In honor of my son’s first birthday, here is his first story:
Part 1: Nesting
Our pregnancy was remarkably without complication, but from about week 37 on our anxiety rose precipitously as the much awaited “guess date” approached.
We were “nesting,” getting everything prepared for baby, building a crib and tacking glow in the dark stars on the walls and ceiling of our former library turned nursery. We simply couldn’t wait for our baby to be born. Of course, the timing wasn’t in our hands. Especially because of our hope to have a natural birth.
The anticipated date came, went, and left us guessing. Suddenly the name took on another layer of meaning. We guessed, “Now what? Now when?”
For Sarah, this tension was all the more acute, I’m sure. Her eagerness must have grown exponentially to the size of her belly; each millimeter added to her fundal height raised her anticipation by a whole power. Everything became spicier: her attitude, her food, everything in hopes that it might rouse our baby from his aqueous slumber.
Even her temperature got hotter. It was mid-August now, and our small, old house had no air conditioning. Everything was so thick you could taste the life around you. You could feel birth approaching as everything seemed to become more vivid, more exaggerated, more alive. Despite this, or perhaps on account of it, Sarah’s resolve only grew.
Sarah had always loved going on walks, but now she was walking everywhere; as if the continuous beat of her steps might gradually push the baby down and out like the settling of an old foundation.
One particularly hot day, we drove to the dog park at Minnehaha, some 5 miles from our house. After walking the entire park, we returned to the car. As I took off the dogs’ leashes, Sarah told me she was going to walk home. Try as I might, she would not be dissuaded.
I drove home wondering what to do; imagining my past-due wife clutching her belly and collapsing to the curb as she went into labor on the street. I pulled into our driveway. My hands still on the wheel, I stared ahead blankly for a moment as these images played in my mind. I flipped the car in reverse and made my way to find her.
Having set a quick pace, Sarah was 2/3rds of the way home and going strong by the time I found her. I convinced her to get in the car and we returned to our nest.
Part 2: Ultrasounds
By the time we were almost two weeks overdue, Sarah had started to have some mild, sporadic contractions, but nothing that seemed to be going anywhere.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, and we were at our now weekly appointment with our midwife. The previous Friday, because we were post-term, we had a special appointment for an ultrasound and stress test. Everything looked fine, and we were green lighted to keep on waiting.
Waiting in the lobby to see our midwife, I could taste the expectation in my mouth. It was like everything in my life had come to revolve around this impending moment. I felt a bit like the coins you drop into a funnel at science or children’s museums; spinning faster and faster as I came nearer to the center, closer to dropping into something new. We were ushered into the small examination room. I spun faster.
The midwife Cathleen took routine prenatal measurements. First she measured Sarah’s belly. 36 centimeters. It had been 38 centimeters at the appointment a few days before. I asked her, “Could the decrease in Sarah’s fundal height happen because the baby is lower now?”
“That could explain it,” she replied. Maybe all that walking was actually working, I thought.
She proceeded to the cervical exam.
“His head is still in the same position. He hasn’t dropped any lower since the last visit,” she said, “so I’m worried that Sarah’s belly is smaller because the fluid may have decreased. We should do an ultrasound today to verify.” Yet another ultrasound, I thought.
At this point in pregnancy, the midwife is generally concerned about the size of the baby and the condition of the placenta. After 42 weeks the placenta starts to calcify and become less efficient. This is a problem because the placenta is what keeps the baby alive in utero. The level of amniotic fluid is closely monitored because it indicates the healthiness of the placenta, and because if levels drop too low it becomes more difficult to deliver the baby as there is less liquid lubricating and cushioning the process.
Luckily the midwife on duty that day was the only one at our clinic that also did ultrasounds. She walked us back to the end of the hall and into the room that housed the machine.
“I haven’t trained on this particular model. It’s older, so I’m not very good with it,” she warned. The machine looked like something out of Star Trek, the original series.
