Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Birth Story

(A post from H.)

For my first Father’s Day we drove to Sarah’s aunt’s house to spend time with several of the dads in our lives. We took a familiar highway, and each time we drive along that road, I’m reminded of the time we spent on it the morning we prepared to welcome our beautiful baby girl into the world. Today is an especially good day to recall that day, so I think I’ll share the story. (It’s a long one but it ends with the greatest moment of my life.)

On Sunday, November 22nd, an extremely pregnant Sarah and I decided to spend much of the day walking around an enormous nearby mall, which was taxing for both of us but Sarah in particular felt exasperated after about an hour. Having worked up an appetite, we decided to collect the ingredients for Sarah’s famous kosher turkey enchiladas, complete with homemade enchilada sauce. But we had little luck collecting ingredients and had to travel to four different grocery stores to get what we needed. It was in those various grocery stores that we began to sense that something was afoot: Sarah was feeling new kinds of cramps, one of which had her doubled over in a checkout line (Tofutti sour cream in hand), laughing hysterically to keep from crying.

Thanks to our fabulous Bradley teacher, whose methods we were committed to from the start of our pregnancy, we knew what we had to do when we got home: walk, eat, drink, shower, and sleep. If these new sensations continued through each of these activities, we would soon meet our baby. We took care of the walking already, so we started with a delicious dinner, after which Sarah took a bath with soothing music (our labor playlist) and aromatherapy, but the contractions persisted—in Sarah’s words, “Owie! That hurts!” To get ready for the greatest athletic event of our lives, we decided to go to bed to get some rest.

As I snored the night away, Sarah dosed in and out of consciousness, experiencing moderate contractions throughout the night, but by 4:45 Monday morning they were getting stronger and more frequent so she decided to wake me up to assume my role as contraction timer and husband-coach. As we lay anxiously in bed for 45 minutes, the contractions came once every six to eight minutes—this baby was not fooling around. I got up to make Sarah a simple breakfast of oatmeal and she took a shower. At 6:00 we called our amazing doula Aimee, at which point the contractions were reliably six minutes apart (a sign for many that it’s hospital time, but we wanted to labor at home as much as possible). Between then and Aimee’s arrival, I coached Sarah through contractions (lean on me, honey; relax your brow; this pain means we’re meeting our baby girl!), but otherwise I was on prepare-the-house duty, making sure that we wouldn’t come home to dishes in the sink or trash that needed to be taken out. Aimee arrived just in time at 7:15; the contractions at that point were getting very hard to deal with.

She went through the entire bag of doula tricks: massaging Sarah in the bath, using the rebozo, squeezing Sarah’s pelvic bones, and more. I timed contractions and made sure my beautiful, laboring wife stayed hydrated and ate when she could, giving her lots of honey sticks and at 9:15 her last “meal” before Dalia’s birth—a cup of applesauce.

Our first contact with the hospital was an 8:00 a.m. check-in with our midwife Carol, who wanted to speak with Sarah. Sarah was in the tub, but we put her on the phone. Carol asked many questions, trying to get Sarah to talk through her contractions, which at this point she could not do. Carol’s response: “It sounds like you have everything under control, and there’s no reason to rush in here since you want to do things without pain medication. Call us when your contractions are between 2-3 minutes apart for an hour.” (That advice may seem crazy to some, but it was just what we wanted.) The contractions had already gotten close to 2-3 minutes, but they slowed while Sarah was in the tub to 4-6 minutes again. That changed when Sarah got out of the water, and we realized that we faced a rush hour trip downtown to the hospital. The contractions were consistently close for an hour, and we loaded up and left by 9:45 a.m.

