Here is my recollection of the morning when Meatball ("Zack", officially Zachary Max Raymond) was born. I'm writing this with Marisa here and I've put some notes/thoughts in  brackets. Comments written in blue are by Marisa. Everything took place on Tuesday, June 14th.
[Note: here is my account of Owen's birth in 2008]:
Here it how it started. I was woken at 2 am by Marisa whispering. "I think it's time." [I've been informed that Marisa wasn't actually whispering.]
[In my head: Aww, man! Yol just got here last night -- convenient for taking care of Owen -- but the next few nights were supposed to be a blissfully free last hurrah of going out to dinner and movies and beers. Throw that out the window!] I thought the same thing!
We stayed in bed for the next hour. I took advantage of that time to read some of the birthing books we had, especially the parts about the different stages of labor! We started timing the interval between contractions. It looked like Marisa was just in the very early, preliminary stages. Her contractions were irregular and relatively weak, so weak that a couple times she thought it was a false alarm and that she wasn't in labor. If I remember right, they were a few to ten minutes apart and lasted about 20 seconds at this point. I remember thinking, "what did we have for dinner last night? Maybe these are just gas pains?"
I woke up Yol at 3 am -- rough for her since she was still jet-lagged from her transatlantic flight the day before (she landed in Bordeaux at 2 pm). Then, I did my best to help Marisa with her contractions by massaging her back and whispering sweet words (my specialty), and she took a shower too. [Marisa: and saying things like "the book says...."].
[In my head: I am so glad Yol is here! Our plan was that if Meatball was born before Yol arrived then our friends Jonah and Alison would come and look after Owen while I was at the hospital. But having Yol downstairs makes things infinitely easier. Still, I sent Jonah a text message to let him know what was up, expecting him not to reply until morning, but he texted me back in about 10 minutes.]
After Marisa's shower, we settled on the couch for an hour or more. It was about 3:30 or so. Marisa's contractions were getting more intense and lasting a little longer (30-45 seconds) but they were still far less intense than she expected and they were still very irregular. It looked like she was still in the very early stages of labor, that, according to our book, should last around 4-6 hours. Marisa was confident that she was not in active labor because she could still talk through her contractions.
During this time, we watched the Les Miserables 25th anniversary and those songs stuck in my head for the next several days. [Note that Les Mis also played a key role in Owen's birth. In fact, Owen was born while Les Mis was playing -- Marisa thinks it was during Javert's Soliloquy.] Les Mis rocks! I was lying on the couch and singing along with the songs. At one point, I remember moving to the exercise ball. But I was still so caught up in the emotions of the concert.
Things started to get a little more intense around 5 so we decided to go for a little walk. It was pretty nice out but Marisa was getting hit by some rougher contractions so we didn't walk long. She said she was ready to head to the hospital, but first she wanted to take a shower. She was sure she wasn't in active labor yet ("I can still walk and talk through the contractions but I don't want to") but she wanted the comfort of knowing she was at the hospital with some time to spare. Plus, she wanted to be sure to get there in time to have the option to have an epidural if she wanted. I got the car all ready and waited for her to finish her shower. In the two birthing classes that I attended here in France, I remembered the mid-wife saying that you can't get an epidural after 8cm dilation. When we first started walking, I remember telling Sean that I felt pressure around my cervix so I thought I was just starting to dilate. After about 10 minutes, as the contractions were intensifying, I told Sean that I wanted to get to the hospital before the contractions got worse (to the point were I couldn't walk and talk) because I wanted to make sure I had time to get the drugs. Figuring we still had lots of time, I wanted to take a quick shower to relax before sitting down in the car because I didn't know the next time I would be able to shower. The warm water felt great though, I have to admit, it felt a whole lot more comfortable sitting on the floor of the shower than standing. I remember cursing about our lack of a bathtub.
We headed for the hospital at about 6 am and things started to get really exciting. For a long time I had imagined the drive to the hospital like in the movies: swerving through traffic with a wife screaming her head off and the baby's head poking its head out. The drive to the hospital for Owen's birth was pretty boring because Marisa wasn't in labor, just leaking fluid such that she had to be induced. But, the hospital drive for Zackhammer's birth was really exciting, right out of a movie -- a kind of ridiculous but heartwarming movie like Knocked Up.
It's funny, another thing I remember that the mid-wife said in the birthing class was how women go into this "zen" state during labor. Reading Sean's recollections of our trip to the hospital below it doesn't sound like I was very calm but, in my head, I definitely was. I remember grabbing the door handle of the car when ever a contraction started and just trying to concentrate on breathing. At first I was taking deep breaths and I remember Sean saying, "shorter breaths are better" so I tried that. I don't remember making any grunts or groans. Just the sound of my breathing. And, looking out the windshield to gauge our progress.
