Magnitude

Before she walked out the door with our oldest son, my mother-in-law instructed me to take my wife to the hospital right after getting a bite to eat. At this point, my wife’s contractions were eight minutes apart. Up until this point, it seemed like her contractions were closing in on the 5 minute mark – the point at which we were encouraged by the doctor to head to RVH.

The problem is that my wife’s contractions became erratic. One contraction was almost half an hour over the last, and then they seemed to settle somewhere between 9 and 11 minutes apart. After dinner, my father texted me and warned that a second pregnancy goes fast. He convinced us to go the hospital despite my wife’s contractions being in excess of 8 minutes apart. Prophetically, he said, “Do you want to have your child on the side of the 400?”

In the birthing unit, it was determined that my wife was dilated close to 3 cm. We were encouraged to go down to the atrium and walk around for two hours before coming back up for re-examination. So my wife walked, or more exactly she waddled around the atrium. I told her “they,” as in the RVH staff, referred to the pregnant women walking the gamut as “waddlers.” My wife disagreed with me and demanded proof. I said we’d ask when we got back up. At another point, after my wife was leaned over in the painful throes of another contraction, in jest I tried to convince her that opportunistic men would still fixate their attention on the woman’s butt. My wife asked me if I could be so brazen. When I admitted my guilt, she told me that she sensed a shortage of empathy. Later, she said blankly: “You’re an idiot.”

Back at the birthing unit, my wife was told that over the course of two hours of walking that she had only dilated another half cm. It seemed reasonable to assume that she couldn’t be admitted until 4:00 am at this rate, maybe even later. Then came the ultimate decision: stay in the bed waiting to be admitted or go home. For my wife, the tub was her main source of comfort during labour. She yearned for the hospital tub again, but this wasn’t an option for her. So when we chose to go home, it was the relief of the tub that beckoned us to retrace our steps.

I napped for an hour while my wife sat in the tub. When it seemed too quiet, I checked on her. She was shivering uncontrollably, and so I helped her get warm the best I could. At this point, the contractions were still in excess of 6 minutes apart. I reminded my wife that the nurse told us to go back to the hospital when she couldn’t take it any more. My wife nodded and said she would let me know when she reached that state. When I was sitting on the couch, I was concerned. If my wife had not been so cold, I would have insisted on going back to the hospital right away. As it stood, she was warm and her contractions were holding steady. When I heard a particularly agonizing moan, I insisted that we return to the hospital. While my wife attempted to get out of bed, I went to start the car, gather blankets, and get everything ready.

By the time my wife was in the car, it seemed her contractions had sped up to 5 minutes apart, and quickly to 4 minutes. I had the impulse to take her to GBGH, but our original plan was not leave the house until 5 minutes – so we kept to the plan. Our road was extremely bumpy, with each groove sending a wave of pain through her body. We eased to the end of the road and off we sped. By the time we reached the 400 from Victoria Harbour, my wife was probably experiencing contractions at less than 3 minutes. I sped to RVH at over 130 km/hour. My wife told me to go faster. While her pain increased, I found myself praying. We’d have to make it. Then my wife said that she had the urge to push, and that she couldn’t help it. Then she announced that her water just broke. Then she announced, “Ring of fire . . . ring of fire . . . By the time we passed the Horseshoe Valley Road exit, she told me to call an ambulance.

While on the phone with the 911 operator, I pulled over the car on the exit ramp to Forbes Road. My wife had just let out an ear piercing shriek of agony. I went and opened the passenger door. I pulled my wife’s pants down, and I noticed she was already crowning. I raced to the back of the car to grab sheets. My wife kept saying “cold, cold” from the car door being open. The 911 operator called me back to give me instructions on how to coach my wife and deliver a baby.

I put my phone on speaker and set it on my wife’s abdomen. He instructed her to breathe, as did I. Although I was calm and attentive to all the instructions I was being given, I felt the deepest sense of horror I had ever experienced. My wife chose to return home out of pain. I agreed to go out of deference to her intuition. Now, it felt like the weight of our decision was squarely on me. I was terrified for her safety. I was terrified for the well being our child to be born.

We had been so deliberate the whole time we prepared for this birth. In fact, “prepared” is the operative word. My wife had prepared down to the finest details for weeks. And yet here we were on the side of the 400, with the crowning increasing. Images of our son sleeping peacefully at his grandparents, my father and mother, her parents – their confidence in my judgment, sat before me as I prepared to deliver our son on the side of the highway. Then the ambulance arrived and my wife was brought on a stretcher into safety.

Minutes later, I watched my son being born from the vantage point of the front seat of the ambulance. Tears rolled down my face as I considered the conditions of our new son being born and how much I want him to feel loved and special, just like his older brother. I hated that he seemed to be born in such a careless, haphazard way. At the time, it did feel like my carelessness had led to his dramatic entrance into this world and I didn’t think it was fair to him.

I was invited back into the ambulance to cut the cord. I watched my wife take little Wes into her arms for the first time. In all honesty, I felt numb – like shock was spreading through me. Then I followed the ambulance to RVH. While driving, I prayed a prayer of gratitude for the safety of my family and the safe delivery of Wes. By the time I joined them in the birthing unit, I was able to smile about what we had just experienced. By the time I started posting his first pictures on Facebook, I was full of joy. My wife was glowing and happy, and our little guy was determined to be healthy. I realized that Wes’ birth was just as special as our other son’s birth – only more dramatic. But the magnitude of that realization on the highway will never go away, and I will use it to better my decisions going forward.

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