Water Birth Story of Abigail--A Dad's Perspective

Have you ever noticed that it's incredibly difficult to find birth stories written from a partner's point of view? My husband, Adam, kept asking for birth stories from men he trusted and kept receiving succinct, objective Yelp reviews as opposed to the realness he needed in order to feel prepared. Adam chose to write his version of our birth story because it helped him to heal and he wanted to be able to offer something more than, "It was wild, and the chair you sleep in is so uncomfortable."

One of our beloved families was gracious enough to give us their birth story as told from the perspective of Marcus Brodzki, husband of Tara and father of Abigail.

This story is raw, enduring, and honest. This story will help you to know that you will come out on the other side, no matter what your experience holds. This story is a story of strength, courage, and enduring love. And in the end, that's what all birth stories are, really.

So let's tell more of them. Here, Marcus can go first...

Friday, October 16, 2015

Like any other Friday, Tara got up at 7:00 to feed Logan and when she returned she explained to me that she was having contractions about 10 minutes apart (since about 5:30 earlier that morning -- early labor was the diagnosis). She graciously allowed me to sleep in until I got up around 9:30. At that point we informed Richée (our doula) what was doing and timed several contractions. Tara was feeling the contractions in her back so I tried to provide some counter pressure while she sat backwards in a chair with limited success. By noon I was pretty hungry and went to pick us up some lunch. Over the next couple of hours, Tara continued to have contractions she was feeling in her back. Richée came over and tried to use a woven wrap to help adjust the baby. Then we realized we needed to leave for our previously scheduled See Baby appointment--I was under the impression we probably would skip the appointment since labor was going on, but we called and the midwives recommended we come in anyways. That meant we needed to leave in like 5 minutes. Luckily we thought it was time to put the hospital bag into the car, just in case. Richée left and we hopped in the car for our 3:30 appointment -- not a fun ride on a Friday afternoon -- we intentionally booked every previous appointment at the earliest timeslot (8:30 in the morning) to minimize delays and traffic concerns since we were both still working up until three days prior. It took us about an hour and the entire car ride Tara was shifting around with her eyes closed and was obviously in major discomfort whenever a contraction hit. She also didn't want the radio on, which is unusual for her, so I felt confident this baby was coming, probably sooner rather than later.  We got to SeeBaby a few minutes late and they performed the standard post-date tests, ultrasound, checking blood flow in/out of the umbilical cord, heart rate, and non-stress test—they hooked Tara up to a monitor to measure contractions, fetal movement, and fetal heart rate. Everything looked great, mother and baby were both responding well to contractions, but just being in the chair seemed to be agony for Tara. As we finished up the non-stress test, they asked us to wait to see Dr. Bootstaylor, but there were at least 3 or 4 other couples in front of us in line and it would be awhile. Tara started having contractions more regularly as we waited (she stood, leaning against the wall, trying to find any comfortable position). I timed a few contractions surreptitiously and they were 2-3 minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. After a short wait, the staff asked if we'd prefer to see Monica (the Physician Assistant) instead of Dr. B as it would be faster -- we were unopposed to seeing Monica if it meant we'd be done faster, so we did. During the 7 or so minutes we were in Monica's office, Tara had two big contractions and Monica gave one look and went into action mode as Tara wasn't breathing well (by that I mean she was holding her breath and straining). I was impressed by Monica as she helped Tara get her breathing under control and work on breathing "down" and out. We scheduled a follow up for the following week (laugh) in the unlikely event Tara was still pregnant. We found out that Martha was the midwife on call that day, but we did stop by Antoinette's office and found out that she'd be on call Saturday. We joked that maybe our daughter would wait until Saturday just for her. We decided in the parking lot at SeeBaby that we weren't going to drive home immediately since things appeared to be progressing but that we'd reevaluate after grabbing a bite to eat near Emory. It's at this point we had to let someone other than our doula know what was up. My aunt Rebeca was on standby to take care of our dog, Logan, during labor and delivery so she was the first call. She wished us luck and promised to keep the information to herself until she heard otherwise from us. The car ride from SeeBaby in midtown to our dinner destination, Willy's Mexicana Grill near Emory wasn't fun. Tara was in pain and unable to get comfortable. We got to the restaurant and Tara didn't want to get out of the car because the up and down/in and out was particularly painful. Eventually I coaxed her into the restaurant and made sure she kept drinking water...food was out of the question--she wasn't hungry. At dinner, Tara continued having contractions while leaning against the back wall and I deflected a fair number of odd glares and looks of confusion from other patrons.  Tara and Richée were texting regularly and before I was halfway through my delicious burrito they determined Richée would meet us at the hospital parking deck and that Tara would feel better once we were settled somewhere. We were at the parking deck of the hospital in 5 minutes and then we waited about 30 minutes until Richée could meet us. During that time we played phone tag with Martha the Midwife and had our "hospital bag", aka a roll aboard carry on suitcase out of the car stuffed with all kinds of goodies, including water bottles, trail mix, a huge bag of yummy chocolate candy, a change of clothes for both of us, phone chargers and other essentials for Tara and baby---one of the obvious benefits of Baby Steps class was the packing list—definitely helped for this!

