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Dad’s-Eye View of Delivery

TWO WEEKS BEFORE DUE DATE The fact of Miki's pregnancy took a while to sink in. Before she showed, the reality of what was happening (and what was going to happen) didn't really hit me. When her stomach began to round out, I was so busy readying the baby's room and reading parenting books that there was no time to worry about exactly how the baby would arrive. Now that's all I can think about.

ONE WEEK BEFORE DUE DATE I've read that first babies are usually late, but I can't shake the feeling that it could happen at any time. My main concern at this point is for Miki and the baby to be healthy. I banish worst-case scenarios from my mind.

DUE DATE PLUS TWO DAYS Miki's due date came and went. The doctor wants to see her again in four days. If nothing has happened by then, inducing labor will become a possibility. I've never even thought about that before. I realize it might complicate our plans for a natural childbirth.

DUE DATE PLUS THREE DAYS It's the beginning of a summer weekend, but this one has an ominous feel. Miki calls the doctor to report some spotting. He tells her to keep an eye on it, be aware of the baby's movement, and call back if anything changes. And by the time we go to bed around 11 P.M., it's just another night.

DUE DATE PLUS FOUR DAYS When I awake at 6 A.M., Miki is already up. Actually, she never went to sleep. She started having contractions shortly after I dozed off. As night turned to morning, they became stronger and more frequent. At 8 A.M. Miki finally calls the doctor. After reading about false labor, she is determined not to suffer the embarrassment of going to the hospital too early only to be sent home. But when she describes her contractions (and trepidations), the doctor tells her it's much more embarrassing to give birth in the toilet -- which apparently some women have done -- than to come in with false labor. Get to the hospital now, he says.

9 A.M. We just lived out that scene where the couple drives to the hospital in their 4x4, the determined-looking pregnant woman heads inside, and the nervous husband grapples with extra pillows and his wife's long-ago-packed suitcase. Now we're in the labor and delivery area, and Miki has changed into a hospital gown and is resting in bed. While I fill out forms, a nurse tests Miki's blood and hooks her up to a wall of monitors.

Throughout nine months of ob/gyn visits, we met three of the four doctors in our practice, so we expected to see a familiar face at the hospital. We didn't. Dr. L. was that fourth doctor, and he just came on duty. He's going to be with us for the duration. He checks Miki's cervix, and sure enough, she's 2 to 3 centimeters dilated and in early labor. Much to Miki's relief, they won't be sending her home anytime soon.

NOON We've been here three hours, and by now the contractions are a lot stronger and much more frequent. Miki decides to take a shower to ease her pain. Our nurse, Kelly, arranges a chair in the middle of the shower and gives us a few towels. The warm water works: While Miki's contractions still hurt, the shower is a great help.

2:20 P.M. We left the shower thinking all was well, but Miki's next contraction was painful. Seeing her this way is hard to take, and I begin to feel helpless. Encouraging words and a backrub do little to ease her discomfort.

3 P.M. Back to the shower: It excels where words and backrubs fail. Miki sits back in the chair while I hold the showerhead over her stomach. Kelly comes in to check the baby's heart rate -- it's fine, but my heart is racing.

When we came to the hospital, I expected it would all be over by now. Miki would be resting quietly with our new son or daughter, and I would simply look on with pride. Now I try not to look at my watch. I'm not thinking about when all this will be over: Instead I'm taking it one contraction at a time. I keep telling Miki that each contraction brings us a step closer to our baby, and that the toughest ones are the most productive ones. Easy for me to say.

6:15 P.M. We left the shower two hours ago, and things have been calm for the last 20 minutes. In between those times, however, it got a little scary. Miki's contractions were becoming unbearable, so we decided to get an epidural. First Miki was hooked up to an IV, and we had to wait while a bag drained into her arm. The anesthesiologist arrived when the bag was nearly empty. To my surprise I was asked to leave the room while the tube was inserted into Miki's back. The anesthesiologist said that I might faint when I saw the needle go in, and the possibility of cracking my head open when I fell to the floor made me an insurance liability. So at the hardest part for Miki so far, when her pain was at its peak, I left and waited in the hall. When I was finally invited back into the room, Miki was more calm than she'd been in hours. Just seeing her resting comfortably changes my entire outlook. Now that the epidural is in place, I expect that the worst is behind us.

