Birth Story: Judith and Marc

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Judith and Marc live in Madison where Judith is a hospice nurse and Marc works as a music teacher at a local elementary school. Here they share the births of their children Jacob (30) and Louisa (26) and the one thing Judith will never forget…

Did you have experience with birth before you had your children?

Marc: I don’t know about you, but I was born at a very early age.

Judith: I also was born at a very early age. But no, I had never seen a birth.

M: Ok, I will pull a little rank here. I’m the son of a veterinarian and I saw a shitload of births. I assisted on things, we had them in our house. I was there for Cesareans.

J: Oh yeah, I saw a shitload of animal births. Tons of dog and cat births.

M: I had 2 tons. If she had a ton, I had two tons.

J: He can have that.

M: We were Lamaze people.

J: Before that too, friends. Muli and Devorah had a very premature child.

M: When we first met, my best friend in the city had had a premature baby and this was a child as big as his two hands.

J: Less!

Did you hear about your own births?

M: I did. Wonderful mother, great caregiver, but her birth story ended up being that we’re responsible for part of her pain afterwards. I believe that my mom would rather have had an immaculate conception kind of thing. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any breastfeeding. I remember a bottle very early on.

J: I think that from the very beginning of the embryo I think she wished that whatever happened was not that.

M: The birth story was that she had helped bring along the birth of my sister and myself by eating twin cherries. I was a twin. And the two big parts that I remember, the first one is that I came out after lunch. We’re 2 hours and 15 minutes separate. I’m not saying that I have Post Traumatic Birth Syndrome, but she was strapped down for those 2 hours and 15 minutes.

J: She had the PTSD.

M: But I had the Post Traumatic Guilt Syndrome. And she traced that to her to her back problems ever since. It was an ongoing issue of her life and she traced it back to having been strapped down for those 2 hours between the two births.

J: Now I do remember when my sister was born, actually, but not the birth. I wasn’t present at the birth. I remember when she came home from the hospital. And I remember my mother being very pleased that she’d been able to argue an extra day out of them so that she wouldn’t have to come home and take care of my brother and me.

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What were you most nervous about?

J: I don’t think I was nervous. We had been to Lamaze and we thought we were prepared and we had our tennis balls. I think I felt it was going to be a grand adventure. Maybe we were worried about how our parents were going to be.

M: I don’t remember that part. I remember the pre-birth issues of I had come following Judith. I had been living in poverty in New York as an actor, then a writer, met her in grad school. I moved three times before the babies were born for my wife. That added to the angst. Did we want to get pregnant because I came here without really being settled in a position? But once the baby was conceived, I still remember the walks pushing you up the hill, when we’d take walks around. I made a birth tape.

J: He made a birth tape for me, called all of my friends and relatives.

M: I had them sing with me and I played guitar in the background.

J: Made up a song!

M: They were giving her messages.

J: So he was sort of working on the labor for several weeks.

It sounds like you were excited! Do you think you should have been more nervous?

J: Jacob was a very difficult child. He was colicky. He didn’t eat anything. He kind of grazed. If we had known how difficult he was going to be as a child we might have been a little bit more apprehensive. If we’d had Louisa first we would have 6 babies by now. But we had Jacob first. He was a challenge, but a very cute challenge.

What were you most nervous about going into Louisa’s birth?

J: I was worried about Jacob. I was worried about my mom. She came up on a Sunday. I thought “Oh my god I might not give birth for another week.”

M: Well let’s back up. Judith was older.

J: Because of that I had CVS (Chorionic Villus Sampling). I get a call back from the genetic counselor saying “We have the information back. I want to let you know that all of the chromosomes are in the right place, in the right order and the right number.” She said “Would you like to know the sex of the child?” And I said yes and she said it was a little girl. And I said “Oh that’s the best news of all!” Then I felt terrible for having said that! I mean, the best news of all was that the chromosomes were all in the right order. I thought “I cannot do another boy.” He was so active. He never, ever stopped. He climbed up and over the ceiling. He never stopped.   

How did your labor start?

J: My water broke during the night, a little after midnight maybe. And we knew that’s what it was, so we hung out for awhile at home. Then we called and they said to come in because there’s infection danger potentially. So we didn’t get to do our labor walk. We’d taken these plans of where we were going to do it.



Describe your labor:

J: We went in. We got in maybe 6 o’clock in the morning or something. It was real labor, but it wasn’t progressing. They said to do nipple stimulation, so they wouldn’t have to give me artificial oxytocin. I’m stimulating my nipples as a contraction comes. I mean, that’s not what you want to be hanging on to when the contraction comes. And that went on for hours and hours.

