(Note: Oliver turns seven this month. In his honor - and just because it's fun to look back - I'm going to repost the story of his birth. I posted this originally on the other blog way back in 2005.)
We knew that today, the great and terrible ordeal was beginning. It was time. Due date #1 (May 21) and #2 (May 26) were both in the rear view mirror. Today, we would begin the process of moving Oliver out into the real world, whether he liked it or not.
Because R's cervix wasn't quite ready yet for delivery, she was scheduled for three doses of misoprostol today. the miso would soften her cervix and ripen it (isn't that a great term? A nice, vivid, moist, squishy word - ripening. We would have quite enough moist squishiness in the next couple of days for both of us.). Her nurse told us very little about how this would go, except that we would have to go to the hospital for each of the three doses, and that it was possible that with the cervix ripening, labor could just start on its own without needing to go all the way to pitocin (which was just fine with us.)
She said only one descriptive thing about the day. "Nine, one, five." Those were the times when we would have to be at the hospital.
9, 1, 5.
So we thought that this would be a day of commuting. We'd drive over to Swedish, a nurse would place a misoprostol capsule - next to her cervix - (a delicate way to describe the process), and then we'd go home for a couple of hours and wait. Go back at one o'clock, repeat steps 2 and three. Ditto five o'clock. That was how we imagined our day. I packed the suitcase (you know, THE suitcase - really just a duffel bag with clothes and stuff) just in case.
We arrived at the hospital. R. undressed, put a blanket over her lower parts. She had two belts stretched over her tummy to measure contractions and the baby's heartbeat. We waited for a little while, and then the nurse came in to examine her cervix. (Nothing exciting yet: 1 cm dilated, long., sorta soft, but not soft enough. The cervix is like the steel door that protects the uterus during pregnancy, and usually it's pretty long. Between 3 and 5 cm in length, in fact. But when it's time for labor, it needs to get soft enough to pass a baby through, and it needs to shrink in length. In other words, it needs to stop being a steel door and turn into a soft, paper-thin passageway. Once it's short and soft, then dilation can start.)
Miso capsule #1 was put in.
And then the nurse told us that she'd be monitored for the next couple of hours.
"Would you like some magazines?" said the very kind nurse. (I think her name was Heather, but I can't remember for sure.) "We keep a lot of magazines around here." So we got some People magazines, and Marie Claire, and Redbook, and etc.
I know that when I look back on the story of Oliver's delivery, I will remember Tom and Katie, and Oprah, and Renee and Kenny Chesney. I had lots of time to study them during those long, long hours in the triage room.
We waited. We listened to the whooshing of the fetal monitor. I kept thinking of the spaced-out experimental side of Electric Ladyland - the monitor reminded me almost perfectly of the roaring outer-space sounds of "Moon, Turn the Tides...gently gently away." At other times, the constant pumping - and it's not a sound of an actual heartbeat, not the way we're used to it, it's literally listening to the blood rush through auricles and ventricles - I remembered the bell's toll in the elongated bridge of "1983, a Merman I Should Turn to Be." Waiting, waiting, marking time and knowing that something is happening, even if you can't see it. Something is happening in there.
The nurse came in, checked Mrs. B's cervix again, and dismissed us for lunch. We rushed home and grabbed the books that we had foolishly left on the coffee table - they were NOT getting left behind again. We had learned our lesson.
I brought a paperback of Neil Gaiman's "Stardust." It's essentially a fairy tale, a boy's adventure. A young man goes to the outskirts of town, past the gates where no one ever goes, and goes off to the hidden lands to seek his fortune. Seemed appropriate.
We wolfed down food. I seem to remember I did some insignificant cleaning - I vacuumed the living room, or I wiped off the kitchen counters. It seemed very important at the time.
We were back at the hospital by 1. Our kind, and thankfully, not perky, nurse strapped R in again and checked the cervix. "2 centimeters," she announced. It was moving! Now, one centimeter is a ridiculously small increment, but it was the most movement that had happened in weeks. We were excited. Something was happening in there.
Miso capsule #2. There is really no way to describe watching someone else's arm go into my wife up to the elbow, but I felt fascinated (in a completely medical way) and ashamed and voyeuristic. I averted my eyes.
More waiting. More magazines. R could feel some movement, and the monitor helped convince us that things were changing, softening, opening. Woosh woosh woosh.
R had to get up more than once to use the bathroom. The first few times, we asked the nurse to come in and unplug her, and she would go off down the hall, a blanket wrapped around her like a toga, holding the monitor plugs in her hands like electric tails.
We had a tremendous amount of time to think about the significance of the moment. It was starting! The whole new chapter in our life was starting! But we felt like we were trapped in a wating room. I can't say that there was anything foreboding or mystical about the whole adventure, at least at this point.
Our nurse came back to examine R. The miso had run its course, but her cervix was contracting away on its own. We went to dinner at some bistro on Capitol Hill. I remember two things about the whole experience.
I remember dessert: we shared a huge berry cobbler, all baked in a big earthen pot with ice cream melting all over. It was amazing.
And I remember cigarette smoke. The bistro had big glass doors that they would open to let in the air during the summer. (It was the summer, after all.) And some Capitol Hill hipster types were smoking like chimneys on the patio, outside, and letting their smoke blow into us. My pregnant wife, about to give birth, was being forced to inhale these people's cigarette smoke. Didn't they know she was pregnant? ! Didn't they care?!
I finished the berry cobbler in a state of quiet rage. "Don't you smell that?"
"No, not really."
It didn't matter. Secondhand smoke could be odorless. If anything at all went wrong with the pregnancy, I was coming back here with gasoline and matches.
We had to go back for the third miso treatment. R steeled herself - it was eight o'clock already. It was going to be a long night.
Our nurse was off for the night, so another nurse came to take over. But after the inevitable monitoring, and the cervical exam, the new nurse dismissed us. "Your cervix is already working too hard. We don't want to overstimulate it." Apparently, if they gave her a third dose of miso, she would contract all night, and induced contractions can be extremely painful. So we gathered up our books, R got dressed, and we checked out. We were due back at 7 am the next morning so R could be induced.