Kate’s due date for our second kid was yesterday, March 12. Last weekend, on Saturday the 3rd, my mom asked if we could come out and spend the night at her farm. My stepfather’s been having a rough time with his cancer and the treatments for his cancer. Kate was scheduled to work both Saturday and Sunday; I figured Piper and I could drive the 45 minutes out to my mom’s farm, spend the night and get some family time, and come back in to meet Kate at home for dinner Sunday night.
Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.
After an afternoon spent fixing electronics and helping to prep dinner, we got Piper ready to bed and did a quick FaceTime chat with Kate, to say good night. Kate had worked roughly twelve hours in the NICU during the day, and had some hours of paperwork yet to complete before she’d have to return for her shift the next day, so we signed off fairly quickly. Just before we disconnected, Kate reminded me that the phone in the Cloud Room, where we’d be sleeping, had the ringer turned off. I assured her that on the off chance she went into labor, I’d make sure I had a ringing phone near me… but figured it wouldn’t really be necessary. Piper sacked out around 8; I talked with my mom for a bit, putzed around online, and then went to bed around 10:45, remembering to put one of the cordless phones near my head before jamming in my orange earplugs and going to sleep.
… only to hear the phone ringing some hours later. Long reflex originally honed by having both a freshman year roommate and a grandmother who casually called around 7 a.m. enabled me to snap my arm out while still sleeping and hit the answer button after a single ring, noticing that it was our home number on the Caller ID. “Hello?”
“Okay, babe, you’d better come home.”
I found myself awake and in motion, with even the minimal preparations I’d done before bed now easing my path out the door. Bag: packed. Separate bag to leave with Piper: packed. Piper: still asleep.
I tiptoed into my mom and Gil’s room, though I could probably have gone in playing the tuba and not had them notice, honestly. My mom sleeps with earplugs, a blindfold, and a CPAP hose attached to her nostrils, and as a result, sleeps in a sort of self-contained sensory deprivation bubble. She jerked awake, though, as my touching her shoulder startled her. “I’m up, what’s up?”
“Kate’s in labor,” I whispered, “and I’m heading back into town. You’ve got Piper.”
“Okay. Good luck – I love you!”
And with that, I carefully whisked down the dark, quiet stairs, grabbing my bag on the way out, and walked through the blowing snow to our blue car. 01:05 a.m.; ten minutes since Kate had called.
(A brief diversion on the switchable driving modes in recent model-year Prius: they’ve got different driving modes. Normal mode is, well, normal. EV mode lets you run briefly on the electric motor only, which is handy if you’re stuck in a long traffic jam. Econo-mode makes the car accelerate even more sluggishly than usual, but ekes out slightly better gas mileage. And then there’s “Power” mode. I’ve been playing Project Gotham Racing on the XBox, recently, and “driving” a whole (simulated) series of ludicrously over-powered super cars. “Power” mode on a Prius does not, in fact, turn it into a sports car. You will not chirp the tires using “Power” mode, nor will bystanders gaze admiringly as you peel out from a traffic light. When you’re accustomed to driving in Econo-mode, as we are, hitting the button marked “Power” will make the car noticeably surge when you put your foot on the gas, fire up the cabin heat more quickly, and generally lend a sense of urgency to the trip.)
I hit the “Power” mode button at the stop sign at the bottom of Pinnacle Road. Maybe I sprayed a little gravel as I turned right. “Home, Jeeves, and don’t spare the horses.”
Cell reception in the country near my mom’s place is so spotty as to be useless. Iowa County, in which she lives, lies within the Driftless Area, where the glaciers never came. Unlike much of the Midwest’s gently rolling hills, the Driftless Area is filled with sharp-edged ridges and valleys. The blowing snow and my own adrenaline played behind me in an action movie soundtrack as I powered up and over Blue Mounds Road.
I hit 18/151 and the relative modernity of EDGE coverage, and immediately called Kate, easily talking over the Prius’s attempt at a throaty engine roar. “How are you feeling?”
