Throughout the pregnancy, I definitely had my fair share of anxieties about labor and delivery. Hospitals make me queasy in general and there is always this fear in the back of your mind that something may not go as planned and you will be faced with tough decisions. I would always tell myself ‚Äúthey‚Äôve been doing this since the beginning of man-kind (literally) and hundreds of babies are delivered in New York each day,‚Äù ‚Äì but you still can‚Äôt help but worry. But I mostly kept my fears to myself. I didn‚Äôt want to add any additional stress on Jenn. Besides, she‚Äôd be the one pushing out our 10 pound Ellery through her nether regions. Yikes.
The last few weeks of pregnancy are the worst. Each day is so long! You‚Äôre nervous, excited, but most of all, you‚Äôre just eager to get labor started. Then the day comes ‚Äì and even though you‚Äôve been waiting for this day for 9 months, it all feels very sudden. The day everything in your life will change as you know it (although you don‚Äôt really know it ‚Äì yet ‚Äì but everybody‚Äôs been telling you this since you got pregnant).
The initial realization that your partner is in labor is NOTHING like the movies. Jenn started having contractions ‚Äì mild enough that we were able to walk around the neighborhood with Sophie (with some breaks until a contraction passed). Mostly however, we just hung out around the apartment ‚Äì waiting for things to progress. Which, being the dad, is basically how you spend the rest of your time: waiting.
And in our case, waiting for 5 days to be exact. Looking back, it put it plainly, labor was long. By the third day, it felt like our baby was never coming out. I remember just wishing so bad for our doula to say the words ‚Äì ‚Äúok, time to go to the hospital!‚Äù ‚Äì not only because I was impatient but also because it was hard to see Jenn in so much pain. She was a trooper though and, in retrospect, I am so happy that we waited for as long as we did. The biggest let-down would have been arriving at the hospital, realizing that no progress had been made, and being sent home to labor more. I don‚Äôt think I could have done it.
My biggest surprise about the hospital was how quiet and calm the delivery floor was. I was expecting people rushing around, patients on hospital beds, doctors and nurses everywhere, and just more commotion in general. Not true (again, I‚Äôve seen too many movies). The most climactic moment of labor is the first triage check-in. Let me tell you, it is intense. I remember the room was so eerily quiet during the check that I could hear my heart pounding through my chest. But Jenn had done it! She was 5 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. Pheww‚Ä¶we had passed the bouncer with the velvet rope and we were in!
The problem is, 5 centimeters is only half way there. So the waiting starts again. But now with a purpose. The other surprising thing to me was how nice the nursing staff was. You hear too often that a nurse with a bad attitude ruined someone‚Äôs experience. I feel like that‚Äôs more the anomaly than the norm. The nurses at Cornell made us feel welcomed and were always around to answer my questions ‚Äì no matter how dumb they were. They respected our wishes to attempt a completely natural delivery and never once tried to push the epidural. The staff at Cornell was simply outstanding.
The laboring process in the hospital is much like it was at home. Jenn was in the shower a few times, on the work-out ball, walking around ‚Äì basically anything to help get her mind off the pain. The three things I remember about the hospital was that 1) it was freezing cold (bring warm clothing), 2) the food absolutely sucks (even though you don‚Äôt have much of an appetite, when you do get hungry there are NO options) and 3), it is just SO MUCH physical work. I was constantly on my feet, trying to help Jenn get more comfortable ‚Äì whether it‚Äôs talking to her, rubbing her back, giving massages, helping her walk, etc. For someone who‚Äôs used to sleeping 8+ hours per night, 5 days of labor is a slight adjustment. My only reprieve was from our doula, who worked constantly (harder than I did) and was the best investment I‚Äôve ever made. I would 100% recommend a doula to any first time couples.
Eventually, Jenn‚Äôs progress hit a wall and the talk of an epidural came up. It was nice to have a medical perspective from our OB and a more holistic perspective from our doula. Surprisingly, this important decision that I was dreading for months before came rather easily. It just felt like the right thing to do at that time ‚Äì Jenn had pushed her body to the limits ‚Äì and this was the next logical step to get her over the hump. So much focus is placed on the epidural procedure in pregnancy literature but honestly no one should worry about it ‚Äì because relative to what you‚Äôve gone through thus far, it‚Äôs nothing. It was all done in 15 minutes and Jenn was able to get some sleep within the hour.
While the first triage check is the most intense, that doesn‚Äôt mean the subsequent progress checks are easy. When Jenn was checked before the epidural and had not made much progress ‚Äì my heart sank, I became discouraged, and almost depressed. But when the doc did her last check and confirmed Jenn was ready to push ‚Äì I became elated as I ran around the room high-fiving Terry and the nursing staff. It honestly felt like we won the lotto.
In relation to labor ‚Äì delivery seemed almost too fast. Jenn pushed for a mere 30 minutes and Ellery was out! At one point, Jenn started to doubt herself if she could do it ‚Äì which scared the daylights out of me ‚Äì but our doc completely disregarded her and just kept yelling PUSH! (she must get the self-doubt thing all the time). Once I saw that little cone-head come out, I was completely over-joyed. I‚Äôm not much of a crier (I really can‚Äôt remember the last time I cried) and let me tell you, there tears were streaming down my face! Our little nugget had arrived ‚Äì after a very, very, long journey ‚Äì but safe and sound nonetheless. My heart melted the moment I saw her and I was instantly in love.
Lessons learned? Well, for one, you can prepare as much as possible (which I completely recommend) but remember to always remain open. Future dads ‚Äì get ready to work ‚Äì because even if you‚Äôre wife‚Äôs in labor for only a day, you‚Äôre not sitting back with your feet up reading GQ while she‚Äôs pushing that baby out. It‚Äôs hard work. And remember to take it all in ‚Äì kind of a crazy experience that you‚Äôll probably only witness 1 or 2 times in your life. Enjoy it ‚Äì because the next few weeks will be even harder!