6 Days of Labor: A Birth Story

While watching a DVD of, Gwen has a contraction. I grab a pencil and the closest thing to write on (oddly, a scrap of wood) and begin timing. Five minutes apart and lasting one minute! Wahoo! Make the call!
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While watching a DVD of Meet the Fockers, Gwen has a contraction. I grab a pencil and the closest thing to write on (oddly, a scrap of wood) and begin timing. Five minutes apart and lasting one minute! Wahoo! Make the call!

We call Wendy. I unlock the front door and gather our birthing paraphernalia. I unfold the nylon birthing tub on the carpet in the family room and prepare to fill it.

Wendy, her assistant midwife, and their apprentice arrive. They take one look at Gwen... and... no sale. "Go back to bed. Let things percolate some more."

Day 2: Pretty much the same thing, except this time we are reading The Hobbit to each other when contractions peak. Bilbo has just been captured by the trolls.

Day 3: Gwen is laboring but not progressing. Her contractions are sometimes very strong as in active labor and sometimes much weaker. Gwen and I march up and down the stairs to stimulate labor. We go for a hike in the woods. We sway and moan together to a Krishna Das CD.

Day 4: Today the midwives give Gwen herbal tinctures. And they finally give me a role. Wendy tells me that male semen contains prostaglandins, a hormone-like secretion that can help the cervix dilate and that an orgasm in a pregnant mama releases oxytocin, which, if the body is ready, can bring about or strengthen contractions.

This is a folk practice that's very popular with midwives and natural health practitioners, though scientific studies are not yet on board.

We are sent into the bedroom with assurances that the midwives will be out of earshot. Honestly, by this point, we have lost all sense of modesty and are so wearied that we would think nothing of having sex right in front of the midwives. We'd have coupled on Fox News without a second's thought. Our only thought is to meet our baby.

We retire to the bedroom. But we are exhausted and scared. Have you ever tried to have loving, sensual sex when exhausted and terrified? My mind is churning and I am barely present in my body. And to be fair, Gwen is in no mood either. I do the best I can. But come on, even on a good day, I have to focus to hit the 15-minute mark.

I do not earn an A on this assignment. We emerge three minutes later with heads hung low. No orgasm and no labor.

Day 5: Gwen is still laboring but not progressing. Morale sinks and we lose hope. We are bathed in exhaustion and fear. I attempt to stifle my fears that Gwen is dying.

At this point, I realize that our midwives would eat me if this sort of thing were legal and socially acceptable. At best, they see me as a nuisance, as a doofy pre-Modern Family Phil Dunphy. At worst, they seem to feel that I am feeding Gwen hostile intel. Disempowering her. Telling her she can't do it. They tell me I need to work on my anger problem.

The following day -- day six -- the team spots meconium in the amniotic fluid. Meconium is the fancy name for baby poop. Ordinarily the fetus retains the meconium and releases it upon birth. Early release of meconium into the amniotic fluid indicates potential fetal distress (like pooping your pants when stressed). Fetal distress is alarming in and of itself. But even more important, you do not want the baby to inhale the poop into its lungs -- babies in utero breathe amniotic fluid, not air.

The midwives tell me to pack clothes. They will drive us to the hospital. In home birth lingo this is called transporting.

I break down and cry. I had so wanted our baby to be born at home.

As we wait in the car for the midwives to gather their tools and close up our house, Gwen, too, finally cries. She cries of exhaustion, of disappointment, and, actually, of relief to be moving forward.

We drive to the hospital on Thanksgiving Day, through an early winter blizzard. Wendy has a plan with the midwives at the hospital for cases such as this, but there is an error in the paperwork, so we must be admitted through the emergency room. I wait in line and fill out bureaucratic paper work. Wendy warns me to keep my anger in check .

We settle into a room. The hospital midwife examines Gwen. She can give us three hours to progress and then she'll need to intervene. Gwen marches. Wendy waves us into the bathroom for more sex.

The hospital midwife gives Gwen three successive doses of Pitocin to get her into active labor and she reaches in and adjusts the baby's positioning.

The midwife has a small basin of oil right on the hospital bed and massages Gwen's perineum throughout the pushing. This is a big baby with a nice-sized noggin, and that oil helps an awful lot both to get him out and to prevent Gwen from tearing. You can even prep the perineum for the big stretch with gentle oil massage for months before the birth. A little oil and massage can prevent a lot of pain and several weeks of needing to sit on a pillow. Plus, think about it. You're getting ready for bed and out comes the oil for perennial massage. This can only end very, very well.

As soon as Noah is out, the midwife whisks him over to the pediatrician's station, set up a few feet away. Noah has to be examined for meconium in his lungs. I want him to connect with Gwen and me immediately, to know he is safe and loved and welcome in the world, so I coo to him the whole time, "Hello Sweetie Pie, I'm your dad, and that's mom. We love you, little sweetie!"

The doctors aspirate Noah's nose and mouth and use a fiber-optic tube to make sure that his lungs are poop-free.

No meconium. He is perfectly healthy.

After the exam I cut the cord and when no one is looking I smear the blood on my jeans as a keepsake. The pediatrician catches this and shakes his head. I imagine he is thinking, "Dirty home-birthers."

The pediatrician hands Noah to me and I carry our little baby to Gwen for his first nurse. Gwen is beaming.

The labor took a total of six days. Which is called stalled or prodromal labor and happens very rarely. I surely would have succumbed to nervous exhaustion on day two. I must say, and not for the last time, thank God, or Goddess, that Gwen is the female in our household -- I never could have done it.

Excerpted from the new book Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi ©2014 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library.

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