The Birth Story

Birth story

The time has flown by, but it’s now been almost two weeks since the moment that changed my life. My daughter Madeline Nicole was born at 8:13 p.m. on August 2. She was 20 inches long and weighed 7 pounds, but I love her beyond measure.

When I discovered her existence in December 2015, I immediately snapped up this domain name and started this blog so I could capture my thoughts, emotions and experiences throughout this momentous life change. Now that Maddie is safely in my house and sleeping peacefully on my chest, I find myself at an utter loss for words to adequately describe the change that has taken place in my heart. At this point, I will simply recount the story of her birth for posterity1 and try to unpack some of my feelings along the way.

First off–for all you expectant fathers out there–I want to reiterate what many fathers told me as I awaited the glorious day of my daughter’s birth: It doesn’t matter how many books you read or how much advice you seek…Your child’s birth and the calmness or chaos that follows will be unique to your family. I don’t regret my attempts to prepare and it was worthwhile to hear many other parents’ stories and tips, but when you suddenly find yourself standing in the delivery room cutting the umbilical cord for your brand new baby, all of the resources and best laid plans fly out the window. It’s just you and your wife and your baby embarking on the journey of a lifetime.2 Here’s how it happened for us.

Saturday, July 30     Pre-Game

Like any good story, Maddie’s birth story features several twists and turns3. On the evening of July 30, we joined my family at Ravinia for an outdoor screening of “Titanic” with a live score provided by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It was an early anniversary present for my parents4, so we enjoyed a pre-show buffet dinner at the restaurant on the Ravinia grounds.

As an aside, it had been years since I’d seen “Titanic,” but everything about it held up remarkably well: the plot, the special effects, the music and the joy of watching Billy Zane chew up the scenery with his acting. The live score was amazing, with a full choir and some instrumentalists especially tearing it up during the below decks Irish jig dance scene. Gosh, I love Ravinia.5

We got home pretty late after the show and Theresa was feeling relatively good, but just before going to bed, she experienced the bloody show that can sometimes mark the beginning of the labor and delivery show.6 Needless to say, we were pretty excited about this development, as the baby wasn’t due to arrive until the upcoming Friday, and time was starting to move at a snail’s pace. Somehow we both had the foresight to somewhat wrap things up at work on Friday in anticipation of our parental leave, so the idea of the baby coming over the weekend was absolutely fine with us. Let’s get this party started!

Sunday, July 31    Contraction Action

Sunday dawned sunny, warm and with an even greater sense of anticipation when Theresa awoke around 5 a.m. with what felt like far more regular contractions than the pesky Braxton Hicks variety we had been encountering for weeks. Using her trusty contraction-timing app, we estimated them to be about 15 to 20 minutes apart, and they were growing in intensity by 9 a.m. Since Theresa wasn’t yet in extreme discomfort, we headed to 12:15 p.m. Mass and continued to discreetly time the contractions. After Mass, we ran into a friend of mine whom I haven’t seen in years and who is now serving as a religious sister in Brooklyn. When she asked how we were doing and we told her that we were having the baby soon, she didn’t realize just how soon until we told her that the contractions were getting so close together. We next ran into the parish pastor, who had a similar shocked reaction and immediately offered a prayer and blessing for the three of us.

One thing Theresa and I have both been very aware of throughout the pregnancy is the fact that having a baby around is going to radically alter the amount of time we have together as a couple. We know that our marriage remaining solid will be the bedrock of the family that we are creating together and that the extra stresses of having children will in turn force us to make an extra effort in our commitment to one another. We have also made the extra effort to enjoy the waning months, weeks and days of our family being “just us” and the freedom that goes along with that.

As the contractions continued, we decided to have one more pre-baby lunch date–our last??–to our local Jason’s Deli. This place has been the site of many lazy Saturday afternoon meals for us. We’ve biked there from our house. We ate there after the doctor’s appointment when we found out I had cancer. We ventured there during my cancer treatment. We’ve eaten outside there in the summer. We’ve made beasts of ourselves at the free soft serve stand.7 It’s become one of “our places,” and it seemed fitting that we should enjoy our final carefree meal together there. Oh, look, free ice cream.

