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.


3 thoughts on “Grace Son, Part 1

  1. Pingback: Grace Son, Part 4: A Tribute to My Grace-Full Wife | life of papa

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