Oh F*@#! That was the first thing I said when my son was born. Not quite the birth story I would have written or that my birthing class had us rehearse. This language is so atypical for me, that my husband felt the need to discuss it afterwards. “Did you know you said that?” he said meaning why did you say that? Well, when you haven’t slept because your water broke at 2:30 AM and you’re 5 and 1/2 weeks early and you’re a pediatrician who knows what the worst case scenario for a 34-weeker is and you’ve been pushing for an hour and there is a Neonatologist pacing in the corner and you’re in the worst pain of your life and the OB resident yells “Oh my God,” the appropriate response is “Oh F*@#.” A better question is, what makes an OB resident think that it is ever appropriate to say “Oh my God” in the delivery room?
Whenever I’ve been called to deliveries, my favorite part is the few seconds that I get to introduce the mothers to their new babies. After we have finished drying, stimulating, examining, banding, and foot printing, I eagerly swaddled each baby and presented him or her to the anxious mom. What a magical moment in one’s life and I get to be a guest in it. I always pitied the C-section moms who often couldn’t manage to hold their babies and had to awkwardly glance over their shoulders to watch dad hold the baby, while OB residents put their abdomens back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Even sadder though were the NICU moms, who merely got to peer at their babies through the isolette windows. I did not want to be one of those moms.
I held myself together fairly well, given the circumstances, until the Neonatologist got to the part of his antepartum counseling where he explained that there was a likely chance that I wouldn’t get to hold him. Despite the fact that he was making an unwanted early entrance, I was eager to get my arms around him and couldn’t bear the thought of him being torn away from me, in addition to the implication that that meant he was too sick for me to hold him.
My roommate in the postpartum unit was a NICU mom too, but with 3 days more experience than me. Although our babies were roughly the same gestational age, hers was intubated and when I met her, she still hadn’t been allowed to hold him. We hoped together each morning that today would be the day and we celebrated when it finally happened. I felt guilty that I was able to go to the NICU and hold, rock, and breastfeed N whenever I wanted. So proud of my little 5-pounder I was that I breezed into the breastfeeding class being held on our floor feeling like the luckiest mom alive. And then I saw all of the other moms, comfortably holding their plump babies who latched easily and didn’t have to be positioned carefully so as not to disturb their monitor connections or IV tubing. I was the only mom sitting there, learning breastfeeding techniques without a baby and wishing to be invisible, when the teacher further humiliated me by giving me a doll with which to practice. Not soon enough I was back in my room, trying to muffle the sound of my sobs when I heard my roommate from the other side of the inappropriately named privacy curtain, say, “are you ok? Breastfeeding class isn’t meant for us. I cried for like an hour afterwards.” We were a different breed of moms- struggling to attach while separated, breastfeeding dolls, praying to hold our babies and cherishing each minute we are granted this privilege.
I hadn’t liked that resident much anyway, but when she yelled what she did, I couldn’t help but panic that something was terribly wrong. What she didn’t know was that once N decides he’s going to do something, he just does it. He may make you wait months before he decides to talk and then he’ll just blurt out a bunch of words. Or he may wait an hour for you to push him out and then decide he’s just going to shoot out and catch an OB resident by surprise. The way he entered this world has been quite similar to the way he lives in it: determined, on his own terms, and with lots of commotion.