Max is turning 1 week old tonight and it is hard to look back on the birth as it all seems so distant now. It is strange to spend so much time focussing on an event, to have that event happen, and then move forward to a completely new experience. Prior to January 26th, 2011 I envisioned the birth process to be like a graduation; the next chapter. It is so much more than that…it is a complete metamorphosis of your entire life and how you interpret everything around you. Everything is placed into perspective. You achieve clarity. I have evolved. So…what happened to get here? It all began on Tuesday January 25th at 7pm.
I had expected my parents to arrange dinner with my in-laws so Kate and I could join them and then excuse ourselves to the privacy of our own home to spend a few final hours as a couple. In a family of all chiefs and no indians this was a pipe dream. I arrived home to roaring welcomes from my mother-in-law and father-in-law who were already a drink or two ahead of me. My parents soon joined and we played catch up and discussed what was about to happen in the morning. Great merriment was being had but I soon realized there was no plan for dinner and somehow Kate and I had become the impromptu hosts of a gathering the night before an induction. We went with the flow, ordered pizzas, and opened more wine. Live in the moment. Our plan to be home alone and in bed by 9pm was replaced by the reality of saying goodnight to all parents shortly after 11pm at which point I finally began packing my bag for the hospital.
- Basketball Shorts
- Swim Suit (to shower with during labor)
- Snack Bars
- Laptop and some work
- Birth Plan
- Various other items
Kate had packed her bag weeks ago and had things like her iPod, speakers, books, etc. packed along with clothes ready to go. We were still hopeful that labor would begin on its own that night and we would find ourselves checking into the Birthcare Center for a natural birth instead of an induced labor at St. Joe. I crawled into bed around 1:30am knowing that Pitocin was inevitable. Sleep did not visit me that night though panic certainly danced around my head. The uncertainty of it all. The impending, ticking clock…counting down to 6:30. 6:30 could not have come sooner.
We arrived at St. Joe 10 minutes late on a cold January morning in Wichita. It was completely dark and I felt as though I shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car. My nerves were shot. I was so thankful I had chosen to have 1 glass of wine the night before…but sleep deprivation was already playing havoc on my sanity. I had not slept in 3 days.
Registration was a breeze though it did take about 20 minutes. We then went upstairs and got settled into our room. This is the first time Kate has EVER been a patient. I, however, am a seasoned pro. I resulted to my go-to tactic of cracking jokes, meeting everyone, and doing everything possible to make everyone feel welcome in our room. Win their affection early because you will need it later. This…this seriously set the tone for the day and is one of the reasons why Kate and I feel good about the overall progress of the day.
Our first nurse was named Michelle. Nurses go from 7 – 7 every day on 12 hour shifts at St. Joe. Michelle seemed like a tough nut to crack at first but once she got a feel for the vibe of the room she fit right in and was an unbelievably valuable asset in the birth. She gave Kate her IV and started her slowly on Pitocin. Molly, the doula, arrived and we began just hanging out. I got used to reading the machine and understanding what everything meant. You can see the baby’s heart rate, Kate’s, Kate’s blood pressure, the contractions, and the baby’s movements. The contractions and movements were subtle and sporadic. More pitocin. Kate’s blood pressure was high…very high. It was concerning and right off the bat it was obvious this could be a complication with the birth.
Molly assured me that things would be okay and I should eat. I headed down to the cafe and crammed a breakfast sandwich in my face and wrapped my hands around a half-caf coffee from Starbucks. My adrenaline was pumping…I didn’t need more than that to get going. Upon my return it was obvious that labor had begun as Kate’s contractions had become more regular and she was now breathing through subtle pain. Spirits were high. Things were good. Progress was slowly being made. Time flew by as if minutes were seconds.
10:40 am Kate’s contractions became regular enough that I could predict when they would come. We were 4 hours in and while progress had been made it was slow going. However, with each upping of the Pitocin dosage things moved further along and Kate became more focussed. She dilated to about 4 cm and was on her way to 5 but her water had not broken. at 11:30 the doctors told us they wanted to break her water for her. This was the crossroads of the birth and one of the most important decisions of the day. I told the doctor this felt “rushed.” I understood their desire to see more progress but we felt her body could do it on her own. They left and then returned shortly after to try to persuade again. I became more kindly forceful with my words. I ushered them out of the room with the understanding that they should not return with this question for at least 1 hour. We were making enemies. The skeptics in scrubs left the room with doubts, I had won this battle…they did not take defeat well. I cleared the room and Molly went downstairs for lunch. Kate and I were alone in a room together. We talked. We hugged. We kissed. We found ourselves dancing and reflecting back on this pregnancy. As I held Kate in my arms we shared our instincts about what we thought our child might look like. We were having fun. We kissed again. Romance fell over us and we embraced each other harder and kissed again. With smiles on our faces, tears in our eyes, love in our hearts, and each others arms engulfing us Kate’s water broke with an audible “POP!” 12:20pm. Score 1 for the home team.