No traffic. Bags in the trunk. Marisa in the passenger seat, me driving. The first few minutes were nothing but fun: we were off to have the baby. Every few minutes Marisa would have a contraction, tense up and breathe hard and grunt a little. But then she would calm back down. In any case, there was nothing to worry about -- it was only a 15-20 minute drive with no traffic.
But things started to get tougher. Each of Marisa's contractions was more intense than the last. I was following the instructions in the birthing book I had read earlier that morning that said to drive the speed limit, but it was a little hard when Marisa started grunting harder and even screaming a little during contractions.
We were almost there and Marisa was not happy. She was screaming every contraction and was in serious pain. I took the turn off the boulevard toward Hopital Pellegrin and followed the normal way until.... the road was blocked by unmarked construction. There were meter-high pieces of concrete blocking the street. "JUST DRIVE THROUGH IT!" screamed Marisa. The road blocks were these white and red plastic barriers so I just assumed they were easy to drive through. I really thought it would be harmless for the car. I have since learned that they fill these plastic barriers with sand and cement to weigh them down (makes sense so they don't get blown over) but that thought had not occurred to me at the time.
[In my head: I knew things were bad but I didn't realize they were this bad! Holy crap! I guess real active labor must be starting and these are real contractions.] In my head: "Are you F'ing kidding me! Why the F was their no detour sign on the boulevard! F'ing French." Probably a good thing that Sean couldn't read my thoughts because he probably would have really started to panic. I didn't start dropping F-bombs during Owen's delivery until after I had been pushing for several hours and the epidural was wearing off.
I took the easiest detour but there was a garbage truck blocking the narrow one-lane road. I was pretty frazzled but Marisa guided me back to the boulevard. I took the next left, got us to the hospital and Marisa guided us up the back way to the emergency maternity entrance. No other cars so I left the car right in front of the entrance. [Where did that come from? She was screaming her head off a second ago and now she remembers where she is? Good show!]
Marisa was in a bad way. She got out of the car and stumbled into the entrance loudly and in obvious distress. Marisa noticed on the clock in the entrance hall that it was 6:18 am. She was met by a nurse and guided into the prepping room. I don't remember a prepping room. I remember the nurse asking me when the contractions started and whether I had pre-registered. I looked at Sean to respond for me as I was in the middle of another contraction. Then I remember her escorting me about 2 feet to a gurney and checking me right there in the entrance way of the hospital. While I was instructing Sean that the pre-admission documents were in the file folder he was carrying with all my medical records. The nurse lay her down on the bed and got some information from us -- we even had to give her some forms (love the French bureaucracy!) Then the nurse checked Marisa's cervix. To this point the nurse had been very calm and had moved relatively slowly -- more slowly than I expected at least. It took the nurse a little while to announce her verdict: Marisa was dilated to 8 cm! That meant that Marisa was in the "transition" phase of labor, the most painful part, and must have already been in active labor for a while. But her water hadn't broken.
Marisa was still having frequent contractions and was in serious pain. She asked if she could still get an epidural but I don't think her question was ever officially answered (Marisa had told me earlier that they don't give epidurals when you are more than 7 cm dilated I think). I remember the nurse giving me this look like, "you are crazy lady". I assumed that she just did not understand my French. Another nurse came in about two minutes later, checked Marisa's cervix and announced that she was fully dilated and that it was go time. The nurse asked Marisa if she felt the urge to push. Marisa said no. Then, almost immediately after, Marisa had a contraction and changed her mind but the nurses said NO! don't push yet, this is not in a delivery room! Ok, our recollections diverge a bit here too. After the nurse said I was 8cm, I remember four other people rushing to grab the gurney and start wheeling me into the salle d'accouchment (delivery room). I don't remember them talking to me, just moving very rapidly down the hall. I saw the clock on the ceiling which said 0625. Then the next clock said 0805 and I remember being seriously confused. Had 90 minutes gone by, or was the last clock actually revealing the date? But it was June not May. What the heck was going on?! I tried to turn my head to point it out to Sean and ask for clarity but I couldn't see him (I guess the nurses had taken him to get his scrub gown) so I called his name. And I also remember seeing a man in scrubs with white hair on my left side of the gurney and thinking, "oh good, that must be the anesthesiologist. That must mean there is still time for a epidural!" Also, deviating from Sean's recollection a bit, I remember this being the time that the mid-wife asked if I had an urge to push and then telling me not to.
