You've done everything in your control and then the unthinkable happens. What then?
It was 12am when my wife gently woke me. “I felt a pop,” she said. She told me that this was an indication that her water had broken. She suggested I rest as we both anticipated a long night. So, there I lay, hoping that I may be able to steal a few more winks of sleep before my coaching duties began.
“ Quickly her contractions intensified. With every aggressive exhale she twisted her head from side to side. My wife looked up at me with pain in her face that I had never seen…enough that I was almost moved to tears.”
My wife called our midwives and told them that her water had broken and stated that she would call when things progressed. She turned to me and said again, get some rest. If this birthing experience were anything like our last, both my wife and I struggling to hold various positions that one would expect during a Yoga or Pilates class, I would need my rest.
An hour later, after visiting the washroom, my wife returned to our bedroom to wake me. “Is it time?,” I asked. “No,” she told me, she wanted to wash her hair. I questioned if such a thing was a necessity and I was quickly informed that it was. Heck, what do I know about what a woman needs to prepare for birth?
This labour, my wife said, felt different than the last. The contractions were sporadic and the intensity was lesser than what my wife could remember. We had time so we relaxed. I reached over to rub my wife’s back as she felt a contraction and was informed immediately that I was not helping. I then assumed my coaching position, my wife sitting at the edge of the bed as she buried her head into my abdomen, holding her hands in mine. Quickly her contractions intensified. With every aggressive exhale she twisted her head from side to side. My wife looked up at me with pain in her face that I had never seen…enough that I was almost moved to tears. No man wants to see his wife in pain, even during birth. This labour did seem quite different from the last time… there was more pain. A lot more!
“Something’s wrong,” my wife said. By this time, my mother in-law, who was visiting from New Brunswick, had entered the room. She had heard her daughter's screams from the basement. Hearing my wife say, something's wrong sent me into fight or flight. My mind raced with the information that I had just heard. My wife said, “Call the midwife,” quickly followed by, “No, Call 911!!!” I said, “Are you serious?” What a question. What was I thinking? Of course she was serious. “Yes!, was her response.” I picked up the phone; I could feel the chemicals raging through my body. I grabbed the phone and dialed 911. As I looked down at the bedside table my eyes rested on the midwife’s number. I hung up the phone and called our midwife. I know, I follow directions really well. There was no answer, I'd gotten the pager. I left a message as calmly as I could with my wife’s agonizing cries in the background. Next, I called 911.
My wife said to me, “I feel like pushing!.” My reaction, “YOU WHAT!!?” We were about 20 minutes in and my wife wanted to push. I couldn't believe it! I stared at my wife as though she were telling me she was from mars, as I thought to myself, this is not happening! “Breath, Jo, take a deep breath.”
Please, Don't Push!
The 911 dispatcher answered the phone and said, “What’s your emergency?” I walked away from the bed as her mother stepped in momentarily as coach. I informed the dispatcher that we needed an ambulance that my wife was in labour and things were progressing rapidly and I believed she was going to have the baby in our bed, AT ANY MOMENT!
We had planned a home birth. In fact, we were planning a water birth. The pool was waiting in the next room to be inflated. We didn't prepare it the night before because we had time, we knew what to expect as we welcomed our new child into the world, this wasn't our first rodeo, but this belief couldn't have been further from the truth. I found myself running into the baby’s room to get blankets, plastic covers and face cloths, anything I could find, while the dispatcher asked me for the necessary information. I breathed deep to keep myself as calm as possible. The speed and intensity of the situation would have overwhelmed me otherwise. I knew what I was experiencing, I couldn't fathom what my wife was going through in the next room.
“ My wife looked at me and said, "You are going to deliver our baby.”
I came back into the master bedroom and my wife repeated, “I feel like pushing.” “Breath,” I said, “Just breath. Don’t push,” and I continued internally, “Please, God, Don’t Push!!!” The dispatcher was giving me instructions to collect any other necessities, wet towels, hot water etc. and when he heard she wanted to push he told me to lay her on her back. I asked her and she felt she was unable to move. Her hand had been lowered towards her bottom, “The head is coming!” OH MY GOD! I thought. I helped her lay on her back as she said this, her mother attempted to disrobe her. It wasn't fast enough, so I removed her lower garments. As I did this, my wife looked at me and said, “You are going to have to deliver our baby.” I acknowledged what she said, projecting as much external confidence as I could muster while in my mind I could only respond, "I'm WHAT?!!!!"
You Got This!
What a moment. Fathers are meant to witness the birth of their children, not partake in the process, let alone deliver them unassisted. “You can do it,” my wife said to me, as she stepped into the role of coach. In moments like the one I found myself in, there is no time to really think. You either react or respond and I, luckily, did what I needed to do. Mere seconds after I had disrobed my wife the head immerged.
“ I noticed the baby was purple; the umbilical cord was wrapped around my child's neck.”
I tried to support my wife the best I could, to prevent any tearing. As I got a better look at our child, I noticed the baby was purple; the umbilical cord was wrapped around my child’s neck. My child lay lifeless. All I could think was my wife saying, “Something’s wrong.” I quickly took my fingers and released the cord from my child’s neck, as I supported the right shoulder and gently pulled our baby into this world. I was so glad I'd paid attention in prenatal class.
When our baby came out there was no sign of breathing and, of course, I feared the worst. As I placed our child on our bed I waited...and then I heard the most beautiful sound. I heard the sound of our child crying. Thank you, God! What an experience – what a way to welcome your child and what a way to begin a life, just you, your wife, (and mother in-law peeking over your shoulder). Talk about an intimate moment, one I will never forget. What a gift!
I looked down at my child to check the sex. We did not find out what our baby's gender would be. We wanted it to be a surprise. We just never know how much of a surprise it would be finding out. I looked at my wife and smiled as I said, “It’s a girl!” I was then asked by the 911 dispatcher to place our baby on my wife’s bare-belly, for skin-to-skin contact to provide her warmth. My mother in-law and I gently took my daughter and handed her to my wife.
After the baby had been born, the dispatcher informed us that the ambulance had arrived. They were fast but my daughter was faster! I left my wife and my newborn daughter in the loving hands of my mother in-law as I made my way outside to provide the paramedics with the details of the birth. I invited them into our home to meet our new addition. Shortly after the paramedics unpacked they asked if I would like to cut the umbilical cord. "Thanks, I think I've done enough," I told them, "Be my guest." As a paramedic cut the cord, the midwives arrived, and the rest is history.
At approximately 2:20 am on October 1, 2014, Mila Ouellet Cumming was born.
Note: To-this-day, I am reminded that I did not in fact deliver the baby. That was my wife's job. I simply caught Mila and what an awesome catch it was!
Here are a few tips from Jennice Vilhauer, Ph.D., who is the Director of Emory University’s Adult Outpatient Psychotherapy Program in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science in the School of Medicine. on what to do to survive unexpected situations:
Pause Before You Act: This helps you choose your response vs. go with your reaction. Stopping & Breathing helped me to respond when feeling overwhelmed.
Don't assume that things you don't want are bad: Nothing has meaning until you give it meaning. Focusing on how you can respond not react can control the urge to catastrophize.
Plan for everything to turn out well: If the unexpected happens, look for the solution.
Trust in your ability to be okay: Focus on the challenges you've overcome prior to the event you find yourself in. You've done it before, you can do it again!
~ Love Robert