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Tristan’s Birth Story

An excerpt from Stephen Mackey’s Dream Build Believe 

CHAPTER 14

“New Parents”

Right from the beginning, Shannon had committed herself to a natural childbirth, as she wanted to be aware of every sensation and wanted no risk of drug effects on the baby. After researching the various techniques and methods available, she settled on the Bradley Method of husband-coached natural childbirth and we registered for classes. I was incredibly excited about Tristan’s forthcoming birth, and wanted to be as much a part of it as I could. We chose a midwife delivery in a state-of-the-art birthing facility. Loudoun County has many of the finest healthcare professionals and facilities in the country, and we settled on the Birthing Inn, which hosted two telemetry rooms complete with large tubs and roaming vital monitoring.

The classes were held each Tuesday over an eight-week period. They began with some background into Dr. Bradley, his research and teachings, and how the methodology evolved. We learned about the various stages of labor, with the husbands being instructed on various techniques to reduce stress and pain as the labor intensified. As the course progressed, we began to get into more detailed and graphic descriptions and visuals. Not only were we being instructed on a textbook delivery, but also on the myriad of issues and dangers that can arise during any labor. Then came the videos. It was comical watching everyone’s reactions during the showing of the birth videos. Essentially, all the women were cooing and blubbering in their Kleenexes, and the men were all white as sheets, doing their best not to throw up.  

We decided very early on that the only person who was going to determine when Tristan would be born would be Tristan. As long as neither Shannon nor he was in any imminent danger, then there was no way we wanted any kind of intervention for the sake of convenience, either ours or a healthcare practitioner’s. It was critical, then, that Shannon find someone who supported, encouraged, and understood her commitment to natural childbirth. Shannon had spent countless hours researching practitioners and methodologies, and had settled on the Loudoun Community Midwives, a practice comprised (at the time) of Margie Brandquist, Wendy Dotson, and Paula Senner. These three ladies were impressive in their dedication to prenatal care, their knowledge of and commitment to natural childbirth, and their perfect blend of genuine caring and absolute professionalism. Shannon loved their philosophy of around-the-clock on-call, whereby any one of the three could deliver our baby, no matter when he decided to arrive. They made it clear that they were there to provide for Shannon and Tristan’s health and safety, not the other way around. There would never be any “hurry up Tristan, we have other plans” mindset or similar artificial birth parameters.  

As a father, I also felt they did a wonderful job of keeping me engaged in both the prenatal process as well as the birth training. Childbirth is naturally a very woman-centric experience, and I will admit there are magical bonds created between mother, child, and midwife that do not involve the father. Those bonds develop very early in the process, well before the actual delivery, and one aspect of the Bradley training I am grateful for is the knowledge that those bonds must be honored and not resented. In the end, from my perspective, the health of both mother and child are the only things that matter; nurturing and supporting those bonds is a key role of the father for the positive mental, emotional and spiritual well-being of his wife.

Not only did parental planning and vineyard startup tasks consume us, but also another career change came calling. During April, I interviewed with America Online for a director position overseeing the Winamp digital media player. During the career search that led me a few months earlier to comScore, I had submitted resumes for several positions at AOL and TimeWarner. Apparently, since I did not deactivate my account, my resume was still live in their database, and when the position opened up, they contacted me. Though comScore was on the fast track to an IPO (and no one in their right mind would walk away from a second stock option package), the reality of my day-to-day situation was beginning to take its toll. I had been trying in vain to work my way into the programming and product development unit, however those teams were being run out of the Chicago and recently acquired Toronto offices, thus it was clear I was going to be stuck in panel management.  I figured it could not hurt to take an afternoon off to hear what the folks at AOL had to say.  

The interviews went very well (I was interviewed by four people) and I was immediately intrigued by the possibility of returning to my musical and audio engineering roots. A Winamp user for several years, I was very familiar with the product. The additional benefit of being able to work at the same company as Shannon and our ability to commute together made it an obvious choice for me. When the job offer came a week later, I accepted immediately, tendered my resignation from comScore, and walked away with just two months of a forty-eight month options package. When comScore went public in June 2007, I lamented yet another “would have had a half million dollars” moment that was simply not meant to be.  

