome is somehow the most likely, but to act as if it is in fact that least likely. I have long admired my wife for this brand of mental composure that renders her grounded and focused under pressure. It is one of the many areas in which we are virtual opposites and thus complement each other with utter precision.

So try to envision the central cast of characters.

∗ Jeremy, the excited and increasingly nervous father, has educated himself to a respectable but limited degree about childbirth. He has almost zero physical ability to affect the impending course of events, combined with a fairly boundless mental inclination to picture how things might go horribly wrong.

∗ Danielle, the expectant and increasingly impatient mother, on the other hand, has educated herself to a jaw-dropping degree about childbirth. She has a fairly boundless physical ability — and one might add, a biological mandate — to affect the impending course of events, combined with almost zero mental inclination to picture how things might go horribly wrong.

You could chart all of these coordinates on a graph and it would look comical (at least to someone like me for whom comedy can be derived from math). Allow me to use a little math jargon. In the equation of this labor scene:

Education about possible negative outcomes
is inversely proportional to
Restraint in envisioning said possible negative outcomes.


Degree of actual physical control exerted during childbirth
is inversely proportional to
Degree of artificial mental control exerted during childbirth.

As you can see, the expectant couple in this scene has a strangely inverted dynamic. Jeremy is doing most of the worrying leg work, which is decidedly inessential. And Danielle is doing all of the actual leg work (and back work, and abdomen work), which is decidedly, um, essential.

I’ve wondered at times why the biology of mammalian reproduction doesn’t allow childbirth to be a more physically collaborative event. But in our case, I’d say that’s for the best.

Clearly, Danielle is infinitely more qualified for the job.



Grace Son, Part 2

Click here to read Part 1.


After a few hours of sleep (on my part) and admirably pantomimed sleep (on Danielle’s), I awoke and asked her how much the contractions had narrowed. She said she hadn’t been measuring, but that they were moving in the right direction. She also said that her back was in a great deal of pain. I took matters into my own hands since I knew Danielle was hesitant to call in reinforcements prematurely. I texted Julie, our midwife, at 8:59pm and said:

“She’s in a lot of pain, in her back and all over. She’s hesitant to take the castor oil [to help induce labor] because she thinks it will jump up the pain level quickly. She tried to sleep but didn’t have a ton of luck. Can you call her so she can talk it out with you?”

Julie called Danielle, but I still felt Danielle wasn’t being direct enough about her increasing labor pains. She told me she was wary of Julie driving over again, only to learn that dilation hadn’t progressed much. I think she felt that the prospect of that disappointment, juxtaposed with her rippling waves of back pain, would be too much to bear. But my hubby/spidey sense was kicking in. So I started timing contractions again. And to my shock and mild panic, I discovered they were now a full minute long and there was only a minute or so between the end of one and the beginning of the next.

It was time to take matters into my own hands (or in this case, my own thumbs). Rather than consulting with Danielle, I immediately texted Julie: “Contractions are 60 seconds long, and just 60-70 seconds apart. That seems really close.” With no excess verbiage (nearly unheard of for my wordy self), I fired off the text in order to maximize every available second Julie would need to pack up her car and head over to our house from Hanover. The route from her house to ours was a 35-minute drive that now felt to me like an hours-long trek through the pressing dark, fraught with every conceivable manner of GPS-induced misdirection and automotive peril.

Mere moments after I sent the text, at 9:34pm, Julie responded: “Ok I’m going to head over.” In my alarmist brain, I pictured a wide-eyed look of horror on Julie’s face and I could imagine her saying to herself under her breath:

“Oh good heavens I had no idea she was that far along this is not good not good at all will I even make it in time I probably won’t I’d better sprint to the car do I even have time to grab all my supplies no I don’t wait yes I must I can’t cut corners good heavens I have to leave this house immediately why did they wait this long to tell me okay get a hold of yourself Julie don’t panic you can do this you’re a trained professional it will be okay but maybe it won’t but yes it will and it must okay here I go I must remain calm I must remember to breathe oh good heavens I hope this all works out.”

