Friday, July 18, 2014

Peter Dean's Birth [One Year Ago Today]

It was one year ago exactly, but the experience of seeing my best friend give birth is still quite vivid. Very vivid, in amazing and spectacular ways, coupled with somewhat horrifying ways. Overloaded senses, which was highly unexpected. Childbirth is serious business.

I planned on writing about it right after it happened in mid-July last year, but the whole event occurred in the middle of a blogging slump, and then it all felt overwhelming, because it's about my best friend and a major first in my own life, and I feared (even as I'm writing this, I fear) that I just wouldn't/won't do it justice. Or it would just sound hyperbolic and typically "Johnstone" in its long-windedness. The more intense my emotions are about something, I've found, it's become harder and harder to write about it. This is something I want to change; I don't want to lose the ability to immortalize my most vital experiences into words, as the reality of starting a family draws ever-nearer... as my life prepares to turn some major corners into uncharted Life Territory. I don't want to forget, and I know that no matter how vivid a memory is, time and distance is not on my side.

So. This is a story about the birth of a baby named Peter.

But first, let's back up a bit.

Cassie had asked me when she was around three months pregnant if I could be present for the birth. I was so incredibly honored to be asked. She knew that Jonathan and I plan to have kids sometime in the not-too-distant future (hopefully), and -- aside from the fact that she wanted me to be there, because, hello, BFFs -- it would be such a valuable learning experience. Here's your front row ticket to "Baby Coming Out of a Vagina": Watch and Learn: One Night Only! 

Even better: Cassie asked Kim to be there too, which meant I'd have some sisterly company!

Leading up to that July, I knew the first half of the month would be dedicated to this baby please come out now waiting-game, since everyone was hoping that the little man (then unnamed) would be coming into this world of his own accord with absolutely no help from any drugs or machines or nurses.

He was due on July 9, so I planned on being in the Bay Area for the 4th of July and would stay through his birth. Easy. Except this is childbirth and, silly me, little baby-inside-belly had plans of his own -- like making his poor mother wait another eight days with a bump the size of a summer watermelon. Tiny torso = outward growing baby. Science, as they say.

Luckily, being able to work from home (or in this case: Cassie's dining room table) made it so that I could feasibly wait for the baby to come, though I was in a constant state of panic for two full weeks, every time I made plans with my family to go somewhere or do something, that I would get a call that IT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW and I would rush over, but miss it.

When it came down to it, despite our efforts of eating spicy food and taking all the walks and doing other things that are said to induce labor (MORE SCIENCE, only not), Cassie wound up in the hospital to induce labor anyway.

It... well... Guys, it was time.

When we finally got into the hospital room at Kaiser, this was actually the second day we'd tried to get in so Cassie could be induced. The day before, the rooms were all full, so we were turned away. Kim, who had had to return to work down in Los Angeles after the baby refused to be punctual, came back and we were all able to spend the night together in preparation for the little man to arrive.

The most notable thing about our time in the delivery room was the waiting. I know, I know -- Captain Obvious -- but really. If you're not the one giving birth, then you're just sitting there. And if you're not the husband (or designated "Support Me" person) of the woman giving birth, then you don't have much to do. Other than wait. And in Cassie's case, be very, very quiet every time a contraction came along, because she will cut you.

Or, if you're me, you take pictures of things. That was my One Job, after all. Document the event. So I did.

I know, man. Hospital rooms. Super riveting. And damn it if you don't need a sign to remind you where the step stool goes.

For quite a while, all we could do is keep Cassie company, and then pretend we weren't there whenever a contraction hit. She walked, she leaned, she groaned, she chatted, she visited the restroom, the nurse came in with a hook-y thing (technical term) to help break Cassie's water. It was all very low-key.

Then the contractions started getting a lot worse. On top of that, her nurse informed her, she wasn't dilating at the rate they wanted. This news was obviously not ideal, particularly with the level of pain she was experiencing. 

She decided to get an epidural so she could finally relax, and -- hopefully -- dilate faster. Spoiler alert: The epidural was a very good idea.

By this time, it was late, maybe around 10:30 PM or so, though the exact time isn't clear to me. All time ceased to make sense after a while. My sister and I had to leave the room while the anesthesiologist came to do the epidural, so it was a good time to have my dad come over with fresh clothes/underwear (I'd been in the same clothes for more than 2 days) and bring a snack for us and Matt.

When we returned, Cassie was hooked up, if you know what I mean.

She wasn't thrilled with me sharing this pic, since it involves a fancy pee bag, but THIS IS LABOR PEOPLE. The body does things. On top of that, I couldn't believe how many things were attached to her. It was somewhat mind-boggling to me. However, on the flip-side, she was a new person with the epidural: totally serene, fairly comfortable, and basically high.

So she napped, if you can call it napping when you have to constantly adjust due to pressure you can only kind of feel. We ate our burgers.

We waited.

After an hour or two or ten (TIME? WHAT IS TIME?), Cassie's groaning got seriously intense. Matt went to sit with her and hold her hand, while Kim and I sat there totally useless. She insisted the pressure was getting crazy, and rang for the nurse. When the nurse arrived, Cassie informed her of what she was feeling, and the nurse checked her dilation progress. I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was almost 10 cm, maybe 8 cm on the verge of 9. The epidural had sped the process along insanely fast. The nurse got the midwife, who admittedly does not become my favorite person in the half hour to follow.

As a bystander, watching all this go from a very quiet room to a chaotic circus in the blink of an eye was strange. The midwife was in absolutely no rush, which contrasted heavily with Cassie's insistence that the pressure was WHOA, like really.

