Thoughts on observing a birth

My son, Alexander Daniel, was born this morning at 6 am. I attended the birth of my 4-year-old, Greta, but it was a C-section and over before there was any time to think. Also, the docs and nurses strategically place a big white sheet to screen their activities from laypeople.

It was a fairly conventional birth by American standards, with three medical interventions: antibiotics to prevent infection, pitocin to hurry the baby out because the water broke before labor started, and then an epidural to ameliorate the intense pain caused by the pitocin. A midwife presided over an all-female team at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The actual pushing lasted about 30 minutes during which time the room was active with five or six women monitoring for the mother’s blood loss and blood pressure, the baby’s health and position, the baby’s health once out in the world, etc.

I’ve become moderately accustomed to life-or-death situations, but those that arise during helicopter instruction last for just a few seconds, not for 30 minutes. Sitting next to someone whom you love and who is putting herself at this much risk for the benefit of someone whom you’re going to love deepened my feelings in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. Even from a position up by the mom’s head, it is impossible not to notice the flood of blood and tissue that come out with/after the baby and wonder “How can a person survive that kind of loss?”

Generally I’m not a medical worrier. If I have a pain in my side I think it must be from playing LEGO with Greta, not rib cancer. And throughout the pregnancy I hardly gave a thought to the possibility of a baby or mother with problems. But in the last hour or so I was plagued with worries about something going wrong or something being wrong. The sometimes-worried looks on the faces of the professionals didn’t help. Nor did it help when a nurse said “I don’t like the way he’s breathing.” Soon enough, however, the new baby was nursing apparently happily.

In I argue against the idea of spending 18 percent of our GDP on health care. And the idea that the typical American hospital charges more to handle a delivery than does the most deluxe private hospital in England where the royal baby was born (story) is kind of ridiculous. But the staff at Mt. Auburn made me a believer for about an hour. I’m grateful to them.


  1. Gary Bloom

    December 11, 2013 @ 3:48 am


    In any case, congratulations. Having one of each is fun and interesting.

  2. jerry

    December 11, 2013 @ 3:57 am


    Mazel Tov and congratulations to your entire family.

  3. Federico

    December 11, 2013 @ 4:15 am


    Congratulations. May Alex sleep well.

  4. Albert

    December 11, 2013 @ 5:27 am


    Warmest of congratulations, Philip. Witnessing a child being born leaves a lifetime memory.

  5. John Rothlisberger

    December 11, 2013 @ 6:27 am


    Mazel tov Phil!

  6. Jim

    December 11, 2013 @ 7:42 am


    Hearty congratulations on the birth of your son!

  7. TJIC

    December 11, 2013 @ 7:55 am


    Congratulations to you and the mom.

  8. Paul Beiser

    December 11, 2013 @ 8:32 am


    Congratulations, Philip! Wonderful story, thanks for sharing, especially all of the emotions experienced as well as the happy ending. So cool!

  9. Tom Skiba

    December 11, 2013 @ 11:45 am


    Congratuations Phil on the addition to your family.

  10. elsa dorfman

    December 11, 2013 @ 11:57 am


    wow. i was waiting for this email. Hurray to Olga. And will the kid be called ALEX? the spirit of THE alex a lot of us know. Onward.

  11. Ed

    December 11, 2013 @ 12:20 pm


    Congratulations! As a Dad with a similar experience of arrivals… I remember very well that the worst part was seeing the risk and the pain and having no capacity to do anything about either. What it must be like to be a parent in a country with less amazing medical care, I cannot imagine.

    I can see how one would give birth once, but that people with apparently normal memories repeat the experience is simply mind boggling. Just as well the future of the species rests with the tougher gender…

    Anyhow… get a good night’s sleep while yet you can.

  12. TimB

    December 11, 2013 @ 12:46 pm


    It’s a miraculous thing to behold. Thanks for the feeling conveyed in the article – I think most Fathers have shared them, and Congrats to your entire family.

  13. George Acton

    December 11, 2013 @ 1:10 pm


    Congratulations and warm wishes to you, the mother and Alex.

  14. David Clayton

    December 11, 2013 @ 3:51 pm


    Congratulations Philip, and thank you for sharing. Best wishes to you and your family.

  15. Colin

    December 11, 2013 @ 4:13 pm



    Our first kid was a scheduled C-Section in Mass, complete with an operating room full of hospital employees (>6).

    When we had our second kid in Germany (VBAC), there were two (2) for the delivery: the on-call doctor and a nurse.

  16. Steven

    December 11, 2013 @ 5:10 pm


    Congratulations! 2 down, 10 to go.
    Very happy to hear it’s a healthy baby.

  17. chaminda

    December 11, 2013 @ 5:16 pm


    Congratulations Philip, having one of each is definitely fun and interesting.

