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How To Watch Someone Give Birth Stray Notes
On what it's like to see your wife labor for 29 hours while you eat hospital food, doula do's and don'ts and what's in an epidural
• My daughter, Pep (that’s her nickname), is now a little over two weeks old. Naturally, I think I’m an expert on parenting already.
Before I share my surefire parenting tips, tricks and observations though, I want to tell the story of her birth.
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* By the way, baby Pep is napping now. I swear I’m not ignoring our baby.
OK, let’s begin.
Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Anna, our MVP and hero of this story, was due to give birth July 15.
On this random Tuesday, 11 days removed from our initial due date, I made plans to go to the hip midtown restaurant IchiRan Ramen with Anna on Wednesday (July 27).
The plan was to induce labor on Thursday (July 28). So, to treat ourselves we’d have one last fancy meal at a place the two of us had always wanted to try but kept putting off.
Baby Pep didn’t want us to have that dinner.
Labor began around 7 p.m. Tuesday night. Anna and I quickly got to work on exercises that would help speed up the process. For the next few hours, she bounced on a ball, curb-walked (one foot on a curb, one off) and had a scarf draped around her waist to help ease Pep out.
All of these things allegedly help soften the cervix for a smooth delivery.
I started playing Anna motivational speeches I heard on YouTube to pump her up as any dumb bro like myself might do. You know the type of speeches. They’re the ones where coaches bellow stuff like, “YOU HAVE IT WITHIN YOU. PUSH.”
I set up a made-up Pavlovian system where I had Anna treat herself to a sip of lemonade every time she completed a minute-long contraction.
(Note: I came up with a lot of made-up “systems.” Probably not for the best. You really should just do what your wife wants since she did all the pregnancy research after all).
Since things were slowly picking up at this time, we put our 9+ months of pregnancy preparation to good use. I set our go bags by the front door, showered and then put on a favorite shirt of mine with my Grandpa Glenn’s face on it.
Glenn was one of the first pediatricians in Arizona and actually had a young Steven Spielberg as a patient way back when. So, yes, my family is somewhat responsible for “E.T.”
At 10, poor Anna felt sharp pains, the contractions became more frequent, the squeezing of my hand tighter, and that’s when we knew it was time to start moving. We called our doula. Turns out she was at another birth. Plus, it was her own birthday. The life of a doula doesn’t offer any breaks.
Time for us to roll to the hospital.
Called our Uber driver Nisan who rolled the dice by accepting our ride— this is the trip every driver hates. They get paid the exact same amount they’d receive (plus a fat tip) for a normal ride but the stakes are stupid high.
We boarded Nisan’s Nissan and off we went.
He hit every single yellow light.
In an effort to be cautious, he slowed to a neat stop even though there was no traffic for miles. Barf bag in hand, Anna didn’t complain once.
I was expecting “Fast and the Furious” style theatrics but slow and steady worked too.
Within 20 minutes, the two of us arrived at our destination and Anna was in the pregnancy unit puking. The staff placed her in a triage room and had me wait in the lobby. Later, she told me they asked, “Does he beat you?” She said “No” but I wished she said, “Only at fantasy baseball.”
After a short wait, I was let into the triage room with Anna who had yet to receive an epidural and was undergoing some of the worst pain in her life. I put on her birthing playlist which had a surprising amount of Cake songs. We must have heard “Short Skirt, Long Jacket” five times on shuffle.
For the next few hours, I massaged and consoled her. At times, I was the only one there with Anna. It was genuinely surprising. Here she was dealing with earth shattering discomfort and the staff looked at me all annoyed when I asked if she could have more fluids since she wasn’t fully there.
This was the most alive and useful I’ve felt in years.
Once I met the nurses and midwives, I understood why they didn’t help out as much as expected. They were all on 24-hour shifts and all had already delivered at least one baby today. Not a healthy system in my book. In fact, they were so tired they forgot to bring working pens and almost hit Anna’s head on every machine in the room when jostling her around.
While they worked around the clock, our doula (who had arrived two hours late) knew that Anna was far from delivery so she peaced and said, “Get some sleep. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” The nurse smirked and said, “If that’s how you want to do it…” and she was out the door.
I sat on my chair and conked the eff out.
Wednesday, July 27, 7 a.m.
A nurse told me, “You know you could have reclined that chair you slept in, dude?”
Little late for that now.
