Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Child is Born

First official portrait, but before neck muscles strengthened.
Today marks the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest and life changing events of my life.    It will not be noted in the history books, and if memory serves me correctly, it somehow even failed to make the vital statistics in the paper; nonetheless, it was historic for me and my wife.  It was on this date in 1991 that I became a father.

I met my wife while we were both students at Purdue University in the early 1980’s.  After a five year courtship, we were married on August 8, 1987.  Being new graduates with both the debt of school and a new home, we knew it would be a few years before we were financially able to add children to our lives.  However, by the end of 1990 we felt stable enough to finally consider a family.  And it was with great joy that we learned towards the end of that year that we were to have a baby the following July.

My wife’s coworkers threw her the requisite baby shower, and I recall how the sight of the small infant socks she received that day brought it home to me that we would soon have a new life in our household.  More than any other gift, those socks made it real to me and literally brought tears to my eyes.  I still can’t fully explain it, but the emotion was very strong.  

My wife purchased the book Your Pregnancy Week by Week which chronicles a baby’s development.  Each Monday we would sit together and read what features were forming on our child and how big it might be.  Size was usually related to fruit, so we celebrated as our child grew from a grape to a plum to a kiwi and beyond.  While the baby was growing on the inside, my wife’s body was undergoing its own outer transformation, although one needed something much larger than a kiwi to describe her.  There was one outfit in particular she enjoyed wearing, and whenever I saw her in this I could not help but think she looked just like Humpty Dumpty.  Eventually, we could see the baby changing positions within my wife’s belly, and its kicks became strong enough for even me to feel.  By that time we could even tell our baby was prone to hiccups. 

I made sure I was available for each of the doctor exams and always looked forward to hearing the rapid little heart of the life within my wife’s womb.  The ultrasound was exciting, yet at the same time disappointing given that it came so early in our child’s development.  Rather than seeing a formed baby with arms and legs sucking its thumb, we saw a small blob with a flickering area representing a heartbeat.  Still it was the very first glimpse of our baby and moved us both.  A few months later, we began our birthing classes.  Once a week, we would gather up a blanket and pillow and head to the hospital for our evening class, where we would watch movies of various birthing methods and practice our breathing and massage techniques.  

On the home front, we had spent the summer working on the new nursery.  Around the top of the room, I had stenciled a repeating pattern of Peter Rabbits paired off and holding a heart between them.  My wife began making a quilt for the baby’s bed as well as a small pillow onto which we also stenciled Peter Rabbit.  Finally, on June 25th, a full month before the expected delivery date, we assembled the furniture and completed the room.  My wife finished the sewing on the next day and announced the nursery complete.   We were proud of ourselves to have finished the task with so much time to spare.

David on his Peter Rabbit bedding.
That day was Wednesday, a typical work day.  I came home that night and, as had become my habit, asked my wife how she felt.  She had an uncertain look on her face and admitted she wasn’t sure what was happening.  Earlier that evening, she had “leaked” a small volume of fluid and now she felt “funny.”  Had her water broken?  Had her bladder been squeezed just a little too hard by the developing baby?  We were stumped, but since we were still a month away from our due date, we decided it probably was nothing of concern.  We had dinner and began watching Seinfeld, our usual Wednesday night ritual.  However, as the evening progressed my wife became gradually more and more uncomfortable and soon was vomiting.  What was happening?  This was not the way it was in the movies we had watched each week.  Nor was it in the books my wife had been reading.  I was becoming anxious, but my wife kept disregarding what was happening.  Frustrated, I had to get out of the house and take a walk.

I returned to find my wife no better.  In fact, the pains were worse and the nausea had not abated.  I urged my wife to call the doctor, but she didn’t want to be considered too anxious or a nuisance, but when the pain became constant, she finally agreed.  Upon hearing my wife’s description of her symptoms, the doctor replied that it could be labor, but it was more likely just the stomach flu.   Rather than the proverbial, “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning,” she was told to take Tylenol and a warm shower and to call if the pains started coming five minutes apart for an hour.  It was at this point that I realized that in all of our preparations, we had failed to pack the bag for the hospital.  I suggested this might be a good time to do so “just in case,” but my wife pushed the idea aside.  Not only were we unprepared in this way, we had never even discussed and implemented a birth plan with our obstetrician.

