Sunday (well, some of Monday too).
Normally a Sunday is relatively bittersweet. You work the next day, but you have the day off. Sometimes I’d push Sundays to the edge and stay up way too late enjoying myself.
But this was not a typical Sunday night.
I come to bed, late, about 2 AM. I’m wiped out and ready for bed when I notice Cynthia is still awake. “Hun?” I ask.
She’s been having contractions for about an hour. A pang of thoughts runs through me. Is this it? Is it happening? Oh my god. But, it’s hard to say. Women have contractions without going into labor. After consoling with her for a few minutes she decides to go out into the living room, armed with her touchscreen Contraction Timer app, eager to see if this is the real deal.
I was eager to get to sleep. Either way, work the next day or labor, I knew sleep would be necessary. What I did not know is just how underscored that necessity truly is …
Naturally–as it is for her–sleep is impossible for me. I’m just laying there. I cannot think of anything but two things. (1) My wife might be in labor. I might be able to meet our first daughter, Clara, soon! (2) I feel like absolute shit. Oh no …
As it turns out, ‘soon’ was not exactly the right word to use, and I knew there was no way I could let a silly upset stomach hinder such an important moment. So I kept that little fact to myself.
My brother, Johnny, and I had patronized one of our routine locations, BW3, and had a typical good time. A typical good time usually involves at least two Long Island Iced Teas, and since we’re regulars there, they always come out good. Johnny wanted to ask out a girl he was getting good vibes from, and that was the primary impetus for that evening’s venture. What a double-edged sword! He got the girl’s number, and I got myself a ball of greeb rotating and writhing in my stomach, now mixing within a solution of anticipation and anxiety–making sleep a virtual impossibility.
Darkness on my left, sunshine on my right.
Groans came from the living room. I could hear them clearly as they wafted through the bedroom door I had left purposefully ajar. She was watching TV, but her groans were clearly distinguishable from the droning of the television programming (Tommy Boy, I later learned).
Several times I wander out into the living room and ask how she is doing. I glance at the data captured by the contraction timer and know instantly, this is labor. I ask her what she thinks, and she is uncertain, but I knew (and I think she did too).
She knew, but didn’t want to say it. Proclaiming this was labor, for it to not be, would have been a crushing moral defeat. The pregnancy had been really bothering her for the past week. She was frustrated. The other members of our natural birthing class had all given birth already–we were the last ones out of the gates.
I looked for the emotional signposts I, as the coach, was trained to look for. In early labor: Excitement. I didn’t see it. If she was excited, she was hiding it or too tired to realize it. So, I brushed it off. Not a big deal. I still think this is labor.
So I lay in my bed, desperate for sleep, and willing something to happen. (1) This pit in my stomach, caused by a nasty cocktail of habenero wing sauce and hard Iced Teas, needs to go away – quickly, or (2) this cannot be labor. I cannot feel like this during my daughter’s birth!
I had no clue.
I sleep a few ragged hours, starting from about 6 AM to 8 AM. It feels great, and really puts some of the ball of greeb in my stomach aside. Cynthia is still laboring, so I examine the data and ask her opinion.
We’re looking for regular contractions about one minute in duration and three to four minutes apart, and this needed to be happening for about an hour before we were to leave for the birthing center.
We were pretty far off the mark.
Finally, at 6 PM, Monday, after after 17 hours of laboring at home–the last hour of which was remarkably intense compared to the rest–we decided to send out the message to the family:
We’re leaving for the birth center.
Cynthia is extremely nervous to labor in the car. I don’t blame her. I was not nervous, but in overdrive-hyper-perception mode. I saw every vehicle in slow motion. I knew the color, make, and model of every vehicle, and the attention level of every driver within a 200 yard moving-radius from our vehicle. Nothing would stop us now.
The roads were wet. As I pulled out of the house earlier I had noticed a daunting veil of dark, nasty, stormy weather to the East. We were headed south. Maybe we’ll miss it, I had thought.
But now, we’re almost there and to my left, in the East sky, in front of a wicked darkness and through a thin sheet a rain, we can see a rainbow more vivid and full of sunlight than any I have ever seen. It is not a partial rainbow either, but extends a full 180 degrees from one part of the horizon to the next. Remarkable. I even got Cynthia to look at it between contractions (I was pretty proud of that achievement!).
To my right, I see the sun beginning its decent in the West, and the skies are a rich and deep azure. The clouds are detailed and limned with intense sunlight. In the middle, straight ahead, between the darkness to the East and the azure sunshine to the West, we were driving down a road that would change our lives forever. It was wet, slippery, and intimidating, but all around us we had such a wonderful tapestry of symbolism to drawn from.
The darkness was completely out shined by the brilliant rainbow. The rain was starting to filter in and just as I thought we were going to get hammered by the storm, we turned right onto the road that would lead to the birthing center. Also–quite symbolically–changing the left-to-right dichotomy of darkness and light to one of driving forward, into the beautiful blue skies while leaving the dreary darkness behind. But we left our mark, even on the darkest skies: a full and bright rainbow.
The most intense thing I’ve ever done.
The birthing center, Breath of Life (Clearwater, FL), is a fantastic facility. The midwives there are absolutely experts at what they do. Vicki, our midwife, lets us in. We are thrilled to see her. Vicki and Cynthia had developed a wonderful rapport. She’d impressed me greatly the few times we’d met previously.
Vicki plays a pivotal role in the final stages of our pregnancy, labor, and the birthing of our beautiful daughter.
We settle into our room, having no clue how long we’d be there while Vicki gets to work on her initial duties. She’s monitoring baby and Mom with her non-invasive intermittent-monitoring equipment and examines the data collected by the contraction timer.
