Delivery Room Football by Emmett Miller, MD
© 1995 Emmett Miller, MD (used with permission
It was late in the afternoon, and we had been awake for 20 hours. Although the birthing rooms at Stanford Hospital had seemed attractive to us at first, now all we want is to get out.
We’d been in labor for 24 hours. We’d walked, talked, breathed and taken showers but were now stuck in the second stage of labor. The labor pains had been regular for many, many hours and had grown stronger and stronger, but now were becoming more feeble. We were exhausted.
Sandy and I had decided that we wanted to have the birth be as natural as possible. We had gone through childbirth training together, planned to be together at the birth, and were looking forward to the experience of bonding with our child immediately after she came into the world. We were aware that studies had shown that mothers who were awake at the time their child was born, and who had heard the child’s first cry, could be objectively shown in double-blind studies to be more responsive, empathetic, and bonded to their child six months later. Our scientific beliefs, our philosophical leanings and our emotional desires were quite well aligned.
In performing Selective Awareness Explorations with people, I had been taken back on many occasions to birth experiences and found that insensitive or unloving behavior at the time of birth seemed to be a factor in many later problems. I knew that in many lower animals, such as guinea pigs, the infants will actually die if they are not stroked by their mother immediately following birth. We wanted our child to have every opportunity to be healthy, from her first breath.
Although we had wanted to have a natural delivery, we now welcomed the decision to have our daughter born by Caesarean section. I had washed and put on a surgical gown so I could stay with Sandy and hold her hand during the birth. Though there was some disappointment at not having the experience of natural childbirth, the relief of the physical suffering was welcome when the spinal anesthetic went to work. I knew that in a few moments our baby would be out and the celebration in our hearts would heal the emotional wounds.
A few moments later, there she was a wet, slippery baby, squirming into the light. At about that same moment, two gowned and masked pediatricians entered the room. They received the baby from the surgeon, and as he completed his work closing the gaping wound in Sandy’s belly, the pediatricians quickly and deftly examined the infant. She was breathing and doing well.
At this point, they picked her up and started out of the room. I asked where they were taking her and they answered that she needed to spend the next hour or two in the nursery.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s a safety precaution in case some unforeseen complication arises.”
“Hold on a minute!” I said. “I want her to go to her mother.” I looked over at Sandy’s exhausted, filmy eyes and the look of panic on her face.
“No, we’re sorry,” they replied firmly. “Hospital policy.” Having proclaimed this, they strode purposely forward toward the door just to my left.
Quickly I stepped in front of them, blocking their way. “Hospital policy or not, I’m her father and she’s staying here!”
Suddenly it seemed time began to slow. Looking back, it seems almost like some sort of bizarre operating-room football game. The doctor, with my child tucked under his right arm like a halfback, decided he would simply ignore this irrational father, take a step to his right and scoot on past my left elbow and through the swinging door. I don’t know what he expected I would do, but I certainly know his eyes looked surprised when I made my move.
Sensing his plan, I quickly stepped back so that my body was exactly in front of the door. My hands were on my hips so there was no room to go through. My fists were clenched and my knees were slightly bent. My heart was racing in my chest and my lungs were pumping air. I could feel my eyes narrow to slits and my belly tightened as my voice dropped about an octave. I growled more than spoke the words, “Nobody’s leaving this room with that child!”
They froze in their tracks. Their eyes told me that this was not an everyday experience for them. The doctor on my right tried one more time to run interference, a kind of “bureaucratic cross body block”. “You’ll have to sign papers saying that you’re taking this child against medical advice!”
I imagine that if I had not been an experienced physician, I might have faltered long enough for him to succeed in an end run after all. But I had delivered enough babies to know that this one was in no immediate danger. I felt not the slightest tinge of fear, only intense concentration, resolve . . . and a rising tide of fury.
On the other side of the room, beyond the pediatricians, I could see the tears in my wife’s eyes as she watched her only child being taken away before she had a chance to even see or touch it. In the doctor’s arms I saw Lauren’s mouth making sucking movements. I felt the irreplaceable seconds ticking away and could hesitate no longer. I stepped forward and extracted her from his arms. “You get the papers, and I’m taking my child.”
The interception completed, I stepped swiftly between them. In response to a sub-sonic growl, they parted like the Red Sea and I marched through. A moment later, Lauren was there on her mother’s arm nuzzling for the breast. The feeling of warmth, closeness, love and family was breathtaking. Suddenly all the pain, labor and danger faded from our minds.
Now, eleven years later, the remotely possible complications never having appeared, we are thrilled at the results of our steadfast attention to such “details.” Lauren is a wise, loving, active, good humored, secure and wonderfully compassionate being. We know that our role has been to make space for and nurture these inborn qualities.