Zeb's Big Day (March 13, 1998)

5:30 AM. The first contraction wakes up Patti (and me). It is more intense then the ones she's had over the past few weeks. Could this be The Day? More contractions follow at 30, then 20, minute intervals.

7:25 AM. Now we're fully awake. Recent contractions have been 15 minutes apart. Zeb is unusually quiet; I try to comfort him. I start tracking the strength and intervals of the contractions in Excel (right).

9:10 AM. The contraction intervals had dipped below 10 minutes but now seem to be on the rise, with the last one at 21 minutes. We decide to stick with our plan of seeing a doctor at 9:45, to receive Cytotec, a cervix-ripening gel.

10:45 AM. After waiting in the waiting room for almost an hour, we are put in a room where Patti is hooked up to a fetal monitor. Finally the doctor arrives and applies the gel in a procedure that takes all of about 15 seconds.

The experience reminds me why we have chosen not to have the birth in a hospital. Even though this doctor seemed to be very nice, the whole process of being put in a hospital gown and on an examining table, hooked up to a fetal monitor, and ending up seeing the doctor for a grand total of just a few minutes after waiting almost an hour is an unsettling one. It's the whole "birth as a medical condition for the doctor to fix" vs "birth as a wonderful experience for the mom to cherish" thing again.

Noon. The contractions pick up a bit, with the intervals under the 10 minute mark again. Patti gets an urge for Pancakes; we head off for lunch at the Pancake Chef.

1:30 PM. The contractions are just starting to come in under the 5-minute mark. We both simultaneously come up with the idea that this is a great time to wash the car.

2:30 PM. During the car wash, contractions have been coming every about every 3 minutes. I notice that Patti's "contractions strength" scale has suffered some grade deflation. This morning, a relatively mild contraction merited a 5; now, one that brings tears to Patti's eyes gets just a 2. Clearly, Patti is starting to recall how intense they will get.

After we finish washing the car, I notice some spots that have been missed and suggest we clean it again. "No," says Patti, the first time in the day either of us displayed any common sense. "It's time to go home." We hop in the car and dash home.

3:00 PM. We get in touch with Janine, one of the midwives. She asks about the timing of the contractions and then suggests we meet her over at the birth center at 4:15 PM.

3:30 PM. We're stuck in traffic on Mercer. I discover how a couple of weeks of background contractions have really inured me to them. I notice a couple of people staring at us and my first reaction is "jeez, haven't you ever seen a full-term woman writhing in pain and screaming at the top of her lungs before?" It takes us about 20 minutes to get through the traffic and the inconsiderate stares.

4:10 PM. More stop-and-go traffic in the final stretch of 405. The contractions are 2-3 minutes apart and are now up to 5 on Patti's new scale. I stop my tracking of them.

4:15 PM. We pull into the birth center. Both of the midwives, Heike and Janine, are there and are setting up. A quick check of Patti shows she is already 5 cm dilated. Patti heads straight for the hot tub.

4:45 PM. The contractions are clearly very intensely painful. Heike asks Patti if there is anything she wants - water, ice, ?. Patti replies "the shortest delivery on record." I had no idea how close we'd come to this.

4:55 PM. Patti gets too hot in the tub and comes out on the bed.

5:00 PM. Patti tells Heike she has an overwhelming urge to push. It seems too early to be at this stage, but Heike tells Patti to go for it.

5:05 PM. A couple of pushes and Zeb is born.

It is quite a magical moment for me. One second it's just Patti on the bed, and the next there's a new teeny person there with her. It's a person I've talked to and played with over the course of months, and feel like I've grown to know, but had never met until that moment.

Just as he was in the womb, he was very quiet with this new experience - just sat there and grokked it - not a peep from him.

Heike is a wonder of efficiency. She clears Zeb's throat and nostrils, makes sure Patti is OK, clamps the umbilical cord, and tends to Zeb. He is a bit blue and she has the oxygen hose in his face in a flash. After a few anxious minutes, he gets pink. Meanwhile, the placenta, a big red liver-looking thing, is born. Heike pronounces it healthy, making me wonder what an unhealthy placenta looks like.

Zeb is looking fine. He gets a 7 on his 1-minute apgar score - perfect in all categories except his color (too blue) and the fact that he hasn't yet cried (they deduct for that?). At 5 minutes, when he is more pink, he gets an 8.

5:15 PM. Zeb is in Patti's arms, where he'll stay for most of the next couple of hours. Heike insists that Patti eat something, so I go get all of us some sandwiches.

After the excitement: Brian, Patti, and Heike

8:30 PM. Part of the birth center philosophy is to get Mom & Dad & Baby home as soon as it is safe to do so. After a final exam of Zeb, some new baby instructions, and an arrangement to come check on us over the weekend, Heike and Janine send us off.

9:15 PM. We're home. I don't know first-hand what it is like for a dad the first night at a hospital birth, but I have to say that being able to enjoy that first night with our baby in the privacy and comfort of our own home was just wonderful.

Overall, I was quite impressed with the midwife / birth center experience. I was a skeptic at first, but after months of researching safety issues, getting to know Heike and Janine, taking tours of the birth center and of Swedish, I really came around. Birth is a wonder-filled special experience, and I found that the midwife / birth center approach really enhanced that. It's certainly not for everyone, but for us it was just right.