Kate sounded relaxed, on the car’s speakers. “The contractions are coming about every three or four minutes. I called the midwives; they said that since I could talk through my contractions, I wasn’t all that far along, and I should call them when they ramp up. So … no immediate rush, but … don’t dawdle. Drive carefully.”
37 minutes later, I maneuvered the car into the alley behind our house, and called inside to see if Kate needed to come out right away. “No, I’m fine.” I pulled into the garage, installed the base for our new infant car-seat-bucket, and went inside.
I found Kate standing at the counter, swaying her hips back and forth as she worked on email to her team-lead. “I don’t think I’m making it to work tomorrow, and we’ve got all these kids to discharge!” I congratulated her on her diligence, loaded our pre-packed bags into the car, grabbed the iPod on which we’d made a six-hour labor playlist just two nights before, and then continued timing Kate’s contractions.
When I’d first walked in the door, they’d seemed fairly mild, but by 2:30, Kate was needing to walk away from her computer, sit on our grey yoga ball with her eyes closed, and sway. They’d last about a minute and were arriving pretty much every three minutes. (If you’re not familiar with laboring women, that kind of regularity is the hallmark of a uterus that’s gotten down to serious work.)
I texted Kate’s boss to let her know we were soon to head into the hospital, and then called the midwives, as Kate had become firmly unwilling to try talking through her contractions. “Okay,” the student midwife on the phone said, “How about you come in, and we’ll check out how she’s doing?”
I walked with Kate out to the car, remembering only now the lesson we’d learned during Piper’s labor: walking with a laboring woman takes about three times as long as walking with a non-laboring woman, what with the pauses and deep breathing. Once in the car, we rolled the five blocks to the hospital, arriving at 03:07. I grabbed all the bags – “See if you can … make it all in one trip, eh?", Kate said – and slowly, slowly we walked through the lobby, past a scrub-clad woman leaving, talked briefly with the night security guard, and headed up to 4 North. The few people we saw smiled indulgently, as Kate was as obviously in labor as any mom on a sitcom. I don’t think she noticed any of them, as far into her laboring trance as she was.
We got up to 4 North and the Birth Center’s teeny triage room. The on-call midwife and her student came in; we’d met both of them before. The student carefully checked Kate between contractions as our midwife used a Doppler monitor to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, which seemed steady to me. The student looked up. “I don’t feel any cervix.”
For one second I thought she must mean that Kate hadn’t dilated at all, and that we’d come to the hospital hours too early, which made no sense at all … and then I realized that she meant the opposite: once again, Kate had walked into the hospital fully-dilated and ready to bring a baby into the world.
We grabbed our stuff and hustled down the hall to a for-real birthing room, me juggling my new camera and our clothing bag, and the nurses and midwives wheeling Kate. I plugged in the iPod speakers but didn’t hit play – the contemplative songs we’d put on the list didn’t quite match the rapid intensity in the room, and the rapid swoosh-swoosh of the Doppler tones was providing a kind of lo-fi dancehall beat. I was feeling giddy and cheeky, so in a brief lull I reminded everyone and no-one in particular that Kate works in the NICU, and as such, any mention of any word that would worry her would be met with a sharp glance from me. The midwives chuckled; I don’t think Kate heard me. I recalled that I’d called the gender of our first kid incorrectly and asked for a second chance, and agreed that I’d cut the cord.
And then, just 37 minutes after we parked the car in the garage, Kate made a low and focused sound, and there was one more head in the room than there had been a moment ago. Then a shoulder, and an arm, and in a rush, the rest of a small (and clearly female: I double-checked) body. The umbilical cord had been tight under her chin as she had come through the birth canal, and someone unwisely said the phrase “looks like the cord’s a little tight” while Kate could hear. Even as the effort of pushing was still ricocheting through her, Kate was urgently telling everyone to “stim her! stim her! She looks a little blue!” A short rub with a towel and some lusty cries later, the new baby had pinked up nicely. (and would later turn beet-red under the warmer lamps.) Our labor nurse called it “the kind of delivery people dream of,” and we received awed congratulations from other parent friends at the 4 hour duration.)
And that’s how Sydney Jane Bradbury Hirsch entered the world.