Having a baby is a lot like nothing else in the entire universe. And until the very day that it actually happened, that our tiny little person, with its cute cheeks and tiny little toes, popped out into existence, I’m not so sure I had even the slightest idea what I was in for.
Like all parents completely terrified that they’re going to screw things up, we took baby classes and read books and blogs and even managed to assemble the crib and install the car seat! Surely the more we prepped, the better off we would be. And by the time we officially had to turn in all our free time for a life of constant things to do, we would be a seasoned, well-oiled parenting machine ready to experience the drama free wonder of childbirth. That’s definitely how it would happen … without a doubt. Right?
Then there was the matter of our tiny little apartment. It would have to go. Or rather, it was time for us to say goodbye to our cozy, pint-sized little nook, with its raggedy old blue carpet, cheerful decorative Christmas lighting, perpetually troublesome plumbing issues, and ongoing barrage of never-ending upstairs neighbor noise. It was time for an upgrade, an expansion of space that would allow for the customary nesting process to begin its course — the official gathering of all the stuff we may or may not, and probably, most likely won’t need but better get just in case and because you just never know!
The extra bedroom addition at our new apartment located on the other, temporarily more affordable side of the city of Boston, would house not only a real live baby, but also all those neat contraptions, furniture trimmings, and baby gear, like a rocking chair and diapers and books and … wait, what else does a baby need?
Turns out, lots of stuff. Endless amounts of stuff. So much stuff that you could spend an eternity searching online and never even come close to finding it all. Not only are there the baby basics, you know, like tee shirts and onesies, strollers and car seats, burping bibs and blankets, but thanks to advancements in modern thingamajig, doodad, and gizmo technology, there’s a solution and product for every foreseeable baby catastrophe and minor inconvenience.
Unlike the neighborhood birds, we wouldn't be building our nest with pieces of string or the leftover shards of styrofoam Dunkin Donuts’ cups or cardboard or any of the many wonders and unique treasures found in the city dumpsters — we would be using the time-honored tradition of a baby registry to stock our shelves, cabinets, and drawers with all sorts of baby-related things we had no idea how to use.
Baby Bathtub with Hammock!
Upon receiving and scouring a very informative checklist from an all-star Mommy friend, we loaded up all the one thousand and sixty-three necessities that would become our baby registry. Did you know there exists a mechanical device made specifically to extract baby boogers from the deepest caverns of a tiny little baby nose? There is. Add it. Then there was the baby bathtub with the newborn hammock insert that takes a safety-first approach to scrub-a-dub time, while also providing a somewhat comical and casual setting for a naked wet baby to lay leisurely whilst looking ever so often at themselves in the adjacent mirror, legs lazily dangling from the sides, toes dipping into the warm water. Add it. Next item.
Swings, bibs, and burping cloths … diapers and wipes, so many wipes … hats and booties, socks and swaddles … nail clippers? Seriously, nail clippers? Add it. Screw it, get two. Do they still make rocking chair pads? Shampoo, triple paste medicated deluxe baby bum ointment and cream, organic baby coconut lotion, and good-old petroleum jelly. Tag it and bag it. A diaper pail. A diaper bag for her. A diaper bag for him. A diaper changing station. Diapers!
It was exhausting. How many binkies does a wittle bitty baby even need? Twelve sounds about right. An ultrasonic humidifier with a 24-hour fill tank and adjustable mist spray. We’d be fools not to. Add it. Baby sheets. Add it. First-aid kit. Add it. Bottles. Add it. Nipples. Not real ones. Advanced video monitor with two-way talkback, infrared night vision, and an interchangeable optical lens — umm … sure and wtf. A noise machine. A Rock N’ Play sleeper … a swing … a bouncer … a tummy time mat. And let’s not leave out the elite travel system: part stroller, part car seat, the travel system is the latest and greatest in baby transportation, fully loaded with one-pull harness tightening, energy absorbing foam, a sophisticated frame carrier, and a sporty parent tray for the iced-coffee you’ll be relying on to survive.
Once the easy stuff was out of the way, we made a frantic and wearying attempt to dissect the world of baby clothing — a process that bankrupted our sanity and devoured any emotional strength we had left. The sizes, the styles, the selections! Are we horrible parents if we don’t buy strictly organic cotton? Serious question, do babies wear pants? What are nickel free crotch snap closures? Bodysuits. Onesies. Footie pajamas. Coveralls. Overalls. Surely babies don’t wear overalls. They do! Add it.
And then the prints … foxes, elephants, bears, trees, mountains, stripes, lightning bolts!. Can you even handle the cuteness? No. Add it. Add it all. Good lord, there are some adorable baby outfits out there, and somehow your brain convinces you that the more organic, the more expensive, the more tasteful the onesie appears, the better off, safer, and more protected from the harsh realities of existence your future little baby will be. Add it.
