I watched my daughter as she labored with her first child. She was being attended to by labor and delivery nurses, a physician who inserted the epidural, and her obstetrician who wandered in from time to time. I could only stand and watch. The words lyricist Sheldon Harnick wrote for Tevye to sing in the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof kept going through my head: “Is this the little girl I carried?”
Labor Back When
This daughter’s birth years ago had been so different from the births of her two older siblings. It was the first time I had been awake for the birth, as I had convinced my doubting obstetrician (and social friend) that I wanted this baby by natural childbirth. The usual practice at that time was the administration of what was called “twilight sleep,” in which the laboring mother was given a mixture of two drugs called Demerol and Scopolamine. The goal was for the patient to be awake and somewhat alert during the delivery, but she then had no memory of the event or pain. I had wanted to experience my child’s birth in full.
I recall the labor as painful, but bearable. I relaxed and meditated between contractions, and when it came time for my baby to be born, I convinced the doctor again to set up a mirror. He did so, albeit reluctantly, and I had the joy of seeing my daughter’s head emerge, while feeling her give a kick as she came down the birth canal.
An Honor to Behold
My daughter’s husband and I were able to encourage her to relax until it was time to push, not through words, especially, but by giving a tiny ice chip, wiping her head with a cool cloth, and just by being there.
Finally, the doctor came into the room—another change from earlier times when most women labored in one room but were then wheeled into the cold delivery room on a gurney. This day, we remained in a lovely room painted with soft, soothing colors and adorned with art on the walls, a TV and video player, chairs for the family, and a discrete area for the soon-to-be-born infant complete with warming lights, clamps, suction to remove any remaining mucus in the mouth and nose, and a waiting identification band and finger/foot printing kit.
The Main Event
I found myself straining as my daughter was instructed to push and holding my breath when she was told to stop pushing. As I helped support one of her legs, I saw a bit of dark hair and part of a tiny head emerge. The baby’s head was crowning, just as I remember my daughter’s doing thirty-some years before. A final few pushes, and the head appeared, then the tiny shoulders, chest, and hips; and yes, it was a boy. A beautiful healthy boy.