I've written my version of Enzo’s birth story not as a continuation of Emily's, but to share it from a different (and, at times, more conscious) perspective. If you have not yet read her post, do that first. In fact, since it took me so long to publish this you may want to just go back and read Emily’s story again now. - Jeff Janzen
It began on Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 in an unexpected way. What Emily and I thought would be a routine trip to the OB/GYN for our last scheduled prenatal appointment turned out to be the last drive we'd take together in our two-seater for a long time (no, it’s not for sale).
Emily’s blood pressure had been normal for the entire pregnancy, never raising concerns. But suddenly, we discovered, it had climbed. We were told to go immediately across the street to St. Boniface Hospital to visit Obstetrics Triage on the 3rd floor for some testing. We also realized that over the past two days she had been experiencing symptoms of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition that affects about 6% of pregnant women and has something to do with the mother’s body not being cool with the placenta anymore. If left untreated it can be fatal, and the only cure is delivering the baby.
Finding ourselves among those 6%, we were lucky because Emily's only developed at 39 weeks, so there was no risk of a premature birth. Many women find themselves faced with a rather unpleasant pair of options: induce birth prematurely, or wait and hope the preeclampsia can be controlled with blood pressure medication. We were looking at a full-term baby either way, but there was a good chance that we would have to induce labour today.
Today!? Holy crap.
Being told that you’re going to have a baby in the next day or so isn’t as exciting as you think it might be. You always picture it happening a certain way. Hopefully, you're at home when the contractions start getting more frequent and more intense. Then you get confused about whether you're really in labour, eventually realize that you are, let the excitement sink in, and settle down with some movies, games or other distractions until the contractions become sufficiently long and frequent that you can relocate to the Hospital. That’s what they tell you to prepare for, anyway.
None of that was happening, and it was hard to take. We held each other as we waited in triage, Emily now wearing a hospital gown. We consoled ourselves with the knowledge that we would soon meet the little one we'd been waiting for, and got the lowdown on the risks and benefits of induced labour from a very helpful doctor and Google.
“Ok, let’s do it," we finally concluded.
Since mom’s body doesn’t know it’s about to give birth, they first supply you with a synthetic version of the chemical that women normally produce when it’s time to warm up the machinery. For the next 12 to 24 hours, we were told, we would wait in a hospital room while induced labour drug number one (of two) did its thing.
It was not a comfortable room; not even remotely accommodating of couples. Emily shared the room with another fearfully expectant mother, there was no chair or bench, and they wouldn’t let me bring a bedroll to sleep on the floor. At the time, this struck me as an atrocity. Put yourself in Emily's shoes for a moment and you'll understand why: You are being induced into labour, which means there is some kind of threat to the health of your baby or yourself. So you are understandably afraid and uncomfortable, and now you are being asked to spend the entire night without the person best equipped to help you feel calm and comfortable. (A note to anyone in the industry: This part of the process is broken.) After some persistent badgering mostly by Emily’s wonderful mother, Sue, who was with us for a few hours that night and would return for labour the next day, either compassion or fed-upness prevailed and the staff granted me permission stay in the room. We made it work with some serious spoonery in the extremely small bed. It’s a good thing neither of us take up much space.
The next morning, a Resident came in to check on drug number one’s progress and told us it hadn’t worked well enough to move to number two, so we’d have to keep waiting. We decided it would be a good time for me to run home, take a much needed shower and mentally prepare for my upcoming role as labour coach.
I managed to just get cleaned up before receiving a text from Emily telling me that when I got back, she would be back in Obstetrics Triage. It turns out the Resident had made a miscalculation and drug number one had worked. It wouldn’t be long before she would be would be squeezing out our offspring, so back I went in a hurry.
I want to give credit where it's due: The half-hour excursion we were encouraged to take before Emily was hooked up to the IV from which drug number two would drip may stand as the best single memory from our near-weeklong stay. Kudos to whoever made sure it was a part of our induced labour experience.
It was around 3:15pm when we began active labour. I say "we" because there appears to be no such thing as one person in a room being in labour while others are present. It consumed everything, and every bit of attention, emotion, and impulse I had for the next 6 hours was driven by it. I was in awe of Emily's ability to breath through the contractions, and of the bond between mother and daughter as Sue took her turns coaching. I was intensely focused on keeping Emily's attention when it was my turn, and on doing whatever it took to minimize her discomfort when it was not. It was at times intense and at brief moments relaxed and even kinda fun, and it went by quickly, right up until the moment it happened.
It's cliche but there is no better way to say it: Those few minutes felt like forever.
Staff became a bit worried when Emily wasn’t fully dilated but was having a hard time fighting the urge to push, so extra precautions had to be taken. They moved her to the operating room and I was allowed to follow, but Sue had to stay outside. The room filled with five or six attendants ready to pitch in if needed.
No more than a couple minutes went by before our doctor announced that things were now progressing well and that there would, in fact be no C-section! Cheers from the attendant staff made us feel like the worst was behind us, when in fact it was just around the corner.
After nearly an hour of directed pushing (the 10-seconds-on 30-seconds-off routine you see on TV), with baby's head crowning and just minutes from birth, Emily's blood pressure spiked.
Mine probably did too.
Her body stiffened, her jaw clenched, I don't know if her eyes were open or closed. She stopped breathing and I watched my favourite face in the world turn blue in mere seconds.
"She's seizing," Dr. Robinson proclaimed firmly. “Code Blue."
Fear and confusion gripped me more fiercly than any emotion ever has (I feel it again as I write this), and a hundred thoughts fired through my mind as quickly as the dozen or more emergency staff raced into the room.
