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 http://philip.greenspun.com/politics/health-care-reform 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.