By 2:30 Kate had progressed to 5 cm and her contractions were intense. This was the moment of truth for us. Molly, Kate, and I were all doing breathing tactics to work through it. The pain was getting intense for Kate. I was not handling it well. I wanted to make it go away! I wanted to save my wife from pain! I am “Ryan the Protector” and I was helpless against this foe. Molly…was crucial. She doused a cloth with peppermint oil and set it in the center of the room. Immediately the scent took away Kate’s nausea (she was clinging to a bucket) and brought a vibrancy to the room. Kate turned to me and said “I think I am going to have to get an epidural.” This sentence knocked the wind out my sails. Of course I wasn’t going to show that to Kate but I was disappointed. Not in Kate, no! Just disappointed with how things were turning out. Pitocin. Hospital. All that. I had to be sure Kate knew what she was saying. We worked on tackling one contraction at a time. We lived completely in each moment with no knowledge of past or future. We focussed. It was time to be checked.
SIDE NOTE: When you have a baby they check your progress very frequently which is extremely uncomfortable during a contraction. Since Kate’s contractions were induced by pitocin they were only one minute apart for the entire day leaving no time for relief. There was no wonder she was asking about pain relief at this stage of the game. As a husband it is strange to watch multiple people examine and place their fingers inside your wife’s vagina throughout the day, the only thing that made it somewhat familiar was having gone to all Kate’s prenatal exams.
Time slowed to a crawl from here on out. The doctor finished checking Kate and exclaimed that she was now 6 cm and the baby’s head had dropped lower as well. This information transformed my wife into a birthing machine! There would be no pain meds! She was in it for the long haul! She was an animal. The next few hours were some of the most amazing of my life. By 5:45pm Kate was 7 cm and all doubts and pain were in the rearview. Yoga was paying off and birth class breathing couldn’t compete with what she and Molly were doing. By just after 7pm she has squeezed that baby down even farther and things were looking good.
Shift change. Michelle wrapped up and said her goodbyes. She had battled though some amazing time with us and won our hearts. We learned about her family and she was there for the beginning of ours. She rocked out to Sweet Child O’Mine with us. She was great…but she had to go. We were introduced to Melissa who would help carry us through to the end. None of us knew what lay ahead but we forged on.
At 8:00 pm the staff wheeled all the supplies for a delivery into the room. Holy shit! Kate was in the shower blasting hot water onto her lower back while Radiohead floated through the peppermint air. It was intense…but zen. She laid back in bed for her next exam. She had not made progress. Still at 7cm. The next hour was a bonding experience I will never forget that will be the foundation for everything Kate and I do together for the rest of our lives. We honestly became one. They tell women to pick a point to focus on during extreme contractions and go internal. Some people bring an object with them. For this hour…Kate chose my right eye. Our faces were less than a foot from each other. It was like having a 2 minute staring contest every 60 seconds. It was intense…I’ve never seen anyone look at me with such intensity. There was no anger. There was not hate. There was only focus. I fell deeper in love with my wife with every focussed contraction, this was the most powerful thing I have ever witnessed a person do. This was perseverance. This was life. This was the single most amazing thing I have ever experienced. I have always known that my wife is capable of anything but she showed me what dedication, perseverance, and strength was in that room. I will never look at her the same way again. She is strength.
At 9:00 pm…still focussing on my right eye, the doctors checked her again. No progress. 7 was looking to be our unlucky number. People were talking around me, I could not take my eyes off Kate, I was her focus point. Then I heard it…”C-Section.” No. Not yet damnit.
Molly and I discussed. Kate and Molly discussed. The 3 of us discussed. We cleared the room. The doctors came back and we kindly told them to stuff it. They did not take well to it. The doctor gave me a speech about medicine. I gave a speech about earlier in the day when Kate’s water broke. There was a battle brewing. I said something like “I understand that you are a doctor and went to medical school but I know my wife and believe in her! Her body is designed to do this and it will if you would just step back and let it.” As before…we were given an hour.