Richée arrived around 8:00 PM and with Richée carrying the big blue birth ball we went inside. Getting past triage was a process. We knew it would be. Tara had her blood drawn and they hooked her up to a fetal monitor that had an analog almost dot matrix type printer to see how contractions were going. Like clockwork 2-3 minutes apart lasting 45-60 seconds. The nurse mentioned wanting to perform a cervical check at least twice -- each time Tara and I would look at each other and I could feel her anxiety level skyrocket. Then Richée gently nudged me and said "you might want to ask to speak to Martha". In retrospect it seems rather obvious to ask to speak with YOUR care provider when things get hairy dealing with an orderly but it honestly didn't occur to me or Tara as an option until Richée mentioned it. Thanks so much Richée!

Martha came in a couple minutes later and I put on my game face. I remember her saying something to the effect of "...in 37 years I've never had a patient be admitted without performing a cervical exam...we need a baseline to know how far along you are". I begged her to admit us. Look at the pile of dot matrix paper on the floor, it's a sine wave. She is obviously in labor and going to have a baby sooner than later. Admit us. Martha left and 5 minutes later we were being moved into a labor & delivery room. In all this process took about 2 hours. It was almost 10:30 PM.

It was time to call our parents and let them know we were "on our way to the hospital" since they were planning to drive through earthquake, lava, and/or hurricane, if necessary, to be here when the baby arrived. Everyone was under strict orders to keep it quiet.

The next 17 hours were a blur. Tara could only remain comfortable standing up and leaning against the bed, wall, or sink. Her contractions were still coming every 2-3 minutes without much let up. Every few hours a nurse would come in and hook up the fetal monitor for 10-20 minutes to make sure Mother and Baby were handling contractions well. We tried various comfort techniques but the birth ball was definitely not helping, the best we managed was to stand with Tara and help her stay hydrated and breathing. Richée and I would urge Tara to "breathe down and out" but Tara's strained response was frequently "I can't, I can't, I can't" and without fail we'd respond with "You can, you can, you can." It was a bit scary because Tara seemed out of breath and exhausted and I worried that her saying she couldn't was more broad than just "I can't do as you suggest" but more losing steam and feeling unable to continue. This was my fear, but I don't know if Tara was ever reaching that point of not feeling like she could continue laboring.

Saturday, October 17th

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Richée and I started taking turns catching cat naps on the “bed” next to the room’s window. To call this a bed is a terrible misnomer, more like an uncomfortable park bench. In total I maybe slept 45 minutes and Richée slept even less. Of course, these cat naps were a luxury Tara didn’t have. I still don't know how Tara managed to remain conscious for so long.

At around the 9 hour mark of this 17 hour stretch there was a knock at the door. The nurses always knocked but came in after only a perfunctory pause. After a second I realized it must not be a nurse. My mom and her wife had arrived and it was around 6:30 am. I blinked, hugged them, gave them a brief update and went back to trying to be of some help to Tara. Tara’s parents arrived shortly after that and they all got friendly over the next 8 hours.

Around 9:00 my aunt Rebeca brought in breakfast from our favorite spot (The Flying Biscuit) so Richée and I took turns to run out and grab a quick bite of breakfast. Hanging out for a few minutes with the family in the “family alcove” was really good and I started to get excited that Abby would be joining us soon. There was anticipation from everyone and the excitement re-energized me as I went back to Tara.

By 11:00 it appeared that things were progressing! Tara's water was slowly but surely breaking and more and more "bloody show" was present. We began discussing the possibility of getting the inflatable tub set up so Tara could labor in the water some, but we got distracted and didn’t request the tub until around 1:30 PM. By this point we'd made it to shift change and our new team of nurses and midwife were now around -- this was particularly nice because our FAVORITE midwife was now on call. Antoinette had made a great impression on us from the get-go and having her attend the birth was exactly what we wanted.

Once we requested the tub, it took about 2 and a half hours before it was fully inflated and filled -- both Richée and I had to flat out lie to Tara and kept telling her "it's almost ready" when it wasn't. It's really nice that DeKalb Medical has inflatable tubs for laboring and birth, but the system by which they fill it (a hose hooked up to a sink faucet in the bathroom) is poorly conceived (poor birth pun not intended). Even after it got filled, they needed to adjust the temperature cooler and that added another chunk of time to the delay.