“What just happened? What’s happening now? Why is she that colour? What can I do? Is she OK? Emily, can you hear me? Please stay with me. Please hang on. The baby is coming out! Yup, it’s a boy, no surprise... WE HAVE A BOY, EMILY! WE HAVE AN ENZO! Can you hear me? She couldn’t die from this, could she? Holy shit, she could! They’re trying to save her life! Hey hurry up with that tube thing. Just pull her mouth open! Am I watching my wife die right now?"
I don’t know how much time passed before I was told it was time to leave the room as the rest of the response team poured in, but it couldn’t have been more than about 30 seconds. My thoughts remained just clear enough to be slightly in awe of the team of professionals springing to action. “Cool,” I thought, as I turned the corner and headed toward the hallway where Sue was waiting with her characteristic composure. That was roughly the point when I lost mine.
Watching staff continue to rush back and forth in the hallway was excruciating. I’ve never been so afraid in my life. I felt vulnerable and confused, and I wondered if I could possibly raise a child without Emily (I was pretty sure I couldn’t). Sue and I held and consoled each other, or maybe she mostly consoled me. Having some knowledge of seizures with Emily’s brother, Josh, Sue tried to pry out little updates as staff slowly began to leave the room at a less hurried pace.
Finally, we got what we were waiting for. “I think she’s going to be ok,” one of them said as he passed.
Enzo was brought out a few minutes later bruised from the forceps, but otherwise perfect. I held him there in the hallway while a nurse explained that he would soon get to meet mommy, too.
Next, the staff weighed and measured him (8lbs. 6.6oz, 20.5”), and I fed him some infant formula. The drugs that Emily was given during her seizure would take 24 hours to clear her system, so we couldn’t exclusively breastfeed right away like we had planned. Plus, she would still be fully sedated for a couple hours to allow her body to recuperate.
You’ll remember the notes that Emily typed on my phone from her version of the story. She had woken up in the ICU, confused and in pain, and her head was foggy. After her third or fourth time asking why she had a seizure - and me starting to wonder if she had suffered some permanent damage - she finally understood that she had suffered eclampsia. Her first sight of our baby boy was of a photograph on my phone. I can’t imagine how strange that must have felt.
(A brief aside: I’ve always wondered this and now I have the answer... Yes, it is possible to know that your own baby isn’t cute. Enzo looked like an evil Mr. Magoo in his first photo. His eyes were squinty and beady at the same time, he had no hair on the top of his head, and his hands were claw-like and too big for his body. Thankfully that all passed and he has now claimed his rightful title as the cutest baby in the world.)
Emily and Enzo finally met face-to-face at 1:30 AM, three and a half hours after birth, and shared a few short and sweet naps together. Sue and I took turns sitting by their side that night while the other one slept in another room, a couple hours at a time, until the morning.
Emily’s condition slowly improved and some time that morning, the breathing tube was removed from her throat. Throughout that first day we had our families stop by for some visits and Emily was rolled from ICU up to Obstetrics for further observation, and finally to our private room just in time for night.
That room would end up being our home for nearly three days (which felt like 10), as the nurses and doctors kept a close eye on Emily’s blood pressure and Enzo’s weight. The room had plenty of sunlight, and the staff were caring and helpful. There, we learned how to swaddle Enzo properly, how to calm him down and squeeze in a workout at the same time by doing squats, how to begin feeding him the right way, and pretty much the entire hospital menu rotation. We also learned how many great friends we have, with many of them coming to visit while we were still there.
For Emily, it was a longer road to recovery than most new mothers get to travel. This is far from an exhaustive list because the details are really not my story to tell, but I will try to give you just an idea of what Emily went through during that time. There were blood tests several times daily and blood pressure checks every couple hours. For the first day, she couldn’t walk, swollen and in pain from head to toe, some parts quite severe. Eating was a challenge because her arms were badly bruised from the blood tests and IVs. Improper latching was causing breast pain (Enzo was a lazy eater for the first few weeks), and all this was on top of the usual painful parts of childbirth recovery, exacerbated by the use of forceps. Mentally, we worked together to piece together the memories Emily had of her labour, and she struggled to come to terms with missing out on the experience she was most looking forward to: those first moments with our new baby.
It was hard work for Emily, and I was amazed by her strength and perseverance. She was determined to get Enzo breastfeeding as soon as she could (it’s not as easy as you think, guys), and to build the relationship with him that we thought would just appear when he did. And just as I was there to support her, she never failed to reciprocate, asking frequently how I was doing, whether I needed a rest, and how I was coping with the trauma of watching her stop breathing on the delivery table. Many fathers in similar situations end up with panic attacks and other symptoms of PTSD, we were told. Thankfully, after retelling the story to friends and family enough times to fully understand how I feel about it, I am OK.
So what’s happened with Enzo since late-August?
Well, Enzo is now six months old. He is a matchstick - taller than 99% of babies his age and skinnier than a majority too, with a pretty big head. He likes to pull himself up to a standing position if you offer him your hands, and he’ll even do a little bit of walking (or dancing - it’s hard to tell) if you keep holding on. He’s learning to inch across the floor like a worm and we fear he will soon be crawling around to show us what needs to be baby-proofed. He loves when mommy reads him stories and he still hates going to sleep (the first few months were pretty painful - lots of crying and screaming), but he’s getting better at it.
He’s starting to eat some solid foods which makes for great mealtime entertainment, and he’s smiling and happy for most of every day. He loves going for walks, even in the cold, and his giggles are intoxicating. I make sure to tickle his neck with my face every single day because I just can’t get enough of them.
The most frequent comment about Enzo from strangers is, “he’s so alert/attentive!” A pharmacist we recently visited said she felt like he was listening in on her advice to mommy and judging whether or not she could be trusted. That’s my boy!