Finally! The “Love, Recorded” baby is born! It only takes 30 hours of labor. And a lot of hair.
Cathreen wakes me at five in the morning and says she thinks her water has broken. I am unable to process this. I went to bed at two, after several episodes of a Korean drama about a girl who is mistaken for a boy and continues to let herself be mistaken. Though she is in love with the man who thinks she is male.
“What?” I say.
“It keeps going down my leg.”
“Your water’s broken?” I say. I start to remember: my wife is pregnant, her water breaking means we are having the baby. “Your water’s broken,” I say. I shake mistaken identities out of my head.
She says she’s been waiting the last half hour to be sure. Water keeps coming out of her. It won’t stop. Between the bathroom and our bedroom, there is water on the floor.
There are 100 things to do before we go. Cathreen packs a suitcase to bursting. I put out three extra litter boxes, change the cats’ water. I picture a dry womb, our daughter poking around in a cave. Finally, I call a taxi: 40 minutes. I call another: 20. I play the pregnancy card, but the man says still 20.
In the hospital, we rush up to labor and delivery and are seen into an exam room. The doctor is a balding man with a balding man’s sense of humor. He goes over our options, though options are not so much options as explanations. The doctor will stick a pill inside my wife to soften her cervix. The nurse gives her some mesh underwear like the lining of a man’s bathing suit, and they comment on comfort and the size of the pad to catch the water. This will be a long morning.
Luckily, L&D is like a hotel. Our birthing room is equipped with hardwood floors, a view of the river and the skyline, our own bathroom (with bathtub), a flatscreen tv, room service. We order breakfast and Cathreen reclines. When a new doctor comes with the shift change, she says we could go home if we’d be more comfortable. We want to stay.
Cathreen covers herself as soon as the exam is over, and the nurse says it’s about to get a lot messier. Cathreen asks whether she might pee out the pill, and we discuss a rectal insertion until the look on her face vetoes that.
Afterward, we lie in front of the big picture window and look at the skyline. We play with Cathreen’s iPad. Four hours later, we are still on the iPad; the doctor checks Cathreen’s cervix again. Still one centimeter.
The nurse tells us four other women have come in with their waters broken, and we are low on the totem pole. This pregnancy has made us used to being the ones with the biggest problems. Now it takes the doctor another couple of hours to come back with a new plan, Petocin, which should strengthen and increase the frequency of the contractions.
By the time things start happening, I have already made the fatal mistake of not sleeping when things were not happening. I watch more of the show about the tomboy and wonder why sexual “passing” comes up so often in Korean dramas. I’ve seen it in three already. Cathreen waits for the pain to come on stronger and calls Korea with updates. She says she never expected labor to be like this. I post about the water breaking on Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, to cover all our bases.
Then the contractions start hammering. We try all the things we learned in childbirth class—the birthing ball, hands and knees, back rubs. Finally, I feel like we are doing something. I press Cathreen’s pressure points during contractions and feed her water between. We fall into a rhythm.
Four hours after the Petocin, the nurse comes in and asks what Cathreen feel between one and the worst pain ever. Six, she says. 30 minutes later, she says it’s the worst ever, she needs drugs. She climbs back into bed and lies on her side and moans.
We choose to go with IV anesthesia first, before an epidural. The contractions are about five minutes apart. We guess she must be six or seven centimeters, close to transition, the last part of labor before pushing. But when the doctor checks, the cervix is open two centimeters. I can’t help making a bad joke about our three-day pace; my wife does not look amused. The needle goes in and she gets loopy with sleep.
I am woken up by the nurse at three in the morning—she says I have to leave the room. My wife has been fighting through pain all night and has decided on her own on an epidural. I stumble into the hall half-asleep, before realizing I have just been kicked out. I don’t know why I cannot be with my wife while she gets a paralysis-risking injection. I stare at the door with rage and wonder what is happening.
When I get back into the room, I let some of that anger out on Cathreen. Luckily, she’s mostly asleep. I feel like I am no longer part of labor. It is just Cathreen and drugs. I can’t do anything to help her or the baby. She looks happier with the drugs; I know these emotions are insane, but I can’t stop them.
As the sun rises, the contractions have her awake again. The nurse has her do a practice push. Cathreen says she wants to use a mirror; her shyness has finally left. The doctor is called in, and a student doctor joins as well. Grab your legs, they say, curl around the baby, push as if on the toilet.
The first hour goes fine. Cathreen pushes so well; it feels like things are happening again. I can see the top of the head. Everything that grossed us out in childbirth class now seems miraculous. Tiny black hairs appear; the nurse says we’ve birthed two tufts. The baby will have more hair than I do. But then Cathreen hits a wall.
The nurse takes the mirror away because Cathreen isn’t looking anymore. They put the oxygen mask on her between pushes. She lies catatonic, then squeezes everywhere, then lies catatonic again. Her eyes never open. She says nothing. Her face turns red.
With each push, the head appears a little more before receding, ebb and flow. I hold a pillow up behind Cathreen’s head when she squeezes. I can feel happy tears coming, but it doesn’t look like Cathreen can enjoy this at all.
And then the head is out, and Cathreen pushes four, five, six times in row. Later, she will say she was about to give up when she heard someone say “shoulders.” The baby twists and the doctor pulls her out in one motion and then Grace is up on Cathreen’s chest. That feeling of work is gone. There is a baby on my wife’s chest. Our daughter. She is crying and then breathing and then watching us with her two tiny eyes. I don’t have time to process what I feel. All I can think is: Baby. Grace. Later, when things have calmed, I will look outside at the people canoeing along the river, and feel the transformation. It will seem impossible that for anyone else the world is still the same.
Six pounds, 13 ounces. Grace Eun-Chong Salesses.