We had Kate in positions where I was holding her up while she squatted during contractions. We tried different gravity techniques. We left it all on the court. It was a fervor of frustration and pain. Melissa the nurse joined in as she believed in Kate. Molly was pissed, “they’re rushing you,” she said. They were. We were a ticking time bomb on their clock and they were becoming less concerned with our birth and more concerned with their hospital’s liability. Then…the doctor ordered Kate’s pitocin be turned off. Score 1 for the away team. The final blow.
While she was slightly progressing, the baby was fine, and we were all on board to keep going…the medical staff was not going to back down on this one. All signs were pointing towards a c-section. Without the pitocin Kate’s body naturally slowed down. They had cut off our supplies while trapped behind enemy lines and the feeling of defeat swept over me. Relunctantly…sadly…we agreed to the c-section. This was the last stop for Molly. Only I would be allowed in the operating room. Time sped up as people scurried all around us. This was it…it was baby time. To hell with it. C-section or not we are having this baby! Lets do this! Kate and I were both ready. I donned the scrubs and chased down the hall…I was about to be a dad.
Kate walked into the operating room on her own two feet. She had refused a wheel chair. She did not want to be wheeled in on a bed. No. Her own two feet. This woman is powerful. It was almost 11pm. Kate had endured 17 hours of pitocin induced labor with contractions 1 minute apart the entire time. Peacefulness rushed over her immediately with the spinal block as she relaxed onto the operating table. She was calm…I was trying not to black out with fear. She doesn’t remember it but they strapped her down to the table. The lights were glaring. I was going crazy. The nurse escorted me to “The Captain’s Chair,” a rolling office chair placed by Kate’s head. Oh thank goodness…I was about to faint. A few checks to make sure she was numb and awaaaaaaay we go.
Neither of us watched. We had the sheet up. We heard it all…it sounded like two kids slurping up the bottom of a milkshake. Suction. The anesthesiologist was standing next to me and relayed what was going on. “Big shoulders!” He exclaimed. Kate and I had been guessing hair color earlier, she bet brown and I bet red. The anesthesiologist said “you were right Kate, he has dark brown hair.” Then there was an intense suction sound followed immediately by the cries of a baby. Sweet relief passed over my body and tears fell down my face. “That’s our son,” I said to Kate, “that’s our baby boy!” She asked me to go to him and I did. There he was…this cone headed, purple, mushy, blood covered person…screaming his head off. I went straight to him and almost toppled along the way. I felt like I was living in a dream…this couldn’t be real…that can’t be my baby…I’m just a baby myself. Then I remembered that I am 31 years old. It was surreal. I was a dad.
They suctioned stuff out of his mouth, nose, etc. to help him breath as he screamed away. Strong yells! He was a healthy boy! “Can I touch him?” I asked the nurse. “Of course,” she said. I reached into the bassinet while she worked on him and touched his little belly…so soft! He was gorgeous. Absolutely perfect! I loved him…immediately. I needed to express it somehow so I started singing. “Arizona moon keep shinning, shinning from the sky above…” He calmed a little. “…you know pretty soon, that big yellow moon, will light the way back to the one you love…” His cries softened. “…Blue shadows on the trail…” He stopped crying completely, opened his eyes, and looked directly at me with the look of “I know this song!” He did know that song, I sang it to him every day for the past few months, and that was the last time he cried on the labor and delivery wing of the hospital. It was “Blue Shadows On The Trail” from The Three Amigos. I followed it with a soft “Viva Las Vegas.” “What’s his name?” The nurse asked. I replied with confidence, “Max. Maxwell Vincent Gates.” It felt good to finally say his name instead of “Zig.” I turned back to the operating table and exclaimed to Kate “he’s beautiful! He’s looking right at me!” I then realized I was looking directly at something my brain could not comprehend. It was Kate’s insides. I was on the other side of the sheet. Laid out before me was Kate’s uterus…like a big red blanket. It was amazing…Max’s first home. Then I felt queezy and looked back to Max. Ahhhhhh. Much better. The nurse swaddled him up and we took him to Kate. I quickly shuffled past Kate’s uterus with my hand blocking my view like a child averting his eyes from some terrible horror. I introduced them and held Max down to Kate’s face so she could kiss his head over and over again. A family at last. He was 8 lbs and 11 oz, 21 inches long, and born at 11:08 pm on January 26th, 2011. Maxwell Vincent Gates.
