My lifelong friend and downstairs neighbor Steph had her baby, a wonderful, tiny little girl.
It felt like a huge privilege to be there for parts of Steph's labor (I ran back upstairs every time Leo started to fuss because I figure the worst possible sound to bring into a labor room would be someone else's crying baby—and Leo has some mighty lungs!). Having been through it so recently myself, I felt intensely connected to what Steph was going through. And so, so proud of how beautifully she worked to manage her contractions and her environment. I admit that my excitement was vicarious, because she was having the labor I wished for (I was induced ). The intensity of her contractions progressed gradually, and Steph never lost sight of her birth plan.
Of course, it was no walk in the park (though she took a few of those). Steph was working hard. Her two main support people, her husband and sister, offered a hand to squeeze, and back rubs, and all I could offer was my presence, as witness to her work, and my experience, as reassurance. Whenever Steph wondered whether she was doing the right thing, whether she was getting anywhere, and whether she would be able to keep it up, I was able to tell her how beautifully, and perfectly, she was doing exactly the right thing, and how much she was accomplishing with every contraction. I knew it was right, I knew she was going to the hospital at the perfect time, and I knew she was doing, and would continue to do, amazing work. "Do you know you are doing the most important work that there is?" I asked her.
Steph's labor continued well at the hospital, and she was pushing soon after she got there... And still pushing 2 hours later when the monitor began to show that the baby's heart rate was dipping with each contraction, and the midwife saw that the baby had released meconium. I think most scenarios like this end in an emergency C-section, which Steph had so desperately wanted to avoid. But the attending doctor who came in responded differently. He was an older doctor and he offered Steph the option of having a forceps delivery instead, something that most doctors don't do anymore.
The baby emerged wrapped three times in the umbilical cord, which had a tight knot in it too, and she still was in perfect condition. Steph has some healing to do, but she's in pretty great shape too, and the breastfeeding is off to a good start. Steph didn't have exactly the delivery she'd hoped for, but she feels lucky to have avoided a C-section. She's still struggling with the feeling that she didn't do something right, that she should have been able to push the baby out on her own, even though she knows, intellectually, that the tangled, knotted cord made that impossible. I can relate. I think a lot of women feel like they haven't 'done it on their own' or they didn't 'do it right.' It seems like a side effect of being in a hospital, surrounded by experts, and vigorously coached while pushing. But in this case? Being in the hospital and getting the right doctor made all the difference. And Steph made all the right decisions, in addition to laboring so well.
Watching Steph, and seeing the happy new family together downstairs, reminds me of how magical and mysterious the birth process is, and how sudden and transformative. Now they're parents, last week they weren't. And before we know it, Leo and his new playmate will be running up and down the stairs together. For now, I am going to relish the opportunity to relive the delicate, tiny moments that make up those first long few days with a brand new baby.