3:00 a.m. Lauren woke up to go to the bathroom. Being very pregnant, this was not unusual, but this time she told me that she thought her water had broken, but she wasn’t really sure. When Meghan was born there was no question when the water broke as it was an event unto itself. Being tired and unsure Lauren went back to bed while thinking that she was having mild contractions. I went back to sleep thankful that nothing was expected of me except more sleep.
5:00 a.m. I got a nudge from Lauren asking, “Where is the stopwatch?”
“Where is the stopwatch?” is not, in and of itself, a shocking question. Like most any question, though, applied at the right moment in time the impact of the query can vary greatly. Asking a friend, “Can you hold my beer?” on your way to the restroom is a completely different situation than asking the officer standing outside your car window for the same favor. When developing film with my dad, asking “Where is the stopwatch?” would have resulted in a slight delay in the darkroom. In the case of my very pregnant wife asking me the same question, it carried as much impact as a gunshot.
Few things wake me up easily or quickly. Ferocious barking in the middle of the night would later prove to wake me up with a jolt, but that theory has not as yet been tested in our house. I would imagine a gunshot would wake me up pretty quickly, though luckily I’ve never heard one while sleeping, except within my bizarre (and thankfully) rarely remembered dreams.
I was awake. There were no mental cobwebs this time. Lauren reported that the contractions were about 10 minutes apart. That’s no big deal I thought we’ve got plenty of time. I was a seasoned professional, you see. With the grand experience of one baby under my belt, I was not to be easily shaken by something as minor as 10-minute contractions. I did wish for some espresso though. I had given up coffee the week before, so the headaches were behind me. I reasoned that this was just a dying addiction trying to regain a fresh foothold so I put it out of my mind. That’s how awake I was.
6:00 a.m. The sun was rising on a clear sky, the birds were chirping and the contractions were about six minutes apart. We called Lauren’s mother who was the closest Grandmother. Nana Sue, as we called her, had agreed to watch Meghan while we went to the hospital. No rush we told her, things are OK. We knew that it would take her about an hour to get to our house under normal circumstances.
At this point we called the doctor since the rule we were given was if the water breaks or the contractions are five minutes apart, call the doctor. The conversation went something like this:
“Hi doc. My wife is having contractions that are about six minutes apart.” I was calm as this was clearly not an emergency.
“OK start getting her to the hospital and I’ll meet you there. Has her water broke?” The doctor, too, was calm, and cool, as was his way.
“She told me that she thought her water might have broken at three o’clock”
“What! You need to get her to the hospital NOW! This is a second baby and things will move quickly. You should have called me at three o’clock!” This from the doctor who didn’t get excited about things. I think it was at this point that I started to get the feeling that this was not going to go as smoothly as I’d expected.
6:30 a.m. Contractions were about 4 minutes apart. The fact that we got from six minutes two four in under a half hour was alarming to me since my overly analytical mind quickly determined that if we followed that progression we’d be at zero-hour in 60 minutes. It took an hour to drive to the hospital from where we lived. It was starting to look like the doctor knew what he was talking about. Weird.
I decided that Nana Sue wouldn’t be there in time so I called our babysitter, Michele, who was on standby. There was no answer for three tries, then she answered and told me in a groggy voice that she would be “right over.” At the time she lived about 15 minutes away. Lauren was starting to get nauseous and I started to get that It’s time to move feeling, so I went to get the car ready. My earlier thoughts of coffee were long gone. Adrenaline worked even better than a double espresso.
6:45 a.m. Contractions were 2 minutes apart. My male-brain math hadn’t taken into consideration the seemingly fickle nature of female biology. Lauren was in a great deal of pain and was sitting on the couch watching for someone – anyone – to come in the driveway so we could leave. I decided that according to my calculations, we needed to leave NOW!
I called 911 and they calmly responded that they would send someone over. Lauren was in so much pain she had me check to see if I could see a baby. No baby, but I was quite certain that we had no time. We needed to leave! The hospital was about an hour away and we were wasting time waiting for someone – anyone – to arrive.
7:00 a.m. The police had not arrived yet. This was frustrating, but not entirely unexpected since we lived in a very rural section of New Jersey. Just as I was about to call 911 again, Michele pulled into the driveway. The dogs went nuts, Meghan woke up crying, Lauren cried out in pain, and the pandemonium had begun.
I grabbed Lauren and got her into the car. That may seem simple, but she was nine months pregnant, having painful contractions, had to get down a flight of stairs, and had no sense of humor. She somehow found it offensive that I had needed to line the plush leather seats of my new Volkswagen Passat GLX with towels. I mean c‘mon!
Once I had her secured in the passenger seat of the car, I hopped in and we tore out of the driveway, tires screaming and the engine roaring. There is a reason I always buy cars with the bigger engine, and this was a perfect example of me being right to do so. I called the house from the car to tell Michele to watch out for the police.