I allowed myself a week and a half off before starting at AOL in mid-June and spent the entire week finishing up the deer fence—so much for resting up before the new gig. Much of the efficacy of a deer fence is behavioral; a deer can jump right over a 7’6” fence if they are motivated enough to do so. If the fence is up before they know a tasty meal waits inside, they will not bother. Working eleven consecutive twelve-hour days, with only a brief afternoon break for Shannon’s baby shower on June 11th, I completed the 11,000’ deer fence project on the 12th, our one-year anniversary and the evening before my first day at AOL. The vines were safe, and though there were still numerous vine training and trellis construction tasks needed, the pressure of the vineyard’s potential demise had lessened considerably. 

We enjoyed a relatively peaceful few weeks leading up to Tristan’s birth. I spent most evenings and each weekend working out in the vineyard, running trellis wire, spraying herbicide in the rows, tying vines, and pulling off the grow tubes to train the vines and allow them to more fully develop. Just about all of the vines were now about waist-high, with a few nearly six feet tall!

Preparations for the baby’s arrival continued back at the house. Since we were in a one-room rental, Tristan would be joining us in our bedroom. I was very disappointed I would not be able to build and decorate a cute nursery, but we made the best of the situation by purchasing a matching set of farm-themed baby décor to liven up the room. Shannon spent most of this time rearranging all the baby clothes and supplies into the limited space. When she got it just like she wanted it, she pulled it all apart, I moved the furniture, and she reconfigured it all over again. Like most new fathers, I watched in awe as the room came apart and was reassembled nearly a dozen times. Apparently organizing a baby’s room is not as simple as organizing a tool cabinet; who knew? For those men who have not yet experienced this, the process is known as “nesting,” and is a very natural impulse of an expecting woman. As a courtesy to first time fathers-to-be, here are a few questions to be avoided:

Q) “Don’t you think the dresser is fine right here?”
A) “It’s too far from the crib!” Sniffling.

Q) “Didn’t the bassinette look better over there?”
A) “It’s too close to the window, it might be drafty!” Crying.

Q) “Do you really need 12,000 baby wipes for one little ass?”
A) “It’s called a tushy and it’s going to be so cute!” Sobbing.

It was a fascinating time, and I was trying my best not to appear as an insensitive brute, working hard to be both supportive and attentive.  Especially fun were the many circular conversations, for example:

“What do you think about this baby outfit?” she asks.

 “I like it,” I respond.

“Well, what about this outfit?” she asks.

“I like it just as well,” I respond, careful to not imply anything negative.

“You have to pick one,” she insists. This is known as “the setup,” and dark clouds appear on the horizon.

Trying hard to read her eyes to find the right answer, I moronically respond, “The first one.” BUZZ—wrong answer.

“I liked the second one, why don’t you like it?” Sniffling. Insensitive brute.

We weathered the experience as well as any new parents, though to this day, I contend the room ended up exactly as she had arranged it the first time.

We had been unable to sell the New Haven house, and the burden of two mortgages and a rental payment had taken its toll, eating away at the remainder of my Greenfield option cash. As Tristan’s due date approached, Shannon became increasingly adamant she wanted the house gone before the birth, as she did not want to contend with the financial worries once the baby arrived. As luck would have it, the second week of July, an offer came in. Though it was well under our original asking price, we decided to make a small counter offer, which was accepted, and we were relieved that chapter in our lives was finally closed. Until that house was sold, we were not in a position to begin interviewing builders for the new home, and now that burden had been lifted. Once Tristan was born and safely home, we could begin the search for a general contractor.