Before heading into Jason’s, we decided to call our parents to give them a heads up about our escalating situation. The ensuing phone calls perfectly illustrate the difference between our mothers. We called my Mom first and the call lasted almost 10 minutes, with her exuberantly yelling the update to the rest of my family and repeatedly proclaiming her excitement. We called Theresa’s mom afterward and the call lasted about two minutes. Her mom was also incredibly excited but in a much more subdued way. I’m not sure if that’s a difference in temperament or the difference between grandchild #1 and grandchild #26! Both of them promised to pray for us and asked that we keep them updated.

We enjoyed a peaceful lunch at Jason’s, reminiscing about various moments of the pregnancy and our relationship–fully assuming that this would be our last meal together before we were joined by our new bundle of joy. Keep reading.

After lunch, we headed over to our local Barnes & Noble, where the previous night there had been a release party for the newest Harry Potter book. We reserved a copy, as we figured that a dramatic reading of the latest wizarding adventures8 could help pass the time as we awaited Maddie’s arrival. July 31 also happens to be Harry Potter’s birthday, which seemed like another fitting reason for today to be the day our little muggle arrived.

When we got home, we started the book, but it wasn’t quite distracting enough from the contractions that were increasing in strength and regularity. We switched over to watching episodes of our new TV addiction, police station comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” We also put a beach towel down on the couch in our living room, just in case Theresa happened to be in the 15 percent of women whose water breaks suddenly.9

The evening continued and the contractions were getting steadily more intense for Theresa, so we decided to be truly stereotypical and go for a walk. As we made our way slowly a couple blocks to the park down the street, the contractions were strong enough to make it almost impossible for Theresa to comfortably stand. We trudged back home and I went out to pick up Subway for dinner.10 We watched some Colbert clips on YouTube and continued to count contractions.

The MuppetsEventually we called the doctor on call–Theresa’s OB was apparently home with the flu!–and she said that we shouldn’t come into the hospital until the contractions had been 6-8 minutes apart for two hours. We weren’t there yet, so the waiting game continued. Next up, we watched “The Muppets” reboot movie, which Theresa had somehow never seen. The movie was interrupted when a check of my phone revealed that the Chicago Cubs–who were being blown out 6-0 by the Seattle Mariners–were mounting a comeback of epic proportions. We listened to the remainder of the game and heard them tie it up in the ninth inning and win it in extra innings with a walk-off bunt by pinch-hitting pitcher Jon Lester!

It was one of the most dramatic and odd games in recent memory, but it unfortunately still wasn’t enough to get the contractions up to where they needed to be. We headed to bed with the contractions still tracking around 10-15 minutes apart. Come on, baby!

Monday, August 1    False Start

FitBit sleep dataThe horrific contractions continued throughout the night, and I would wake up to rub Theresa’s lower back, where the back labor pains were particularly intense. To be honest, I don’t even remember waking up every 20 minutes, as Theresa recollected, but my FitBit11 was there to capture the whole ordeal. Those pink and turquoise lines in the graphic represent (some of) the contractions and my restlessly waking to rub them out.

We eventually gave up on sleeping and woke up for some toast and a leftover frozen breakfast burrito from the stash Theresa had whipped up to fight her daily battle against morning sickness. That was a simpler time.

Today’s agenda was operation “Let’s Get It Started in Here.” We watched more episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine while Theresa paced around the living room, willing the painful contractions to increase in frequency. The strangest part of this whole ordeal is how you are doing everything in your power to make the pain increase. Was that a strong one? Good! Again! Keep walking!

After three hours of contractions five minutes apart, we figured we had finally achieved what the doctor ordered, so we called their office and they said we should come in. It was getting real. I packed up some last-minute items, created a quick Spotify playlist of some soothing film scores and other related songs12 and we decided that Theresa should eat some lunch, since they wouldn’t let her eat once she was admitted. I went off to grab some Potbelly’s, but it was too early and they weren’t open yet, so we settled for Panera.

IMG_4127 copyBy the time I got home and she had eaten, we realized that the contractions had slowed yet again, and that it wasn’t worth our while to go into the hospital yet. After an hour or so, I decided that I should also get some lunch, and the contractions sped up again. We called the office again, and the midwife suggested that we come in to at least see how far along Theresa was dilated. It was finally happening!

