Dad Shares the Very Different Birth Stories of Babies No. 1 and 2

No two kids are the same—and no two birth stories are the same. Here’s one dad’s perspective on what it was like to witness the birth of his sons.
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Published June 18, 2020
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I go on these long-winded, enthusiastic tangents about birth that makes my wife (lovingly) shake her head. I cannot wrap my head around the fact that humans make humans through sex. Not only did whatever higher power you believe in provide the ability to create life, but she also put a cherry on top and made it happen remarkably.

Lots of people have kids. It’s a common experience—yet the birth of a child is incredibly personal and unique. The birth stories of our two kids were very different from each other. I keep trying to make sense of what happened in each. They were so intense yet normalized by the experiences of others. It seems like every time I tell the story, I pull up midway through and realize the person listening probably doesn’t care that much. Or maybe they have an equally intense story. I don’t know. Regardless, it’s still essential to share. I’m a teacher and feel passionate about dropping knowledge that might support, challenge or embolden agency, change, and hope in others. So here are the near-opposite birth stories of our two children, as retold from the partner perspective. (My wife’s versions are unique and special to her, and I couldn’t begin to speak from the giver-of-life viewpoint.)

Irving’s Birth Story

My wife labored for 24 hours with our first child. The contractions started around 4 p.m. on Saturday. Each contraction was about six minutes apart, and we casually discussed whether or not it was actually happening. This was our first baby, so we had no clue what we were talking about. We called our doctor and decided to go to the hospital at 10 p.m. By 1 a.m., we were back home, 1 cm dilated and told to come back later.

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Shanna had a rough rest of the night. She labored while I slept. (Unfair. But that’s what happened.) Around 6 a.m., she had had enough and woke me to go back to the hospital. We both remember the drive and all its bumps very well. Again in triage where we started, Shanna was admitted, this time at 6 cm dilated. They took us to the labor room.

She was in pain and on her back the majority of the day. I didn’t know how to help her, so the nurse became our go-to person. I was useless and couldn’t stop thinking about the stupid outfit I had chosen to wear: a wildly plaid, uncomfortable shirt, a terrible choice for Shanna to look at for hours on end and for future photos. Don’t wear an obnoxious plaid pattern; ask your partner what she would like you to wear. I didn’t eat or plan for food, which was a bad call.

At 2 p.m. our doctor arrived. We liked her—laidback and confident; she was a Lily Tomlin type who put our minds at ease. We knew we were in good hands. At that point, she told Shanna the baby needed to be turned, so she had to get on her side and put her leg in a stirrup. This is what Shanna would tell you was the worst part of the whole experience. After about 20 excruciating minutes, the doctor came back and said it was time to push.

After pushing for an hour, Baby Boy Hayden (BBH) was born at 4:11 p.m. on April 8, 2018. Shanna delivered naturally without any medication. And here I am telling people I drink my coffee black, thinking it’s badass.

We had a kid! BBH was small, born 5 pounds 7 ounces. After a short skin-to-skin meeting with mom, he was moved to a warming machine. Because he was little, he needed help getting his body temperature at the desired level. I stayed with BBH while mom delivered the placenta and received stitches. She was a rock star. Next, BBH was ready for his glucose test, a heel prick. His numbers came back low but nothing to be alarmed about, as he was seven minutes old.

We headed upstairs to our recovery room. More temperature and glucose tests. More bad results. The doctors decided to send BBH to the nursery. I kept wondering, “Is this normal? Are they being cautious, or is something wrong?” I was standing over my son with two nurses close to midnight when we got another round of bad tests. The doctors made the call: BBH needed to be admitted to the NICU.

They rushed BBH downstairs. I bumped into a recovering Shanna in a wheelchair, and she was frantically asking where we were going. I told her and wheeled her down. We were admitted to the NICU by an older, perfectly kind, and gentle nurse who placed an IV in BBH. His hands were so small. It was late, and we were tired. I still remember the moment we got to the NICU bay where BBH would stay for the next bit of time. All of a sudden, we are alone with our son, who was hooked up to machines, fighting.

The two weeks in the NICU were hell. The world around us ceased to exist. We had one thing on our minds. When I would eat or go outside for a break, it felt like an out-of-body experience. For those two weeks, we took shifts with BBH, changed him, fed him bottles, went home without him, experienced a feeding tube, talked with doctors, took his sugar and temperature levels, and watched his heart rate. At one point during BBH’s NICU stay, I had to leave to teach a class. I smelled and looked like sh*t, and I can’t even imagine what I was talking about with the students.

On day five, we happily settled on the name Irving. A family name. The baby next to Irving was addicted to methamphetamine and was going through the stages of withdrawal. The baby’s mom would be police-escorted to the NICU in handcuffs once a day to visit. It was tough to watch. Perspective. We felt lucky but needed to get out of the hospital.

On day eight, Irving began trending upward. His levels started to even out, and he moved back to the nursery. Thank goodness. All he had to do was sustain those levels, and we’d be home free. He did, and we were out. Irving was a warrior.

No one should ever have to leave the hospital without their baby. It’s an awful, lonely, water-at-the-bottom-of-a-garbage-can feeling. Not everyone is as lucky as our experience, and I send my love. Shanna and I rose to the occasion, and our relationship that started as rock-solid was now catapulted to superhero status. Irving is now two and recently became a big brother.

