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Delivery Countdown

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.