We were in the room for almost an hour for a procedure that in the past had never taken more than 15 minutes. It took Cathleen a while to figure out how to take measurements, and a while longer to find pockets of fluid large enough to measure. I wasn’t sure whether to worry more about her lack of familiarity with the machine or the apparent lack of measurable fluid.
Eventually Cathleen found a sizable pool of amniotic fluid behind our baby’s head. She had the machine tally up the measurements and compute the average amount. I held my breath.
Anything under 5 was considered problematic. 4.9 centimeters… just enough to make me doubtful about the accuracy of the test. It was one of those moments that now seem common, where the adage “better safe than sorry” always prevails. Did we want to go get induced? Well no, we didn’t want to, our ideal birth was completely natural, but what choice did we really have?
We had a similar experience some months before when we found out that Sarah was Strep B positive and that hospital policy was to flood her with antibiotics to prevent a miniscule chance of infection. An infection that could result in death of mother and child. We are not ones to overmedicate, but again what choice did we have? Your other values tend to take a back seat whenever there is even a modicum of reasonable, avoidable risk to your child. That’s parenting, I suppose. But there is a line somewhere, and you always wonder if you’ve crossed it. You wonder what was prudent and responsible, and what was fear? Was I rational, or was my amygdala swollen, was fear pumping up from my hindbrain and blinding my higher mind in an evolutionary deluge of hormones?
That being said, we were also sick of waiting to meet our baby. The prospect of getting the show on the road was exciting, if not bewildering and surreal.
Early in our pregnancy, we met with our Doula, Marion, and she asked us to do a visualization of our birth experience to help us formulate a birth plan. I imagined Sarah with ever-increasing contractions, a feeling of primal energy in the air, a flood of exhilarating anxiety. I imagined us laboring for as long as possible at home, taking a walk around the nearby park, sitting in the privacy of our backyard and garden. I imagined us finally making our way to the hospital as that primal energy crested and we could hold out no longer.
Instead, here we were two weeks past our due date, labor nowhere in sight, talking to a midwife about how we should go home, eat a relaxed dinner, pack our things and head to the hospital to begin inducement.
Almost nothing was the same, but I did feel that primal beat pulsing. It was made more palpable by the sheer reality and surrender of it all. This wasn’t a vivid, thoughtful visualization. This wasn’t in my direct and immediate control. This was our life, and I was ready to meet it in the moment.
Back at home, things got silly as we tried to think of what to pack. We scrambled together snacks and games (as if) and collected the clothes and other things we had already set aside. We went about calling family and friends and orchestrating what to do with our dogs, and we sat for what we thought might be our last meal alone for some time.
One thing was almost the same as my visualization, the drive to the hospital. I had imagined us driving down Summit Avenue to downtown St. Paul, and so we did. While Sarah wasn’t huffing and puffing in the seat next to me, there was still a primal energy in the car. An anticipatory calm before the storm; a pregnant pause. It was a late summer evening, and the sun hung low behind us as we headed east. A warm, golden light emblazoned the trees lining the road, and as we passed them it felt is if each tree welcomed us into a new realm.
Closer and closer I spun towards the center, propelled faster by the ever-accelerating rhythm of this primal beat.
Part 3: Midwifery
Like most of this experience, our arrival at St. Joseph’s hospital was starkly contrasted with my expectations. We parked in the ramp and we casually walked through the tunnel, around the lobby, down the hall, up the elevator, and through the double doors into the maternity ward. No leaving our car in the ER roundabout, no stretchers or wheelchairs, no harried rushing around. A bit awkward and unsure, we approached the nurses’ station. “Uh, hi yeah, our midwife told us to come in to start induction…”
We were ushered into the room where we would spend the next week. It was a standard hospital room. It had a small entry area, with a sink and cabinets on the right, and a curtain that could be slid to block the view into the rest of the room. Behind the curtain, there was a long wall of windows with a view of downtown Saint Paul and the Church of the Assumption. The room was dominated by a hospital bed and a portable computer station. There were cabinets on all of the walls and a T.V. mounted in front of the bed. Tucked in a corner was the recliner that pulled out into a small cot for dad.
