My cousin went into labour early Wednesday morning when her water broke weeks ahead of her due date. She called me at about 5:30 AM panicked. She needed help and her partner is no longer there. More importantly, my cousin wanted me present at the birth. I had to put my pain aside to help her as much as I could. I was able to sleep for a couple more hours, eat something, and then I dressed and made my way to the hospital around 10:30 AM. Even though I was in a lot of pain as I traveled to the hospital by taxi, I knew how important it was that I be there for her. When I got to the hospital, she had her midwives assisting her – I felt like I could use some medical assistance myself. The midwives were monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and making sure my cousin or the baby didn’t experience any significant medical distress. Two of my cousin’s work colleagues were also there. They helped sort out the childcare arrangements. They took my cousin’s 2-year-old to her best friend where he would be cared for for the day; and brought her 5-year-old to the hospital so she could be a part of the birth experience.
As the day progressed, although my cousin’s contractions became stronger, the birth was not moving forward as quickly as the midwives expected since her water broke so early in the morning. This became a concern because the baby was pre-mature – I learned that if a pre-mature baby is not delivered soon after the mother’s water breaks the baby is at risk of developing an infection. To help things along, the midwives gave my cousin a dose of oxytocin. This is a form of inducing labour where the “midwife starts with a small dose [of oxytocin] and gradually increases it until your contractions are strong and frequent enough for your baby to be born.” The oxytocin started to work a short while after the midwife put it in her IV, but not enough to coax the baby out.
The strength and frequency of my cousin’s contractions didn’t increase significantly until early evening. When they did, the midwives helped my cousin into a bathtub of warm water so she could cope better with the pain. I couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be for me to get in that tub, have warm water showered on my body, and two people massaging my pains away. However, in that moment, I had to focus on my contribution to my cousin’s comfort, which was stroking her hair, feeding her ice chips and water, letting her squeeze my hand during contractions, telling her encouraging words, and wiping her tears as she pleaded for the baby to come out. I wished there was something I could do to grant her wish, but all we could do was wait for the baby to be ready. Unfortunately, he continued to take his sweet time and – as children do – his siblings, who had waited for his arrival, became more tired and irritable as the time ticked on. Hours past their bedtime, they were sent home to bed, but not without a struggle. They wanted to stay with their mother and to meet their new brother or sister, so they cried heartbreakingly loud when they had to leave.
Finally, at about 10:30 PM Wednesday night, I had the honour of witnessing a new life miraculously push his way into the world. My eyes filled with tears. I was the only family member there to hear him cry for the first time, at what I can only imagine was the shock of so abruptly leaving the weightless, warmth and comfort of his mother’s belly. I was the first one to see his mother hold him closely to her breast. I was there to watch as the midwives guided the placenta out of my cousin’s womb, and then see my cousin cut her baby’s umbilical cord, essentially sealing the permanence of his entry into the world. After the cord cutting, the midwives weighed him. For a pre-mature baby he weighed in at just over six pounds, which is a very healthy weight for a baby born so early.
After his weighing, I watched my cousin feed her baby by breast for the first time. It was amazing to watch him suck her breast as if he’d always done it. When he finished feeding the midwives set about completing all the checks needed to make sure he was fully healthy. My cousin honoured me further by allowing me to be the first person to dress his tiny body. I did that more carefully than I’ve done anything my entire life being mindful to support his head and gently guide is fragile limbs into his clothes. Then I sat holding him snuggly wrapped in a blanket for the first time. He shut his dark eyes and fell asleep in my arms. I watched him sleep then dozed off too, while the midwives took care of his mother, bathing and dressing her to leave the labour room for the maternity recovery ward where they would stay for a few days because of the baby’s pre-mature arrival.
As much as my cousin needed me to support her on Wednesday, she gave me something priceless in return. I witnessed a birth and held a new life in my arms. For those moments when I focused on my cousin and the baby, and all those wonderful firsts, I pushed away the thoughts of the pain filling my body. For those moments, something other than my pain overwhelmed my senses, and I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than that.
Rod Stewart – Forever Young