[NOTE: It is entirely possible that this seasoned veteran of the midwifery circuit had an internal monologue that sounded more like this: “Off I go! I love catching babies. Ha, what a funny bit of midwifery jargon! Catching babies, which is decidedly more exciting than catching fevers or fly balls. Ha! I suppose I should grab a few snacks for the road. I guess I won’t be sleeping tonight. Although I could probably do this job in my sleep. Ha! Wouldn’t that be a hoot. They probably wouldn’t pay me for my services if I was asleep while I delivered their baby. Ha! I wonder if the baby will be a girl or a boy? I like them both equally. Just another day in the life of a midwife. Ha, that rhymed!” *whistles a chipper tune*]

Besides the two of us — and our increasingly itchy little Peanut — not a creature was stirring in our now mostly darkened house. Not my increasingly impatient in-laws in their guest bedroom; not our increasingly infirm Jack Russell terrier Taz in his nest of blankets; indeed, not even a mouse.

Danielle’s breaths quickened while my eyes widened. I turned the air conditioner up a notch. The minutes slowly trickled past. I pictured the scene in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” where Will Smith, stuck in traffic in a limo with Vanessa Williams, screams in abject terror as she undergoes the most abrupt labor in human history. I knew this vision of nearly instantaneous birth was a Hollywood fabrication, or at least I had known it a week ago. But what if it wasn’t? What if Danielle’s water suddenly broke and seconds later, our eager baby was bursting at the seams to enter the wide world before professional help had arrived? Could my protective, paternal, primal instincts possibly be prepared for such a precarious prenatal progression? Perhaps, but…

At last, Julie arrived at 10:20pm and let herself in. When I saw her face, I fully exhaled for the first time in an hour. I was not the primary care provider anymore. Julie smiled playfully at Danielle, and all was once again right with the world.

Grace Son, Part 1

It was a heat-choked evening in July. The kind of evening when it’s 88 sticky degrees outside and (for those of us hardy souls without the luxury of central air) a possibly-even-worse 78 constricting degrees inside. To close the windows would throttle the airwaves, but to open the windows would saturate them. There was no escape. The heat held us hostage in our own home.

It was Wednesday, it was hot as blazes, and my lovely wife was 41 weeks pregnant.

For 9 days we had been bushwhacking our way through the shadowy, overgrown thicket of our post-due-date purgatorial jungle. Three weeks earlier we had convinced ourselves that our long-awaited, already-ravishingly-adored baby might just make a surprise early appearance. Contractions had reverberated through Danielle’s abdomen (and soul) day after day, teasing us with the shimmering prospect of a few bonus post-utero weeks with our bouncing baby.

But the contractions persisted each day with no imminent emergence. The month of June floated past with no imminent emergence. My in-laws arrived and settled into our guest bedroom with no imminent emergence. A week later, the 4th of July drifted by with no imminent emergence. And the thought occurred to us — biological realities and the law of gravity notwithstanding — that perhaps the emergence of our infant was not so imminent after all.

That Wednesday night we paid our weekly visit to Danielle’s midwife Julie. Through some gentle detective work, Julie determined that the baby was inching — or more like millimetering — ever closer to that light at the end of the uterusian tunnel. All systems weren’t go, but at least all systems were ready-to-go.

As the sun began to set outside Julie’s office window, she offered us a helpful to-do list of tasks that could stimulate our baby’s descent into the cold light of day. (Or more like the hot dark of night if these techniques ended up proving particularly effective.)

The list was wide-ranging, and Danielle had done enough reading over the months to be well ahead of the curve on most of it. Drink red raspberry leaf tea (check). Eat spicy food, like super-extra-hot pad Thai from our beloved Pakha’s (check). Bounce on an exercise ball (check). Take brisk walks in the countryside with your husband (check). Take a hot bath (check… the reading on the mercury-engorged thermometer; no thank you, she said).