Before long, the midwife on shift came in to get things started. It all began, as usual, with a cervical exam. Now, this was the umpteenth one of these that I had witnessed throughout the pregnancy. I had never missed an appointment. This exam, however, was different.
During most of our pregnancy, we participated in the “Centering Pregnancy” group. This meant that our exams were conducted behind a curtain cramped in the corner of a larger room while a group of people sat in a circle making inane banter. The area dedicated to exams in that room was barely larger than the bed Sarah would lay on, and I was always seated up by her head while the midwife diddled around at that other end. This meant that I never saw anything. Even when we had regular clinic appointments, I was usually seated against a wall with a midwife blocking the view.
Not this time. Now I happened to be standing on the wall across from Sarah’s bed, and the midwife made no attempts at subtlety. My jaw may have dropped once I saw the exam. “Yikes!” I thought, “they really get in there!” I shook it off, realizing that I was in for a lot more than a cervical exam. “Here we go.”
In some regards, things have come a long way in maternity medicine, and induction in a scenario like ours no longer meant being injected with Pitocin and thrown right in to chemically, induced mega-contractions. Instead, we began the gentler process of cervical ripening.
After completing the exam, the midwife administered “Cervadil,” a hormone-infused tampon meant to soften and open the cervix. It would have to stay in for 12 hours before we would know how to proceed. Sarah was also given the I.V. with her first round of antibiotics for Strep B, which she would have with her more or less throughout the labor.
By now it must have been close to ten p.m., and we tried to sleep. As if the excitement weren’t enough, the fetal monitor that was strapped with elastic to Sarah’s belly kept sliding out of position and setting off an alarm. Between that and the oversized recliner I was expected to sleep in, not much rest was had.
The next morning, roused from the surreal night of intruding noises and nurses, we were greeted by the midwife. She had come to remove the cervadil. I watched as she took out the tampon, and with it came a gush of strange colored fluid. I turned to look at the midwife with a “what the hell was that?” look on my face, only to see that she shared my expression.
At this point, the midwife announced that this was one of these areas where obstetrics was still more or less medieval. She would have to determine whether Sarah’s membrane had ruptured, whether the gush of fluid was Sarah’s water breaking, or whether there might be an alternate explanation. In order to make this determination, the midwife would have to use a speculum…
A speculum is the equivalent of vaginal salad tongs. It serves the same purpose as a tongue depressor: to open things up to allow for a clearer view inside. It works by prying everything open. Say “ahhh.”
This was getting very real. Faster and faster I spun.
The midwife looked relieved when she told us that Sarah had a yeast infection. Confused, we asked why that was a good thing. She explained that this meant that the discolored gush of liquid was not Sarah’s water breaking, and that a yeast infection wouldn’t have any negative impact on labor. It was perfectly normal, and would likely go away by itself, especially considering that Sarah’s system was already flooded with antibiotics.
We asked why it was such a concern that Sarah’s water not be broken? After all, wasn’t that what we wanted? She explained that despite the Cervadil, Sarah’s cervix was still not sufficiently ripe. If Sarah’s water broke with her cervix still this closed, it would likely stress the baby much too soon before delivery could be possible and may result in a C-section. She told us that the Cervadil had substantially softened Sarah’s cervix and had opened it some, but still not enough to start labor.
We asked her for the measurements from Sarah’s latest cervical exam, and to our surprise the number she gave us for the opening in Sarah’s cervix was smaller than the number we had heard the day before at the midwife’s office!
“What?” we exclaimed! How could this be possible? We thought she was already further along than that even before the hormone tampon! A bit nonplused, the midwife explained that cervical exams weren’t that precise… the measurement is relative to the size of the finger of the midwife… I did not have words to express how this made me feel.