Couldn't stay mad for too long though because there was breakfast waiting for me. Apparently, many partners pass out from not eating while women labor so the hospital makes sure to feed them.
The meal was made up of pancakes, scrambled eggs, a fruit cup and a sad sausage link. Anna was on fluids and couldn’t eat anything- in fact, sneaking a honey stick was a big deal. For me though, I was feasting on the world’s most average food that will most likely be marked up 700% (my friend Dylan Graham joked that “the eggs were out of network”).
While Anna labored, I filled out paperwork. Lots of legal documents essentially boiling down to “I am dad.” With each signature, my future as a father figure began to feel more real.
At this point, we were 12 hours into a 29-hour labor.
So, I Wordle’d. Got “MOTTO” in six tries. I was pretty impressed with myself.
Poor, exhausted Anna got hooked up on an epidural (that’s the lab name for fentanyl, no joke) and nurses, students and midwives started entering more frequently to check on the hero of our story.
You could tell she was tired because she didn’t want to update her fantasy team. That’s a first. She’s crazy competitive and can’t stand not making sure all of her beloved Mets are in her lineup.
Back to the birth.
Together we repeated a mantra: “I am strong, I am brave.” Each time things got difficult, these six words pulled us through.
Also, in chiller moments, I read her texts aloud to her and responded to them like I was her secretary. I imagine this is what being a Kardashian’s assistant is like.
Our backup doula showed because our real doula was still at home sleeping. This was her first time doula’ing. What she lacked in experience, she made up for with essential oil foot rubs. Clutch. Plus, she liked Trader Joe’s and we bonded over how money their orange chicken is. Affordable and tasty? It doesn’t make sense.
Anna’s water broke.
At this point, we’re still about 14 hours from birth.
Now, Anna’s real doula wanted to come. Only problem is “no more than two visitors in the operating room are allowed. Period.” So, our primary doula had to argue and fight with the head nurse to get herself in and her backup out.
They used my phone to conduct this debate.
After some arm twisting and cajoling, number one was back.
She filled me in on what happens when baby is born. Apparently, a pediatrician swoops in and clears the baby’s lungs of meconium AKA baby poop. Yup, some of us are born with poop in our mouth. Life is strange.
The staff generously delivered a salmon, brussel sprouts and farro plate. Much better than the Maruchan ramen I would have had at home.
Anna then had the line of the day. She said, “they give Matt food and me drugs.”
Kid was in the worst pain of her life and still riffing. That’s why she’s my wife.
Our doula returned. She ate a loud chip-based lunch. Pretty sure she was playing Candy Crush too.
Passed out again.
When I woke up, we had Anna use a squat bar to push, push, push. At this point, about 20 hours deep, she was 8 CM dilated which means we’re finally getting really close.
I chilled and read some emails.
Out of nowhere, midwives showed and put Anna on all fours to get the baby’s heart rate up. It was stressful, intense and heroic. Anna made it happen without feeling in her legs.
Called Anna’s mom Catherine and choked up when I said it might be happening soon after clearing out the room for medical professionals.
Our doula put Anna’s hair in a ponytail way better than I could have. That is not my area of expertise. Then Anna and I both started happy crying at the thought of lil Pep coming so soon. We’re excited, nervous, cheery and terrified. She led a prayer and recited her mantras.
Nurses told us Anna will be pushing in no time. Now she needs to preserve energy.
So, I fed Anna Jell-O and got a huge laugh when I did the classic “Here comes the airplane!” bit.
Our doula stole my comfortable seat and I brought her a granola bar to make her feel guilty. Nah, she kept the bar and the seat.
Inside Anna, baby’s heart rate rose and fell.
There was talk of C-Sections. Nurses also suggested pitocin, a painful drug that aids birth.
This was all mentally and physically taxing for poor Anna. Along with talks that the baby could have the umbilical cord tied around its neck (which is a very real semi-common thing), there was so much anxiety surrounding the most joyful moment of our lives that we had to tiptoe through it hoping for the best on every front.
I knew she was especially overwhelmed and wasn’t feeling well when Anna didn’t want to FaceTime her family. On our first date, she said something I’ll never forget, the immortal line, “I’m a big fan of my parents.”
I’d never heard anyone say that before. To this day, she jumps at the chance to chat with them all hours of the day. Now that she didn’t have the energy to say hi meant she was truly drained.
Had overcooked chicken parm for dinner in my recliner. All Anna had eaten today was bites of Jell-O and a few slurps of honey from that plastic stick which we snuck her.
