One year ago…

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A year ago today Sheila and I announced that we were expecting our first child.

I announced it by saying: "So it's official. My frank and beans are capable of making hot dogs and chili. 6 months to go."

The pregnancy itself was a good one. Sheila only really suffered with nausea during the first trimester, and after that was able to live life with relative normality until the end of the pregnancy. Obviously it’s physically very demanding for the woman to be pregnant and emotionally, too. But I haven’t yet covered the emotional journey that is being ‘the husband’…

It’s hard. We both had dreams about miscarriages, I kept my dream from Sheila for a while, but eventually told her. We both focussed on praying that everything would be fine until specific weeks of the pregnancy, doing this because particular weeks were important in development. It felt a lot better when we reached points where the chances of survival grew, and reaching the point where the lungs should be developed was a big relief. Basically we were worrying the whole pregnancy about reaching the weeks where the baby should survive if born prematurely.

So how was that difficult for me? Well, Sheila could feel how she felt, and once the baby started moving, she could feel that, too. I could feel nothing except what Sheila told me. Every morning the first thing that would often come out of my mouth was “Is the baby awake yet?”

I should note that Sheila didn’t work at all during her pregnancy and I didn’t want her to. I was perfectly happy for us to struggle a bit financially so that she could just take care of herself. I didn’t let her carry anything heavy once, and got annoyed with her a couple of times for picking up her nephew. I tried really hard to make sure that she was able to relax and make our baby. While this was what I wanted, it also put a fair bit of pressure on me as the only source of income we had…

I also hadn’t seen my family in a long time when Sheila became pregnant, so on the advice of our doctor I left her here when I went to see my family over Christmas. This was hard also because I went to every single appointment with the doctors throughout the pregnancy except one: The one where Sheila found out the sex of the baby.

Our baby (girl, apparently), at 16 weeks, 2 days.

Our baby girl at 16 weeks, 2 days.

Sheila immediately started calling the baby “her” and “Suzie” but I think male minds work differently. I didn’t refer to her as “her” until very late in the pregnancy and, even though we had decided on a name very early for both a boy and girl, I refused to call her by her name…

Everything in my mind was positioned in a way to try to soften the blow, if something bad happened.

We both sort of expected her to come early, even though the predicted date was June 15th. Sheila’s belly was pretty large and we figured our baby might want to make an appearance in May, but no… Obviously the baby was quite happy in there!

Very happy... Even smiling before she was born...

Those last couple of weeks were hard, and apart from the nausea of the first trimester, were among the most difficult for Sheila. Apart from feeling ‘huge’ and being ‘done’ with feeling that way, the psychological need to ‘get this over with’ takes over.

We went in for our final doctors appointment and the doctor (without prompting), scheduled Sheila to be induced on the evening of the 20th of June, hoping to then deliver on the 21st (6 days late). The 21st happened to be my birthday, and we both thought it would be extremely cool if the baby came on that day.

Then came the day, 17th June. Sheila was complaining of not feeling right. She had a few symptoms of high blood pressure and she hadn’t felt the baby moving as well as it usually did. This is where my terror-meter went off the chart, but where I knew I had to hide every single emotion I had to try to keep Sheila calm. We called a doctor and was told to head to the hospital…

We’d had the bags we needed, ready to go, for weeks. We’d already made a false alarm visit previously, so we knew the drill and I drove us to the hospital. We made the choice to get something to eat on the way, we knew that if Sheila went into delivery, she wouldn’t be allowed to eat for a long time.

After waiting for a little bit, we started to feel like we may have made a false alarm run again. Nobody seemed too worried on the staff. It occurs to me now that they were probably just doing the same thing I was… Hiding their emotions. But eventually we were having a scan done and I saw the doctor measuring things that I had not seen them do before, and then they told us that the amniotic fluids were very low. We really didn’t know what that meant, but the doctor told us that they couldn’t let us leave. So, this was going to be the night, right?

Well, no. They didn’t do anything much until the following day (Saturday). I’m glad we ate.

We were moved into a delivery room, co-incidentally the exact same room one of Sheila’s best friends had given birth in a year earlier. This was also the same hospital Sheila herself had been born in. Sheila was hooked up to a drip, given an epidural and eventually given a drug which induces labor. They also broke her waters, which wasn’t as gross as I’d expected it to be.

