My daughter, Aria Chloé, was born a month ago today on the 13th of April 2020. She is my first child, so I’ve only been a father for a month. Today, I want to tell you the story of her birth, a unique event in my life I will never forget.

I think it is time,” is how I woke up in the middle of the night on the 13th by my wife, Sarah. It was 4:28 am. I wanted to remember it. Sarah came back from the toilet, and I was alert already, knowing that the birth was imminent. When she entered the room, she surprised me, indicating that most probably, we would have to go soon to the hospital to deliver our daughter.

After that, I couldn’t sleep anymore. I was anxious and excited, not able to go back to bed. Sarah, on the other hand, managed to sleep a bit longer. She knew it was it, but she knew we still had to wait. The morning was quite calm, and I tried to go about my routine of work. I didn’t want to have too many expectations. Sarah was excited, and she decided to stay active to stimulate birth, she started ironing and walking around the house doing chores, getting the house ready for our return with the newcomer.

Her light contractions were gone, and for a moment, we thought it was a false alarm. We wanted to keep our expectations at bay. However, after lunchtime, Sarah started getting new cramps, only this time more substantial and frequent. We started measuring the contractions, and in a matter of minutes, we had to drop everything we were doing and get ready to go to the hospital. The contractions were painful and very close to each other. It was time to go. We packed our bags and left for the hospital.

Once we arrived, it seemed like we were on an apocalyptic horror movie. The hospital was empty, half-closed (it was a holiday), and there was nobody around. We had to make our way to the emergency by foot, frequently stopping because of the contractions. All I could do was offer support with my shoulder to Sarah and giving her relief by applying pressure to her lower back.

We managed to enter the hospital and headed up to the maternity, where we met a couple of midwives who took care of us and started preparing the “like-at-home” room for us, where you are supposed to feel like at home, with a bed, a bathtub, and not looking like a hospital room. Contractions kept going, more energetic every time. Once we were in the delivery room, at about 5:30 pm, the midwife checked Sarah’s cervix to see how open it was and how close she was to the delivery. It was open 4 cm, a good start but a long way to go until 10 cm, what they consider to be the right width for delivery. Now it was time to be patient, practice our breathing techniques, and wait for our baby to decide when to come out. The midwife left the room and indicated to us how to reach her if we needed to. We were alone.

For the next hour or so, contractions got more intense, and the pain started becoming unbearable. My goal was to help her as much as possible by guiding her with breathing exercises and by applying pressure to her lower back, which eased the discomfort of the contractions. I wanted to be involved, I wanted Sarah to feel more comfortable and not alone.

Sarah wanted to try getting into the bathtub and see if that could help with the pain. The midwife came and filled it up with warm water. She also checked the cervix once again, and it was about 5 cm only. Sarah was disappointed that after so long and so much pain, the progress was only 1 cm, and she still needed five more before the baby would come. My encouragement was futile, and I was not in her shoes to know what she was feeling.

Sarah went into the bathtub, and the relief was immense. It was the right call to use it to ease the discomfort. Shortly after, though, Sarah started having even more pain than before on each contraction. The water explosively accelerated the process, and now she didn’t want to be there anymore. She wanted pain-relief medication instead, and she asked for the epidural. The pain was too strong to bear. I helped her out of the water and I thought she was going to faint.

I stormed out of the room to find our midwife and tell her the news. We needed the epidural right away! She told me she would come immediately, so I rushed back to the room to help Sarah and give her the news. After some minutes, there was still no sign of the midwife, though. Eventually, another midwife came and asked Sarah what she wanted. Sarah asked for the gas and the epidural. The pain was too hard, and she needed a break. I cannot even imagine what she must have been feeling.

Sarah laid down in the bed on her side while waiting for the epidural to come. After a couple of minutes, our midwife came and asked if we still wanted it. Getting an epidural was more complicated than what it seemed, and the midwife wanted to check if the cervix was already fully open since the pain was so acute. This time, it was fully open to 10 cm. The baby was ready to come at any time, and we couldn’t do the epidural anymore. Sarah needed to hold a few more minutes. Seeing her in so much discomfort was painful to me.

The midwife went to the side of the room and started preparing for the delivery when Sarah got a forceful contraction that made her scream like she hadn’t done before: “I can feel her coming! She’s coming!” Sarah quickly switched positions to all fours, with feet, knees, and hands on the bed. Suddenly, it became the moment we were expecting, the birth of our daughter!

I was standing on the ground next to Sarah when she had a contraction once again. She repeated: “I can feel her, she’s coming!” The pain passed, and she continued breathing. Then, another contraction, almost immediately, and Sarah started screaming out of her lungs! I’ve never heard her screaming like this in my life. I crouched, and to my surprise, I saw my daughter coming out. My reflex was to put my hands under her so I could catch her. And in a split of a second, she landed on my bare hands.

There she was, my baby, in my hands, slippery and moving all over the place. I placed her in front of Sarah so she could also hold her, and then I busted into tears. It was overwhelming. We had waited so long and fantasised so much about her. And finally, there she was, in our hands, our daughter. Holding her for the first seconds of her life was confusing, unbelievable, exciting, and terrifying, all at the same time. I take pride in knowing that the first thing that touched my daughter when she came into this world was my bare hands. I will never forget that beautiful moment. Aria was born at 7:30 pm.

We didn’t know what to do, and we were eager to put her into Sarah’s chest for some quality skin to skin time. Sarah kept saying: “Hi sweetie! You are so beautiful!” And I kept weeping like a baby. The midwife started drying her with a soft towel, and a doctor came into the room and started helping as well. After cutting the umbilical cord, however, the midwife told me something I cannot remember and took my daughter with her to a table nearby. She told me to follow her and to stay next to her. I thought she needed to check her weight or something, but I knew this was odd because immediate skin to skin was a preferred practice in this hospital.