Pretty sure I saw our doula playing Candy Crush again right around this time.
Just as I finished my last bites, the midwives rushed back in and let us know we’d finally made it to “push time.”
You know how when a football team is at the one-yard line and they hand the ball off to the running back who has to try and get through an entire defense?
Pushing is like that.
For three hours, midwives forced Anna to PUSH in three ten-second intervals to get her to the end zone.
At first, we didn’t have much success. Now we’d need pitocin which would theoretically put Anna in so much pain she would push properly.
She reluctantly agreed and minutes later, the excruciating pain washed over her.
I stood on the side of the bed holding her leg and propping her head up. Our midwife had nothing but notes for me. “Do it like this,” “What if you try this angle,” “Could you be better at this job that I just gave you that you have no experience in?”
It should be noted that at this point Anna had pretty much been totally naked in front of doctors, midwives, nurses, students, doulas and anyone else that had been in the room for over 24 hours.
As for me, I don’t even like taking my shirt off at the pool.
OK, back to the story.
Pitocin and pushing got us close. As we were nearing midnight, I wondered aloud, “What happens if we can see the baby’s head at 11:59 on July 27? Does that mean it’s born on the 27th or 28th?”
The midwife reassured me that you need to see the baby’s entire body for it to count as a birth.
We were getting down to the wire then. Would it be the 27th or 28th? This became my newest obsession as another doctor entered.
Up until this point, 28 hours in, we’d only had female midwives and nurses operate on Anna. She’d hired a midwife company that ensured this.
Yet, here was a male doctor who came in who “specialized in getting the job done.”
His technique was simple. He calmly said to Anna, “I’m going to put my fingers inside of you and I want you to get mad at me. Madder than you’ve ever been before.”
He was way too chill for someone to truly get mad at him I thought. A Gus Fring-like villain if you will.
Anyhow, it worked. Anna clutched a squat bar and pushed. Her face contorted and she really
became the angriest she’d ever been after this stranger went in on her.
Thursday, July 28, 12 a.m.
July 28 came. We now knew our daughter’s birthday.
The lead midwife got harsher and meaner to demanding Anna “push better.”
In a hallucinatory state, Anna said, “The Pink Ladies are coming to town.” I wasn’t sure if this was a pregnancy term I missed in one of the many books I skimmed instead of fully reading but Anna later confirmed she was just talking nonsense which checks out because she was exhausted, starving and pushing a human being out of her.
Then, things started happening. A descent! The midwives got excited and wow, something was coming out of Anna! A head! A real head!
It didn’t look human-like at first.
Apparently, when babies are born, their heads are misshapen so what I saw was sort of meatloaf-looking.
All of a sudden, wow, a whole human baby emerged out of Anna.
She made it. Our baby existed. Anna did it. I ate chicken parm on a recliner. We got through to the other side.
Our midwife had me cut the umbilical cord with a pair of official looking scissors. The pediatrician weighed her and made sure she didn’t swallow any meconium in the womb.
I took her first photo ever and then it was time for Anna to hold baby Pep. Everything we’d been looking forward to for over nine months.
This was the most beautiful moment of our lives as Anna smiled and said to our baby, “I love you so much.”
To commemorate the joyous occasion, I played Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.” Kinda wish I went with “Welcome To The Black Parade” but there’s no going back now.
A nurse put a tracker on our Pep’s foot since they get mixed up and stolen all the time. Yep, also true.
Finally, it was my turn to do skin to skin with our baby.
Suddenly, it’s all real. I’m a dad. I’m a frickin’ dad.
Meanwhile, poor Anna had to give birth to the placenta after giving birth to the baby. Yep, that’s also a thing.
Out of curiosity, I asked the nurse “How much does placenta usually weigh?”
She didn’t know.
For being a leading hospital in the country, they sure didn’t know a lot of the basics.
Anyway, the answer is roughly 1.5 pounds.
As for Pep’s first moments, she barely cried. I looked at her and thought about how we already know this new human’s middle school she’ll attend in 2033.
I don’t know much anything else though. Who knows what’s coming next?
Well, I’ll tell you all about it soon.
Probably next week.
Either way, I think it’ll be a while before we eat at IchiRan Ramen
• If you’re interested and want to get Baby Pep a gift, you can find the registry here
Thanks for reading Matt Levy's Comedy Stray Notes! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.