The good news, we were told, was that the cervix had opened enough to try another ripening technique: the transcervical foley balloon catheter! Now, throughout our stay at the hospital thus far we had been in frequent contact with our doula, Marion, and she had advised us that this procedure was desirable. If our goal was to induce a natural labor, without those Pitocin mega-contractions, then the foley balloon was a good step to take in moving the cervix along. We agreed.
Not quite as festive as it sounds, unless you are imagining a very messy frat party, the foley balloon is a narrow tube they insert through the vagina and through the cervix. They then inflate balloons on the interior and exterior of the cervix to gently push it open. They advise that once the catheter is in, walking can be helpful as the bouncing will make the balloons even more effective. I guess Sarah was onto something before.
When the catheter was inserted, Sarah began to cry. Later she told me this was not just because of the discomfort, but was because the procedure was much more invasive and unnatural than we’d hoped for. These were tears of surrender.
Sarah also felt quite nauseous, but as advised, she tried to walk. She barely made it to the door before she fell to her knees vomiting and we quickly helped her to the bathroom. She was having very strong contractions, a reaction the midwife did not expect. We thought this was it, and we hurriedly called Marion to come help us through the labor.
Part 4: Doula
Marion arrived mercifully quickly. Her presence was instantly reassuring, especially considering what Sarah had just gone through. The intensity of the foley balloon subsided almost immediately after Marion arrived. We weren’t officially in labor yet.
Sarah, Marion, and I spent all of that day walking the short halls of St. Joseph’s; Sarah wheeling her antibiotic I.V. around, and Marion and I helping her through the occasional contraction. Her contractions came faster and lasted longer as the day went on, but progress was slow.
After Marion had left for the night, we met once more with the midwife before going to bed. Cathleen was on duty. She was the midwife who had initially recommended that we come to the hospital. She told us that Sarah had made great progress, and we were in a good position for labor to start naturally now.
She also told us that they had been closely watching the baby’s heartrate throughout the day and previous night. She said that there was nothing to be worried about, but baby’s heartrate could have been more reassuring. She said there were periods where it was not as variable as they like to see. She warned us of the potential of a C-section if his heartrate worsened once labor began.
Early the next morning, around 3a.m., I awoke to Sarah howling. It was an ancient sort of sound. A deep-lunged moan accompanied by heavy exhalation. It was clear that she was trying to get through something painful. Heavy contractions had started. We got up and continued to labor in the relative seclusion of our room. Sarah found bouncing on the birthing ball to be particularly helpful.
Before Cathleen’s shift ended, she came back in and told us that Sarah’s contractions and dilation had progressed nicely and that the baby’s heartrate had looked good throughout the night. We called Marion and asked her to come back because it looked like this was it! We finally felt that we were on the right course.
Around 7a.m. Sarah decided to take a nap and I took a shower. As I was getting dressed, the next midwife rushed in woke Sarah up. She told Sarah to sit up and to quickly get back on the birthing ball. She said that while Sarah napped her contractions stopped completely, which should not happen if you are in active labor. Worse yet she told us that the baby’s heartrate was flat while Sarah slept.
Now, a flat heartrate sounds really bad if your medical knowledge comes completely from television. However, the nurse did not mean that there was no heartbeat, instead she meant that there was no variability in our baby’s heartrate.
She told us that they were very worried now by his heartrate and how lethargic he seemed. Now that labor seemed to have stopped, she was worried about how much longer baby would tolerate.
She recommended that we start Pitocin right away to kick labor into action. At this point, we were so anxious to have this baby that we agreed. I can’t recall if Marion had arrived by now, or if we spoke to her over the phone before this decision. Either way, she was definitely there shortly after the Pitocin had been administered.
Immediately after they started Sarah on the slightest Pitocin drip she began to have mega-contractions. Nothing before compared to these. Her whole body contracted. She would curl up and let out a guttural yell. Then, panting and sweating, she braced for the next.
Shortly after these contractions started the nurse rushed back in. She said that there had seen several “decelerations” and now they were even more concerned about the heartrate. They couldn’t be sure yet, but they were worried whether the baby would tolerate labor.
