After 24 hours of grueling labour, and three hours of hard pushing, the Midwife declared the baby was stuck and we were going to need medical intervention. A hundred years ago, I think it is likely my wife would have died with our unborn child.
Thankfully we had the support of our midwife, nurses and the skilled hands of the obstetrician who literally pulled our baby free with elaborate spoons called ‘forceps’ designed to cup the baby’s head.
My worst fears were immediately realized as he placed the apparently lifeless baby onto my wife’s belly. She was dark-blue, limp and not breathing.
Our baby was what they call ‘flat’. No muscle tone, no respirations.
I am a Respiratory Therapist—one of my jobs is to attend difficult deliveries, although thankfully not very often. Never before have I felt such a terror in my heart. It was so powerful that just writing these words now, I can feel a tightness behind my ears and my eyes are starting to water.
A second medical team swooped the baby into warm towels and dried her while bringing her over to the incubator for ‘resuscitation’.
The pediatrician held the mask of the resuscitator and forced some breaths into her lungs. I heard the nurse who was holding a stethoscope over our baby’s chest call out the heart rate at 100.
I gave a brief, hopeful sigh of relief. One hundred is very low for a newborn, but it is not critical. Within only a few positive pressure breaths, I could see a pink stain spreading over my baby’s chest and abdomen. I called over to the team, “Boy or girl?”.
In my earlier visions of how the birth would go, I imagined the midwife handing my wife our child and announcing the sex.
“Girl,” was the response.
Girl. I was secretly hoping for a girl.
“She’s not crying. I don’t hear her crying,” my wife whispered.
I squeezed her hand and circled around the bed, across the room to the incubator. Our baby girl’s body was quickly getting pink and the dusky blue was rapidly receding up her arms. She was starting to make breath efforts of her own.
Within seconds, she was crying.
She was crying! The sweetest sounds a parent will ever hear.
I scooted back to my wife, smiling. It was going to be all right. She was very pale and absolutely exhausted. I thought I knew labour was difficult, but I had no idea of how exhausting it would be.
Twenty four hours of exponentially increasing intensity. We both cried.
As the baby’s cries grew stronger, she was transferred to a scale (7lbs, 5oz) and then brought over for my wife to hold. She was wonderfully pink, although she still had purple hands—it takes a while for the oxygen to make it all the way down through the fingers as the infant’s body focuses on delivering blood to the vital organs.
Within a few more minutes, our baby girl was vigorously trying to suck, slurping on the back of her wrinkled, purple hand. The midwife helped initiate breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is another challenge I did not anticipate the enormity of. Feeding was almost constant for the first two nights, and my poor wife still had not slept more than a couple of hours when we were discharged from the hospital on the third day.
Breastfeeding keeps a demanding schedule—every 2 hours around the clock for over 2 weeks now. It is a continuous cycle of eat, sleep, pee, cry, grunt, poo. All that feeding has her growing fast—she has gained over a pound and a half! Her eyebrows and eyelashes are growing quickly over rounded cheeks. Her eyes are starting to focus, and she is beginning to smile.
Soon she will be crawling, then walking… I’m told that time accelerates when you have a child, and so far that seems to be true.
We have been fortunate to have the continued support of our midwife after leaving the hospital. She came to our house daily at first and we are now seeing her weekly. I had no idea the service a midwife provides!
We were lucky to get a midwife: they are limited in number and with their services covered under the Medical Services Plan, they are in very high demand. You have to book your midwife within the first few weeks of pregnancy if you hope to get one.
It is also good to book early because a midwife follows the mom closely throughout her entire pregnancy—monthly at first with increasing frequency in the lead up to birth.
We had hoped to have a ‘natural’ birth, and in a pregnancy without complications the midwife would have been the one to deliver the baby and discharge us from hospital.
I am very thankful the medical system was there for us—we had excellent doctors and nurses helping us. Because of the complicated birth, we were kept in the hospital another night and I am grateful for the opportunity it provided for more hands on education by the nurses.
One kind nurse helped me give my baby her first bath, which would have been very challenging without instruction on how to hold the baby with one hand while also supporting her head and leaving the other hand free to do the washing. Another nurse had particular advice that helped my wife successfully breastfeed.
Through it all, the midwife has been there for us. I am so grateful for her service. She has even been to our home on several occasions to check on the baby and answer our questions.
Questions. So many questions. I suspect the learning curve with children is both exponential and infinite. The birth of our baby girl has altered the path of our lives in ways I cannot even begin to imagine.
Now if we could just get some sleep…
Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.