They wheeled her bed down the hall, through some doors and around a couple of turns. I was close behind but I had to stop to put on a gown of some kind for some sort of hospital-ish reason. I got into the delivery room a minute later. It was 6:28.
The rest is, again, straight out of a movie. Probably a PG-13 rated one because despite the deafening screams there was surprisingly little profanity (not out loud, anyway. there were lots of R-rated words in my head!). We were joined by a couple of nurses -- midwives, actually, although they appeared in pretty much all respects to be similar to american nurses. The midwives scrambled to get things ready. They removed the bottom part of the bed. They made Marisa scoot this way and that to put things underneath her. They started to put some kind of painkillers in her arm (I think) but then stopped. I saw the white-haired man again and felt a nurse/mid-wife start putting an IV needle in my arm so I thought I was getting the epidural. Then I remember another mid-wife checking my cervix again and then she said something to the needle mid-wife. I didn't understand anything other than "elle est complet" and the mid-wife with the needle pulled the needle out. And the white-haired man disappearing (I never saw him again). Sean doesn't remember seeing this man at all. I wonder if I made him up. I remember screaming louder but not from the pain as much as from the realization that I wasn't going to get the drugs. And remembering the 3 hours of pushing with Owen, I was convinced I was going to die from pain and shock before this baby was going to come out. And also wondering how many other women were in other delivery rooms in the ward hearing my screams. Then I remember the mid-wife down below telling me not to push because she was going to break my water with the next contraction. That was about 30 seconds later. Then she told me I could start pushing with the next contraction which I think was about 5 seconds later. And the needle-nurse, still at my right side, pulled up the side bar of the bed for me to grab on to and told me to "soufflez" (breath). And, clearly part of my brain was still "zen" as I recalled some more advice from the child-birth class: first, not to bear down when we push because that contracts the upper abs and can block the diaphragm so it is better to push against something with your hands and try to use only the oblique and lower abs to push the baby out. So I gripped the side rails of the bed and braced myself against them to keep my back flat on the bed. And second, that getting a baby out in less than 10 pushes is ideal. I pushed 4 times before Zack came out.
Marisa pushed and screamed and screamed and pushed. I stood beside her, held her hand, stroked her hand and tried my best to keep her calm-ish. By the time the midwives seemed to actually be ready it was GO time! They used a creepy-looking long thing to break her water. Marisa was in agony, pushing up a storm and hurting. But, unlike with Owen, it didn't take long. During one push I caught a glimpse of something to my left that was not usually there (!). The next big push his head was there. One more and he was out! The Zackhammer was born! It was 6:38 am. I was incredibly relieved to immediately discover that he had a face (unlike last time!). It happened so fast that I didn't have the chance to take a "before" picture.
The rest of the story is pretty standard. Zackslash cried and was laid on Marisa's belly and started nursing almost immediately. I don't remember Zack feeding right away. In fact I have a distinct memory of him falling asleep on my chest for a while afterwards and wondering if I should wake him up to try to get him to nurse. One of the mid-wives asked if he was feeding and I said "not yet" and she said, "he's tired. that was the most excitement he's had in 9 months." A midwife clamped the cord and I cut it. Marisa was hurting (when they were prodding my belly and pulling to get the placenta out) and it took them a while to stitch her up. We stayed in the delivery room for a couple hours -- they weighed Count Zackula at 3.150 kilos, or 6 lbs 15 oz.
We spent the next 4 days in the hospital in a pretty nice room. I went back home daily to spend time with Owen and Yol, and Marisa of course stayed with Zackknife. He looks almost exactly like baby Owen did, which is awesome but a little weird. So far he nurses and sleeps pretty well. [Our biggest hiccup was the circumcision because that is pretty rare in France but that is a different story.]
[I need to emphasize one last time how key it was that Yol was here. If it wasn't for her I would only have been able to be in the hospital for a few hours each day, when Owen was in daycare. I'm sure I could have persuaded Ali and Jonah to stay over a night or two so I could go to the hospital but it was so great having Yol taking care of Boyo so I didn't have to worry about it.]
We took the Zackrabbit home on Sunday June 18. He brought a big present for Owen with him (a bike that Owen loves) and now we're getting used to having a new guy in the family.
The adventure continues....
love, Sean, Marisa, Owen and Zack (aka Zackmail aka the Zacksaw aka the humpZack whale aka Zackadaisical aka the quarterZack aka the preZackaged Meatball)
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