Normally, when a contraction occurs, they explained, the baby’s heartrate is expected to increase as he reacts and is startled. It shouldn’t decrease.
The midwife told us that she showed the heartrate monitor readouts to the on call OB/GYN who suggested over the phone, that we put in an internal heart rate monitor to watch more closely. This meant that Sarah’s water would have to be manually broken, and a device inserted into the uterus to monitor baby. Everything was moving so quickly now, we didn’t have time to panic. We asked if it would be possible to meet this OB before we decided. Thankfully, she had just arrived.
As we waited for the doctor to get to our room, Sarah’s contractions became even more fierce. The Pitocin was still pumping through her. They were coming faster now too, perhaps every 20 seconds or so, but they seemed almost nonstop. Sarah was handling it amazingly well as Marion and I held her hands.
Part 5: Obstetrics
The OB came into our room and introduced herself as Dr. Vanessa Knoedler. Sarah was bouncing low on a birth ball. I sat on the edge of the bed behind her, and Marion stood nearby. The doctor approached and kneeled low on the ground in front of Sarah; a posture that a nurse later told us they had never seen an OB take. Dr. Knoedler began explaining the situation to us very quickly.
At first, I felt a bit ruffled by her way of speaking. She was stressing me out, talking about how the heartrate was very concerning to her, that if he kept decelerating during contractions he would likely not “tolerate labor” (there was that phrase again, a sterile way of saying survive). She said that she would like insert the internal monitor so they could watch more carefully.
The entire time she spoke, Sarah’s contractions were coming faster and faster, stronger and stronger. The doctor would stop talking to let Sarah breathe and cringe her way through the contractions. By the end of it Sarah was sweat soaked and crying.
We asked Dr. Knoedler if there was anything else that could be done before breaking Sarah’s water. She said that they could “buzz the baby.”
She meant that they could perform a test to see how the baby’s heartrate responded to stimuli. I am still a bit unclear why we couldn’t just look at how he was reacting to these mega-contractions, but we agreed to give him a buzz. The OB got out a small device and explained that by placing this on the belly by the baby’s head she could emit a startling sound and vibration that should cause the baby’s heartrate to elevate.
She buzzed once – she said nothing.
She buzzed again…
“We need to do an emergency C-section,” the doctor announced. “Stop the Pitocin now!” His heartrate decelerated both times.
We must have consented, though I don’t recall it now. It seemed that immediately after Dr. Knoedler made her announcement the room burst into life. Nurses seemed to emerge from every opening. They stepped briskly out of drawers and cabinets, rushed out from behind all the curtains, wheeled in carts, manipulated Sarah’s body, shaved her, put some things in her veins and took others out. I started crying. Sarah was now lying on a stretcher on her side, still having contractions. They tried to force her onto her back.
Marion reassured us, and advocated for us. She seemed cool and in control. She knew what to ask and what to say. She asked the nurses if we could accompany Sarah into the operating room. The nurse said that was up to the anesthetist. It was his O.R. He controlled the room.
The anesthetist came into the room flanked by his underlings. His demeanor was as sterile and numb as the object of his profession. He deigned to hear Marion’s petition. She explained that she was a certified C-section doula. She had been in many ORs and done coursework to educate herself. She knew how to stay out of the way, and she would be indispensable in keeping mom and dad calm, informed, and unobtrusive as well. It was in everyone’s best interest that she be allowed. The doctor refused. He would allow me to enter, but no one else. The O.R. would be crowded; Med students would be there to watch.
Sarah was quickly ushered out of the room, and with her went the entourage of nurses and doctors. Only one older nurse remained. She handed me a cloth jumpsuit with a hair net and booties, and told me to put it on and go wait by the entrance to the O.R. across the ward.
