A Father’s Birth Story
It’s not often that I hear a birth story from the father. While this is first and foremost a site dedicated to travel, it is safe to acknowledge Harvey’s birth as the wildest adventure we have ever been on. Here, within the virtual walls of teachtravelplay is the story of that adventure, as told by Harvey’s dad.
On Friday December 16th, at 11:14 PM, Harvey Wild Holmes was born at the Bellingham Birthing Center. Harvey was born 11 days before his expected due date and weighed six pounds and ten ounces. Harvey’s birth was precipitous, lasting just over three hours and we were all home two hours after he was born.
While no labor and birth is simple, some are very uncommon and all of them are unique. The Story of Harvey Wild Holmes coming into this world was certainly unique.
It was 3:30PM on the last Friday of December before Winter Vacation at Big Lake School, where I work as a PE teacher. As the students filed out of the building, a few teachers were busy setting up for the baby shower they were throwing us. Emily arrived at 3:45 to a place she had never been to, right on time to my amazement. She waddled through the back door of the school to meet twelve of my coworkers, whom she had never met before. Beth told Emily, “We had to do something for you, this is your first baby! We are so excited for you both.” We realized how lucky we were to be bringing a baby into such a loving community.
After the shower, we took a back-road from Big Lake, over Little Mountain into downtown Mt. Vernon to meet friends for dinner at a little Thai food restaurant they recommended. As we ordered, we were warned several times about how the food was extremely spicy. Emily and I joked about how spicy food can induce labor. The food WAS spicy, and we ate A LOT of it.
After dinner we headed back to Big Lake Elementary School for the Kindergarten and Grade 1 Winter Performance. We arrived a little late and students were taking the stage as we walked past rows of parents and grandparents and stood in the back of the gym. Emily had a hard time sitting at this point in her pregnancy and preferred to stand and sway most of the time.
As the second song started, the time was just past 7:40. Emily leaned over to me and asked, “Do you have an extra pair of pants in your office?” “Yes,” I replied. “Are you cold? Do you need some?” “No,” Emily whispered as a version of Silent Night was being sung. “I think I peed my pants.” In other circumstances, I would have been concerned, but a sneeze or laugh or hiccup had caused this to happen to Emily for weeks now. “I could get you some pants, but they are in my office, which is on the stage, behind the 1st graders.” “Well, is there a bathroom nearby?” She asked. “Yea, over there.” I continued to watch the performance which had moved onto Jingle Bells. I was looking for an excuse to leave when Emily put her hand on my shoulder, “It’s time to go. I think my water broke.” We slowly and carefully made our way to the back exit of the school and walked out to the car which was not too far, thankfully. It was 8PM when we started the drive north to Bellingham on a night slightly above freezing.
The drive takes 45 minutes and we started timing contractions as soon as we got into the car. Contractions were consistently about 4 minutes apart as we drove into the dark on Highway 9 towards Interstate 5. 15 minutes later we merged onto I-5 North and timed the contractions again. They were now three minutes apart and we knew that labor was under way and sometime soon we would be parents. We listened to the radio and tried to joke about the Christmas pageant as we got closer to Bellingham, but both of us were so excited and nervous that conversation was limited to ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘How far apart are the contractions?’ We were timing each one as we drove. Halfway home, Emily decided to give our friends a call and let them know that the trick had worked and the spicy Thai food may have induced labor. They laughed and chatted while Emily breathed deeply and went through a few contractions as they talked. I was paying attention to the road like never before and driving speedily but cautiously with my precious cargo.
As we pulled into town, we thought it would be a good idea to get a few snacks from the grocery store as suggested by the midwives. No labor is the same and many of them take days, especially with a first baby. We wanted to be prepared and for Emily to have the energy needed to last through the marathon that is labor. However, as we parked the car outside the store at 8:45, we timed the next contraction. Only 90 seconds apart! This baby was coming fast. We drove out of the parking lot without even stepping foot inside the store.
I helped Emily into the house so we could grab a few items we needed for the Birthing Center. I called the midwives and tried to explain the speed at which the contractions were coming as Emily paced around breathing heavily. ‘Yes, the contractions are 90 seconds apart.” “No, she doesn’t want to talk on the phone right now.” “Okay, we will call you back when they get down to one minute.” I explained to Emily that they did not want us to come in too early as it was our first and typically first-borns take a long time and many couples are sent home disappointed. The midwives suggested laboring a bit longer at home and coming in when it was necessary. Working with the midwives at the Bellingham Birthing Center throughout Emily’s pregnancy had been a wonderful experience. We had gotten to know eachother well and they were always on-call to support us. The center felt like home away from home and I trusted those women with the life of my baby and my wife.
We kept walking around the house, preparing our items, changing the sheets, thought about taking a bath but decided against it. Finally, Emily had had enough. “Call the midwives, it’s time to go.” The contractions were down to one minute and it was time. I called and said we were on our way. I thought we were good to go, but realized that Emily had not gotten dressed after debating a bath. Emily leaned against the bed in agony as I randomly pulled items off the hangers. I had no idea how to dress a pregnant woman in the middle of labor. We quickly threw on some black tights, a red dress and a t-shirt. I finished the outfit off with a black bathrobe and snow boots.