My wife skipped the Tylenol but retired to bed, leaving me to my imagination and rapidly mounting anxieties.  It was at this time that I took it upon myself to pack the labor bag; however, I wasn’t sure what I was to pack.  Since my wife was trying to relax, I started grabbing her pregnancy books and reading through the pages to find any reference to an overnight bag for the hospital.  I finally found a list and started out to gather the items, only I didn’t know where my wife kept half of them.  I would check the list, run back to the other end of the house to find the item, charge back to throw it in the bag and then look at the next thing on the list.  Our cat was lying in the middle of the family room, and with each trip I would hurdle him in my mad scramble.  After about the third time of making this mad dash, the cat began to become suspicious of the crazy man leaping through the air.  He fluffed himself and started hissing at me each time I ran by.  I was sure I would be attacked before the night was through.

During this period, I periodically checked in with my wife to ask how the pains were going.  She really wouldn’t talk to me, but she would occasionally moan.  I took the moans to mean a pain was striking and grabbed my watch to time them.  Three minutes later, she moaned again.  Were her contractions already three minutes apart?  The doctor said to call when they were five minutes apart!  Was she already having the baby?  My panic grew with each moan.  I asked her if these were individual pains, but she just motioned me away.  With the bag finally packed, I started thinking about the trip to the hospital.  It was at least a 30 minute drive, and I was sure the baby was coming.  Yes, I was a veterinarian, and yes, we had watched all the movies in childbirth class, but I was not prepared to be delivering our baby.  Yet I wanted to be prepared should we not make it to the hospital in time.  What should I do if the baby came too quickly?  I decided I needed to make an emergency childbirth bag.  So I gathered up some clean towels, some string to tie off the umbilical cord and my always handy Swiss army knife.  Suction!  What would I do to suction the baby’s mouth?  I thought for a moment then remembered the turkey baster under the stove, and it was quickly added to my “medical” supplies.  Finally, I felt I was at least physically prepared to deliver the baby if called upon; however, emotionally I was a wreck.

My sister nicknamed David "Butterball" because of the turkey baster story.  We decided to run with the idea a little.
I went back to again check on my wife.  Her pain was worse, and she admitted it never ended.  However, there were moments when it was more intense, so I decided to time those.  They were four to five minutes apart so I knew the time had come, but when should we actually go to the hospital?   She had been having pains like this for over an hour as it was, and our instructions were to call the doctor after one hour.  My wife was very stubborn and would not call, so I figured I would count for up to another hour then put my foot down, and we would go to the hospital regardless.  However, a short while later when the pains began coming every three minutes, even Sara was convinced it was time to take action.  

As my wife called the doctor, I put the bags in the car.  My still nauseous wife gingerly made her way to the garage while I grabbed a bucket and covered the car seats.  I am one who gets sickened at the very thought of someone vomiting, so it took great restraint for me to continue driving with my wife heaving into a bucket next to me in the car.  The trip to the hospital was smooth, and we arrived in good time.  I drove into the parking lot and started driving around looking for a parking spot.  I was getting ready to move to the next lot when my wife said, “Honey, why don’t you drop me off at the door and then park the car?”  It had never dawned on me that I shouldn’t expect her to walk a long distance into the building.  I was just glad I made it without the need for my knife and turkey baster.  So I dropped her off at the door, parked the car then dashed back to the hospital to be with my wife.

We were placed into a temporary holding room so they could check on my wife’s condition.  We were told they would check her dilation and then put her on a baby monitor for a while.  When they discovered she was already six centimeters dilated, they immediately moved us into the birthing suite.  It was a spacious room with soft lighting.  As mentioned previously, we had never made a birthing plan, so my wife was forced to make some decisions very quickly, the biggest of which was whether she wanted an epidural.  Sara feared the pain of childbirth, but she feared needles more, so she opted to have natural childbirth without the aid of analgesia.  They got us set up and the doctor on the floor came to check on her.  My wife was still not far enough along to begin pushing, so we were left to ourselves for a while.  I offered to massage Sara’s back, but she let it be known very early that she was in no mood to be touched other than holding her hand.  So much for my part of the birthing classes.

I had brought a cd player with what I thought was a nice collection of soothing music, but we opted instead to watch the television in the room.  I flipped through the stations and found an old episode of I Love Lucy.  It just so happened it was the one in which Lucy has found out she is pregnant, and she is trying to figure out a way of telling Ricky.  She finally decides to go down to the club and anonymously request he sing We’re Having a Baby for someone in the audience who is expecting.  He starts singing and walking from table to table trying to guess the lucky couple.  He can’t seem to find them but continues singing as he passes the table where Lucy is sitting.  He nods hello to her and starts to walk by when she looks up with tears in her eyes and nods.  He then realizes he is the one who is going to become a father.  I always thought it was the most honest and touching moment I ever saw on that show, and it could not have been a more perfect backdrop to the events at hand.