As time passed, the baby room at the new apartment transformed from a blank slate to its coming together to oh wow, that’s a baby room. My wife, Amanda, who is no doubt a carpenter or construction site foreman in another dimension somewhere, assembled the baby crib ... and then a pull-out futon daybed ... and then the nursery dresser … and then, to put the exclamation mark on my uselessness, drove to the local Target department store and bought the sheets and pillows. Following that performance, she found a bit of wiggle room in her schedule to read the car seat manual long before I was even aware what that new four-hundred-page monstrosity was sitting there on our bookshelf — available in twelve languages and intimidating even from long distances.
As the baby room turned into a baby room, we followed along our favorite smartphone app — all the rage and pretty much expected of all new parents these days — counting the days as they turned into weeks and then into months, all the time learning how the wee little bambino was growing in scale compared to the size of common fruits and vegetables. Yes, that is correct. Fruits and vegetables.
From a teensy weensy poppy seed (ok, not a fruit or vegetable) to a sweet pea to a blueberry to a lemon to a peach! By week 15 it was the size of a navel orange, and then an avocado, a pomegranate, an artichoke, and a mango. Each week, communicating over the digital tablet video device app thingy, our four-year-old niece (who is awesome), would ask us what size the baby had grown to. When we explained that it was now as big as a very unspecifically sized stalk of cauliflower, she would abandon the call with a burst of excitement and race up the stairs to announce to her Nonna that the baby was now officially a calli flower, and also, what’s a calli flower?
From coconut to cantaloupe to kale the weeks kept coming, packed with new parenting tips and articles and what seemed like a continual stream of baby products and prenatal strategies and postpartum game plans that would determine how qualified we were to take care of a small human who depended on us for just about everything — no pressure. There was research to do and no time to waste.
We flipped through a gargantuan sized baby book given to us by a good friend to learn how Amanda’s body was changing and growing and turning into a badass baby making factory. The more we read, the more we flipped, the more we realized that I was experiencing far more pregnancy symptoms than she was. Anxiety - check. Constipation - check. Headaches - check. Mood swings - check. Insomnia - um, yeah. Cravings for ice cream and pickles - not new, but check.
Although it was her belly growing and expanding out into the world in all directions, we not-so-secretly wondered if perhaps it was I who was actually pregnant. Or that somehow my own body was so in tune with what was happening, and my connection with Amanda so strong, that we somehow were able to subconsciously transfer all the not-so-fun parts of the pregnancy ... subsequently giving me the opportunity to chip in, chin up, and take one for the team.
As the pace of appointments with the midwife (yes, we got a midwife!) and doctors and ultrasound technicians became more rigorous, there were more than a few times we broached the subject of how best to explain this phenomenon of my unexplainable pregnancy symptoms to the professionals. Speaking of midwives, and contrary to popular belief, not all midwives are British or from the early 19th century — I really had no idea. Not only did we have a perfectly nice, highly qualified, slightly crunchy midwife, but she was from Ohio! No British accent. Just a regular person.
While the baby turned from an eggplant to an acorn squash and then into a zucchini, there were appointments and milestones and packets around every corner. Oh, so many packets. So many that we had no choice but to establish an official packet folder to house all these new reading materials. It seemed that everywhere we went we were handed a new packet bursting with critical information: vaccinations, immunizations, blood tests, insurance coverage, baby updates, sleeping positions, healthy foods, bad foods, and the list goes on into infinity.
Soon, our tidy kitchen bar was no longer a kitchen bar, but a makeshift podium with manuals and packets and pamphlets and baby books all turned to a page, all waiting for proper attention and completion. It was like finals weeks all the time, but you only had an hour to study each night after work. But mostly, you just wanted to lay on the couch anyway after half-heartedly reading a page about car seat installation or the benefits of hypnobirthing and watch television while eating ice cream or most of an entire bag of Doritos.
And yet, the pages turned. Sure, maybe we breezed through a few of them a bit too fast, skipped a page or chapter or an entire pamphlet once or twice, but for the most part, information was consumed and possibly even absorbed and digested for future use. Our brains were ready for something, whether that was becoming parents and having the slightest clue as to taking care of a baby on our own, well, that remained to be seen.
To balance our studies, we participated in most of the usual activities that come standard during the pre-baby phase of the journey. We hunted far and wide for affordable daycare — which is a type of exotic creature that no longer exists, or if it does, much prefers to live a lonely life of solitude out there in the wild, unseen and unheard of by regular humans who were silly enough never to acquire nanny-level money before getting pregnant.
After much research, many visits, and at least several long sessions of leaving no stone unturned on local baby forums, social media pages, and internet blah-bidy-blahs, we found a lovely little sanctuary that promised to take care of our little one. Sure, we had to offer a blood sacrifice during the full moon, co-sign some student loans for some children we had never met, hand in the pink slip for our 2012 RAV4 as an enrollment placeholder, and finally, complete a short but rigorous obstacle course to prove our physical prowess within the set time limits based on our age and income. Is that really so much to ask?