I grabbed our to-go bag and went to warm up the car as Emily insisted on tidying up before we left. “People will understand if there are some clothes on the floor,” But Emily was determined to have the house looking neat. When everything was cleaned up and Emily gave her approval between debilitating contractions, I helped her crawl on hands and knees through the living room and out to the car with one arm around her back and the other holding her robe closed in the front. I opened the passenger door and lifted her into the seat of the Subaru.
It was at this point I realized that I was going to be a father. Of course I had known I was going to be a father and we had had 38.5 weeks to prepare for this day, but there is really no preparing for your first child. Nothing can prepare you for how real the experience is. In the span of a single night, a few hours, and in an instant my life transformed. It would never again be just Emily and me. From this night forward, we would always be parents with new priorities and perspectives on life. As I walked around the car in the freezing December air to the driver’s door, I took a deep breath and readied myself for the inevitable conversion to parenthood.
We had originally planned on walking to the birthing center, only a few blocks away, but the night was cold, it was late and something told me our baby would be here any moment. We pulled in at the same time as the midwives. Catriona and Gloria helped Emily out of the car and into the center as I grabbed our bags and headed into the warmth of the homey building. The birthing center has three delivery rooms and fortunately, we moved directly to the room in which Emily and I had been for our first appointment. I felt immediately comfortable and safe.
Emily was so relieved to be in the arms of the midwives. They asked us a few questions between Emily’s contractions, which were now under a minute apart. Between the deep moans, we all realized that labor was progressing rapidly and they proceeded to help Emily undress and moved her onto the birthing stool. Catriona ran a bath saying “This will help you relax.” Gloria then said, “I am going to check your cervix to measure how far you are dilated.” This is the moment of truth for women in labor. The higher the number, the further along labor has progressed. “You my dear are 9 centimeters.” She said with a smile, “Looks like baby is on its way.” A simultaneous sigh of relief and fear came upon Emily’s face.
9 centimeters is almost fully dilated, but in the short time span of the labor, Emily hadn’t had much time for her body to prepare for birth. More time allows the mother’s body to ease into delivery pains, not to mention providing additional time for tissues to stretch and adapt. Emily had not been afraid of natural childbirth and, but she looked worried now, “It’s happening too fast,” she said.
At this point, we had to choose how we wanted to proceed with the delivery. We basically had three choices, the first was to attempt the delivery on the bed. We had considered this option as it gives the mother several options to find a comfortable position and allows freedom of movement and accessibility for the midwives. A second option, which we were not particularly interested in was using the birthing stool. The third option was in the tub. This seemed like the best choice to help Emily relax and maybe even slow things down.
I had been on the couch, but as Emily crawled into the tub, I grabbed my swim trunks and slipped into the bath positioning myself behind Emily. I whispered into her ear encouraging words as the midwives prepared gloves and tools for delivery.
Emily was so brave. I could not fathom the idea of giving birth and the incredible sensations of pain and joy and triumph that comes along with pregnancy. But fortunately, I was prepared to support Emily as she roared through each contraction, screaming in agony and smiling with each little bit of progress she made. We were in the tub together when Gloria told us it was time. Emily later said that she knew this before being told. She described how she could feel the baby moving lower and lower inside of her until it had nowhere to go except out into the world.
The mid-wives were outside of the tub, reaching in to assist Emily and baby. My role was to hold Emily and encourage her with each push. I think I was smiling, but cannot really remember as I pushed my hands firmly against Emily’s lower back to relieve the pressure she felt. We were in the bath for 14 minutes when the baby started to come. “This is it,” Gloria said, “Baby’s head is starting to come.” Again, Emily knew this already, but I had no idea.
Emily was squeezing my hand and holding on tightly to the edge of the tub. I was pushing against Emily’s back and repeating positive affirmations. And then, after a couple more minutes of pushing, Harvey Wild Holmes literally popped up to the top of the water.
Here he was, in an instant. He was tiny, red, quiet but so beautiful. Emily scooped him out of the water with both arms and held him to her chest. The midwives stood back and removed their gloves and gave us space. I continued to hold Emily and rested my head on her shoulders so I could see as Harvey opened his eyes for the first time. His eyes were black. He had some dark hair, but not as much as we had expected. His umbilical cord was still attached and leading to the placenta, yet to be delivered by Emily. He was the most magical thing I had ever seen. We just held him there and looked at him with amazement for several minutes, not saying anything as Harvey snuggled into Emily’s chest. The time was 11:14 PM.
The three of us sat in that tub together for what felt like a lifetime happily talking, on an adrenaline high and in awe of our new baby boy. Emily delivered the placenta on the birthing stool with a little difficulty but the midwives were so loving in the way they cared for her and competent in their role that I knew she was in the best hands. Measurements were taken and we were walked out to our car where we got help from Catriona and Gloria in buckling Harvey into his car seat.
Emily and I arrived home at 2AM with baby Harvey bundled tight while snowflakes started to fall onto the already frozen ground. The following morning, we awoke to the sounds of Harvey’s sweet noises, as he lay between us in bed. Snow was falling softly onto the drifts which had formed overnight. Emily held Harvey close as I phoned new grandparents to tell them the good news of Harvey’s birth.