Nathaniel Lief Kern-Asker came strong
and wet and healthy into the world at
4:25 p.m., January 29, 1978.
As Nancy Kern looked back on the
birth and her months of preparation for
it, there were some surprises and some
"I had some misconceptions about
early labor. I thought that early labor was
easy labor and I expected the pains to intensify as the birth progressed. Actually
the early contractions were more painful
than the ones near the end of labor."
Although the intensity of the early
labor pains did cause her some uneasiness,
Nancy insisted that there is too much emphasis placed on the pain of childbirth.
"Pain is always the first thing people
ask about. I think the fear of pain is
worse than the pain. And I don't think
anesthesia really eases the pain that
much; it intensifies the fear. For me the
pain was a learning experience—it was a
time when I had to be strong and it's
something to be proud of."
Recalling the weeks leading up to the
birth, Nancy mentioned some other surprises.
"The one thing that really surprised
me is that pregnancy lasts so long. I felt
very big for a long time and I felt like it
should have been over about six weeks
before it actually was. The pregnancy
takes so long, but then the birth, once
hard labor starts, is over so fast."
Nancy described the last weeks of her
pregnancy as a period of "maternal amnesia." Nancy was prone to late night
wanderings to science fiction movies and
ice cream parlors. In her words, she was
"fixated" on the birth and the baby. She
laughed as she talked about her mental
state at the time.
I've never been easily bored, but I
spent that last week just trying to entertain myself. Earlier in the week I went to
movies three nights in a row by myself,
by Marianne Warfield Kostakis
NANCY KERN and JIM ASKER with baby son NATHANIEL
things-and that's important to good
labor. I felt warm all over—the light was
coming through the east window and I
could hear Kalan playing in the next
room. I felt really good and I made a lot
of progress those few hours. It was then
I realized I could talk during the contractions."
Nancy and Jim got up at 8 a.m., put
"...J could feel his head every time I pushed.
I delivered the head myself—You're so much
more in touch with the birth this way...."
received a free ice cream cone at Udder
Delight one night and then stopped off to
buy some dirty comics that I read that
night while I was having contractions."
"A month before the birth, I felt very
withdrawn and premenstrual and that
lasted several weeks. I learned that progesterone, the same hormone that causes
your premenstrual feelings, peaks in late
pregnancy and then drops off sharply as
labor begins. After that period passed, I
felt bliss...I felt that the birth was imminent."
Nancy began experiencing what she
called "start/stop" labor several days before the birth. In this "pre-labor" stage,
Nancy felt contractions, similar to menstrual cramps, in the lower part of her
"At that point, I could ignore them if
I wanted to. When they came, I would do
some slow deep breathing and try to visualize the baby. I could actually feel my
By Saturday evening, Nancy's cervix
was 3 cm dilated and her contractions
were frequent enough for Nancy's midwife, Judy Kier, to be called. Judy came
with her four-month-old son, Kalan, to
watch over the long labor. During the
night, Judy periodically checked the fetal
heart beat and Nancy's dilation and slept
when she could.
Jim Asker slept while his partner labored throughout the night. He woke be-
for dawn and joined her in watching the
"Jim and I watched the sun come up
that morning. I felt really in tune with
the birth sheet on the bed and then called
their friend Brenda Pope so she could be
there for the birth. From her work during
the night, Nancy was 5 cm dilated, but
when Judy checked her again at 11.00
there had been little progress.
"Judy told us to take a walk, so that
gravity could help pull the baby down, so
Jim and I walked about two miles
through the neighborhood. My depth perception was strange and it was hard doing
contractions standing up. When I'd have a
contraction, Jim and I would stop and
face each other, look each other in the
eyes and do our breathing together."