The drive to the hospital was nothing like what I had envisioned. We weren’t speeding through red lights or breaking any other traffic laws. Theresa wasn’t digging her fingernails into my arm or using her breathing techniques to stave off labor. We drove calmly to Lutheran General Hospital listening to “Mother and Child Reunion.”13 Theresa didn’t even want me to drop her off at the door.

There was no wait at the office, so we were taken in to see the midwife almost immediately. After the usual examinations, the midwife checked the progress of all of Theresa’s laborious contractions: 4 centimeters out of 10. Seriously??

Since Theresa had tested positive for group B strep and would need to receive some antibiotics four hours in advance for a safe delivery, the midwife suggested that we might want to head over to Labor and Delivery and get a room. They could monitor the progress and then admit us when Maddie was closer to busting out. That sounded good to us, and we realized that we were probably going to meet our new baby by the end of the day. Since August 1 just happened to be my birthday guess, I was especially hoping that we would get the show on the road sooner than later!

IMG_6501 copyWe walked over to the Labor wing of the hospital and Theresa filled out an endless stream of paperwork. They showed us to our room, Theresa changed into hospital garb and they strapped her up with some belts that held monitors for the baby’s heart rate and a Richter scale of sorts for the contractions. The nurses then left us alone for two hours, so that the natural progression of the contractions could presumably further the dilation process.

While we waited, we watched the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 on the hospital TV. Theresa paced around the room to induce contractions and sat on a giant rubber ball when they attacked so I could more easily rub her back. When the movie was over, the Cubs game began and the hospital shift change occurred. We had also managed to get the contractions back up to five minutes apart and were giving our contractions timer a workout. When the evening nurse came in to check our progress, we were sure they would be admitting us.

Like so many times throughout this process, however, we were frustratingly wrong. There had been zero progress, and Theresa was somehow still at just 4 centimeters. The doctor told us that we could stick around and see if things got more action-packed as the evening wore on, but since we lived only 10 minutes from the hospital, she recommended that we go home to be more comfortable and come back when the contractions were closer together and nearly unbearably painful for Theresa.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of discomfort to be had between “nearly unbearable” and where we were. This face pretty much says it all.

IMG_4129

We trudged back home and picked up some Potbelly’s for dinner.14 The contractions continued to be about five minutes apart and increasing in severity. We watched the Cubs until heading to bed, where Theresa had her worst night yet with breathtakingly painful contractions about once every 20 minutes. We were both beginning to wonder how long this early labor could last. Would this be our life for the next few days? The due date still wasn’t until Friday. Would we have to wait that long to meet our little girl and bring an end to Theresa’s suffering?

Tuesday, August 2    Maddie Makes Her Entrance

IMG_6962I once again have little memory of waking up in the middle of the night to help Theresa through her contractions, but I know that by the morning, we were both getting tired of trying to sleep while also holding them at bay. As you can see in this FitBit graphic, we were waking up almost every 15 minutes. Theresa would wake me up for a contraction, we’d get her through it, and then we would both drift back into the most frenzied, fitful sleep imaginable. I was so tired that the sleep was actually deep enough that I would have strange and elaborate mini-dreams, only to be roused by Theresa for another contraction.

Despite our frustrations with the lengthiness of the labor process thus far, it was actually pretty incredible to see the human body at work. I remember thinking during our birthing class as we watched actual childbirth videos that the labor and delivery process seems to bring humans back down to their mammalian roots in a way that few other situations ever could. Before epidurals or other medications are introduced, humans are at the mercy of their biology to get the party going–and to ensure that the party is a safe one for all partygoers.

After we got out of bed and made Theresa as comfortable as possible on the couch, I went to the grocery store to get some lunch and a few provisions to bring to the hospital. I had mentally decided that today would be the day. There was no turning back. Theresa would not be enduring another night of agony. We were going to meet our kid today!

When I returned and we ate an early lunch, the contractions were still only 10 minutes apart, but I insisted that Theresa call the doctor–who was now back from his flu hiatus.15 After hearing the situation, he told us to come back to the hospital for another dilation check. At this point, there was no more sentimentality about leaving the house one more time without a baby in tow. We grabbed our pillows and our bags and headed back to the hospital. The drive was still not what the movies and my brain had predicted, but we did have to pull over during one of Theresa’s contractions. We had officially reached the stage of “unbearably painful.”