7:05 a.m. Our neighbor, Art, knocked at the front door, greeted by two very excited barking dogs and Michele holding Meghan. Art was a Paramedic and local first aider who would have been a Godsend during an emergency birth, and as is the the norm in my life, he missed us by five minutes. We probably drove by him as he got into his car as we raced to the Hospital. In retrospect, I probably should have driven directly to his house, but in my mind I had one purpose: Get Lauren to the doctor. Nothing else mattered.
7:10 a.m. The police arrived at the house, too late to help us directly. They did however call Morristown Memorial hospital to alert them of one maniacal dad in a silver Passat on route to Morristown with a very pregnant wife.
I passed a few people on the small country roads who were just too damn slow. Feeling smug with my purchase of the bigger V6 engine, I raced into Mendham where my cunning plan came to a screeching halt, as did my car with its V6 engine. My plan had been simple but flawed: Get to the hospital and go fast. Small country roads, stop lights and early morning rush hour traffic had not been taken into consideration when crafting said plan.
We were stuck.
7:15 a.m. We were stuck dead away in traffic still easily a half hour from Morristown with no way out. Lauren was in constant pain and having contractions every minute or less. She was pulling with both hands so hard on the handle over the door in my car that I was afraid she would pull it out of the roof. She was literally pulling herself up out of the seat by this little handle and let me tell you, that little handle was a testament to German engineering. The fact that it could support the stresses of a very pregnant woman in pain trying desperately to pull the roof of the car down into her lap was remarkable.
I learned that the only way to feel even more helpless than being in the house waiting for the police was to be sitting in traffic with no one coming. I decided that the current plan was a failure and that it was again time again for action. I got on the cell phone and called 911.
“Hi, this is GAD and I’m trying to get my wife to Morristown before she delivers the baby in my car”
“Are you the guy in the silver Passat?” It would seem that my reputation preceded me.
“Yes! Can you get me out of this traffic?” I gave them my location as closely as possible. Having trained for a Ham Radio license before we were married, I knew that I needed to remain calm and to give as much detailed information as possible. That seems easy when you’re studying what to do. Actually remaining calm while your wife screams in pain is the hard part.
“We’re sending a car. Watch for a patrol car coming in the opposite direction with its lights on.” I had visions of a cool police escort with sirens blaring as they helped me cut through all the useless traffic. This could turn out to be pretty cool! I told Lauren that help was on the way. She groaned and redoubled her efforts towards dismantling my car.
As we sat in traffic, Lauren screamed in pain while trying to tear my car to pieces. I spotted a police cruiser coming the other way with his lights on. I flashed my headlights and he pulled up next to me. He told me through the open window to follow him to the parking lot coming up by the Black Horse Inn in the center of Mendham. He turned around and I followed, secretly disappointed that we weren’t just racing through red lights all the way to Morristown. The closest I got was driving on the wrong side of the road behind the police car. I suppose that was pretty cool, but it wasn’t like what they did on T.V.
Within five minutes of our arrival at the parking lot there were at least ten emergency people, five police cars, numerous volunteer vehicles and one ambulance. It was quite the scene. The main cop was a big guy with a flat-top haircut that made me instantly think Marine. He wanted to examine Lauren in the car to see if the baby was crowning – right there with the whole world watching. When I started to ask Lauren if that was OK with her, she interrupted me with a well thought out and reasoned response. In other words she screamed “No!” at the top of her lungs. There may have also been expletives.
I told the cops that I would check to see if it was baby time. There was no baby, but I was suddenly quite happy that there were towels on my leather seats. Poor Lauren was sitting in my Passat with her pants down and a blanket over her in the front seat of my car. The parking lot around us was buzzing with activity and flashing emergency lights. Behind it all, measured groups of cars full of gawkers slowly rolled up for their turn to watch, metered by the streetlight at the corner.
Most things in life are moments of pleasure and a lifetime of embarrassment; photography is a moment of embarrassment and a lifetime of pleasure. ~Tony Benn
7:45 a.m. The ambulance took off with Lauren inside. The Marine-looking cop told me that the ambulance would stop to meet paramedics who would be able to administer drugs if need be, and that I should drive right on by since the ambulance would blow past me later on. That seemed like oddly specific advice.
7:50 a.m. I took off in my car, which was eerily quiet, what with the screams of pregnant women and tortured metal noticeably absent. I felt very alone and useless in the car. The police did stop traffic for me which I thought was a nice touch. I didn’t even have to wait for the green light! It wasn’t a police escort, but it was still pretty cool.
8:00 a.m. I saw the ambulance stop and pick up the paramedics. I drove on by as instructed. I started to think that I would beat Lauren to the hospital which lifted my loneliness a bit. It would be nice to be there and prepared when they rolled her in.