7 P.M. Apparently the epidural was the calm before the storm, because another crisis just ended. As I was settling in for a much-needed rest, one of the monitors connected to Miki began beeping loudly. Three people came rushing into the room, including Dr. L. for some reason, the baby's heart rate had dropped to 45 beats per minute, and everyone went to work bringing it back up. Dr. L. began massaging the baby's head through Miki's abdomen while someone else gave her a shot of Brethine, a drug that slows contractions. The whirling flow of people and medical terms made things seem very, very scary.

Almost as quickly as the baby's heart rate dropped, it returned to normal. And even though the doctor was explaining everything he was doing, and I was the only one in the room who seemed really worried, I began to wonder why we were doing this in the first place. However wonderful our baby is, it can't be worth putting Miki in danger like this. For the first time, I think one child will be plenty.

8:40 P.M. Dr. L. had been coming in and out all day, but now he's visiting more frequently. He has just attached an internal monitor to gauge the intensity of the contractions. After a few minutes, it's clear they aren't quite strong enough. Although Miki is 9 cm dilated, it's still not time to push. To help move things along, our new nurse, Gail, adds Pitocin, a labor inducer, to Miki's IV. Dr. L. says that every half hour they'll add a bit more Pitocin, and by midnight it should be time to push. He encourages Miki to sleep now.

The hospital seems deserted. Miki is the only one still in labor. In fact, several women have come in and delivered since we arrived this morning. The lack of activity in the hallways and the general sense of quiet has helped us relax. Now we're just resting and waiting.

10 P.M. The Pitocin made a difference, but it's not the one we expected. Although the contractions got stronger and came faster, the baby's heart rate dropped again, to 75 beats per minute. This time, as Dr. L. massaged the baby's head, he also inserted a tube that injected a solution of warm water into the womb. The idea was to float the umbilical cord, since it might have gotten pinched and caused the distress. Meanwhile, Gail strapped an oxygen mask on Miki's face and helped her roll onto her right side. Almost immediately the baby's heart rate increased.

Now that Miki and I are alone again, a feeling of despair washes over me. This was supposed to be a natural, life-affirming event. But Miki is lying in a hospital bed with wires and tubes everywhere. She looks like she's fighting for her life. The scene makes me feel nauseous. I definitely don't want to have another child.

12 A.M. Out of the blue, the epidural wore off. Miki started shaking uncontrollably, obviously in incredible pain. After a few minutes the anesthesiologist arrived, but it took another 15 minutes for the new dose to take effect.

This is the last thing we expected. No one ever mentioned that the epidural could wear off. Now that Miki is comfortable again, Gail checks to see if there's been any further dilation. Miki is still 9 cm. It looks like this baby's not going anywhere.

1:15 A.M. Gail and Dr. L. do another examination. Miki's cervix has swollen. The doctor tells us it's "time to throw in the towel." He'll have to do a c-section.

After 16-plus hours at the hospital, you'd think this news would be devastating, but it isn't: It's actually a relief. To me it means the end is near. As I change into hospital scrubs, Gail and a few other nurses get Miki ready for the roll down the hall. A few minutes later I'm walking beside her. Maybe it's because I'm dressed in these doctor's clothes, but I feel confident. We suddenly realize we're about to find out whether it's a boy or a girl. It's the first time either of us has thought about that since we entered the hospital.

1:45 A.M. I have to wait outside as the final preparations are made, but after about 10 minutes I'm in the operating room with Miki and a team of doctors and nurses. I sit on a stool next to Miki's head, with the anesthesiologist right next to me. There's a curtain at Miki's neck that hides the rest of her body. Miki says she doesn't feel a thing as they make the incision. While the doctors operate on her we talk about how amazing this whole process is.

1:56 A.M. A few minutes later we hear a tiny, muffled cry. Dr. L. asks me if I want to see our baby. I expect to see him holding the child in his arms, but as I emerge from our side of the curtain, I see one of the doctors still pulling the baby out. I don't have the stomach for scenes like this on TV, but here I can't look away. At first, all that's visible is the head, but then the whole body comes out. Dr. L. says, "You have a daughter." Then someone asks her name. As I say "Dayna," I'm filled with a sense of bliss.

Before any of this happened, people told me how life-changing it was to have a child. Only now do I understand. Dayna has only been here for a few minutes, but she's already the most precious thing to us in the world.

2:30 A.M. I'm in the nursery with Dayna while Miki rests in recovery, and I feel happier than I can ever remember. The events of the last day and a half are a distant memory; in fact, I'm already thinking about having another child.

Writer Vince Beatty lives in Monmouth Beach, NJ.

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