The evening passed and my wife progressed as expected.  The doctor on duty seemed a little frazzled as there were multiple women giving birth, and one in particular who was quite vocal.  We heard the screams echoing down the hall and saw the frustration in the doctor’s eyes as she sighed and went to tend to her more demanding patient.  Thankfully, we were blessed with an angel of a nurse who calmly talked my wife through everything.  Our obstetrician had been called, but she had learned through years of experience when things were likely to come to a head.  The nurse encouraged my wife to go through the breathing exercises we had learned at class.  I had to stifle a laugh as my wife leaned forward and started chugging like a train.  Through the “Hee!  Hee! Hoo!’s” the nurse urged my wife to hang on and not push, yet with each surge of pain my wife would call out, “I’m gonna push!  I’m gonna push!”
Grandpa getting his first look at his new grandson.

At last the magic time arrived.  Our regular obstetrician had appeared, my wife was fully dilated and the baby had decided enough was enough.  So with her nails dug into my arms, Sara began to push in earnest.  Soon a small head full of black hair began to appear.   I was shocked by how small the baby was, but then with the next push what seemed like an enormous head fully appeared!  What I had seen originally was just a small area of the scalp which had sort of pouched out as the head was forcing its way out.   Now with head fully exposed, the doctor cleared the baby’s airways and suggested my wife not push for a moment while she did so.  But my wife was not to be stopped, and with another mighty effort the baby shot into the world.  The nurse, who had calmly talked us through each step, picked him up and pronounced that it was a boy!  Because he was a month early, staff members quickly whisked him out of the room to insure there were no health issues.   He was soon returned to us with the announcement that he was very healthy and had done well on all his tests.  

As they moved us from the birthing room to our own private room, we stopped to peak in at the nursery window.  The nurse was cleaning him up and getting all the official measurements.  As a stream of liquid shot high in the air, I learned my first lesson about changing a diaper on a boy.  My wife was tired and sore, so she continued on to the room, but I wanted to stay and watch my son.  Proudly I would point him out to other parents stopping at the window.  Finally I returned to Sara, who although sore, admitted that childbirth was something she could do again.  What a trooper!

Sara admiring her new son.
For some reason, I had wanted a daughter, but when the nurse handed me my new son that morning, I could imagine nothing else.  I admired his thick head of hair and thrilled as his little hand wrapped around my finger.  Now twenty years later, he still has a thick mop of black hair, but he also sports a beard.  All the dreams I had for him that early morning in 1991 are coming to fruition.  He is a young man with a sharp mind, a good sense of humor, an artistic flair and high morals.  Respected by both peers and elders, he seems poised for a happy and successful life.   And now as our little fledgling prepares to leave the nest, that long night so many years ago is but a distant memory.  So much has changed with us all since then, but one thing that remains is my pride as his father.  Happy birthday, son!
The first family portrait.


  1. Well, isn't he sweet? Has he read this with toe-curling embarrassment, or proud that his good old Dad told the world and it's mother... well, those of us reading... about his arrival in this world. Your pride in your son, and your love for your family, really show through in this post. It brought back memories of the birth of my own two sons of course... the first easy peasy, the second... Well, let's just say all hell broke loose as he was born with the cord round his neck and my heart gave out temporarily. Enough said.
    I wonder why it is that Americans have this tradition of 'the family photograph' more than we do? Or maybe it's just that I don't know anyone who had one done like yours? I am pretty sure the 'upper classes' have them done, it's a tradition, and now replaces the family portraits that were always painted presumably. But us normal folk, don't seem to bother. We have our wedding photographs of course, and photographs of the children as they progress, for many who can't afford anything else, it is usually the annual school photograph which records the passing of time.
    Happy birthday to your son, and thanks to you, for another great read.

  2. The family portrait, I believe, was actually a photo for our church directory. Every few years the church publishes a photo directory of all its members, and it just so happened we had a baby at the time. No, David has not read this, nor would he care to. In fact, my children have read none of my blog entries and don't have the slightest inclination to do so. He would probably fall on the toe-curling embarrassment side of the equation more so than the proud of Dad side if he did bother to read it. Like you, we had one smooth birth and one that caused some grey hairs.