8:05 a.m. Once again, I was stuck in traffic as I approached the center of Morristown. I heard, then saw the ambulance come up from behind with all its lights on and sirens blaring. As I sat in traffic, completely helpless, the ambulance cut through the center of Morristown while everyone moved out of its way. I called 911 so that I could feel like I was doing something, and to see if I could get a status. The only response I could get was she’s doing fine. At least she was getting to where she needed to be and wasn’t sitting in traffic with her idiot husband who would be unable to help, let alone administer drugs.
As I sat in traffic, I was struck by how surreal it felt to watch an ambulance go by, knowing who was in it and why. As I pondered this bit of philosophy, I noticed a Starbucks on the corner. For a split second, I thought You know, she’s in good hands, I could probably stop for a cappuccino… How long could it take? If I got a double espresso it would be even quicker! I didn’t of course, but I was struck by the power of addiction, even one as low on the addition scale as caffeine is. The light changed and I was on my way again, the idea of coffee once more forgotten now that I was on the move.
8:10 a.m. The ambulance arrived at the hospital.
8:15 a.m. I arrived in the labor and delivery section just in time to see them pull Lauren off the gurney and onto a bed. Examination returned the following: 100% effaced, zero station, 10 cm dilated. Having been through this once before, I knew that all that doctor-speak meant it’s baby time! The nurse strapped the fetal monitor onto Lauren’s belly which started spewing paper with vital signs.
8:20 a.m. Doctor Doogie came in and exclaimed, “Oh boy — it’s baby time!” (see? Doctor speak). The doctor looked at the paper rolling out of the fetal monitor, and with a simple statement that made me appreciate all that we had gone through to get Lauren here, he stated without emotion that, “The baby is in distress.”
“What does that mean?”, I asked.
“The cord is probably around the baby’s neck. Don’t worry, it won’t be a problem.” That sounded like a problem to me. Once again feeling helpless, I did my best to stay out of the way.
They rushed to get everything ready. Stirrups? No time. Pull the bottom half of the delivery bed off? No time.
“Do you want drugs, Lauren?”, the doctor asked.
“YES!”, was the only coherent word I’d heard Lauren utter since I’d arrived.
The doctor rolled up on his stool, took one look and said, “Nope, no time. Push!”
I have no idea what it feels like to have a baby, and I wouldn’t dare to try and describe it from a woman’s point of view. I can imagine that parts of the process are worse than others, though. For example, I would think that the head wouldn’t be any fun, what with it being so big and round and all. Women describe the point when the baby’s head is halfway out as the ring of fire, a phrase that I think that describes what it must feel like better than anything I could come up with. That’s why even I recoiled a bit when I saw the head halfway out and the doctor commanded Lauren to “Stop pushing.”
“What! I can’t! It hurts!”, she was angry that such a suggestion would be made at such a time like this, let alone by a man. Frankly, I’m amazed there were no weapons drawn.
The doctor replied calmly while he worked furiously, “The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck.”
I watched in horror as the doctor reached in with his fingers, grabbed the umbilical cord and unwrapped two full turns of thick alien cable from around my baby’s neck. He was fast, and in no time had Lauren pushing again. I think she pushed twice in total. Delivery lasted all of 11 minutes, and just like that, it was over.
8:31 a.m. I’ve never seen anyone in as much pain as Lauren was during Colleen’s birth. Frankly, I was impressed. Little Colleen was officially born without the aid of drugs, midwives, or special breathing. She was, however, born healthy and normal thanks to a little help from a great doctor and some wonderful emergency workers, all of whom have our undying gratitude.
8:35 a.m. I got to cut the umbilical cord, as I had with Meghan. As I cut the cord that was the tourniquet around little Colleen’s neck with the scissors that seemed seriously inadequate for the task at hand, blood splattered all over me, all over Lauren, her clothes, the ceiling, and everything else in the room. Much like many of life’s more memorable events, cutting that cord was particularly messy.
8:45 a.m. With all Lauren had already endured, her adventure was not yet done. Apparently Lauren again needed stitches. That wasn’t the problem though. This time it was the needles. Since Lauren hadn’t had the benefit of any drugs during the birth, they had to numb her for the procedure. This amounted to numerous needles being stuck in her crotch. I’d like to say that it hurt to watch, but that wouldn’t be fair to anyone who’s actually had to endure needles in their crotch. To this day, if anyone in the family dares complain about any sort of pain, Lauren will counter with, “Oh yeah, well you’ve never had needles in your crotch!” None of us have ever managed to come up with anything to trump that simple argument.
All I know is that my Colleen is a beautiful smart little girl (colleen means “little girl” in Gaelic) who lives life like she almost didn’t get the chance. I’m glad that I was able to help get her where she needed to be.
And yes, I got a double espresso on the way home to celebrate.