Cecil’s Birth Story

At 4:30 a.m. Shanna woke me up to say she was in labor. This time we had a one-year-old, so preparations for heading to the hospital were different. As Shanna labored in the upstairs bathroom, I began getting everything ready. I grabbed bags, made Irving’s breakfast, and at 6:30 a.m. I made two phone calls: The first to our friends who graciously volunteered to babysit until my mom could make the 3.5-hour drive from Chicago, and the second call to my mom to get her on the road.

Shanna was in pain, and the labor intensified. She called our doula for advice. (We had decided to have a doula as an added layer of support in case anything happened, as it had with Irving.) She instructed Shanna to get to the hospital, and she would meet us there. At this point, our friends had arrived, and I made the final preparations to leave. Shanna’s pain was so intense now that she struggled to get down the stairs. Her contractions were every 40 seconds. It had been time to go for quite a while.

It was a cold day, so I made sure Shanna had a jacket. She refused to put it on as we walked to the car. She was hot and had been sweating. Getting into the car, she managed to kneel on the passenger seat while hugging the headrest and looking onto the back seat floor. It was the best she could do. As I pulled out of the driveway, Shanna said, “I have to push.” It was 8:06 a.m.

The next 18 minutes were something out of a movie. Never has my life been as intense as those next moments. The baby was coming, and we hadn’t even gotten out of the neighborhood. Google maps said 14 minutes to the hospital. We have a brand-new car, so the “fasten seat belt” ding was loud, and the longer a person goes without being buckled, the ding escalates and becomes more frequent.

I quickly contemplated our options. The last words our doula said over the phone, “get to the hospital,” made my decision. I averaged 67 miles per hour through our town. It’s a small community, rather sleepy at times, with a 30 mph speed limit on most of the roads. I saw a police car ahead, and, thinking of movies I had seen, I felt a police escort would do the trick. I sped up and attempted to flag down the officer with my flashers and horn. No luck. He pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot. So the play was to just get to the ER.

There was a train in the distance. Our small town is known for its trains; they often play a role in getting anywhere on time or with efficiency. During Shanna’s pregnancy, locals made remarks about getting “railroaded” or stopped by a train on our way to the hospital. I started to sweat, thinking about what I would do if we get railroaded. Shanna was breathing in rhythm, occasionally yelling that she had to push. No, don’t, please, hold on!

The train cleared in the distance, but then a line appeared of about 30 cars. I went into the oncoming traffic lane with flashers on, blared the horn, and ran six red lights. Shanna says the only time she looked up was when someone was about to T-bone the car. Scary stuff—but we made it. Later, Shanna mentioned she used a pebble on the floor of the back seat as a focal point for her breathing, and she credits this rock as a saving grace. It now sits on our living room mantle.

Because our doula had called ahead, a labor and delivery nurse immediately met us in the hospital driveway. Shanna yelled that the baby was out. The nurse quickly ripped off her pants and let us know that the baby was not out and that we had time. Instant shot of relief. We put Shanna on a gurney and then parked the car.

The delivery room was filled with people—maybe 15 nurses, doctors, and students. I was focused on Shanna, not sure what everyone was doing. Shanna was on her hands and knees at this point with her right cheek against the bed. On two occasions, a male ER doctor ordered her to flip onto her back. She refused. After the second instance, a labor and delivery nurse emphasized that there would be no rolling onto her back and implied he back off. (Later, the lifesaving nurse mentioned she would most likely be written up for the way she spoke to the doctor. Ridiculous.)

About four minutes later and one and a half pushes, at 8:24 a.m., our second child was born at 5 pounds 10 ounces, and 20 inches long. (We make small babies, I guess.) Shanna was a rockstar (no surprise) and again delivered naturally with no meds. This time I was with it enough to announce the gender: another boy! We flipped Shanna onto her back, and she started some skin-to-skin with Baby Boy Two (BB2). I cut the umbilical cord, and Shanna delivered the placenta. The female body is unbelievable. I often joke with Shanna that my body is 2+2=4, while hers is advanced trigonometry and astrophysics combined.

Small babies have a harder time staying warm. There’s no meat on their bones, so BB2 spent a reasonable amount of time under the warmer. Because of our first experience with Irving, I was all over the tests, and the temperature reads at an annoyingly obnoxious level. The nurse reiterated that all babies are different, but I didn’t care. “What was that number? Is that normal? Is that low?” But a couple of low temperature reads quickly evened out. My adrenaline started to wear off, and I had to sit down. Shanna and I decided to name the baby Cecil after her godmother (Cecilia).

Our two birth stories were opposites. Irving was born in Vegas while Cecil was born in small-town Indiana. The first birth lasted 24 hours, and the second a mere 18 minutes. Our first child spent two weeks in the NICU, and our second came home in 48 hours. Childbirth is so common and yet so personal at the same time. Fred Rogers said, “One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is the gift of accepting that child’s uniqueness.” Both of my kids taught me this lesson from minute one.

Steve Hayden is a professional teacher, an above-average tennis player and fan of popcorn on the stove, Childish Gambino and drinking water. He likes to write about all of it and more. Follow him on Instagram at @sdothayden.

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