First-time dad Dustin Fisher hopes that his first childbirth doesn’t set the tone for the rest of his parenting life.
“Honey, can you please wake up and time my contractions?”
That’s my wife. And the way that she said the word please indicates to me that this wasn’t the first time she asked. It also explains a very strange dream I was having in which a honey badger was asking me to wake up and time his contractions.
I reached for my phone and hit the shortcut I had created to go straight to the stopwatch feature, bypassing two extra buttons a woman married to a lesser husband might have to endure. I’ve been ready for this moment my entire life. And by that, I mean I had sex once nine months ago. Literally once. My wife suggested we “start trying” and seven minutes later, my little Missy Franklin was already partway through her first kick turn.
It is also pretty common knowledge that I’m going to be a great father. I ran a day camp for eleven years where I was known as “Mr. Jungle Gym,” I look like Steve from Blue’s Clues and I’ve been scouting out babysitters for the last five years. Physically having the child is just the formality my wife needed to endure so I could claim my title as Greatest Father Ever.
I diligently timed my wife’s contractions for the next few hours until my notes said it was time to get the turkey out of the oven. I called the doctor’s office, followed the number tree to “If this is a labor emergency, press…” and left a message with the understanding that the on-call physician would call back within 20 minutes.
“Um, hi. My name is Dustin Fisher, wife of Jennifer Morrison. I mean she’s my wife. And she’s been in labor for a couple hours and now the contractions are less than five minutes apart now. And, um, please call me back soon. Thanks. Oh. My number is 443-766-9242, or you could call my wife – What’s that, honey? – OK, call me please. 443-766-9242. Thanks and I look forward to talking to you soon.”
Our doctor called back about 10 minutes later and told us to come in to the hospital to labor there. My wife and her sister, who was up here from Texas for just this reason, grabbed their go-bags and headed to the car while I… packed mine. Something I meant to do weeks ago. The reasons I hadn’t bothered to do this yet – a task that could possibly take as little as seven minutes – will be covered in future therapy sessions. I attempted to remember the list of things I made, most of them being props for pictures directly after the baby was born. Cameras, socks and mini-footballs were tossed haphazardly into a Giant grocery bag as I was being yelled at from downstairs to “just hurry the fuck up, you should have had this done weeks ago!” I learned later that in my haste, I apparently threw in a light bulb and my Monk bobblehead, both of which are surprisingly useless in childbirth.
The Morning Commute
It was five in the morning when we got going. I had printed out directions to the hospital from my work, from her work, from our old apartment, and from our new house which we had moved into less than two weeks ago. This is my version of prepared. Mind you, I hadn’t yet tested any of those routes. Something I meant to do weeks ago.
I had assumed we would just take my Civic, but Jenn’s sister had come in a minivan and the both of them had just assumed we would take that. I was told in no uncertain terms to “just figure it out.” So I decided to drive a big van with a couple huge blind spots that I’d never driven before to a place I’d never been before for the most important commute of my life.
We got in the car and Azure plugged in her GPS in a sisterly attempt to make things easier. The Tomtom and the printed directions immediately started arguing with each other about the best way through DC. I really don’t have time for another argument. I decided to go with the printed directions despite the very irritated British lady recalculating at every intersection.
About halfway there, I began to question the leadership of Google Maps and my ability to properly interpret the complex directions to get around the Convention Center. I was definitely off the grid. So I turned Tomtom back on and waited for her take on things to hopefully get me back on track. Turn right, she says. I’m not buying it. That’s the wrong way. But I do it anyway. Turn right again. OK, Tomtom! You picked a bad time to get all sensitive about our earlier disagreement! So I reached for a third opinion, my very detailed map of D.C. that I keep wedged between the seats of the car. Back at the house. Now firmly butting up against pissed off, I shut Tomtom back off, crumpled up my Google Map and navigated my way through D.C. by memory/logic/blind luck.
While driving aimlessly through the city, I start to question my preparedness for this moment. Why hadn’t I practiced this route yet? Why hadn’t I packed my go-bag? Why haven’t I read any of the 87 books that were handed down to me about raising a child? Was this not what I wanted? Is there still more I feel like I need to do before I have a child? Am I too selfish to have a child? Maybe I got myself caught up in expectations and I wasn’t really ready to be a parent after all.
The Point of No Return
We somehow got to Sibley Memorial Hospital around 6am. I grabbed seven bags and went to check Jenn in while Azure parked the van. The one bag I didn’t grab was Jenn’s purse with her ID, credit card and insurance. But at least I had my mini-football. The nice lady behind the counter saw the degree of pregnant that my wife was and agreed to admit us anyway.
6:15am. The nurse checked Jenn’s cervix. Not dilated. No epidural.
Our birthing plan originally had an epidural-if-necessary-but-preferably-not clause in it. After a ceremonial handing down of baby gear at a dinner with some friends, Meghan said that she was on the same plan for her first baby. Once the pain pushed her passed the “if-necessary” part, she got an epidural. She agreed right there on the spot to have a second child before even birthing the first one. “Shit. I can do this.” That is the power of an epidural. And so our plan turned into epidural-likely.
