First Hour

Memories from my own births... On my knees, I leaned into my husband's lap, and truly bellowed like a cow-almost alarmed at the unfamiliar sounds erupting from me, as my midwife sat with calm welcome behind me. In the next instant, I felt sweet relief with the emergence of our son into the early morning light shining into our bedroom on a quiet Sunday. Utterly exhausted, I heard the hushed urgency in our midwife's voice "get that baby into her arms..." I was stunned and she knew it, still numb, as my arms wrapped around this little person who, to my surprise, I did not recognize. Labor had been long, and so much more intense than anything I could have imagined, that I sat there on my haunches and then was guided to my bed, in a state of emptiness. I remember little of that first hour save the surprise of hearing a baby's cry in the room following a tornado experience within my body. How could such a sweet tender sound emerge from such a powerful storm?

I met our second son after a much shorter storm, a storm with which I was familiar and unafraid. Immediately, I marveled at his large hands and penetrating eyes. Without hesitation, I claimed him with kisses to his silky cheeks and gentle love words into his soft ears. I delighted in his brother's gaze of curiosity and smile of wonder as he held his newborn brother in his lap.

In my third labor, after only a few minutes of pushing-urgent and focused-our daughter emerged. I remember proclaiming in wonder to her over and over again "You are so beautiful...You are so beautiful!" The feeling of her skin against mine was exquisite beyond measure. In the back recesses of my consciousness, I was aware that someone wanted to clean up the puddle of amniotic fluid and blood in which I sat. Thankfully, when all my attention stayed with my baby, they relented and realized it wasn't time to clean up.

When our last child was born, and again I sat on the floor in a puddle of body fluids, and reached out to touch our newborn's long slender body, amazed at his perfection, somewhere from the periphery I heard "Maybe you ought to get that baby covered..." Intrusion. "Who invited her?" I thought with minor irritation. It was only an instant, and we kept sailing along in our dreamland. One of our kids stepped up to help dry the baby, another helped get the hat on. We were in New Baby Land all together. I knew by then how sacred and short that first hour would be, and I didn't let normal life and good intentions interrupt it.

That first hour is precious. All senses, for both mother and baby, are wide open. The luscious softness of the infant's skin is a tactile orgy. The mother's touch grounds the baby in his new non-aquatic environment. When the lighting is kept low, to protect the newborn's eyes from the newly experienced brightness of life outside of the womb, mother and child gaze deeply at each other. Mother notices every detail of the baby's delicate lips and imploring tongue, lapping in expectation; the pattern of peach fuzz over the shoulders and sometimes on the face; the swirl of hair, sparse or thick; the myriad folds of the ears; the arch of the eyebrow; the bow and coil of the hyper flexed legs; every finger, every toe. In her own time, with her partner and perhaps older children, mother discovers the gender of her child. Sometimes it's immediate, sometimes it's thirty minutes later when she pulls the blanket back to take a closer look.

Babies often gaze in still wonder at the mother's face, mesmerized by the familiar voice, no longer muffled by amniotic fluid. On occasion, baby may have some serious crying to do initially. If he was stressed in the last moments in the birth canal or if he has fluid to clear from his lungs, crying will substantially aerate his system, and help him through the transition from intrauterine to extra uterine life. But the more common still point-time out of time-of gazing thoroughly at each other, savoring the primal physicality of skin on skin, as well as the baby's nuzzling of the mother's nipple, all serve to stimulate a resurgence of oxytocin that will cause uterine contractions again, the birth of the placenta, and minimize the amount of blood lost.

The mother often, at this point, finds herself distracted from her baby for a few minutes and perhaps, a little restless. She may want to shift her position or even have someone else hold the baby while she expels the placenta.

When the umbilical cord remains intact during this time, the baby's system has the advantage of receiving a boost of cord blood. This volume of blood carrying with it vital oxygen, can be critical if the baby has been stressed just before emerging, or if for any reason is slow to take his first breath. In effect, the extra volume of blood from the umbilical cord can "jump start" the baby's system. The intact umbilical cord provides the baby with a safety net in his first few minutes of life while his circulation is making the shift from receiving oxygen via the umbilical cord and placenta to receiving oxygen via air in the lungs.

Undisturbed and supported by the pulsing cord, baby will nuzzle and grope until he finds the nipple. Some babies will latch on full within minutes. Some babies will lick and smell, hold and let go of the nipple, in no hurry, experiencing the touch and smell, luxuriating in the presence of the mother. There is no time table in that first golden hour, only mother and baby-one becoming two-protected by privacy, low lighting, warmth and love.

--Pam Dyer Stewart