Sometimes you just have to write…
A couple of weeks ago, my friend J called me on the phone. I asked how she was and she said, “I’m good … Well, actually, I’m in labour.”
I immediately offered to come over with my car, since her partner was three hours away down in Nijmegen. My expectation was that I would hold her hand for a few hours, fetch her cups of tea, time her contractions, and when the contractions were less than five minutes apart, I’d take her to the hospital.
She agreed that I should come over and I said I’d be there right away. I didn’t hurry, though. I knew it would be hours before she was ready to go to the hospital. First I tried to find new batteries for Robert’s St. Maarten’s lantern, put them in, and realized that the lantern was, indeed, broken. I negotiated with Anne so she’d go buy him a new lantern and then I ran upstairs to check on Krislyn. She hadn’t been feeling well and I wanted to check if she had a fever. I would say that the delay in getting to J’s was somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes, so it wasn’t long. I had promised her, after all, that I’d come right away.
She only lives a few blocks away, so I got there in a couple of minutes. I parked the car, and found that her door was unlocked. When I pushed it open, I could hear her panting. I thought, naturally, that she was having a contraction, but the panting suddenly turned into a scream. I rushed inside and realized she was screaming into the phone that the baby was coming.
J was on the sofa, or rather half on and half off the sofa. She told me, when the contraction was over, that she could feel the baby’s head. At first I didn’t believe her. I couldn’t see the head, and I thought it was just her fear speaking.
I’m quite pleased to say that I stayed calm, thank goodness. I asked her where I could find some clean towels and she told me where they were stored. I ran to the cupboard, grabbed a pile of towels and went back to J on the sofa. J had already called her midwife, and I made an attempt to call her again, with the idea that she could tell me what to do over the phone. No luck: I couldn’t figure out J’s phone. I tried calling emergency as well, but that didn’t seem to work either. By this time, she was screaming again, but with words: “The head’s coming out!” I put a towel on the sofa so the baby would end up on that, instead of on the rather well-used sofa.
Sure enough, there was the baby’s head. Fortunately, despite her terrified state, J thought to tell me to check whether the cord was around the baby’s neck. I say “fortunately” because it hadn’t even occurred to me to check. And, again fortunately, it wasn’t; it was around a shoulder.
It was only another couple of seconds, and the baby slid out and started crying immediately: a good, loud, healthy cry. I wrapped her in the towel and placed her on J’s stomach. That was one thing I did remember: that the baby should be placed on the mother’s stomach.
The problem was that I couldn’t remember anything more! Should I cut the cord? No idea. What to do about the placenta? No idea. I told J, quite calmly, I think, that I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. She seemed to still be in some pain, but was clearly relieved that the worst was over. I think she was still having some contractions, which isn’t surprising, seeing as she still hadn’t delivered the placenta.
J said that there was a section in one of her pregnancy books about emergency delivery. She told me where it was so I could go get it, and I returned to her to leaf through it. So that’s what I was doing about five minutes after the birth, when the midwife finally arrived: frantically leafing through a book to find out what to do next!
It turned out that what to do next was to wait for the midwife, not to deliver the placenta or cut the cord, so, by doing nothing, I was doing just the right thing.
The midwife was amazing: completely calm and collected. She seemed to instantly assess the situation and set to work dealing with it. She made me want to go out right away and sign up for midwifery school, to learn that kind of control.
So that’s my “catching the baby” story. I was lucky to get there in time. J was lucky that the birth was completely normal, except for being abnormally quick. The baby was lucky that she was big enough and healthy enough to take the shock of a 20-minute-start-to-finish delivery into the hands of someone as clueless as I am. I would have had even less of a clue if it’d been a breech birth or if there was something wrong with the baby. And I was lucky to get to see a birth. I’ve given birth twice, but never seen it from that end.
Meanwhile, J and baby are both doing fine.