The midwife and team of nurses were slow to assemble. Some other woman had the audacity to also be giving birth right then. The midwife said she could see the baby's head way up there, and they could expect things to progress soon. Cassie, on the other hand, was basically like "NO BITCH. THIS IS HAPPENING, RIGHT NOW."

But the midwife didn't seem all that quick to action. She began the process of putting on a basically a hazmat suit and setting up the birthing area with various "essentials" at the rate of a damn snail. Nurses were trickling in, also seeming to take their sweet ass time. I think I would have done a lot more swearing if I were Cassie, so her patience in the face of something so painful and, um, urgent absolutely astonishes me.

Oh, while we're here, fun fact: Redheads need more anesthesia and pain killers than other people do. Did you know that? Yeah, that fact came into play when Cassie admitted that -- unlike when the contractions were happening, she could feel EV. ER. Y. THING. from the cervix, down.

Yeah. So, moving on...

At this point, the pressure and pain was overwhelming, and Cassie began insisting that she had to push. Like, now, not later.

The midwife then said something seemingly innocuous yet totally infuriating, I wanted to literally shake her:

"No, wait."

Wait? Like, "Wait, I'm not ready with my SPACE SUIT and CATCHER'S MIT"?? My girl was ready, and this midwife made me want to scream. But Cassie tried to do what the midwife said, screaming and panting and near-tears all the while. The baby was coming, and fast. Of course, the whole time, she could feel every little thing.

(Side note: Obviously there is nothing wrong with natural childbirth, and of course it can be way less traumatic than I'm making it seem here. I only mention the pain and horror because girl is not mentally or physically prepare for it since she got the epidural, so it was a not pleasant surprise for her -- and us.)

I'm next to the bed with Matt's camera in hand, snapping pictures of the whole thing (NSFW or public consumption at any time, so not included here). Kim has positioned herself near the right leg, ready to assist, and Matt is up near Cassie's head, holding her hand through the pain.

FINALLY, the midwife tells Cassie to push, all in time with her contractions. The baby's head is right there, and she is so close. It was incredibly exciting and emotional to see that little crown, but at the same time, I was upset by the unexpected reality of having to watch my best friend deal with that level of pain.

At one point, while the baby's head was almost there, she screamed "I AM RIPPING IN HALF!" and all Kim and I could do is say as sternly as possible, "You're not. We can see you. We can see everything. You're OK. You're not ripping. You're so so close." Even though that was all very true, what I really wanted to say was, "HOW ARE YOU DOING THIS?!?!" but I didn't think that would comfort her.

Everything was a rush and blur as I snapped pictures, the midwife instructed, Kim held that right leg as though her life depended on it, and Cassie became my absolute hero.

The baby's head was out. We could see his squishy face.

Nearly there.

Another push, two pushes, and the shoulders came through... At 1:17 a.m. on July 18, 2013, Peter Dean Rosenbrock wiggled into this world and quickly found himself in the arms of a pretty awesome mom. Oh, and his dad is pretty amazing too.

These pictures were taken immediately after he was born and placed on Cassie's chest. It was such an amazing moment and such an honor to have been able to capture it, let alone share it with them.

Sure it was emotional for them, but this is also about me, and I was an emotional W. R. E. C. K. underneath my calm/quiet exterior. But I was taking photos, as many as possible, so I choked back the feels and focused on my amateurish photography skills to get the clearest pictures I could.

After a few minutes of holding the baby, the nurses scooped him up (they asked first) and began to take vitals and measurements, etc. That was all fine, but soon I started to think, "God this is taking long," and noticed that -- AGAIN -- these nurses were taking their sweet ass time. Peter was crying and Cassie was getting more and more anxious to hold him, do skin-to-skin, and start breast feeding. I can't be sure exactly how long it took, but it was kind of ridiculous. Cassie was getting emotional, particularly in the moments when the nurses would walk away and Peter was left lying by himself.

I about bitch-slapped some nurses, I'll be honest. This was the first time I spoke up, only after Cassie had asked way-too politely if they could please bring him back, I sternly said, "He needs to come back over here now. Like, immediately." I'm pretty sure I was channeling my mother at that moment, though she would have been notably less kind about it.

They still took their time with it, but soon, he was back with his parents and they fell into a blissful quiet while he began feeding. It was late and Kim and I were both exhausted, so we said our goodbyes and gave our kisses before stepping out so other visitors could come inside the room.

And then it was over. Just like that. We were zombies driving home, and it all kind of felt like a dream. The labor had lasted many hours, but the pushing and actual delivery went by in a flash.

It was one of the greatest honors of my life to be given this opportunity. I learned a lot, and dammit do I love my friends so much.

This guy is pretty great too.

Happy 1st birthday, Peter Dean! This world is a crazy place, but your baby blues and ginger hairs make it a whole lot brighter!

** Final portrait courtesy of Cassie Rosenbrock
** All other photos used with permission by the Rosenbrocks


  1. This was an epic re-telling of a no less epic event. I can't imagine having missed this opportunity, and I'm so glad you had the mind-power to document it so beautifully.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with the world. You're right, when you said it felt like a dream. And dreams are just impossible to share with anyone who didn't experience it like YOU did. But this comes really, really close.

    Happy Birthday, Peter Dean! xx

  2. What a wonderful experience. Don't you wish we could live every day remembering what a beautiful miracle life is? Also, I know what you mean about having so many feelings that they make it hard to write. I feel this way often and it scares me, because writing is such a cathartic form if channeling for me. When you posted that article about best friends, I was literally frozen with too many thoughts about it. Isn't that silly? Anyway, thank you for sharing and happiest of birthdays to that cute little munchkin!