M: So we went in around 6 and he was born around 5ish. That’s long. And then at the end of it, after all the stressors, there was an episiotomy.

J: Which didn’t bother me at all.

M: It was traumatic for me to see. And because of all that he came out with the cone head.

J: And he had a broken collarbone.

M: So it was not the easiest of births.

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Was the labor what you expected?

J: The birth itself was much more difficult than we had been led to believe because there were complications.

M: We thought we had it all down. In terms of preparation, we were not prepared for contingencies. We were prepared for pain. We were prepared for poop. We were prepared for blood. Of course, I didn’t have to prepare as much as she did. That goes without saying. What we weren’t prepared for was that the child came on Memorial Day. On Memorial Day there was a skeleton crew. There was an accident. A pregnant woman was brought into the ER and our obstetrician and the nurses for us were pulled away.

J: So we were alone. But before that, Jacob was having cardiac distress, so he was put on a monitor. And as we’d gone to Lamaze, we said “oh yes, we’re going to go all natural” and whatever. Tennis balls. That’s my metaphor. Basically we were told to avoid a fetal monitor at all costs, but at that time, when his heart’s going way down…And we were alone in the room once he was on the monitor. We’re looking at this monitor and it’s really negative feedback. It turns out that it was malfunctioning a little bit, so if there had been someone in the room…

M: The thing is, putting on the fetal monitor immediately cut off the game plan because she could no longer walk to alleviate pain. Plus she was one of those people when she was finally going through whatever stages she didn’t want to be touched at all.

J: Anywhere he touched me, and I knew it was disappointing to him at the time, it just felt like pain to my uterus. So I was, at the time, even though I didn’t want to be, rejecting him.

M: We were deprived of coping skills, plus we were bereft without a professional in the room. So we were not even aware when it was at its worst when she was going through transition.

J: I remember saying if it’s this bad now, I can’t imagine going through transition. But I was going through transition and if I had known that I would have said “Ok, this is temporary.”

M: We lost our professional and I’m watching the heartbeat go down to 40 beats a minute, if that’s what it was. It was very low. Can’t move her. No one there to talk to. And there were no drugs to help her through transition. So we were flying blind without that radar. It ended up being quite stressful. And long.

Marc catches a quick nap

Marc catches a quick nap

What did you do differently for your next birth?

J: It was almost identical. My water broke before contractions started. My mom was there, but we didn’t wake her up until like 5 in the morning. We said we were going into the hospital and could she take Jacob to preschool. She might have been born a little bit earlier in the afternoon than he was. It was shorter.

M: Especially the pushing.

J: Now this where we’re going to get to what really is the main story from the second birth, according to me! It was a much shorter pushing period. The first one was maybe 3 hours and this was maybe 25 minutes. She comes out, perfectly formed as she has always been, and Marc’s first comment was “Boy, that was easy!” And I hit the roof! This is nothing that a male can ever say.

M: It was easier!

J: I remember that, no, that was not easy!

M: I’d like to give my context. Because it was shorter. And it was so much less stressful than what we described with Jacob. I said whatever because it didn’t last. It was so much less stressful. The doctor was there. There were not extenuating circumstances. So when I go to my death bed will we at least be able to say that I meant that it was easier?

J: Easier, but not easy. And her whole early infancy was easier. Everything was different. But at the same time, you have another child. I remember people telling us and I’ve repeated many times that the first child takes 99% of your time and the second only takes 1%, but that means there’s absolutely nothing left for you. Although the timing was very similar, the births themselves were different. And this one was at St. Mary’s and there was no monitor. I walked around the hallway a fair amount. I think I even did a bath at one point.

M: We also took a sibling class. I don’t remember the Lamaze class, but I remember the sibling class.

J: I don’t think we brought tennis balls to this birth!

M: I didn’t make a tape.

J: But I think you brought your guitar, anyway. I think you might have done some singing.

J: It might have been with Louisa that there was less plan.

Baby Jacob

Baby Jacob

What words of wisdom do you have for expectant parents?

J: I would say know that births happen in all sorts of ways and there isn’t a best way and there isn’t a worst way. Children have been born for thousands and thousands of years. And each one is different. Don’t assume. Don’t go in very firm. Children can be born successfully everywhere. Just know that you go with the flow because your body makes that flow. Your body is doing stuff that, first all, it’s never done before and it just does it. You’re better off if you’re just going with what’s happening.

M: Two things that I took away would be not to plan, but to be aware of the possibility that you need contingencies. So what happens when Plan A and Plan B go out the window? The other part is tongue in cheek, but who knew that the first thing she’d remember about the second birth was me calling it easy!?

Maggie Mehr