The car trip—the memory of which was conjured up by this morning’s drive—was eventful. Our planned highway route was derailed by the unexpected closure of the nearby entrance. Along our alternate route, we saw another entrance to the original highway option, which we planned to take but turned too early and ended up going five blocks in a circle before successfully joining the caravan of downtown commuters. My laboring princess in the passenger seat weathered the mishaps and bumps like a champ, although her few contractions (six in 45 minutes) were extraordinarily unpleasant and made her quiver with tears. I suppose the Corolla wasn’t designed for childbirth.

The contractions that seemed to hibernate during the car trip returned with a vengeance as soon we got out of the car at Prentice, one after another and more intense than ever before. We moved quickly to triage, where the receptionist made Sarah hold her overflowing bladder (recall the water she had dutifully consumed all morning) for a urine sample. The triage nurse saw Sarah and immediately called for backup, and after Sarah miraculously provided what the receptionist had demanded, the two nurses went to work. In the first examination we ever had—we declined them at our recent visits to the midwives—we learned that Sarah had dilated 9.5 centimeters! What a relief! In the car Sarah had cried in fear that she would arrive only to be told that her cervix hadn’t budged. Anyway we rushed (walking, to the nurse’s manifest surprise) to our gorgeous new room with a view of Lake Michigan, arriving by 10:45 a.m. At that point I called the family for the first time to let them know what (and who!) was coming.

Our birth team assembled: Carol, our midwife; Meghan, our doula-turned-nurse from North Carolina; Aimee, our doula; and then someone unexpected, a young resident named George who wanted to observe our birth. George was not part of our planned team, and although Sarah gave George some hope of staying as he sought her permission during a contraction, my position was clear: the birth plan we gave to the hospital months before said no unnecessary personnel, and George, nice as he was, was unnecessary. He wanted to see the rare natural birth we were planning, but our comfort was more important than his education.

Having been told by the triage nurses that Sarah was almost fully dilated, Carol said we should push right away. But Sarah’s body resisted; something inside her said, “Wait, you’re not ready to meet this baby yet, so just breathe and relax.” After the false start, we spent a good two hours laboring in the delivery room (there, Sarah’s dirtiest expletives were “Oh my goodness!”), in the shower, walking, rocking, sitting—anything but lying on the bed. Throughout Sarah stayed hydrated to avoid an IV, or indeed any unnecessary intervention, and we kept the lights dim and the labor playlist just loud enough to maintain a peaceful hospital environment, as much like home as possible. Save Carol’s repeated admonitions (“To stay at 9.5 this long isn’t normal; we don’t I break your bag of waters?”), which we calmly resisted as a team, it was exactly the hospital experience we envisioned and had hoped for. When it was time, Carol was a model Dalia-catcher, placing Sarah on the birthing stool—again the bed was not for us, nor is it an especially natural position birthing babies in general—and coaching Sarah through the last of her contractions. Sarah breezed through the pushing stage in twelve minutes, at the end of which our lives changed forever. At 2:48 p.m., we held for the first time the light of both our lives, our wondrous Dalia Liat. We had the perfect, and perfectly natural, birth we had planned!

There is no greater Father’s Day gift than the memory of Dalia’s birth. It’s so wonderful, in fact, that I just couldn’t keep it to myself.


  1. Steve this is such a nice post-you did a wonderful job remembering all of the details of such a crazy day. Thanks for being you. Love, Sarah and Dalia

  2. Beautiful birth story :) Happy Father's Day, Steve!

  3. Loved it. I also loved the last photo, first moments on this precious!

  4. I remember when Sarah told me this birth story just about a week or two after Dalia was born. It was amazing and informative to hear what I was in store for. But now, reading it again, I truly 'get' exactly what was going on...having now lived through a labor of my own...even though our birth stories are WORLDS!

  5. What an amazing experience. I am so happy you both were able to have such a great natural labor. It is a BEAUTIFUL story. You should be so proud as a couple for making that natural birth happen. Happy (belated) Father's Day!

  6. What an incredible story! You brought tears to my eyes. The memories of her birth will always be with you. Happy 1st Father's Day again. Lots of love!