Lately, grandchildren have been on my mind a lot. Becky and I kept the two known as the “cute ones” over the weekend, and my other daughter, who lives in Portland Oregon, is in labor as I begin this essay.
Thirty-seven years ago my wife, Becky, was in labor with our Portland daughter. I recall that long struggle, as many first time labors are. I’ve always thought the term labor was a euphemism because the birthing process is more than work; it comes with serious pain. However, the joy that comes at the end leads us to forget most of the suffering as we bring new life into the world.
As a doctor and a patient I have dealt with pain and suffering. For many years doctors have used a 10 point scale for communication and assessing their patient’s pain. However, it is impossible to accurately measure pain because everyone is different. I’ve often explained, that if you take 10 people standing against a wall and poke them with a stick and ask them how bad it hurts, you’ll get 10 different answers.
As a senior medical student I participated in the care of many patients in labor and have delivered more than 30 babies. If all goes well anyone can deliver a baby, even me. However, I believe we too often take labor and delivery for granted, because if something goes wrong it can be a catastrophy. As a result, I’m a firm believer in medical care by professionals.
In medical school I was taught about pain by a young girl who presented to the emergency room in the process of delivering her baby. As our team hurried her to the delivery room we were focused on preventing the baby’s head from precipitously exiting the birth canal and literally exploding the flesh of her perineum. As we rolled her through the hallways on a gurney, the senior physician timed a labor contraction to use a scissors to cut an episiotomy. She never flinched. This observational experience was more instructive than any textbook or arbitrary pain scale.
Modern medicine has dramatically improved the care of mothers during pregnancy and labor, improving the odds of bringing a healthy baby into the world.
Monitoring of the baby’s heart rate is now standard during labor. Irregular heartbeats or slowing of the pulse with uterine contractions can indicate a baby in distress. “Miso” is not a Japanese soup, but a medication called misoprostol which is often used to soften the cervix and hasten labor. Pitocin, in a “Pit drip,” is a synthetic medication which binds to specialized receptors in the uterus altering calcium concentration in the muscle cells to augment uterine contraction. This drug complements the body’s own oxytocin produced in the pituitary gland. And epidural analgesia is now commonly used to lessen the agony of labor, and to produce anesthesia if a C-section is required.
While it is true that most labors end with a vaginal delivery, a healthy baby and happy parents, things can quickly go terribly wrong. I have observed otherwise normal, healthy women in labor become deathly ill in an instant. In such cases a C-section may be lifesaving for the mother and the baby. C-sections are also done when labor fails to progress or in instances of fetal distress.
(I detest how the medical term fetus has become politicized. It’s a baby, folks!)
The ancient historian Pliny the Elder imagined that one of Julius Caesar’s ancestors was born by the operation that now bears his name. In point of fact, no one knows the derivation of the name Caesar which later emperors claimed to mean Descended Divinity. Though the rescue of a baby from the uterus of a dying or dead mother is described in antiquity, the first “well recorded” survival of a mother after a C-section is from 16th century Switzerland. However, with modern surgical techniques, anesthesia and antibiotics, C-section has become a life saving technique for both babies and mothers in distress.
International “experts” have determined that the ideal percentage of C-sections should be between 10 and 15% of labors. However, some data suggest improved outcomes with a 20% C-section rate. Worldwide, this procedure is used in less than 7% of deliveries in half of the reporting countries and more than 27% of the time in the others. About one third of deliveries in America are from Caesarian section. I suspect this is related to the availability of Western medicine care and the value western culture places on women and children.
A new Star has appeared in the firmament! The hours of labor, culminating in a beautiful baby girl and a healthy mother is worth all the sacrifice and the incisional pain of a life saving cesarean section. World, meet “Lit’l M,” whose name at this moment remains a closely guarded secret by her parents, who maintain that she will “proclaim” her moniker to them.
Somehow life renews itself in the midst of all the turmoil and destruction. Perhaps it’s always been so and now, because of the Internet, we are just more aware of earthquakes in Italy, the mayhem of radical Islam and the lies of politicians. I sometimes wonder if the Net makes us happier with this greater enlightenment. As an inquisitive guy, I know the Internet is able to assuage my hunger to learn things. And as the text messages, emails and pictures fly back-and-forth between Knoxville and Portland on this blessed first day of September, I know that the Internet connects my family and friends in a way never possible before. There are always good and bad aspects of virtually every situation. It’s up to us to seek and choose the better.
I can now breathe a sigh of relief that my fourth grandchild and new granddaughter is here, and everyone is safe. Newborns don’t talk. But her expression reflects my own sense of relief. I share with her a “Whew!” that the ordeal is over.
I’ve noticed a renewed quickness in my step today as joy percolates through everything. And there is a renewed sense of hope for this world and my duty to help this new creation of God shine the Master’s beacon of light, truth and wisdom into a needy world. The journey begins…