Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Honor

It is the stage in which new life enters the world. Where women overcome the seemingly insurmountable challenge of giving birth. As a new intern, the delivery room is a thrilling place. However, I often wondered – will this ever get old? Routine? You hear time and time again about the OB/GYN who no longer does OB because of the “lifestyle”. Will that ever be me?

It was 4:00am and I was nearing the end of my 24 hour call. I had delivered 6 babies throughout the day and night and the shift was finally winding down. I was at the computer reviewing patient labs and vitals, trying to stay awake for an early morning of postpartum rounding. My pager goes off. It reads: “DELIVERY IN LDR 19”. I jump out of my sleepy stupor and rush upstairs. I gown up for the delivery elated at the opportunity to catch one more baby before the end of my shift. After all, I could use the extra practice with hand skills and suturing technique. I approach the patient and explain what will happen next. She is visibly tired from pushing. Her mother and husband whisper words of encouragement and take turns stroking her hair. This is her first baby. She is both scared and exhausted. We push for about 10 minutes and make little progress. The baby is crowning but at this point, we can only see the top of her head. This continues for another 10 minutes. Our patient starts to lose patience. She starts wailing in pain and threatening to give up. She doesn’t want to do this anymore. “Please, I just want to stop,” she wails “I can’t do this anymore!” Her husband encourages her to keep pushing and opens himself up to her wrath. “Shut up! Just shut up! Don’t touch me!” she screams. The tension in the air is palpable.

I call her name loudly to get her attention. I remind her that she can do this, she will do this. We remind her to breathe… and focus… After several minutes, she calms down and breathes deeply. I feel around the baby’s head and note that there is plenty of room. The nurse pours on some Astroglide to help the baby slide out easier. I hold pressure with my fingers at the base of her vagina. “Push where you feel my fingers,” I tell her, “Push my fingers out.” She closes her eyes to focus on the task at hand. She pushes with all her might. The crown of the infant’s head slowly advances out. Then her forehead. Then her face. With two more pushes the infant is out. For a split second, the room is silent.

I hand the child to her mother and she whispers in the softest of voices, “Oh, my baby.” The patient’s mother and husband burst into audible tears of joy and the three of them embrace around the newborn child. I feel a lump in my throat upon seeing this display of love. My eyes well up. I look to my resident and my attending standing next to me and their eyes are teary as well. We look at each other and without speaking a word, I know we are all thinking the same thing. This is what we signed up for.

I realized then that this experience could never get old or routine. The delivery wasn’t about practice or refining my skills. It was about the immense honor when a woman trusts you with her body during the most intimate of all experiences. It was about the privilege of being the first person in the world to lay hands on a newborn child. This is something I could never, ever take for granted.

1 comment: