The practice of having a birth partner is now common in mainstream America. The assumption is that you will have (at minimum) your partner, a doula or another support person at your side. Our generation has recognized that there’s more than one way to labor and that moms can benefit from having someone there to provide comfort and assist in communicating their preferences to the medical staff.
Since there is more than one right way to labor, I decided to kick it old-school. Not long ago, many of our fathers were relegated to the waiting room. My mom had never heard of a doula till her babies were having babies. So, when I went to the hospital to have my second child, I left my husband and toddler at home.
Preterm labor was a major factor in my decision. It started after we returned home from a swim on a hot July Sunday. I was 33 weeks pregnant. I showered and put on one of the few things that still fit—a big pink maternity nightgown. At my last prenatal checkup, they told me that my baby was breach. I did summersaults at the pool in hopes that the baby would rotate in my belly. The slightest activity exhausted me, and I had no plans of going back out that day.
Then the cramps started. Contractions can be brought on by dehydration, so I grabbed a glass of water and put my feet up. Gallons of water later, it was time to get dressed. The cramps had turned into regular contractions, and I needed to go to the labor and delivery unit.
We don’t have nearby family, and I had not yet contacted friends regarding emergency childcare in the event of labor. I told my husband the doctors could probably stop the contractions and that I expected to be sent home the following morning on bed rest. In my gut, I knew that wasn’t true. I’m such a wuss that I couldn’t own what I was doing.
Our 3-year-old had been born at 32 weeks due to a partial placental abruption, and I figured I was in for round two—despite being monitored by a high-risk OB and receiving synthetic progesterone injections to reduce the risk of a second abruption. A few weeks prior, I had admitted to my mom that I was considering flying solo through labor and delivery, and she seemed to think that was sad and weird.
I helped our toddler pick out a book for Dad to read before bed, and slipped out the door. I took a car service to the hospital where I was admitted. My contractions became unspeakably painful with almost no break in between. They did an ultrasound and confirmed that the baby was still upside down. Then my water broke. That sealed the deal—I was not going home in the morning. I was screaming like a wild woman and writhing around in the bed. The surgeon latter told me that this intense labor is characteristic of full placental abruption.
While being whisked down to the OR, I was signing consent forms along the way. They asked if I had called my emergency contact. I said no. Everything was happening so fast, and I was in a lot of pain. I didn’t want to scream into the phone and scare my husband. The man who was holding the clipboard reappeared with his cell phone. I gave him my husband’s number, and he called for me. “Your wife is having an emergency C-section,” he said. “She will call you when it is over.” End of phone call. My husband said he made some sounds like “Huh?” and “Uh?” in response.
It was around midnight, and there was no way my husband could fall back asleep. He Googled “emergency C-section,” but then made the smart decision to close his laptop. To calm his nerves, he did laundry and straightened up our apartment! I later commended him on his choice of activities. He was at my side for our previous preterm delivery and knew that there is not a whole lot either of us would have control over in the hospital. He is a man who likes to keep busy—stillness and calm are unfamiliar concepts. In the end, he understood my choice.
The surgeon told me she would have the baby out in 10 minutes, and she did. I was told the placenta came right out with the baby. I heard my son cry and caught a glimpse of his face before he was taken to the NICU. Lying there for the next hour and a half while they were sewing me up, I felt relatively calm.
When our first son was born, my husband put his strong face on. The first time around I could see that the extended labor and preterm delivery and its inherent chaos really wore him out. He wanted to help, but there was nothing he could do. I worried about him. I always worry too much about our 3-year-old. With both of them safe at home, I could completely focus on getting through this.
Plus, I’m an introvert. I’m comfortable being alone, and I usually need solitude to process intense experiences. I had quiet time as I stabilized and was them moved to the maternity ward. I talked with my husband on the phone and asked the nurses for news about the baby’s condition. Without a support person, I felt that I had more space to take it all in.
Going it alone is probably not the best route for most moms. However, don’t feel you have to have a sidekick. Delivering with just the medical staff or midwife may be fine if it fits your personality, family and the circumstances of your birth.