Finally at about 3:30 PM the tub was inflated and ready for Tara to get in. Richée and I and at least one nurse helped ease her up the steps and into the tub between her contractions. Immediately Tara unleashed a huge sigh of relief as her contractions slowed to 5-7 minutes apart -- she even dozed between contractions and looked 10,000% more comfortable! We joked and laughed and had a really nice time – if you close your eyes you could almost forget you’re in a hospital and undergoing agony to birth a child into this world.

At around 4:00, Antoinette was in the room for good. Also in our room was a Nursing Student from Emory (with whom we played the Emory geography game since both Tara and I are Emoroids). The student had witnessed 3 births on Saturday already including complications/adaptations: an epidural, an episiotomy, and a planned C-section. I remember how casually she referred to these births and remember looking at Richée thinking about how we had envisioned Tara's labor and delivery --- hopefully her presence wouldn't disrupt what we had going. Around 5:00 Dr. Bootstaylor stopped by to check on us. He only stayed a few minutes but I distinctly remember him remarking "What?! Where are the candles? The music? The incense? This is a SeeBaby, baby, right?" We laughed it off, but honestly when I envisioned Tara's labor (funny, I know) I assumed Tara would at least want the nature channel and soothing music on in the background -- WRONG. She wanted no distractions when push came to shove. Tara had an incredible focus and drive that I am constantly amazed by.

At some point a nurse came in with a large tray which was covered in plastic -- this was the "vaginal delivery cart." As I watched the nurse open the hermetically sealed sterilized clamps and various other metallic tools, I couldn't help but be amazed that we still use these items in delivering babies -- they look designed for medieval torture NOT modern medicine!

Then Antoinette, myself, Richée, and the nursing student were telling some stories and Antoinette shared a particularly hilarious inappropriate joke that I refuse to ever repeat. Starting at around 5:00, Tara's contractions were different, she'd say things like "I think I need to push." After 15 minutes or so debating, I remember Tara going wide-eyed and the sounds that accompanied the contractions changed. She assumed a squating/hands and knees position and with every contraction pushed. After seeing some red hit the water with those early pushing contractions, I moved to the front of the tub so I could look at Tara's face to the exclusion of all else. I was a little squeamish with the bodily fluids and wanted to avoid getting sick or passing out.

Antoinette went over to the wall and directed a spotlight to the back of the pool and put on big blue gloves (and directed the nursing student to do the same) -- it was at this point I was certain our baby's arrival was imminent. It was a little unnerving as Antoinette was talking and demonstrating a few things to the student while my wife was straining and pushing and in pain.

Tara squeaked, her eyes got as wide as saucers, and in the next moment she birthed Abby’s head. Two or three breaths and then one more push and the rest of Abby was born. Apparently most of the time the baby's head plays "peek-a-boo" briefly appearing and then receding back into the birth canal, in Abby's case - she wasn't there one push, and then she was!

As soon as she was born at 6:17 PM, the "water" in the tub turned black and I sprang into action. I won't lie, in retrospect I feel bad that I jumped up and away from Tara to see the baby, but Antoinette explained the umbilical cord had wrapped around Abby's neck a bit and in something out of a horror movie I watched as she spun Abby around twice to uncoil the cord from her neck, with the remainder of the cord still inside Tara. After Abby was untangled, she let out her first cry to the world, and Tara's voice was immediately present--soothing Abby as Antoinette handed Abby to Tara. After a moment we helped get Tara out of the tub and shuffle over to the bed. It was done – Abby was here! I was immediately amazed at how big and yet how small Abby was – she wasn’t a small baby by any means (8 lb 5.5 oz. and 20.25 inches long)—her tiny hands and fingers with fingernails, I was in awe.

With Tara on the bed and Abby on her chest, she delivered the placenta, and the nursing student cut the umbilical cord (they asked if I wanted to "do the honors" but I was honestly afraid I'd mess up somehow, so I let the professionals handle it). Soon after, I eagerly shed my own shirt to hold Abby skin-to-skin for a few minutes. I was overjoyed -- I'd skipped ahead in my mind – imagining myself running out to tell the whole family which had gathered including my sister-in-law, Tara's parents, my parents and their spouses, and my aunt. I'd skipped ahead mentally to them coming in and meeting Abby and hugging Tara and me as we celebrated this great moment. I'd skipped ahead mentally, and I was so tired and emotionally drained from the experience.