Upon seeing the doc, he performed yet another dilation check–a rather uncomfortable (and manual) process which I’m sure Theresa was growing weary of–and gave us the best news we had heard all week: Theresa was dilated to six centimeters! We were eligible to be admitted immediately!

In fact, since the strep medicine took four hours to fully administer and the second half of dilation usually goes a lot faster than the first half, the staff seemed to be in a bit of a rush to get us checked into our final delivery room (next door to yesterday’s room). Theresa filled out her paperwork again16 and got hooked up to the monitors again.

The nurses set her up with the strep-fighting medicinal IV and asked her what her pain management plans were for the pregnancy. Theresa asked for an epidural “as soon as possible,” and they delivered promptly. The anesthesiologist showed up with his epidural cart within 10 minutes and got to work. Throughout my cancer battle and this pregnancy, we have met a lot of characters in the medical world, but this anesthesiologist is high on my list of oddest. From my perspective, his job is to inject a comically large needle into a very specific spot on my wife’s back and into her spine. If I had that duty, I would be the most serious, nervous anesthesiologist in the hospital. But this guy was one red clown nose short of being Patch Adams. As he prepped Theresa for the injection, he engaged in an insult battle with the nurse. He wiped Theresa’s back with an anesthetic brush and then pretended to wipe the brush on the face of the nurse. They wouldn’t let me watch–not that I wanted to–but I saw the giant needle. He continued his “Why doctors are better than nurses” standup routine and finished the procedure. I asked if Theresa would be allowed to drink water now that she was hooked up. “Only if it’s flavored water,” he said. “Regular water is too boring.”

Theresa asked the clown if the epidural would stop the painful back labor pain or just the traditional labor, and he said he could make no guarantees about alleviating the back labor, which shocked and horrified Theresa to her core. Thankfully, the epidural began working its magic after about 10 minutes, and Theresa’s discomfort slowly melted away–even the back labor!

For the next three hours, Theresa was practically in a medically induced coma, feeling less pain than she had felt since Sunday and finally able to rest peacefully. While I planned to follow her lead and get some sleep on the delivery room’s couch bed for husbands, I was just too excited. I was finally in the room where my baby would be born! How can you sleep at a time like that? I couldn’t. So I did what any digital content creator would do. I started live-tweeting with #LaborTweets. I’ll let them speak for themselves to tell a little more of the story before it was Go Time.

Delivery room

I apologize to anyone who was following along and hoping I would provide an instant update on the birth, but I decided to put down my phone when things were getting real and enjoy the moment. I’m not that much of a Millennial.

For much of the nine months leading up to Maddie’s birth, I would find myself beginning to tear up any time I thought too hard about the actual moment of her birth and meeting her for the first time. Given that, I assumed that I would be a bit of a mess when it was actually happening. As it turned out, the experience proved to be more wondrous than moving in the moment, as I found myself simply awestruck by what was happening.

The actual delivery once again challenged my preconceived notions of what to expect. As you can see in the tweets above, we seemingly went from a couple hours away to being near the finish line in very short order. I asked my family to bring me dinner because I assumed there were still miles to go before we met Maddie. As it turned out, I literally had to ask the nurse if there was enough time for me to inhale the sandwich before Theresa was supposed to start pushing.

By this point, the nurse was monitoring the baby’s heart rate during contractions and noticed that there was some distress. She said this could be attributed to a variety of things, such as the umbilical cord being compressed, or that it could mean the cord was around Maddie’s neck. Fortunately, the OB showed up right at that moment (around 7:30 p.m.) and it was time to end our nine-month journey.

I should point out here that Theresa’s grit, endurance and tolerance for pain have astounded and inspired me throughout this pregnancy, and never more so than during this long weekend of labor and delivery. On this final day, every medical professional we encountered seemed to remark that she was doing an exceptional job for her first pregnancy, and everyone in the delivery room was supremely impressed by how quickly and effectively she pushed our baby out.

The mood during the delivery was much more subdued than I had predicted it would be, with the OB and two nurses overseeing the action. They would watch for a contraction to approach on the monitor and then guide Theresa through three sets of pushes that lasted 10 seconds each. The baby was crowning after 2 of these sets, and it would only take two more for Maddie to fully emerge.