They also hooked up a monitor which allowed us to hear the heartbeat. This helped us to relax. And finally, I was able to know the baby was OK without having to ask Sheila.

Now, we had to wait…

And wait…

And wait…

Every-so-often someone would come in and check whether Sheila was ready for labor, then leave.

We’d wait…

And wait…

And wait…

They gradually increased the dose of the induction drug, checked whether Sheila was ready, then they would leave again. We both tried to get some sleep, Sheila in her nice comfy bed, me on a couch which seems to have been specifically designed to cause back problems…

I began to get quite relaxed at how things were going. I understood the process and Sheila looked quite relaxed. It was now deep into Saturday and we were joined by Sheila’s mother and sister, who were both hoping to be there during the delivery.

We were talking, laughing, joking. Sheila was sitting in the position she had been told she could safely sit in and things seemed to be going as expected. Then suddenly, a team of doctors burst through the door telling Sheila she needed to turn on her side. They said that the baby was in stress.

Sheila immediately started to cry. She was completely numb and couldn’t move. A nurse and I had to lift and turn her on her side. I glanced at the machine controlling the flow rate of the induction drug and saw it was at least ten times higher than I had seen it previously. Sheila was put on oxygen and the staff just waited to see if the baby calmed down. I don’t think they realized that Sheila was sitting in a position she had been told was OK, I don’t know if someone had given her an unsafe dose of the induction drug, but something happened – and it was terrifying to experience. I hid my emotions again and just concentrated on trying to calm Sheila down. She was upset and scared for the baby, but also angry at being told to turn on her side when she was unable to move her lower body and had told them that.

After the commotion was over, the induction drug was flowing at a lower rate, similar to what I had seen previously. The nurse said that she had been contracting non-stop and this had put the baby into stress in conjunction with the fact Sheila wasn’t laid on her side. This scary experience stayed with us for days, even after Suzie was born. We managed to calm ourselves as much as we could. We were both really shaken and Sheila’s mother had to leave the room.

I eventually had to release a bit of the stress. I sent text messages to one of Sheila’s friends who works in the medical field talking about what had happened. This process allowed me to contain myself enough to be able to keep going and keep calm.

We returned to the previous pattern. They would come in and check Sheila, then leave.

We would wait…

And wait…

And wait…

Then it was Sunday. It was June 19th, and it was Father’s Day. Sheila hadn’t eaten since Friday and I’d only had some snack foods (I can’t order from most restaurants, as I risk them using dairy which doesn’t agree with me!) We were both extremely tired and weary, still reeling from the scary experience the night before.

They came in and checked. Nope, not yet… Sheila was really beginning to get irritated and had they not come in again a little while later to say they were going to start, she probably would have tried to bite their heads off. So this was it… If everything went to plan, my daughter was going to be born on Father’s Day…

The process began slowly. Sheila had to learn how to push in an effective way. Sometimes early on she would push using a lot of effort and nothing would happen, while other times she pushed slightly differently and I’d see movement. The monitor attached to the head of the baby gave me a good indication of movement, and eventually I was able to see the babies head instead. I was holding her left leg and helping to give her something to push against for most of the labor.

Sheila pushed for two hours, non-stop. Every single contraction, she pushed, breathed, pushed, breathed, pushed. Neither of us had taken classes, but we both figured it all out pretty quickly… It feels pretty much like Sheila took to it naturally.

My main job during the process was to let Sheila know that I could see progress, to spur her on. I think if she hadn’t felt like she was making a difference it would have been very easy for her to give up. To make matters more intense, it was at this point that Sheila got feeling back as the epidural ran out. The sheer exhaustion I could tell she was facing, having not eaten for two days too, was difficult to comprehend… It is, infact, the most impressive athletic achievement I’ll probably ever see. A marathon runner trains to run marathons, Sheila worked in a way that I still cannot believe, for hours, and didn’t give up or miss a single contraction. Sometimes the progress was minimal, I would see the head moving tiny amounts, but it was progress. It was amazing. Where did those energy reserves come from?