We then moved to the recovery room where we were to spend 2 hours as Kate regained feeling in her lower body. She held Max for the first time. Mother and son together again! Gorgeous! Too many tiny experiences like this to explain but each one is special and precious. Then came the scare. Kate’s body was not heeling well. Blood clots. Scary sized blood clots the size of baseballs. I saw them with my own eyes. Max went back to my arms. My heart pounded. I had my son in my arms and was watching doctors work on my wife. I didn’t know what to feel but I was overjoyed and scared to death at the same time. Luckily, things turned out to be fine and Kate began the recovery process. Max took to the breast with ease and shocked everyone! Everyone kept saying that they were amazed by how aware he was, how calm he was, and how easily he took to breast-feeding. Kate showed him the nipple and 10 seconds later he had a latch that even the lactation consultants were shocked by. This kid is a pro when it comes to boobs…what can I say…he’s my son!
The grandparents were milling around the lobby when I found them. Hugs and high fives all around but I will never forget the hug my father gave me…I am welling up with tears as I write about it. He practically broke my back he squeezed so hard and I heard him gasping for air as the tears of joy swept over him. It is rare that Bud cries…but it is always with joy for his family. As my father cried in my arms I had a moment of clarity in his life and my mother’s. Understanding, love, and respect swept over me for them. I understood them. I understood decisions they had made in life that I had not understood before. I thought to moments earlier when I was holding my son in my arms with Kate and imagined my father holding me in his arms with my mom. It was humbling. It was amazing. I have never felt so loved by my parents in my entire life than in that moment. Clarity. I love you Mom. I love you Dad. Thank you.
With Kate and Max in the recovery room I was not allowed to take Max out with me and they were not allowed to go into the recovery area. So the grandparents stood on one side of the doorway’s threshold with iPhones and cameras while Max and I stood a foot away with smiles. He gazed upon the world with wonder…still no tears. Just soaking it all in. Calm. Zen.
At 4:00 am we moved back to our labor room. The nurse brought in a cot which I laid on for a moment. This is my last memory for 3 hours. My body gave in to the sleep deprivation and I passed out. At 7:00 am we moved to the postpartum wing and into a room where we could unwind from everything. Max and I slept together on the couch while Kate slept in her hospital bed. The next hours were snippets of things between sleep. We were exhausted…all 3 of us. Grandparents came and went as did Molly. Nurses checked in frequently. Hoards of people came through with questions and information. This is the hospital experience…no sleep. Kate had progressed nicely and we were allowed to move rooms later that night to a room with a queen size bed and much less traffic.
Less than 48 hours after giving birth Kate, Max, and I piled into a car and headed home for the first time. Friday night, January 28th, the Gates family had dinner together as a family.
We hadn’t prepared ourselves for the c-section so it certainly was a curveball. I will elaborate more in a later post but I will tell you that all in all it was a positive experience. For those reading that are about to have a baby of their own I will give you this advice:
- Start practicing yoga
- Discuss all possible birth outcomes
- Get a doula or a helper
- Make friends with the nurses
- Peppermint oil is awesome
- Music is a great helper
- Mom’s feet will be too big to fit into shoes when released…bring bigger shoes
- Make decisions you are happy with
- Don’t get bullied
- Live in the moment
- Live in the moment
- Live in the moment
Its hard. Its rewarding. Its life changing. The more prepared you are the better equipped you are to make decisions in this experience that you will look back on and be happy with. Kate and I do not regret going through 17 hours of labor that ended in a c-section…those 17 hours were the most rewarding hours of our lives and no one can ever take that power away from us.
To the nurses, you were all amazing and I am so glad we were blessed to have you be a part of this experience in our lives. You will forever be in our hearts as we look back and remember this amazing day.
To Molly, I cannot imagine doing this without you! Not only are you an amazing doula, you have become a better friend and I hope a major part of my son’s life as well as ours. There are good doulas and bad doulas out there…you are one of the greats. Wichitan’s and beyond…call Molly if you are having a baby, you will not regret it I swear.
To the doctors, thank you for delivering a happy healthy baby. We fought at times but we all won in the end. I hope your experience with us helps you in the future to be better prepared for patients who are willing to push back. Modern medicine is amazing…but so is nature. Remember to trust in it.
To all of you reading along, no this is not the end of the blog as many of you have asked. This is the end of the first chapter. My 30’s continue, Max is now a child in the world, and I still am adjusting to corporate America. Who knows what is next but please stay along for the ride. So long freedom…hello sweet, wonderful, amazing responsibility…Max.