"We returned to the house and I labored in bed. Then I got up and did some
exercises—'pelvic rocks' which are similar
to the yoga asana called the 'cow-cat.' I
would have a contraction, then do some
pelvic rocks, then have another contraction. Sometimes I would rest in between
contractions and put my head in Jim's
lap. Other times Jim would press as hard
as he could on the small of my back to
provide countertension to the contraction. It took Brenda's pushing on top of
Jim's hands to relieve the pressure. The
intensity and strength of the contractions
"I was alternately hungry and nauseated during labor. I did eat about four
cups of yogurt and drank lots of teas and
fruit juices throughout. I kept having contractions and doing the pelvic rocks and
finally I actually felt the baby move into
the birth canal."
Judy did a pelvic exam and could feel
the baby's head. As she did so, she no-
ticed Nancy's cervix was loose instead of
tight around the head. Nancy was undergoing what is called a "complex presentation" or a presentation that is not the
most natural. They discovered later Nate
had his hand on his face and that was
causing the abnormality of the cervix.
"I think Judy was worried, but I never
was really scared. Midwives usually follow
the mother's instincts, and mine were
that I wanted to stay right where I was.
"At one point I was squatting and it
felt really good. Everyone in the room
was totally focused on the contractions
and it reached a point where Jim was unable to move away from me. He knew he
had to be right there.."
When Nancy was 10 cm dilated, Judy
told her it was safe to "push her brains
out"; the risk of pushing too soon and
tearing the cervix was over.
"I was back in bed and the urge to
push was so strong. I pushed with the
contractions-1 guess it lasted about an
hour and a half. Then Judy put oil on my
hands, so I could feel for the head. Gradually I could feel his head every time I
pushed. And I delivered the head myself
-you're so much more in touch with the
birth this way, delivering the baby into
your own hands instead of into someone
"Then Nate was born. He cried immediately and so did I. Those first few
moments were so emotional...just incredible! They laid him on my chest for a few
minutes and I didn't want him away from
me for even a minute. But Judy checked
his heart and weighed him and then they
put a diaper on him."
"Brenda went to get Chinese food, but
I was too exhausted to eat anything. I
was so tired I couldn't even blow my
nose, but Jim was a good nurturer those
first few days when I was too exhausted
to change diapers. I think it has made him
closer to Nate. Being there at the birth
and caring for Nate from the very beginning has made Jim feel more at home
with the baby-unlike a lot of fathers
who are afraid even to touch their baby
"Those first few days were incredible.
They were worth all the trouble this little fellow will cause in the years to come.
Jim and I are both just amazed and in
awe of the whole thing."
"There is a real need for privacy in the
first weeks and I think new mothers
should be aware of this. Visitors, unless
they're really close friends, are very disturbing to the rhythms being established
by the family. This time is so important—
you're getting to know each other. Nursing in public is a new experience and if
you're not feeling completely relaxed, it
can be really difficult.
"I am really concerned with eating—
with cooking good, nutritious foods. I
have a tremendous appetite. And it's nice
now that the baby is here to be able to
eat a lot without everyone saying, 'Oh,
you're eating for two now.' I got so tired
of that. I'm learning to be away from
Nate ten or twenty minutes at a time. At
first I didn't want to be separated from
him at all, but now I'm adjusting to that
As Nancy recalls the birth and this
first month of her son's life, she speaks
with both reverence and enthusiasm.
Sometimes, a note of practicality intrudes
but never diminishes the experience.
"At first I kept thinking, 'What is postpartum depression?' because I felt so high
and so happy. But later on when Jim
went back to work, I started thinking,
'Hey wait a minute. I've got all this work
to do and he's gone off to work and I'm
stuck here.' And when he came home I
told him I was a little envious of his going
away to a job. It's really hard to realize
you're going to have this 24-hours-a-day
demand, especially when the baby is
brand new and eating every couple of
"At the same time, this is a real special
time for both of us aad I don't want to
try to do much else. I think it would be a
n istake and that we'll all be a lot happier
if I just take care of myself and the
Page 16 HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH March 1978
NATHANIEL LIEF KERN-ASKER