Fear and Joy, by David Speer

Fear is the only emotion I remember feeling as I sat outside the operating room in our hospital’s labor and delivery area. Fear of not knowing what was happening around me. In nine months of pregnancy, my wife and I had never anticipated a Cesarean, and we were certainly unprepared for what was to come.

My wife Antionette and I had arrived at the hospital on May 13th, 2010, at 10:00 pm for a scheduled labor induction. The labor and delivery room was not like any hospital room I’d seen on T.V. It was quite spacious and, along with my wife’s motorized hospital bed, there was a hide-a-bed, a small sleeper sofa off to the side of her bed meant for me. There was also an incubator, a small chair, a restroom, and a sink with overhead cabinets.

The evening went like this: we would get up every two hours to walk around for twenty minutes, and we repeated these walks various times throughout the night. This, they told us, would help my wife dilate and ready her for labor. Between the walks, the nurse would administer Pitocin to my wife intravenously, to help push the labor along. Prior to this evening, I was used to six to eight hours of sleep at night, and even at that I did not make a habit out of waking up in the middle of sleep to walk around the room. I was exhausted, but I knew my wife needed me to stay alert for her. Finally, after a while, the nurse and my wife allowed me to sleep for a few hours.

When I woke up, there was a slight amount of tension in the room, almost palpable. My mother-in-law had arrived at some point when I had been asleep. For some reason no one was speaking or moving. Everyone remained quiet and still, as if they were waiting for a verdict from a jury. Meanwhile, I was thinking that something felt off, but no words escaped my lips. No matter what, I needed to be calm and collected for my wife’s sake. I noticed the time was 9:30 am. Twelve hours had passed since we’d first arrived at the hospital. My wife, I had learned shortly after waking up, was finally having contractions. I looked at the baby’s heart monitor and saw that with every contraction Antionette had, my son’s heart rate would drop from 140 beats per-minute to 70 beats. Of course, I panicked for a second and felt my heart skip a beat, but I kept my composure as I knew my wife should not know how worried I was. Moments later, the doctor came into our room.

“Okay, Doctor Brown,” Antionette answered, “Thank you for coming.” The doctor smiled, walked to the foot of her bed, lifted the sheet up to my wife’s knees and proceeded with an examination. After checking her for a few moments, the doctor brought her attention up and said, “Only three centimeters, we’ll give you another dose of Pitocin and check again in an hour or so.” The doctor continued saying things to the nurse and to Antionette, so I took this opportunity to excuse myself from the room and update my father-in-law on the birth of his grandson. Before I had the chance, the doctor came out the door and approached me with a stern look on her face. She said, “The baby hasn’t dropped yet, and your wife isn’t dilating like I’d hoped. If things don’t get going soon, we’re going to have to consider our options.”

“What do you mean, doc?” I asked, with a stutter in my voice.

“We may have to perform an emergency cesarean.”

“Oh, ok.” I felt the blood leave my face and I must have turned as pale as a ghost. I remember my jaw dropping as the doctor walked away. For a moment fear set in, but I had to keep it together for my wife. What is an emergency cesarean? I’d had the time to educate myself for the labor induction, but a C-Section was something I’d heard about and had no time to study. Furthermore, an emergency C-Section was completely foreign to me. I knew it was some form of surgery, but how safe was it?

I decided I should tell my wife, as she would certainly find out soon enough. I re-entered the room, gathering the nerve to inform her of the news, but the nurse had already beat me to it. She was in the middle of explaining the possibility of a need for a cesarean as I approached my wife’s bed, and this I was grateful for. I knew my wife would have questions and the nurse was the one who knew the answers.

I have always been a strong man, both physically and emotionally, but for the first time that I could recall, I felt powerless. So much was happening so quickly and if any one of these things went wrong it could change our lives, forever.

As one nurse was wrapping-up the conversation with my wife, a nurse’s aide came into the room and handed me a package of items in a plastic bag. Inside I found blue scrubs, a hair-net, and shoe covers. “When do I put these on?” I asked.

My wife, through her newly placed oxygen mask, shouted, “NOW!”

I tried to put the scrubs on as fast as possible, but when trying to do so, I was nervous and fumbling and ripped one of the shoe covers. The nurse brought me a replacement. They started wheeling my wife out of the room. I put the new shoe cover on, and somehow remembered to grab the camera, placing it in my shirt pocket as I followed the nurse out to the door and over to the operating room.

