She wakes up at four o’clock, her face cuts a grimace in the early February morning dark. She can’t scream and she can’t even swear. All she can say is a sort of moaning “ahhh.”
“Are you okay?” I ask her. “Is it time?”
When the contraction stops and the pain subsides she says, “I don’t think so. I think it’s the fake ones.”
The sage-femme (that’s French for “mid-wife,” something I learned in my prenatal classes 🙂 ) told us that because this was our first pregnancy and that we were in our last few days that my wife would probably experience some Braxton Hicks contractions or maybe even a false labor, the sorts of things that prepare your body for the real delivery.
“It should go away,” she says. “I’ll time them anyway. It’ll be good practice.”
We sit there in the dark, her face contorting, her body writhing in pain every 10 or 15 minutes. She is quiet for a while and I drift off to sleep. When I wake up again, around 7am or so, she is still there in the dark, moaning an occasional “ahhh” punctuated with something like, “that one hurt.”
I ask her if we should go to the hospital and she says no. Not yet. Everything is still okay. She says that she is going to take a shower and that the sage-femme says that this should help.
I decide to make breakfast. My thinking is that if we are going to go to the hospital we had better go on a full stomach. The last thing you want is to wait in a hospital, hungry with nothing but the junk they serve in the café at your disposal. The least I could is throw together a quick breakfast, which is exactly what I do. I put on the coffee, take out a few croissants from the freezer and shove them in the oven to toast.
Men are so fucking dumb sometimes. Later, my wife tells me that the doctors say it’s better for women in labor to go to the hospital without eating so that they don’t poop during delivery. You probably know this. I should know this. But I don’t. I just cluelessly toast croissants and make coffee.
Needless to say, the shower doesn’t help with the contractions at all. We quickly get all our bags, toss on our shoes and make haste for the hospital.
But how would we get there? It is 7am. The croissant is burning in the oven, the coffee is boiling and we don’t own a car. I turn off the oven, throw the croissants on the counter and grab my wife’s phone.
Owning a car can be a necessity in a lot of places. In most cities with decent public transportation, you don’t really need a car so it becomes something of an expensive luxury. In Paris, owning a car is a stupidly expensive headache-inducing luxury. People pay upwards of 500 Euros a month just to pay for the privilege of a parking space. Street parking? Forget about it. There isn’t much in this old town.
The reason I bring this up is because of “Z-Day,” as we referred to it – the day that all expectant parents wait for with baited breath, the day that you’re never quite sure when the baby is going to come or where you’re going to be when she does, the day that your little one finds its way into the world.
When Z-Day strikes for most people, they think about the frantic drive to the hospital, dad dutifully white-knuckling the steering wheel, mom in the passenger seat practicing her Lamaze. In fact, most parent blogs we’ve been on cover a wide range of things for Z-Day (what to pack in your hospital bag, what to wear, stuff like that) and I’ve even read a blog post that talked about making sure you know the route to the hospital and have done the proper reconnaissance to see if there are any potential hazards, such as road work, that might impede travel time. All that is to say, for nearly everything we’d read, access to a car was taken for granted to get to the hospital on Z-Day.
Now, my wife and I get pretty much get all of our parenting advice – from pre-natal nourishment to mommy yoga to nursing to sleep scheduling to just about anything else you can imagine under the sun – from the Internet (and by “Internet” I mean Google and various parenting blogs, of course).
When we looked into how we were going to plan our Z-day, we didn’t find a single post talking about how to reliably get to the hospital if you don’t have access to a car when your own Z-Day arrives. I suspect we’re probably in the minority here. Most expectant couples without a car probably have a friend or a family member close by with a car they can rely on to get them to the hospital when the big day arrives. My wife and I weren’t so lucky. We had just moved to Paris a few months before our Z-Day and didn’t have any family or friends close by with a car.
So we did what any sane, reasonable couple would do in a major city while the woman is in labor and the man clutches the tendrils of the Internet through his smartphone. We ordered Über.
Why Über? Well, there always seem to be at least five or six Über cars in our neighborhood and without fail, no matter the time of day, we can order a car from the application and be on our way within 5 minutes. Even with the recent strikes in Paris by the taxi companies against Über, it is a fantastic way to get around.
So there we are, 7:30am, our bags carefully stowed in the backseat, my wife visibly in pain. The driver is polite and doesn’t seem to notice. It isn’t until we pull away and are a few slow blocks from the house that I tell him that my wife is in labor and if he could be a bit quicker, that would be fantastic.
“She’s what?” he says.
“In labor,” I say.
He steals a glance into the review mirror and then turns over his shoulder to have a good look at my wife. She can feel another contraction coming. I can tell by the look on her face.
“Oh,” he said. “Now I’m stressed out. I’ve never done this before.”
“Me neither,” I say.
The driver takes a wrong turn and then his three red lights on the way. I try to make small talk with him. We talk about kids (he has a son) and about how quickly they grow up. My wife moans again in the backseat. I tell her that we’re almost there.
And we were. Just minutes away, really. The drive takes about 1o minutes and it takes another 5 minutes or so to check in and then the doctors go through their charts and tests to make sure everything is okay and before we know it is 7:45am and we are in the delivery room with our baby trying to push out into the world. It is a whirl of activity – talk of dilation, of length of contractions, and the kinds of things that always remind me of the television show E.R. My wife loves photos and told me to make sure I try to get a good photo of the delivery and so I try to keep my cool and fish out the camera and set up to get a good shot, but all I catch is the iodine running down my wife’s exposed leg.
I put the camera down and hold her hand as she pushes and screams and pulls hard on the waist of my pants. The sage-femme is the center of calmness and she is telling my wife when and how to breath and I’m whispering words of encouragement and almost in tears and she is doing so well and then, suddenly, 45 minutes later, there he is. Our son. Zephyr. Alive and well and in this world.
I am handed a pair of scissors and cut the umbilical cord and kiss my wife and tell her she did a wonderful job and then am whisked away with my son into the next room where the nurse tells me everything I’m supposed to do while they attend to my wife. We are in this sterile room, made warmer by the kind nurse, who tells me how to hold him and where and what she is doing and then tells me to take him to the small basin in the corner of the room.
“Well, I guess you thought it was time,” I whisper to my son, stupidly happy, holding his fragile body as carefully as I can as I bathe him for the first time.
After, we go back in the room to really meet Mom for the first time. For posterity’s sake, I grab my phone and snag our first family selfie.