My son was born on a Monday morning. I had spent that Saturday organizing his nursery, washing all his new clothes, and packing my bag for the hospital. When I finally laid down that night, sleep found me quickly. The usual trips to the bathroom interrupted the night. But this time, the cramping was different — longer and more painful. I am an obstetrician, so I knew that this was probably latent labor. That’s the stage of labor that could last days, especially this being my first baby. I made sure I kept drinking water and resting. I knew that active labor could start at any time. The next morning, I groggily got up, and went to breakfast with my husband at our favorite restaurant. Then I started straightening up the house – I was supposed to be hosting our office book club that night.
The contractions started around lunch – I hoped that these were real deal, because they definitely “took my breath away.” My labor and delivery nurses would routinely tell patients that this was their guide for on when they should come to the hospital. I began taking my own advice and going through the steps I had described to my patients as what you do before you come to the hospital. Drink lots of water and lay down? Easy enough to say, but a lot harder to do when it feels like your hips are going to explode. The warm bath, my next step in comfort measures, lasted about two minutes, and I needed my husband to rescue me out of the bathtub. I finally let him take me to the hospital, hoping that I was at least starting the labor process.
My friends at the nurses station smiled widely as I walked through the doors of the labor and delivery unit. My nurse excitedly informed me that I was definitely in active labor. I exhaled, thankful that at least all the pain was doing something.
Then, I could feel the nervousness start to build as I met my husband’s eyes. This was it.
All the theoretical conversations about how it would be, all the preparations we had made faded into the background and anticipation took over. He hurriedly started making calls and tried to decide when he should go back for our bags. We had completely forgotten to grab even the car seat!
Later, laying in the hospital bed, my legs and feet were numb from the epidural. I listened to my son’s heartbeat register on the fetal monitor next to me. How often had I heard that steady “tick tick tick” in these rooms of labor and delivery? How many times had I poured over fetal heart tracings, analyzed patterns of contractions with my students and resident physicians, made decisions on how labor was progressing? Now, the heartbeat tracing only meant one thing – my baby was coming. The baby we had been waiting for all year, the baby it seemed that I had always been waiting for.
It was out of my hands now. I put my trust in my doctor and my nurses, laid all my fears aside and let someone else make all the decisions for me. The nurses that came in and out of my room, checking my blood pressure, checking my progress. They were the same nurses that I had sat with, day after day, outside of the patient rooms at the nursing station that now seemed a world away. My doctor was my partner, and one of the women that was supposed to have been sitting in my living room that night for book club.
The night was long. A few times, my doctor and nurses all rushed in, concerned that my contractions were too close together. They started turning me side to side and placing an oxygen mask on my face. I heard my son’s heartbeat slow down to what I knew was an alarmingly low rate. There was nothing I could do but grip my husband’s hand, close my eyes, and trust that my team would do the right thing for us.
I realized then that I had never felt the heaviness of a physician’s responsibility as keenly as I did in that moment. How many mothers had looked to me in a moment such as this? Had I made them feel safe? Did my patients know that every delivery I attended felt like an oath I was making to them, that I would do anything and everything to make sure mother and baby were seen safely through to the other side?
The moment Diego was born felt like a dream. I had been up for over 24 hours, and although the morning light was starting to creep in through the window, I had no concept of time of day. My doctor quietly laid my son on my chest, and my arms instinctively closed around his form. He didn’t cry, just looked up at me, his eyes trying to accommodate to his new surroundings. I looked back at him, trying to do the same.
Dr. Morales will be a featured panelist and speaker at our third annual event for new and expecting moms, Bloom RGV on April 21, 2018, at Edinburg Regional Medical Center.