After a few seconds, the midwife told me that she needed to check my daughter in another room because something wasn’t right. She told me to stay next to her, and we stormed out of the room with the baby. Sarah was in bed, confused and terrified, not understanding what was happening. The doctor was taking care of her.

We entered another room, and a nurse came in. They started checking my daughter and told me that she was too blue and that she needed to be redder and get color. They massaged her and rocked her a bit to animate her a little. A doctor came in and started manipulating her to understand what was going wrong. He cleaned her airways and mouth with a sucking tube several times. It all went so quick I can’t tell what exactly happened. I was in shock, watching three people checking on my daughter talking medic terms to each other. I started losing my mind and couldn’t hear anymore what they were saying. I blanked for some seconds and started crying, rocking from side to side. I thought I was going to lose her.

I quickly regained consciousness and tried to pay attention to what they were doing and saying to me. They were very transparent and communicative, and I was lucky to be there seeing it all. My baby couldn’t breathe very well on her own, oxygen was lacking, and so she wasn’t getting enough oxygenated blood into her system, all other values were ok. The doctor quickly gave her oxygen through a face mask and saw that her values were stabilizing. The problem was clearer; she needed help breathing until she could do it on her own.

Another doctor came into the room and told me that everything was fine and that she would recover, but just had a harsh beginning. All I could say was: “Thank you!” At this moment, she asked me for her name, and I gently replied: “Aria.” Now my daughter had a name, and that’s when it hit me. I had a daughter!

I couldn’t stop thinking that Aria was so fragile that she was on the brink of death. I tried to stay lucid and put my trust in the medical experts. They have seen this happening many times already, so they know what to do. I tried calming down, hoping for the best. My thoughts were also with Sarah, who was still in the room and had not seen Aria since the midwife took her away. I could imagine how distressed she was not having her daughter next to her, doing skin to skin as we expected.

A nurse brought a neonatal capsule with an oxygen tank, and they put Aria there. It was the moment to take Aria to see her mom in the delivery room. Once there, Sarah was lying on the bed. A doctor was taking care of her wounds, as some stitches were needed. The uterus wasn’t contracting well and needed some medical help to avoid losing more blood. Sarah was shaking when we got there, and she partially managed to see Aria in the oxygen capsule. Sarah started crying when she saw Aria like that, not able to touch her or see her well. I felt terrible for Sarah, naturally, and tried giving her some encouragement. The doctors were taking good care of her and were going to do their best to help her recover. Aria needed to go to neonatal to get further checks, and this was the beginning of our stay in the hospital.

The doctors took Aria to another room where they could take care of her. She had an oxygen mask attached to her nose, and I couldn’t see her face entirely. The doctors kept doing tests, and they asked me to step out of the room because they wanted to make an X-ray scan of her lungs and see if there were any damages. I remember being outside of that room, trying to see my daughter, and thinking the worst once again. I started crying while rocking once again. The thought of losing my newborn child was killing me inside. I regained some strength and held myself together. I needed to be lucid.

Aria was born and new to this world, and all she knew was cold instruments, a bunch of hands and carrying around, needles, masks, cables, annoyance, and pain. I felt so bad for her! All she needed was love and warmth from her parents. A safe feeling of reassurance telling her that everything was ok in this new world. The shock for an infant when they are born is tremendous. Everything changes so abruptly all of a sudden, and if we do not provide that warmth and love from the beginning, the experience becomes even more traumatic for them. We were conscious about this, and we wanted very badly to do skin to skin with her right after birth.

Eventually, things got better and calmer. Aria was doing slightly better, and it was time for her to do skin to skin with one of the parents. Sarah was still being treated back in the room, so she wasn’t able to do it. I was the designated parent to do skin to skin with Aria. Complicated cables attached to her body and a nose oxygen mask made the experience more cumbersome and detached than expected. She couldn’t even smell the scent of my skin. Who would have thought? It is not what we expected at all.

After about 45 minutes, a nurse brought Sarah to the room where I was. Finally, mother and daughter were reunited, and I handed Aria to Sarah so they could spend some time together. Sarah was exhausted and sad that things didn’t go as planned. When she managed to hold Aria in her arms, she couldn’t even see her face due to the oxygen mask. It was all very surreal, but I was happy to see them together for the first time. It was almost 10 pm, and the worst was over.

At 4 am, the doctors removed the oxygen mask from Aria’s face, and she was able to breathe on her own from that moment on, removing massive anxiety from us and giving us hope that things would be better in the following days. She was still attached to a bunch of cables for monitoring, but at least we could see her face. It was the beginning of an extended stay in the hospital, experiencing different ups and downs, but happy that our daughter was sound and safe. We ended up staying for five days in total until all of Aria’s values were safe to let us go back home.

The medical assessment of the problems Aria had when she was born is that she was born exceptionally quickly. She didn’t have the time to comprehend she was out in this world and no longer in the womb. At the same time, it seems that she swallowed a bit of meconium, which caused her respiratory problems in the first place. The combination of these two factors complicated matters, and hence, she had a challenging birth experience.

It has been a month since Aria was born, and I am a happy father with all the ups and downs. I am grateful to have her in my life, and I feel awful she had such a rough beginning. There’s no sense in wondering if I or we did something wrong or not, as there no changing the past. All I know is that I can give her unconditional love and care and that when I see her little face, I get filled with joy, all my worries fade away. I am a happy father!