Then things got difficult. Tara had suffered 2nd degree tears during the birth which required stitches to repair. We'd discussed this possibility during our Baby Steps class a month or so earlier--Tara wanted to be knocked out entirely for this type of complication. Apparently this was not an option. There were concerns about breastfeeding and Tara's milk supply if she were knocked out. Antoinette recommended an IV for fentanyl(1000x more potent than morphine) to make the pain manageable on top of a local anesthetic. Tara was a trooper as the IV was installed. Antoinette did an amazing job trying to ease Tara through the process but the injections of the local anesthetic were beyond excruciating for her and did little to reduce her response to the stitching. I was crying buckets during the procedure and when it was done I was so relieved.

There was time for very brief visits of immediate family to meet Abby, and then after they left the room there were concerns about blood clots because of the repair. Additionally, Tara's bladder was full and they wanted her to go use the restroom. She got up and headed to the restroom with a nurse helping her. As I'm holding Abby a few minutes later, I hear words you never want to hear. A frantic sounding nurse pulling an emergency cord in the bathroom and a receiver pick up and hear her almost shout  "Somebody help, we need help in Room 3005, now." I placed Abby back in her warming bed and headed over to the bathroom quickly. Tara had stood from the toilet and fainted -- fortunately she didn't hit the floor, but it took her almost a minute to "come to". She stared blankly at me as I talked to her and it was scary. She was so pale, and clammy to the touch.

They brought her back to the bed and two different nurses came in to attempt giving Tara a catheter since she wasn't able to void her bladder. The nurse specifically said, if the mother doesn't void her bladder within an hour of birth, they would have to perform a surgery to prevent the bladder from bursting or something like that. I took one look at the catheter and knew we were in trouble. They put iodine/betadine around the area but when they tried to insert the catheter they couldn't. They tried a second time with another catheter unsuccessfully.

When the nurse "gave up" after the second try she flippantly removed her gloves with an audible smack and said "we're done here," I absolutely lost it. I was convulsing with sobs and I was angry. I think I said "what do you mean, you're done? You said if she didn't void her bladder that they'd have to perform surgery?" How can we be done?" The nurse pulled me into the doorway area which has a privacy screen that she pulled shut around us and essentially gave me the "man up" talk -- to be fair, I think it had the desired effect of calming me down so I could focus on Tara, but I absolutely hated the way she delivered it. I was made to feel like a child and it was very belittling.

She told me that we'd be moved up to the 4th floor and given another chance to void Tara's bladder within the allotted timeframe while also giving some of the meds time to wear off and for some of the clots to come out on their own (Tara was shown how to perform a fundal self-massage...worst name ever to help the clots come out). If they'd started with that before the catheter disaster I would have been fine, but the threat of surgery if catheterization failed was just terrifying.

I went outside and updated the family. I explained that we were moving upstairs but that we weren't out of the woods yet. I cried on my Mom's shoulder for a few minutes. Tara was wheeled with Abby upstairs to the Mother-Baby room we would live in for 30 hours before leaving the hospital.

The lady working the front desk on the 4th floor, and keeper of the Baby-Lowjack devices (used to ensure your baby doesn't somehow end up with another family), had the most unenthusiastic "congratulations" I've ever heard -- this woman should not be greeting patients. We got situated in our room and Tara, thank the Lord, was able to go to the bathroom and void her bladder. My parents grabbed us some Panera (though it was cold by the time we actually ate it) and Tara was very hungry after not eating since midday Friday (and it was now almost 10:30 PM on Saturday) we said our incredibly tearful goodbyes to Richée who stayed with us until about 10:00 PM and shared after Abby was born that this date was especially meaningful to her and she was glad to be with us for it...we all cried.

As Richée left (her wonderful Hubby came and picked her up--no driving on zero sleep!) we sat in the room with just the 3 of us, our new expanded family and got to the boring but still exciting task of calling the family who needed calling, emailing others, before posting more publicly on social media for our more casual friends and acquaintances to hear the news.

Dads -- it is an unforgettable experience that changes you forever. I can only speak from my first-time-becoming-a-father experience. It’s incredible – as Dads we are supporters and advocates for our spouses and children. We provide love, trust, and stability to the somewhat chaotic situation of labor and delivery. It’s exhausting in its own way on us, even though we realize with great clarity that we have the easy part compared with that of our partners – but it is exhausting and you will be tired, if your experience is anything like mine.

Our now enlarged family was discharged the following day after Tara and Abby were both given a clean bill of health and filled out the required paperwork—our newly “changed forever” life is just beginning and what an adventure it will be!

I can’t thank my wife, our doula, families, friends, and medical professionals enough for their efforts throughout labor and delivery and since. We have an amazing support system that has stepped up to provide support we didn’t even know we needed in the time since Abby’s birth. Thank you, thank you, thank you.