  18. suzanne goode

    December 11, 2013 @ 5:56 pm


    Completely empathetic as the one time of four childbirths I was given pitocin (“to speed things along”, although I resisted for several hours), it was like a torture chamber compared to the other three births, which began on their own. I believe had I gone the midwife route rather than the ob-gyn route, I might have escaped the pitocin. But all’s well that ends well, and bravo to Olga for a job well done.

  19. Anonymous

    December 11, 2013 @ 6:04 pm


    Congratulations! Reading your blog always gives me pleasure. Thanks.

  20. Chere

    December 12, 2013 @ 1:44 am


    Congratulations to you & the fam! I am so interested to read your post here. While birth is a physiologically normal thingy, I know it is emotionally charged. Did y’all take a childbirth class? Enjoy your baby moon.

  21. Stee

    December 12, 2013 @ 4:09 am



    Nice post. Congratulations.

  22. Kourt Bailey

    December 12, 2013 @ 9:54 pm


    Congratulations, and also thanks: thanks for committing once again to the cost and effort being a parent and raising productive members of society. To turn Hillary Clinton’s phrase around, “it takes children to make a village”, and hearing about people I like and respect having children always makes me feel a little better about the future.

  23. philg

    December 12, 2013 @ 10:52 pm


    Chere: Did we take a childbirth class? As a man in Massachusetts I have been sentenced to various kinds of childbirth reeducation camps. Before Greta’s birth I attended one at ISIS Maternity, to which Mass General and some other hospitals send customers. I had recently viewed “The Business of Being Born,” a Showtime special about the incompetence and greed in the American ob-gyn/hospital system. I said “The show says that labor requires about 200 elements but doctors in the U.S. don’t want to wait for the body so they push on one of those 200 elements with pitocin. Generally it doesn’t work because the body isn’t ready. So they have to give more pitocin, which makes the pain unbearable so they have to give an epidural. The epidural makes the contractions less effective so they have to give more pitocin. The baby still doesn’t come out so the doctors say ‘your baby is at risk from all of the squeezing so now we have to do a C-section’. Then they do the C-section and take credit for saving the baby’s life even though if they had just waited a week the baby would have arrived naturally.”

    The nurse teaching the class said “That show is anti-doctor propaganda and that will never happen to you.” About three months later we went to Emerson Hospital in Concord and followed the script of the show to the letter.

    This time around (different mom; long story), the mom took a “hypno birthing” class at Mt. Auburn. In retrospect she says that it was hopelessly inadequate preparation for the pain caused by the pitocin.

    The 32-page brochure that the hospital provides in the post-partum room seems to have everything that is important from the thousands of pages of books that everyone reads, so I think most couples could skip out on a lot of the prep time and not miss anything.

    I would note that the classes and the books are woefully inadequate preparation for watching the facial expressions and listening to the concerns voiced by the staff in the room. The videos shown in classes seem to be about textbook pregnancies and deliveries and nobody has a care in the world. In reality they stick a needle into the mom’s spine and the blood pressure drops and you can see the people in the room worried that this might be a patient who dies. Similarly, as the baby comes out you can see them wondering if the child is going to be able to breathe, nurse, and generally “adapt to life.”

    Finally, it is worth pointing out that the crew of had plenty of classroom and simulator training (much more realistic than a childbirth class) and yet they failed to handle a relatively simple problem.

    Kourt: Thanks for the vote of confidence. Remember that my mantra is “I’m good at things that most people are bad at, but bad at things that most people are good at.”

  24. David

    December 13, 2013 @ 12:03 am


    Mazel Tov!

  25. Luis

    December 13, 2013 @ 6:53 pm



  26. Michael Sales

    December 14, 2013 @ 4:55 pm


    How wonderful!!!!! Leila was delivered at Mt. Auburn too. Hope to see you on 12/22.

  27. Cynthia T.

    December 14, 2013 @ 6:16 pm


    Wow. Just wow…oh, and Congrats!!!

  28. Barak Pearlmutter

    December 15, 2013 @ 2:58 am


    Mazel Tov!

    It’s great that you’ve got a happy healthy baby and mom.

    Don’t put too much truck in satisfaction though. In fact it can be dangerous! According to
    “Conclusion: In a nationally representative sample, higher patient satisfaction was associated with [...] increased mortality.”

  29. Gilberte

    December 15, 2013 @ 2:27 pm


    That’s wonderful news, glad to hear everyone is well and healthy!


  30. David and Kim

    December 15, 2013 @ 9:28 pm


    Congratulations both… I mean all four of you. How exciting.

  31. Jill E

    December 18, 2013 @ 3:16 am


    Phillip, Mazal Tov to you and the whole family! This is great news!! Yes, Alex – that’s a great name.

Log in