Still crying, I clumsily tried to step into this robe. Marion helped me balance as she explained to me what to expect and what I needed to do. She told me I could take pictures, and gave me things to hold that would make Sarah feel at peace. We had brought some meaningful trinkets with sentimental value. There were no pockets in my paper robe, so I held these things awkwardly in my hands. The older nurse was now straightening up the room. I glared at her incredulously until she left.
Marion and I then walked to the O.R. I paced back and forth in front of the door and was breathing heavily, sucking back the snot and tears. Marion asked me to step outside with her onto the nearby patio. I had trouble hearing what she was saying to me, both because of the sound of the wind and traffic and because my mind was elsewhere. Marion’s presence brought me back. I found my breath and felt my body there on that patio with her. I don’t remember what she told me, but I left prepared and excited to enter that room and face the universe as it unfolded before me.
As I walked down the hall to the operating room I felt calm, yet aware of this bubbling source of energy inside of me. I felt prepared because whereas before I was lost in the tumult of anxiety and fear, now I had put it in context. I had seen it, and now I was ready to use it. I felt like a runner with his feet on the blocks, on his mark, daring the pistol to start the race. This was life. I was living it.
A nurse opened the door to the operating theater, and the first thing I noticed was the chill. They kept it like a refrigerator in there. Initially I found this unsettling, like a meat locker, but I figured the almost freezing temperature was probably to keep surgeons from sweating and wasn’t related to the preservation of meat, so to speak.
I could see where the numb anesthetist had been coming from; the room was abuzz with people. I was awed by all of the resources brought to bear by modern, western medicine. How much could this cost? Later I would find out. Now, I approached Sarah. Her eyes were closed.
When I reached Sarah, she opened her eyes. She had already been given an epidural, and there was a screen up over her midsection blocking her view of the operation. A med student sat by her side and explained what all was going on. I never had the gall to look over the screen, but stayed by Sarah’s head and stroked her. If I hadn’t heard someone at one point exclaim, “Oh that explains it!”, I wouldn’t have been sure if the operation had even begun. Next thing I knew it was over, and little Emi was being handed to me by a nurse.
The nurse cleaned Emi off, and I simply marveled at this magnificent person I had helped to create. He had so much hair, born already looking like a little man, and with such profound eyes. I felt a welling in my heart; a sense of all-pervading connection brimmed from within me. Despite all the drama, he was perfect. Emerson Royal France.
Part 6: Unicorns
As soon as Emerson had been cleaned up a bit, we brought him over to Sarah. Mother and son finally met. The setting was perhaps less than ideal, and Sarah was still heavily medicated, but I could see in her eyes the same awe and love that I felt.
Dr. Knoedler then came around the curtain and congratulated us. All had gone well, and Emi was in remarkably good shape considering what she’d discovered at this late stage. She explained that once she opened Sarah up she immediately saw the problem we’d been having with labor. “You have a unicornate uterus,” she said.
She offered to show us the picture she had taken. She took out her iphone and I squinted and leaned in to try and decipher what I saw. Which way is up? It looked like a fleshy mitten hanging out of a bloody pocket. This was a unicornate uterus with a rudimentary horn.
She explained that this was a very rare condition that is not easily detected by traditional ultrasounds. Normally when it is diagnosed, it is because they are looking for it. She was surprised that we hadn’t had any fertility problems because that is the context where it is normally found. She told us that a typical uterus has two hemispheres comprising a whole. Sarah’s uterus was half of that; one of her hemispheres was a rudimentary horn, a fleshy nub.
This explained everything, Dr. Knoedler said. A vaginal delivery would have been impossible because the baby was likely too large to fit. Also, because the uterus is a muscle, if yours is half-sized you won’t have enough strength to deliver. It also explained the heartrate problems, because Emi was so cramped.
Thankfully, the doctor told us that if we tried for another child, we shouldn’t have any complications, except that next time we should schedule a C-section. So, despite all our expectations, a natural birth was simply not an option for us.