She knew that we were still quite a ways off the mark. She knew little Clara was not coming out any time soon. She–being the expert she is–did not tell us this, but instead kept things positive and encouraging.
A significant amount of time goes by. We’re both happy to have our family there. My beloved Mother kept us company in the room, while my hero of a brother waited patiently in the family room. Cynthia’s mother, Justine, accompanied us in the room from time to time, and Cynthia’s Father waited patiently with Johnny in the family room. Cynthia’s dear friend, Mollie, decreed the official historian, labored with us. She was very sweet and caring throughout the whole event (even if she was kicked out of the room several times!). But more pressing than our loving family, we are deeply concentrating on each other.
It’s almost as if the whole world is slipping away. I never leave her side (except for the occasional restroom break which she is not happy about, at all, lol). Finally I notice that the early stages of labor are gone and she is in full-blown active labor.
It is more intense than I expected. Hours are passing. The contractions are regularly spaced, but they are still rather far apart. Exhaustion is starting to affect us both, especially Cynthia. She is such a strong woman, a real warrior, I think to myself. After a few hours, Cynthia releases and lurches into a bucket. This is a milestone. Cynthia feels a little rejuvenated.
Cynthia asks Vicki’s opinion, “Do you think it would be a good idea to do an internal exam, to see how far along I am?” Cynthia is terrible with surprises. She always prefers to know in advance. This is the ultimate unknown. We’ve been laboring for so long. Will it ever end? No. This will never end. Labor will last forever! Vicki thoughtfully talks Cynthia out of an exam. She asserted that baby and mom are fine. An exam is not necessary.
Really, what Vicki did, is save Cynthia from the intimidating reality that the finish line is likely several hours away still.
The transition stage of labor hits. We’re easily 20+ hours deep now. Who the heck is counting?! (Apparently we both were.) Cynthia is flat-out beat. We’ve tried every position in every corner of the room: the bed, the tub, the ball, the shower, even the toilet (to the intense chagrin of Cynthia’s mother!).
The clock in the bathroom is the enemy as Cynthia soaks in the tub. I see her arms trembling. She’s mumbling to herself. She is delusional, I realize. She has entered a state so deep within herself that everything is gone. All of the world has collapsed onto this one moment.
“How much longer?” she asks through a quivering bottom jaw. “Is it possible this is going to keep going, for hours?” Desperation in her voice.
Then it happened. The turning point. Cynthia looks at me, tears welling under her eyes, and says, “I don’t think I can do this … I cannot keep going.” Self-doubt! I think to myself. That’s it! This is the turning point. She is entering transition.
“You’re almost there, Hun,” I reassure her over and over again. “You’re almost there.” I was right, relatively speaking, but transition and pushing would last another 4+ hours. There was no way to predict such a thing.
The contractions are debilitatingly intense now. Cynthia is in a different world. The self-doubt escalates. We transition from the tub to the bed, to the shower, to the toilet, to the bed, and finally back to the tub, to then do it all again in a different order. During all of that Cynthia continues her journey through her own world. She’s mumbling to herself, and occasionally proclaiming to the room that “it’s over.” She cannot continue. She pleas for Vicki to tell her something encouraging. Can she push? Is she almost ready?
Vicki is a master midwife, truly. She always knew exactly what to say. She was a pillar of strength and security for Cynthia. We love her.
Cynthia, beyond desperate to move the proceedings forward starting pushing. “I’m pushing,” she says rather calmly through squinted eyes. “Vicki, I’m pushing,” she repeats, fishing for a response. Vicki knows better.
Some hours pass and I can barely think or stand. My back hurts so bad that I literally can barely do anything. She needs me. My pain is nothing in comparison. If only my body knew that … But I need to do something. We were alone. She’s soaking in the tub again. I drop down to the floor and start doing push ups, tricep dips, air squats, neck rolls and some shoulder rotations. There’s the second wind I needed!
“Aahhhhh! Oh my fu*&^ holy s%$# AHHHHH!” Cynthia screams at the top of her lungs a few hours later. Now she is pushing. The primal urge owns her body. She can do nothing but recover between her body’s intense contractions, and belt and growl during the contractions. It takes all the strength I have to provide balance against her intense grip. She is pulling on me harder than I thought possible. Her body quivers, and trembles, and her groans are now roars of defiance.
It is utterly agonizing to bear witness to such a thing. She is enduring so much. We’re standing. She’s leaning on me, holding on to me, and her cries are more gut-wrenching than I could have ever imagined. I was absorbing as much of it as I could. It took everything I had to not spontaneously break down into tears. It is–by far–the most intense thing I’ve ever done.
Laying on the bed, a brief moment of relief rolls over Cynthia as her water breaks all over some pads during one of the contractions.
She’s in the tub now. I’m leaning over the tub. Vicki had called the birthing assistant a while ago and she arrived shortly after. The whole world is gone to me now too. I’m on the verge of breaking down emotionally. We know the time is near. The baby will be here soon. In between super-intense pushing contractions Vicki instructs Cynthia to reach down and see if she can feel her.
Later Cynthia tells me that in that moment she felt hair. She felt her baby’s head and there was hair! She said this was the wind she needed for the final pushes.
Then we hear it. “Put your hands in the water, Cynthia.” says Vicki. “Pull up your baby.”
Cynthia pulls our daughter, Clara, out of the water. She’s perfect. My wife is perfect. Our families are perfect. Clara tucks up her legs and lays on Cynthia’s chest. They’re perfect.
That moment is an explosion of emotions. That moment is perfect. Cynthia then calls out for her Dad, and I call out for my brother (both Moms and Mollie were already there). We are so blessed.
It’s 2:59 AM, Tuesday, September 27th in the year 2011. Clara Justine Fugit is born a 100% natural birth to two loving parents: Cynthia Burns Fugit and David Vincent Fugit.