The moment that my daughter entered the world is permanently etched in my mind. It’s a bit like that opening scene in Saving Private Ryan,17 where Tom Hanks is looking around and everything is in slow motion with muffled sound. I could hear Theresa straining to push with all her might and could see the anguished look of intensity on her face. I could hear the doctor and nurse counting, reaching 10 and then urging Theresa to just push a little bit harder. I could see the doctor reaching down to grab our baby’s fully emerged head–which was nearly cone-shaped and somewhat disturbingly elongated by the birthing journey. He systematically eased the rest of her body into the world for the first time. There was suddenly a baby in the room– a new member of our family.

No tears…just absolute wonder at the miracle of life. A new baby with an entire lifetime ahead of her…A lifetime that we will be guarding and guiding…A new person to love and teach and talk to and form…A true blessing from God…An act of creation before our very eyes.

The nurses grabbed a blanket and wrapped Maddie up. The OB handed me a pair of scissors and said, “Here you go, Dad.” I cut the umbilical cord–which had been wrapped around Maddie’s neck after all–and the doctor extended his semi-bloody hand in my direction. I put mine out toward him to receive his congratulations and he said, “I just want the scissors back…I’ll shake your hand later.” Even at the birth of my daughter, I can find a way to be awkward.

I looked back at Theresa and she already had Maddie on her chest–a pair of wide eyes staring up unblinkingly at a new world. I was so mesmerized that my journalistic instincts weren’t even firing, prompting Theresa to ask for the first time in our relationship, “Can you take some pictures?”

A few moments later, they took Maddie to a small examination table to get her cleaned up and check her vitals. She wasn’t crying as loudly or clearly as they wanted, so they kept moving her around in an attempt to make her fully cry. Eventually they took a nasal syringe and pumped a vial’s worth of yellow liquid out through her mouth. Then came the full-throated cries. They continued to clean her off a bit and added some bacteria-fighting gunk to her eyes. They took her official footprint, weighed her and measured her. Then they brought her back to Theresa, hiding her dark curly hair under a cute little hat.

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And so we embarked on the first night of the rest of our lives…finally face-to-tiny face with our beautiful and healthy daughter. Although probably an average size for a baby, she seemed impossibly small to us. Even nearly two weeks after this adventure, her gentle features and tiny body continue to astound me every time I hold her.

Our stay in the hospital could get a post all its own18, but I’m approaching 5,000 words now and need to bring this to a close. As we adjusted to our first few days and nights with Maddie, I often joked that it felt like we were attending a Baby Fantasy Camp, where they gave us a newborn to try all these experiences with, but it was just a limited time offer. It’s now fully sunk in that Maddie is a permanent part of our lives–making our lives that much richer and more meaningful. And we’ve only just begun.

  1. And as a personal cheat sheet for when she inevitably asks to hear about it in a few years
  2. Literally. Your child’s lifetime. See what I did there?
  3. Above and beyond all the ones she was doing in my wife’s uterus for 9 months. Seriously, Maddie didn’t like to sit still.
  4. as we figured we might be slightly out of commission around their actual anniversary on August 16
  5. and any excuse to include a Billy Zane gif
  6. Bloody show? I know that is a physical description of what is seen, but can’t someone in the medical world come up with a cleverer name for it? Seems like a missed opportunity.
  7. Well, I have.
  8. I do voices!
  9. I was shocked at that low percentage. Movies have clearly misled me on the frequency of the dramatic water-breaking moment in the real world.
  10. Subway is not a sponsor of this blog, but their new chicken caesar melt is delicious. They are also welcome to become a sponsor of this blog…
  11. Having a kid has made my FitBit sleep data MUCH more interesting to analyze!
  12. I’m no longer in a position to listen to Hamilton’s “Dear Theodosia” or Paul Simon’s “Father and Daughter” without openly weeping.
  13. What’s with Paul Simon and parenthood songs?
  14. and some Benadryl for Theresa
  15. So Theresa had already been in labor long enough for someone to get over the flu. Awesome.
  16. I guess it got shredded in the 24 hours since we had last been there…
  17. Though obviously way more positive!
  18. and maybe it will someday?

1 Comment

  1. Maddie is beautiful! And so is Theresa! Thanks so much for the lovely birth story!

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