On July 17th, Shannon awoke at 5:30 A.M. with mild contractions, and by 7:30 A.M. they had intensified to the point that we were quite certain this was the day. Shannon called the midwives to let them know, and since she was comfortable and relaxed, we decided to spend the morning at home. I loaded the SUV, we both showered and got ready to go, and by late morning she was eager to move to the Birthing Inn. We checked in at 1:30 P.M., and when our nurse walked in to introduce herself, I almost fell over in shock to see my sixth grade girlfriend standing there, Laura (Wilson) Frazier. She would be assisting Paula Senner, our midwife, throughout the birth.  

Shannon changed into her gown, had an exam, and was fitted with the telemetry monitoring equipment. We walked the halls and stood together rocking back and forth, while her contractions increased in intensity and regularity. I had brought some sports drinks and fresh fruit in our bags for Shannon, and she continued to eat and drink until the nausea got too bad. We both believe that keeping her hydrated and nourished was a huge help during the exertions that would soon follow. Her progress was slow throughout the afternoon, and I did my best with massages to keep her relaxed and confident. By early evening, she told us she was ready for the tub, a pain management and relaxation technique often used in natural childbirth. 

I can remember clearly how intense her contractions were becoming once she was in the tub, and we settled into a groove whereby I would countdown the contractions (amazed that each one was exactly sixty seconds long, no more, no less), and in between contractions we would give her water to keep her hydrated, wipe her face with cool water, and try to keep her comfortable. However, the moment a contraction started, she would push everyone away, telling us that when a contraction was occurring every touch felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. She got out of the tub a few times so Paula could give her an exam to gauge her progress. After eight hours in the Birthing Inn, her cervix had not budged at all, and her frustration was mounting and evident. Back to the tub; now the contractions were clearly becoming unbearable, and there moments when Shannon was in the middle of a contraction and I could tell she barely recognized me. I was in awe of her strength and commitment, and encouraged her by keeping her focused on her love for her baby. “You are doing this for Tristan, you are a strong woman, a dedicated mother and you love your baby boy.”  

Watching her labor in the tub was one of the most emotionally trying experiences of my life. I would have given anything to take some of that pain away, but childbirth is a woman’s burden. That she chose to submit herself to that experience for the health of our baby is a gift I can never repay. Around midnight, Shannon was shaking uncontrollably in desperation, crying aloud, “I can’t do it anymore, I don’t want to feel like this anymore, please, please make it stop!” Our Bradley training taught us that when a woman feels she can longer go on and is ready to give up it is a sure sign of transition, the passage of the baby’s head through the cervix. Through my tears, I whispered to Paula, “I think she is in transition,” to which Paula smiled warmly and replied, “She did it, she is there.” I kept encouraging her by keeping her focused on Tristan, telling her, “You’re there, baby, we’re going to meet out little boy very soon.”

At 1:00 A.M. Shannon knew it was time to push, and we rushed her out of the tub and onto the bed. Paula checked her, felt the top of the head, knew the birth was imminent, and advised Laura to assemble the team. Three additional nurses silently rushed into the room, configuring the equipment, assisting Paula, and preparing for Tristan’s arrival. Their well-rehearsed protocols were incredible to observe; they were seamlessly perfect. Shannon sensed the moment was upon her, and was pushing with renewed spirit. I was holding her left leg up, and Paula was coaching her, keeping her focused. After what seemed like an eternity, I could see the top of Tristan’s head emerging and began screaming, “I see him! He’s almost here! You’re really doing it, baby!” Shannon was now pushing with everything she had left, Paula was guiding Tristan, and suddenly the head was out, followed in an instant by the rest of him. Like throwing a switch, Shannon felt the pain ease, and began crying and screaming, “Is it over? Is he really here?” Paula, visibly proud of Shannon for her incredible effort, simply replied, “Yes, he is, here is your baby boy,” and laid Tristan upon her chest. I was laughing and sobbing uncontrollably, kissing them both, so proud of Shannon for enduring all that pain, her commitment to our baby unwavering. Twenty hours of labor, just under an hour of pushing, and Tristan Connor Mackey was born 9 pounds 8 ounces, 21 inches long, at 1:46 A.M. on July 18th, 2005.