We were relieved at having made it through, and overjoyed to finally meet our baby boy. We went back to our room with Roy Boy, and had some time alone just the three of us before the nurses came back to take the little Bu’s measurements and clean him. Emi laid on Sarah’s chest skin-to-skin for some time before make his way to the breast. It was incredible to see this new born, bewildered, swimming in a new world of unfamiliar stimuli, unable to coordinate even the grossest movements of his own body, yet still capable of masterfully guiding himself to a nipple and beginning to feed.
After this magic moment, the nurses returned to perform their duties. In the course of their prodding, they told us that Emi’s blood sugar was low. He needed to feed more. We tried nursing him, but he wasn’t having it anymore.
The nurses explained that he was born skinny, likely because of his having gone two weeks post-term in a small uterus, and so he may not have enough body fat stored up to help him regulate his blood sugar.
The viciousness of this is that having low blood sugar meant he would be lethargic and unlikely to feed, thus exacerbating the problem. The nurses recommended a “lavage” of formula or a glucose I.V. We still wanted as few interventions as possible, and asked for the lavage.
Lavage is another fancy word for something not so nice. It means they squirt formula down baby’s throat with a large syringe. The nurses explained that they would return shortly to finish their exams and recheck his blood sugar.
They returned with a small cart and we cleaned him and I cut his umbilical cord, which had been clamped up to this point. The nurses then checked his blood sugar again. Each time they do this, they prick his foot with a small needle and pinch till they gather enough blood to test. It’s an altogether unpleasant experience, and gets harder to watch each time.
Emi’s sugar was worse than before. The nurses gave him another lavage, but he spit it all up. They tried again and again he spit up. We tried nursing one last time before we conceded that an I.V. was best. The nurses explained that this meant he would have to be taken to the nursery. This was the last thing we wanted.
After three days in the hospital, a dramatic emergency C-section, being told of a unicorn uterus, and now having blood sugar problems, the last thing you want is to be separated from your baby. Sarah was now feeling nauseous from the painkillers they had given her, and she would have to stay in our room to recover. I went with baby to the nursery, and would be engrossed in that.
Part 7: The Deep End
I couldn’t believe how palpable these fatherly feelings were immediately upon Emi’s birth. Making these decisions, watching and helping him struggle in his first moments in life, I felt instantly thrown into the deep end of parenting. Luckily, this is how I tend to operate best. Push me in, sink or swim.
In the nursery, they struggled to find a vein for the I.V., and I just about lost it on the nurse. Finally, they found a vein and Emi was hooked up and getting glucose. I stayed with him and nursed him with a bottle and just held him while he worked on beefing up. In the deep end, I kept swimming. In fact, I was so wrapped up in my responsibility as to this little guy that I forgot to think of my wife. Then, I got a call asking that I immediately come back to our room.
Terrified, I laid Emi in his clear plastic basinet and rushed back to Sarah. Horrible thoughts ran through my mind. What had happened? How could I be so insensitive?
When I got to the room, Sarah was sitting up in bed in the dark wailing. Her hair was down over her face. Her head often in her hands as she rocked back and forth crying, seemingly inconsolable. “Where is my baby?!”, she yelled out.
My heart broke. She had woken up in a dark room, all alone, barely able to move, and heavily medicated. It was like she too had been born. Had any of the preceding day really happened? Did she have a son, she wondered? If so, what had happened since?
I couldn’t imagine how terrifying that must have been for her. I held her and told her everything was fine; Emi was getting glucose and sleeping. She demanded to see him, and the nurses complied. Nothing was going to stand in her way. We got a wheelchair and started pushing Sarah to the nursery.
We didn’t made it 5 feet before she threw up the first time. By the time we got to the nursery she had vomited twice more, but we made it and she held her baby. I admit I was a bit nervous seeing her hold Emi in her condition. She was white as a sheet, and covered in a glistening layer of cold sweat. One of her eyes was looking askance at an odd angle. Noticing this, the nurse advised that it would best for the baby if he slept.
