Monday, August 17, 2009

To Catch a Baby

I am a childbirth educator in The Bradley Method. I took Bradley classes, which is a 12 week series of comprehensive childbirth classes with my husband, while I was pregnant with my first child. After I had a successful non-medicated birth I went to contact my Bradley instructor, but she had moved from the area. My midwife encouraged me to see what was involved in becoming an instructor, myself, and I did. When Piggy was 4 months old, Todd and I went to Atlanta to meet the couple who developed the method, and to take the Teacher's Workshop- 40 grueling hours packed into 3.5 days. I totally fell in love with teaching and up to this day have seen over 30 couples graduate. While teaching last year, I became pregnant with my second child and had her naturally at home in a similar, though quicker, fashion as Piggy.

I teach couples everything they need to know about having a low-risk pregnancy and a normal, non-medicated childbirth experience. I teach the husbands how to be coaches: how to be in control of the situation, how to recognize different stages of labor, and how to best help their wives through the discomfort involved in labor and birth.

Well, I've been assuring these coaches for the last year that they can do this, encouraging them to be active participants in labor and birth. So, here goes the story:

One Tuesday night I welcomed a brand new class of Bradley students to the birth center. At about 8pm, someone called and left a message, of which I only caught a little bit. Seemed that one of my graduates had gone into active labor. I don't officially work for the birth center, so I felt like I had no place in answering the phone. But I was really excited! It was possible that one of my couples would show up in labor during my class! The phone rang again about 10 minutes later and it was the dad calling to see if anyone was at the birth center because they were on their way. I picked up the phone mid-message and asked if he had the midwives' phone numbers. He said he had called them and I went on with my class.

About 25 minutes later, as my students were dispersing, the laboring couple showed up. Stupidly, I asked the mom how she was doing. "I've been better," was her soft, but quick response and her husband whispered to me, "I think she may be in transition." They immediately funneled in to the birth suite on the right- the mom's parents and a friend were right behind them. The parents had a seat on the couch in the classroom/den area and the friend accompanied the couple into the other room. As I observed this movement, I realized what the coach had just said. "I think she's in transition." What that means to lay people is that once this period is over, pushing begins. I went into the birth suite and asked the coach if he knew when the midwives would be there, and he said he hadn't gotten in touch with them. What? Hadn't gotten in touch with the baby catchers?!? I immediately went to my phone and called one of them. Straight to voicemail. I apparently went into some sort of altered state... I knew I needed to remain calm. Think clearly. Appear to be in control of this situation. I did what anyone would do, and asked if anyone wanted any coffee. "Coffee?" the laboring mom's father asked. But his wife said, "You just take care of our daughter." So, I took the water I had grabbed out of the fridge to the birth suite and gave it to the coach. Mom was sitting on the toilet and saying that she needed to go to the bathroom. Oh NO. The Ferguson Reflex happens when the baby is descending down the birth canal and makes the mom feel like she needs to have a bowel movement.

The next thing I know they were asking me to get the tub filled up. Now, this is no ordinary bath tub. This is a Sani-Jet tub with all the bells and whistles. It is huge and it is a wonderful pain relief tool for laboring moms. I turned on the water and began trying to fill that giant tub. The water just rushed out as quickly as it poured in. I looked down to see that the drain wasn't closed. I attempted to close it properly by twisting a silver knob close to the jet controls. It didn't move or twist, probably because it had nothing to do with the drain. (See center silver round thing under faucet in the picture)

I then proceeded to turn on the water jets, which were incapable of propelling water because there was no water in the tub. I tried to turn that off as the sound it was making was horrendous, and end up turning it up higher. The coach gently says, "I don't think the jets will work until the water is in it." Yes. Right. But how do we get the water to fill up the tub? I left the room and called the other midwife hoping to get her on the phone and... success!! She answered, and I calmly explained the situation. She made sure she heard me right- a laboring couple was at the birth center, in transition, and they hadn't been called until now. Oh, and by the way, how do I work the tub? She said, "Just pull the stopper up and place it properly into the hole." They were on their way. As I looked at the clock and realized where they were coming from, I knew we were going to cut it close.

I went back into the birth suite and closed up the drain. The water was now unable to escape and the tub was filling up, slowly but surely. The laboring mom was crying softly and asking if the water was ready. "No, sweetie. I'm trying to get it full for you. I'm trying." Inside I was totally freaking out. There was a real possibility that I was going to be the baby catcher this night. I went over in my mind where the towels were and how we could possibly slow this train down. And then I left the room to check on the parents. They were doing fine. I checked on the coffee. It was not doing fine... it was thin and watery. I asked the dad how he liked his coffee and he said, "Do you have cream?" I searched for it and found it. I gave him a spoon and tried not to hear the laboring mom's vocalizations from the other room. All of the sudden the relaxation phrase we use in class "Each contraction brings us closer to the birth" seemed ominous. No more contractions! I could NOT catch a baby.

The more concerned I got, the slower I moved. Because obviously slow equates to calm and in control. I slowly walked to the birth suite and told the coach that he was doing a great job. I crept into the den and told the parents that the coach and laboring mom were doing a great job. Because as long as everyone was doing a great job, they were still in labor and there was no baby to catch.

And finally, the midwives arrived!! I was relieved to say the very least. As one walked in I briefed her on the progress. Then I did what I thought was normal, I offered her some coffee, too. Because, of course, she would need coffee. Or maybe not. She looked at me with a smile on her face and said, "No thank you." And went to take control of this situation. I sat on the desk in the den and asked the parents how they were doing, and they responded, "Okay." And then I heard it... grunty pushes at the peak of one of the contractions! I told them that that was a great sound, that the baby would be here shortly. Then I thought better of promising a quick birth and said, "Or maybe not." I waited another minute or so, to see if anyone else needed me, and quietly slipped out. I knew that my husband was in desperate need of me to come home and feed the screaming baby...

The next day I found out that that little baby had been born 15 minutes after I left. Both mother and baby were doing well, and coach was a super proud papa. I realized then that even though I had taught childbirth education classes, I had never seen a real live woman in labor before- other than myself. I learned a good lesson about the emotions involved in watching and caring for a person you know and love and respect in a hard situation. I have gained another element of becoming a good teacher- having actually experienced another aspect of childbirth. Now I not only know about the laboring mother, but also understand how the coach feels. And I realized that adrenaline produces some interesting curiosities in our personalities. Coffee anyone?

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