As we entered through the double doors that led to the operating quarters, I was told to take a seat in a chair on one side of the hallway. The chair was facing two separate doors labeled “L&D Operating Room 1” on the left and “L&D Operating Room 2” on the right. As I sat, I watched the doctor enter room 2 – the door on my left – and I saw Antionette for just a moment before the doctor shut the door behind them. Antionette was lying on her back, her arms laid out to her sides, resembling the shape of a cross. Questions began swimming through my mind: What if she dies? What if my son dies? What if they both die? I began to feel my eyes water while thoughts of losing my family overwhelmed me. I thought about praying, but I didn’t have much of a chance to think further on it before the nurse returned. “We are ready for you now. Come in and bring the chair with you, please.”

I quickly grabbed the chair and hurried into the room behind the nurse. I placed the chair where they told me, beside my wife’s right shoulder and I sat down. I didn’t have a clue what was happening, how the surgery was going, or if it had even started yet. But I told myself to be strong for Antoinette. I placed my right hand in hers and told her, “Everything is gonna be alright. You’re doing great.”

The doctors had laid a blue curtain across my wife’s chest, with us on one side and the doctors and nurses on the other. The curtain prevented Antoinette from seeing what the doctors were doing, but there was a mirror on the opposite side of the wall from where I was sitting, which allowed me to see everything. They began to cut my wife’s stomach with a laser scalpel. I looked at Antionette as we both winced at the smell of her burning flesh. I looked back in the mirror and saw that the doctor had made another incision, somewhere deeper within her belly. I was still holding my wife’s hand, repeating and telling her, “You’re doing great.”

Then it happened. After what seemed like multiple layers of incisions, they pulled my wife’s abdomen out of her body. For what must have been only a few moments, the doctor kept pulling out the insides of my wife and I saw everything. I felt terror and horror in this moment. I snapped my head away and focused my attention back on my wife. I looked in her eyes and said something like, “You’re doing wonderful.” I can’t remember the exact words that came out of my mouth. But soon, something that once felt so terrifying quickly turned to the largest feeling of joy I have ever felt.

A moment passed and a male nurse who was standing behind me asked, “Do you have a camera?”

“Yes.” I replied.

“You might want to get it ready, you’re gonna have a baby in about thirty seconds.” He was smiling.

I pulled the camera out of my pocket and glanced back at the incision; this time, I scooted the chair to the other side of the curtain, looking directly at the opening, anticipating my son’s arrival.

The doctor lifted my son, headfirst, out through the opening; he released the umbilical cord from around my son’s neck and pulled it over his head. A brief pause, followed by two tiny arms, the littlest body, and finally, two small legs. I heard the tiniest cry come out of his mouth. I looked back at my wife and we both breathed a huge sigh of relief. The joy this little man brought me in that instant overwhelmed any other emotion I had felt the entire day.

I went to the other side of the room, by the sink where they were cleaning my son and checking his vitals. I snapped as many pictures as the camera would allow. This little man had arrived into my life, after I was afraid that he wouldn’t, and brought with him the greatest feeling of joy I had ever experienced.

Later that day, we learned that my son’s umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck, which was why he was having trouble dropping through the birth canal. My guy was already a little genius because every time Antoinette had a contraction, he used that small window of opportunity and turned his head to release pressure from the umbilical grip, which ultimately saved his life. If he would had dropped down the birth canal instead of taking a breath where he could find it, our doctor believed that he most certainly would have been strangled to death. Antoinette and I spent the following three days in the hospital, getting to know our son and giving my wife a chance to recover from the surgery.

Alexander is now nine-years-old and has grown into a very healthy young man. He excels in his schoolwork and is aspiring to become an actor. He recently had a lead role in a Christmas play. Antionette and I had both started working in education not long after Alexander’s birth, me as a high school teacher while Antionette teaches adults.

The experience with Alexander’s birth was both exhilarating and terrifying, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

David D. Speer is an upcoming author with several projects in development. Once a member of Young Authors of America, David took a long break from writing to pursue his career as a teacher.

David Speer has lived in Seattle, Phoenix and Colorado. Before becoming a teacher, he started a business in the construction industry. Still living in Phoenix, David is pursuing a career as an author.

Twitter: @DavidDSpeer1