The contractions were coming faster and faster on that floor, and every now and then Sarah would mumble something incomprehensible. “Please give me a minute here,” I heard her say at one point.
“Who are you talking to?” I asked.
“I’m making a deal with my body here,” she said. “Shut up.”
I did, no matter how much she pleaded with the contractions. Her natural response was to tense her muscles during contractions, but all that Bradley stuff we learned said one thing: stay relaxed. When Sarah remembered to relax, she said, the contractions felt totally doable. The ones that she went into all panicky—especially when they came one on top of the other—she was unprepared. And in serious pain.
For the first time in my life, I was totally in tune with her body. “You’re tensing your shoulders,” I’d say. Or “You’re tensing your butt; you’re out of control. Relax. You can do this.” Then I’d massage whatever part of her appeared to be tense. I felt like an asshole giving her orders, but it seemed to work. Eventually, Sarah could feel the fetus moving down through her pelvis, so she got on all fours and asked me to put hot packs on her back. They wore off every four minutes or so, which means we went through like 30 of these things. My mom kept handing me more. I have no idea where she was getting them, but they kept coming. She was a machine.
Dr. Harth came in, examined Sarah, and said she’d gone from five centimeters to nine centimeters in an hour and a half. “You guys are going to be parents in an hour,” she said.
“An hour?” Sarah said. “Hell, I can do anything for an hour.”
An hour later, her water still hadn’t broken—and that’s when she started freaking. Her body was out of control, and I could see it in her eyes: How much longer do I have to be tough? Sensing this, Dr. Harth materialized and asked if we wanted her to break Sarah’s water.
Sarah and I looked at each other. OK.
Dr. Harth kneeled in front of Sarah, started to reach down there. Then at the last moment, she stopped. “Wait,” she said. “This is backwards.” Accustomed to patients lying flat on their back in bed, she stood there for a moment, trying to visualize how it was supposed to be. Eventually, she positioned herself behind Sarah. “You wearing those shoes?”
The shoes stay on, Sarah grunted.
Dr. Harth smiled. “OK, then you’re going to want to spread your legs a little wider.” Then she stuck her finger in there, from behind, and all hell broke loose.
The feeling of one’s water breaking, at least as told to this reporter, is a that of a massive whoosh. There’s this big gush of fluid followed by undeniable waves of a foul, forbidden aroma in the air.
We all know that women use the same muscles for bowel movements as they do for babies. Years ago, I recall my Aunt Pat likening the delivery of her son, Kal, to “a massive B.M.,” a story I couldn’t wait for Kal to be old enough to hear. A lesser-known fact: Some women labor on toilets, for the simple reason that it’s a natural urge to push there. Sarah, who was suddenly gushing like it was 1930 and her crotch was East Texas, wanted to try it. I told her to go for it.
She stopped in the bathroom doorway. “You coming?”
She raised her hands as if to say, Who else?
What went on in that bathroom is between my wife and me. But even in the chaos of the moment, it occurred to me that this would be the last moment we’d ever be alone without a child. And somehow it seemed fitting that we were spending it in the bathroom.
After a couple of minutes on the pot, she felt the fetus dropping. “Let’s do this,” she said, and took my hand.
“She feels like pushing,” I announced as we walked back into the main room, where Tom and Lois were waiting. Sensing the moment, Dr. Harth appeared; so did the residents. There must have been about 20 people in the room, all waiting for us to do something. Sarah, as if she had done this before a dozen times, asked me to sit in a rocking chair. Then she squatted on the floor in front of me and leaned back into me.
“Where are we doing this?” Dr. Harth asked.
“Right here,” Sarah said from the floor.
“OK.” Dr. Harth looked at the hard tile floor. “I wish I had remembered my kneepads.”