The owner of the daycare center, a kind and quirky woman — the type you can tell is always moving a million miles a millisecond to keep her head on straight, as she is the sole ringmaster of a rowdy and rambunctious circus five days a week — assured us that we would most likely have a spot by the anticipated baby arrival date. Whoopee! Most likely! How promising. All kidding aside, the place was great, adorned with colorful walls, smiling happy staff (I’m pretty sure), and just enough messiness to know that some fun could be had there and it wasn’t just a place to stash your kid for the day — although it was that, too.
As I adapted to my new life of ongoing and persistent pregnancy symptoms, I had developed an odd, lingering sickness that resembled the flu in every way except for the fact that the numerous doctors assigned to my neurotic pleas kept telling me in no way at all, whatsoever, did I have the flu. I felt like I had a fever that would never break, and would ask Amanda over and over to feel my head and confirm that I was indeed running hot. No dice. It was just me ... alone in my theory that I was a sick man. Tired. Weak. Not quite right.
Luckily, Amanda seemed just as happy and healthy as ever, still going to the gym every week and doing squats and burpees and upside down push up leg lifts or whatever other crazy superhuman moves her regular group of exercise friends did when they got together every Thursday night. Confident and able-bodied, she woke up and went to work every day, maybe a little more tired, a little less able to breathe normally, a little less able to peek over her belly and confirm that her feet were still there.
To her it was business as usual: cook food, eat healthy, sleep a lot, exercise, take vitamins … full steam ahead and no big deal. As the surviving bottles of wine in our apartment gathered dust, she replaced them with raspberry tea, kombucha, seltzers, and some sort of shrub concoction made of apple cider vinegar and pineapple, a decent stand-in for a Friday night cocktail.
Somewhere around the time that the baby was turning into a bunch of asparagus, Amanda organized and booked what modern culture refers to as a ‘baby-moon.’ Which, of course, with its clever play on words resembles a honeymoon — with the one major exception being that these would be our final moments and final days of romance and free time for the foreseeable future. Or so I was told.
Soon, we found ourselves ferry bound for the island of Nantucket, where we would spend the days wandering the beaches and gobbling down lobster rolls and fish sandwiches in the local taverns, me with a beer and her with a delicious, and very non-alcoholic mocktail that was hopefully something a tad more inspiring than lemonade and ice cubes.
One day, after renting some bikes and cycling over to the other side of the island — which turned out to be a bit further than we had initially first thunk — we discovered that the one and only sandwich shop, the one that came highly recommended by the rental bike agent, was by no means even close to being more than an abandoned little store with no signs of life and certainly no sandwiches. Turns out that there are many fine businesses and establishments on the island that don’t open until the busy summer months, and our babymoon, scheduled on the cusp of the season’s opening, did not make the cut.
Although hungry and sweaty, and Amanda also pregnant, not to mention stranded on the side of the island that did not have any sandwiches, we decided on a leisurely beach stroll before heading home to eat the first thing we could find. We walked, very romantically as I remember it, watching the waves crash along the shore, the birds diving for their lunch, and then at a pod of seals, popping their heads out of the water one by one, like a single file line of whack-a-moles bobbing their way down the beach. We took to the sand, sitting side-by-side, chatting and pointing and cherishing our time together before the baby would turn our family from two into three.
After many minutes of gazing outward at sea, I got up and gave Amanda my outstretched hands. It was, as the strong, formidably buff husband that I am, my duty to help a lady up. Unfortunately, something went wrong. In slow motion, as is the preferred speed for incidents such as these, I watched as Amanda went from almost all the way up to definitely slipping from my grip to yes, you just dropped your pregnant wife and she’s now falling back down toward the ground.
Being on the beach and all, the sand was there to break her fall. And although she was perfectly fine, I could have sworn I heard a laugh or two coming from the direction of the bobbing seals. Looking around to see if any of the offseason folk or pre-season tourists happened to have become witness to the farce, I offered my arms again, which were met with a doubtful look. The second time was the charm though, and soon enough, after a long and hungry ride, we found our way back to civilization, happy to rid ourselves of the bicycles, trading them in for a warm meal and tasty drinks.
The next day, having learned our lesson, we swapped the bikes for a Mini Cooper and managed to see the rest of the island in style: the beaches, the beers, and basically, what all the fuss was about … a beautiful foggy wonderland with some seriously New England-esque seascapes, streets lined with cobblestones, and some of the most charming and expensive looking homes around.
