This is one of my favorite posts from the past. It was published 1 year ago today, on my son's 16th birthday. He's 17 now and going to college in the fall. Happy birthday, buddy! *************************
It is a moment etched into my deepest being.
I looked at the baby in the basinet. I was tired, happy, confused, hopeful, and scared. He just laid there, barely moving. I thought to myself, this child will be in my life until the day I die. It happened in an instant. There was now a person for whom I would throw myself in front of a bus without hesitation. The child had done nothing except exist, but that existence radically changed my life.
To say that it just seems like yesterday would be a lie. It seems like a long time ago. The cobwebs are creeping into this old mind (along with llamas and lobsters), and so it helps me to recount the whole experience. Here is how I remember it:
We are Pregnant!
We had just been married for a couple of years, but my wife and I were quickly approaching thirty and biological clocks are hard things to ignore. I was still in my residency, but we were living fairly comfortably and felt it was time to start a family. Somebody must have thrown Miracle Grow on us, because fertility was no problem.
I was suddenly living with a pregnant woman - an experience that one needs to go through to adequately understand. We could not store enough Popsicles in the freezer. Emotional? Yes, and changing without a moment's notice. "That time of the month" for nine months. We did enjoy the kicking in the belly: the "Alien" movements I could see and feel.
Because it seemed the thing to do, I chose one of the OB/GYN attendings at my program for my wife. The visits seemed nice enough, but there was little bonding between my wife and her doctor. We got an ultrasound and found out it was a boy (even though we asked not to be told). We bought any and all baby supplies we could afford - and hunkered down to wait for the day.
Finally, the day fast approached for the babe to be delivered (yes, I am referring to my wife). We reached her due date. Nothing. Days went by slowly, each day waiting for my beeper to say it was time. Still nothing. The office pool at my wife's workplace was quickly losing possible winners. A week past the due date, and we talked with the OB about plans. It was the practice at the time to go as much as two weeks past the due date before forcing the issue.
So we waited more.
Day 12 past the due date was a Saturday. The entire previous night, my wife had contractions every ten minutes, sometimes closer. When the morning came, they all but stopped. To encourage our baby to come out, I convinced her to wash the car. We got a clean car out of it, even waxed, but few contractions.
The next night the same thing happened, but the contractions were more severe. The next morning, when they slowed down, we went out for a walk to try to encourage them again. It had rained the night before, and so the sidewalks were covered in worms. My wife hates to see worms die, and since the ability to bend over to pick up worms had left her a few months before, I became the official worm-savior. There were enough worms to practically put me into labor.
Still nothing happened.
Day 14 finally arrived, only to see the same slow-down in contractions. I was not going to tolerate any more waiting, and the OB did say that two weeks was the expiration date on this pregnancy. So to avoid late-fees, we went to the teaching hospital where our son would be born.
Of course, at a teaching hospital, you get the guinea pig finest experience. We were met by interns and residents. The first check of the cervix showed she had gotten to two centimeters. Two? All of that work and only two centimeters? All of those contractions, lost sleep, worms, and all we got was two lousy centimeters? We demanded a recount, but no dice. We did, however, get a Pitocin drip.
For those who do not know, Pitocin is a hormone normally produced in a woman's body that causes (among other things) her uterus to contract. My wife's body was on week 42 of a Pitocin strike, so hooking up the bag seemed like a more likely solution than to negotiate a settlement. Once hung, it did quite well to increase her pain at more frequent intervals.
After a few hours of pain, walking the hospital (with no worms to pick up, thankfully), and more pain, she had progressed to a whopping 3 cm. The pain, however, was getting intense, so we asked for anesthesia. The anesthesia guy they pulled off the street resident came in to put the epidural in. Once in, we were assured that the pain would go away. She lay on her side, with contractions hurting more and the bozo resident blindly expertly putting the epidural needle in her back.
The pain went away...somewhat. It went away on her left side, but not the right. Now she was having hard labor pains on her right, and blissful pain-free labor on the left. She was not happy. We had, however, made it to four centimeters.
The nincompoop anesthesia resident came back sheepishly and tried to make things better by putting her on her side and doing something with a shrunken head on the end of a stick, but it helped little. By now the labor pains were getting difficult to stand. It had been nearly eight hours since coming into the hospital, and nearly three days since the labor process started, and we were all the way to five centimeters.
The Ice Man Cometh
My mother-in-law came with us to the hospital (did I forget to tell you?). She was a great comfort to my wife, and allowed me to take a break and go to the bathroom, eat, or find some worms to pick up. She held my wife's hand, comforted, coached, and soothed her.
My job was to feed her ice with a spoon. Sure, I had trained to be a doctor and knew the anatomic reason the stupid epidural was not working, the physiologic reason the pitocin torture drip was making her hurt so much, and I was the one who knew everything there was to know about babies and children - after all, I was a resident. But now I was only the ice man. She would let out a pained moan that my MIL would interpret as a need for ice (through some psychic woman power, I guess), and I would jump up and feed her the ice with the expert precision afforded me by my extensive training.
It was getting near midnight, and we were up to 8 cm. Still the anesthesia wasn't working on one side, much to the chagrin of the microcephalic anesthesia posse. The heart monitor was doing its usual "wooka, wooka, wooka" in the room between contractions. The nurse was repeatedly saying "push, push, push, push" whenever contractions came. I have never been to a delivery when someone did not say "push, push, push, push" in the exact same tone of voice. It must be part of the training of labor nurses.
Another hour passed, and we were finally getting somewhere. The repeated "push, push, push, push" must have been the key. I was now so good at ice spooning that I was teaching other fathers how to feed ice to their screaming wives (although I still needed my MIL to translate). We were complete and full.
My wife threw up.
"That's a great sign" the OB resident reassured us. "It means she is going through transition." Good. I thought something had gotten into the ice. I hoped that "transition" meant that the end was in sight.
Finally, at 1:23 AM, my first son came into the world. He was scrawny, wrinkly, and covered in goop. Babies get skinny when they spend too much time in the womb. He cried a pathetic little cry (the best sound I have ever heard), and everyone in the room commented on how wonderful he looked. I thought he kind of looked like Marty Feldman - skinny, with big eyes that bulged out. Yet I said to my wife, "He looks wonderful, honey" as I held him up for her to see for the first time.
She paused. "He looks like a lizard" she said in a voice that seemed to question if all the effort was worth it. I reassured her that this was due to placental insufficiency as the term of the pregnancy had passed the due date. She looked at me strange, and then looked back at our boy. "Awww....he's crying. Give him to me," she said as the look on her face softened. I handed handed him over and came close to her. We were a family now: mommy, daddy, and lizard boy.
I got home after 3 AM, and fell on my bed exhausted. Three hours later, the phone roused me from my hibernation. I picked it up to hear my wife's sobbing, "He's crying and crying, and I can't make him stop." Being a resident, I was used to be awakened for lots of reasons, but I was far better at making children cry than stopping it. I decided that now was not the time to explain this, and went back to the hospital.
He was sleeping again. Somehow the thought of me coming to see him had convinced him to go back to sleep. I looked over at my wife, now sleeping without contractions.
Then I looked over at my boy.
Then my life changed.
Happy birthday, Lizard Boy.