One thing that really surprised me was how much the babies head became cone-shaped. The top of the cone was actually what I thought was the entire head at first, so for a while I thought we were further on with the delivery. Once the delivery got closer, a nurse took over holding Sheila’s left leg and I moved up to her head to talk to her. It seems that as soon as the head was out, the rest of the body came straight out, very quickly. Both Sheila and I immediately and uncontrollably welled up with tears while trying to take it in…

Honestly, I can’t put into words how amazing the entire labor process was to watch. I can’t believe women do that. It is an amazing, amazing experience and the appreciation and respect I have for Sheila for keeping going is enormous.

Suzie recovering from swallowing liquid during labor.

In the final push, Suzie took a gulp of liquid as she was born, so they took her to a nearby table and cleaned her up, attempting to suck some of the liquid out. Sheila didn’t immediately know if Suzie was OK as it sounded like she was gargling, but a reassurance from me and the nurse helped with that. They weren’t able to get it all out, so they quickly let Sheila hold her, then they took her down to the nursery.

Sheila holds Suzie for the first time.

While this was going on, we were having blood taken from the umbilical cord which we were donating. And then Sheila had to push again for the Placenta. The placenta is one of the weirdest things I have ever seen… It looked like a black brain, covered in a clear but white coating. Alien!

We were all then left to try to take in what we had seen… We’d both seen or done nothing like that before. Sheila’s mother had c-sections with all her children, as did Sheila’s sister, so it was a first for them, too.

Sheila’s sister is disabled and although her life is as normal as possible, there are things she will never get to do… I’m really happy that she was able to see and be a part of something so amazing, something many people never will. They both left soon after the delivery to let Sheila rest.

Once Sheila had recovered a little bit, I went down to the nursery to see Suzie. She was the only baby with her eyes open and I recognized her immediately. I talked to her and stroked her hand and felt an amazing and immediate bond.

Suzie had to have an IV on both arms during most of her hospital stay.

During the labor Sheila’s temperature had risen significantly and when born Suzie had a high white blood cell count, and raised bilirubin levels. They kept her down in the nursery for significant amounts of time due to these things and did a bunch of tests. They would release her to our recovery room in-between.

Finally with us in the recovery room.

They eventually were able to accept that her raised bilirubin could be related to a condition that I have and she likely also has. Completely non-life threatening, but shows in liver tests. We got to keep Suzie in our room for one night before they released her to us – and let us go home – on Tuesday 21st June.

We left the hospital not realizing that we were in a tornado watch… The winds were intense and I watched the clouds and skies very closely. We made it safely home, on my Birthday… Happy Birthday to me! What a gift…

About to jump in the car and head home...

The biggest thing I learned during the birthing was that being supportive is extremely important. I’d never want a woman to have to go through that alone. I knew what Sheila needed to hear at certain points and I made damn sure to let her hear them, whether it was telling her I love her, telling her she was doing great with the pushing or that Suzie was fine after she gulped the liquid during the birth.

This support needs to continue after the birth, too. I’m the one with the baby experience from my younger brothers, while Sheila was completely new to it. I took care of most of the early care of both Sheila and Suzie, the one major shock for me being the amount of Bleeding (for weeks). How does something lose that much blood and not die?!

Nothing felt gross during the entire birth or afterwards, and it’s probably important not to be openly grossed out by something, even if you are. It’s important to give support of all kinds, remain calm and find a way to bury your negative emotions and fear where she can’t see it during the labor.

I still cannot believe the roller coaster ride of emotions I felt. Going from a mixture of fear and exhaustion to absolute elation within a second. Amazing, amazing, amazing.

In five days Suzie will be six months old. In the past six months Sheila has fought off an infection contracted in the hospital, dealt with a numb foot caused by the pressure put on it during the labor, coped with the back pain she had before she was pregnant, gone back to work at a new job and continued her schooling, still holding a 4.0 GPA after getting A’s solidly since July, 2009… As if giving birth wasn’t impressive enough.

We’ve taken photos of Suzie every week and at other times, too… I’m looking forward to being an old man and being able to look back to all those photos and videos we’ve taken, even the ones with our iPhones, because I’ll tell you right now… I’m so glad we have them. I don’t remember the last six months at all, it’s been a blur…

Suzannah Wheatley.

2 thoughts on “One year ago…

  1. Wow, what an amazing journey.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.
    I am glad everything turned out okay. I admit to feeling a bit touched while I was reading the story.

    Keep up the excellent posts!

    Cheers from Denmark

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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.