Danielle checked off every box on the list — save for the daunting hot bath — that Wednesday night. This achievement was a slight challenge because we didn’t arrive home from the appointment until 8:30, giving Danielle a small window in which to brew tea, consume the ultra-spicy Thai leftovers, bounce on an exercise ball for a while, and take a walk in the woods with me in the fading daylight.

We drifted off to sleep late that night with no illusions that our efforts would be quickly rewarded.  Three weeks of agonized waiting had left us gun-shy about trusting advice, science, our hunches, or even the clear and present premonitions of Danielle’s trembling womb. In the dark, we exchanged our usual playful banter about flatly refusing to go to work the next day so that we could spend the day napping. Then we held hands for a while as we each silently pondered the various options that lay before us.

Would our earnest efforts pay off in time to have the baby during my 3-day weekend, thus eliminating the chance that I would be at work while Danielle began early labor? Was our belated baby stricken by insecurity? Or on the other hand, was our baby overly secure in an tantalizingly comfortable womb? Had Danielle’s rigorous squat-and-Kegel regimen somehow proved insufficient for the task at hand? Or on an entirely different note, had we gnashed our teeth about the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency so often that our eavesdropping baby had decided to boycott the living world?

And on a more brow-furrowingly serious note, would our baby wait so long to emerge that we would have to abandon our entire natural birth plan in favor of an anxious journey to the hospital for a last-minute C-section? Was our vision of a peaceful home birth dissolving before our eyes? Had our baby perhaps decided months ago that s/he wanted nothing to do with such hippie-dippie claptrap as unmedicated home-based labor?

I awoke at 6:10 the next morning like any other work day — eyes groggy and mind instantly envisioning the exact coordinates of my breakfast plate.  In accordance with longstanding tradition, I rolled over and asked Danielle how she had slept.

“I had regular contractions all night long,” she stated with a bracing clarity in her eyes.  I sat up in bed, my eyes now wide. “We should skip work, right?” I asked with glee. She smiled and eagerly nodded.

So we spent Thursday in a wide-eyed prenatal trance.  We wolfed down our breakfast, fortifying ourselves for the physical and mental exertions to come. We took a long, very slow walk in the woods with our old, very slow pup. We added several layers of sheets (one plastic layer, plus several old cotton layers that had seen better days) to the queen-sized bed that would serve as a warm, familiar alternative to the traditional cold, stirrup-laden hospital bed.  I walked the pup again. Danielle bounced on her exercise ball some more while we distracted our impatient minds with the sitcom goofballery of Andy Samberg (circa 2016) and Dick Van Dyke (circa 1963). I walked the pup again. I made small talk with Danielle’s parents and did my best to sidestep their well-meaning inquisitions about the moment-to-moment status of my wife’s undulating uterus. I walked the pup again. We took a nap.

In accordance with the non-panicky dictates of modern midwifery, Julie didn’t join us until midday, when Danielle’s contractions were 4-5 minutes apart. But after determining that only one additional centimeter of dilation had been achieved (from 2 to 3) since the previous night, Julie calmly and pleasantly told us that she would head out to grab lunch and be back in a few hours. After we rested a while and she returned, we learned that a mere 1/2 centimeter had been gained. So after once again performing all her usual medical checks, Julie decided to head back home to Hanover. This is what a home birth looks like. A bunch of calm waiting, uninterrupted by any overt attempts to unnaturally hasten the onset of life.

Julie ordered us to get as much sleep as possible in preparation for the nocturnal rigors that likely awaited. We reluctantly agreed to these marching orders despite the knowledge that Danielle falling asleep during her increasingly strong contractions was about as likely as me being calm, cool, and/or collected during any of the ensuing pregnancy proceedings.

Which is to say: Not a chance.