The pain came from somewhere in the neighborhood of left field. 6:47am was the contraction I made note of, the Holy Shit moment of the labor. It was time to implement the epidural-likely.
Still not dilated, still no epidural.
We decided to walk around the hospital to force the issue. Less than 30 seconds later, we were back in the room. I was told to rub Jenn’s shoulders harder to distract her from the pain. I was then waved off and asked to get out of her way.
Jenn was desperate for some sort of pain management and we hadn’t gone to any Lamaze classes. All I knew about Lamaze was Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine and I had been told almost daily in the month leading up to this date that I wasn’t allowed to be funny. She shushed me at one point after an attempt at lightening the mood with humor (the reason she married me). That “shhhh” sound became her Lamaze. Every contraction was accompanied by several shushes repeated at different volumes, frequencies and durations, which determined the amount of pain she was in. Like a cricket’s chirps. The quicker, louder, and the more painful the contraction, the harder I would massage her. The ones where the words “shit shit shit” would come out were the worst. We created a new language between us which is much more effective than when we speak to each other.
8am. Shift change. The new nurse couldn’t find the cervix opening either. She said it might be behind the baby, whatever the hell that meant. Sounds to me like the bowl being behind the soup. Also of note is that this lady, however honorable her intentions, had extremely long fingernails, which were aggravating an already extremely aggravated woman. There is probably no other profession where having short fingernails should be more of a requirement. Maybe a knuckleball pitcher. The presence of this nurse, however painful for my wife, thankfully alleviated my status as scapegoat for the time being.
The doctor came in around 8:30. The cervix was still closed. “You know what they say. A watched cervix never dilates.” Sure, she’s allowed to be funny. But this lady had her shit together. Apparently we were super effaced (my interpretation of what she said) and something about a station that sounded promising despite not being dilated. It was almost as if the cervix was sewn shut. Mrs. Morrison, have you ever had a procedure done that might have scarred your cervix?
Seriously!? How has no one even brought this up yet? Eight months of doctor’s visits and four hours of painful contractions with the entire medical staff under the belief that this was the most complicated uterus they’d ever seen. And that’s the answer? “Oh, well that may be what’s going on here. Let me see if I can get my finger – Oh, yeah. There she goes. Wow. Up to three centimeters already. Oh, and I broke your water, but you probably figured that out already.” Oh yes I did. Hey, how about that epidural now, you idiots.
Mabel, World. World, Mabel.
It was 12:15pm. We had been in the hospital for 6 hours now and we were starting to see some progress for all our efforts. That sadly was about to stop. Jenn was comfortable and smiling for the first time since we got here – sitting back in her motorized chair, sipping a margarita and humming Cheeseburger in Paradise. After two hours, the nurse said we were fully dilated, something about a +2 station, and Jenn took some Maalox-type stuff for her stomach. We started to push on every contraction. The contractions at this point had to be pointed out to Jenn from a monitor, as she could no longer feel anything, including her left leg, which I was assigned to hold in the air this entire time. And so we tried. Very unsuccessfully. After half an hour of this, we decided to take a break so Jenn could sit back and “labor down,” which is doctor speak for take a break.
I started doing some research. Who would Mabel share her birthday with? What famous people were born on June 21st? It was a depressingly abysmal list. Juliette Lewis and Wade Phillips were among the most popular. “Honey?” And Meredith Baxter. Wait. Michael Gross too? “Honey?” So both parents from Family Ties were born today? And they’re both turning 65? That’s got to be a misprint.
“Sorry babe. What do you need?”
“Can you please turn off the music?”
As per our birthing plan for calming techniques, I spent over three hours copying 30 of Jenn’s CDs to my computer and transferring them to my iPad. When push came to PUSH, she opted for silence. Perhaps I should have spent some of those three hours practicing the route or packing a bag.
At 3:35, the nurse came back in and suggested we start again. Jenn still couldn’t feel anything. Considering what we had gone through at 8am, that was a decent alternative, but now, she was trying to push this thing she couldn’t feel. Like reaching through an empty window and blindly shoving air. And shoving it as hard as you can.
Toward the end, I definitely saw a shift in Jenn’s modesty. In the beginning, she had her sister hold a blanket up while the nurse was checking for dilation so that I couldn’t see. Me. The guy that did this to her. When it was finally go time after 10 hours, she was waving in the catering staff.
What happened next is often referred to as a miracle. I don’t know that I’d go that far. However, the fact that something that large and alive can come out of another human being is quite impressive. Nice job, nature. But I’ll reserve the term “miracle” for something that doesn’t happen 490,000 times a day. Like Franco Harris catching a ball off a defender’s helmet for example.
Jenn did a lot of bleeding and I was thrown up on at one point, but at 4:28pm on the summer solstice, Mabel Michelle Fisher was born a healthy baby to two healthy parents, one of them crying slightly more than the other. There is a lot to be done and a lot to be learned over the course of the next few days and subsequent decades, most of it I’m looking very much forward to. And as for the question of whether or not I’ll be too selfish to have a baby? Well, I may not turn out to be the greatest father in the world, but we’ll be OK.
photo courtesy of author