We returned to our room and tried to go to sleep. Though we were dead tired, it was a hard thing to do without our baby. I was back in the nursery a handful of times throughout the night to give Emi another bottle.
In the nursery, they had Emerson on a schedule where he nursed every couple of hours. Sarah was pumping and building up her milk supply as she recovered, and after she could walk she started nursing him and we supplemented with the bottle. After each time Emi ate, the nurses would recheck his glucose and adjust his I.V. accordingly. The sugariness of the solution would be reduced or increased based on his readings until he could maintain his level without any glucose, at which point he could be taken off the I.V. This routine continued for four more days… Periodically we would get a quick visit from the neonatologist; a busy seeming woman who always had sunglasses perched on top of her head and who never sat or put down her expensive purse when she talked to us.
That first morning, I awoke furious about our situation. I was very frustrated about having to spend the night without Emerson. I had a confrontation with the nursing supervisor about why this I.V. couldn’t simply be brought into our room, but I made no headway. She was apparently a master of misdirection and condescension. It was like talking to a wall. Worse, it was like talking to a wall who is responsible for the well-being of your child. You don’t want to piss off that wall.
Sarah and I resolved to simply spend as much time in the nursery as possible. After all, it was just a different room. We could still hold our baby. The nurses did a nice job of creating privacy for us, and before long we had a curtained off area with rocking chairs where we could camp out.
Everything changed by the second day though. Jaundice, they said. His bilirubin count was low; whatever that is. Basically, they said since he was in the nursery anyway it was advisable to put him in the bilirubin chamber and take care of this jaundice as soon as possible. This meant that now we couldn’t hold him except during his scheduled feedings. The rest of the time he was locked in a neon-blue, plastic shoebox, rocking his baby sunglasses. This only lasted a day or so, but it was the straw breaking the camel’s back.
I was losing it. Going through all this, and now not being able to interact with my baby barely at all, and stuck in a hospital for a week. I almost couldn’t bear it. I felt listless. The only control I seemed to have was over what I ordered to eat. Even that only lasted until I had maxed out the possible variety of the hospital’s limited menu. I had to get out of there.
I got in the car and went to Unity Church. I had emailed asking that the community pray for us, and so I was there to hear them announce our petition. I cried through the entire service. I cried on the way to church and the way back. I drove as slowly as I could, but I had nowhere else to go. Everything became a trigger for my grief. Each song on the radio spoke deeply into my being. I thought of those who have it so much harder than we did, and I felt great compassion, awe, and respect.
I got back to the hospital and decided to make phone calls and update our family and friends. Emi was born on the hottest day of the year, so we feared that our garden at home had exploded in tomatoes needing to be harvested. I called my friend Jessica to ask if she could pick them. She ended up with more tomatoes than anyone could know what to do with.
Also, during the C-section Sarah’s mom had felt left in the dark, and she and my mother had communicated trying to figure out what was happening. Sarah’s mom was about to get into her car and drive to St. Paul from Denver, but she managed to get the hospital to give her the phone number for our room. We had gotten a message from her shortly after Emi’s birth, as we were in the initial throws of this glucose problem. I called her and several other people including Emi’s godparents, John and Betsy, and my parents to update them on all that was going on.
Eventually we made it through. Emi got out of his jaundice-disco shoebox, and his blood sugar stabilized. He met some of his grandparents and uncles in the hospital, and finally we were able to go home together as a family. We had only one last obstacle. As I tried to get my car out of the parking lot to drive it around and pick up Sarah and Emerson, the machine ate my card and I was trapped by the arm for several minutes before someone of the intercom let me through. They would mail me a refund.
Once we were finally at home, we came to appreciate all the help we had along the way. We came to see hospital staff that we had struggled with in a new light; realizing all that they had done for us. We understood that the nursery transition actually helped us get our bearings as we made our way into the crazy world of parenting.
We were glad to finally be out of the hospital, but now we really found ourselves in the deep end. Good thing that’s how we like it. Life’s all a deep end, and we were happy to swim it together.