Wherever you turn, there’s something that looks almost impossibly perfect, curated houses with pristine lawns, decorative nautical ropes and buoys, and lighthouses … everywhere. And there was history. An oil industry. A whale museum. An atheneum (I think it’s a library). Then, of course, pastel fashion on display in every shop window, the latest in maritime streetwear that’s difficult to take seriously just about anywhere. And thankfully, after our failed sandwich hunt, we wolfed down a few days worth of some unbelievably delicious seafood.
At the completion of our perfectly peaceful midweek excursion, we were thoroughly stuffed, broke, and relieved (and almost surprised) I didn’t break the rental car. Happy and satisfied, we took the ferry back to the mainland, accompanied by our little bunch of asparagus and a pillaging horde of forty drunken (and still drinking) golfers, sunburned and boisterous, the perfect ending to our last bits of seafaring romance.
The summer months whizzed by, and suddenly, as if time had decided to skip ahead from the we have plenty of time to enjoy our freedom to the um, this is coming up fast, and our lives are over stage of the pregnancy, the baby had sprouted into a butternut squash.
By now, those who were at first flabbergasted, miffed, and absolutely astonished by the news that we did not want to know the gender, were now placing bets on the outcome. In fact, everyone had an opinion. Passerby on the street would stop us suddenly, grinning ear to ear, politely telling us after a meticulous evaluation that yes, indeed, it would be a boy. Family and friends were suddenly experts in calling the results … it’s a boy. You can tell by the shape of the belly … it’s a boy. I always guess right, every time … it’s a boy. Trust me on this … it’s a boy.
Measuring instruments appeared out of thin air: rulers, tape measures, levels … one person casually removed a protractor from their purse and performed an exceedingly in-depth analysis followed by the use of a calculator, a few personal questions, and then muttered what sounded like some pretty high-level algorithms only to boringly declare the same old foregone prediction: It’s a boy!
Surely, the aunts and uncles, the mothers and fathers, the nurses and midwives, the friends and co-workers could be wrong? At this point, it felt like our duty to defy them all by producing a little baby girl. But really, we didn’t care. As long as it was a healthy, happy baby … and not actually a coconut or large tomato, that would be just fine.
The months became weeks. A pineapple. A papaya. Romaine lettuce. By now my pregnancy symptoms had come and gone and my mystery illness, although still a mystery, was no longer. In those final weeks, Amanda began to know a few pregnancy ailments herself, with her swollen feet permanently wading in a makeshift foot bath of warm water and Epsom salt, her hip in constant and unrelenting pain, and her gigantic body pillow her only hope of a halfway decent night’s sleep.
We went to the final ultrasound, watching eagerly at the screen to see a squishy little face, as if our little baby boy or girl was pressed up against a glass door, sucking on a thumb, perfectly content with free rent, food, and oxygen — no need yet to even breathe on their own or worry too much or at all about anything in particular.
The weeks became days. A pumpkin. A watermelon. And then … a watermelon, again.
Again? According to our smartphone app doodad, we had run out of fruits and vegetables. This was the end of the road, and that baby was staying put with no pressing desire to head for the exit and find out what would happen next. As the highly anticipated and very approximate due date came, went, and then said see ya never, we found ourselves two weeks past, and still the baby remained inside its little belly paradise.
Amanda, as they say, had had quite enough. She was ready to see her ankles again and be rid of the acid reflux that her previously perfectly healthy body had never known existed in the first place. And then, quite suddenly, the days became hours.
The freezer was stuffed with everything from frozen lasagnas to fried rice to waffles and stir-fries, and maybe even a pint or six of ice cream, for emergencies. The manuals were shut, for now. The packets and pamphlets put away. And the car seat properly installed and inspected by the local police department. The diapers and baby wipes sat at the ready. The changing table pristine and unspoiled. The humidifier plugged in. The travel system assembled and raring to go. There was just one piece of the puzzle still missing, hidden in the couch cushions or laying in stealth somewhere under the rug — the baby.
So, there’s no dilation.
Ok. What’s next?
Well, we don’t let you go past week 42.
Week 42, that sounds serious.
Well, it is.
We couldn’t reference the book any longer because there were no more pages. The smartphone app was assuredly confident that the baby would remain a watermelon until he or she, at the very least, had exited the womb. And our fun-loving, quirky, somewhat crunchy midwife from Ohio, was on vacation, in Ohio! Where was the manual, the pamphlet, the instructions for this part of the pregnancy? Our replacement midwife explained as vaguely and unspecifically as possible what would happen next.
You could call for an appointment to induce.
Ok, what does that mean?
Well, you’ll get things started.
It’s up to you.
Really? That doesn’t seem right.
Just call to see if they have an opening.
Like, an opening to have a baby?
It seemed confusing, and after months of attending a very precise schedule of appointments to help us move along the baby making continuum with health and happiness intact, all of a sudden we were apparently playing it loose ... free to do as we pleased.
How would you like to proceed?
While we weren’t really sure, as there was no defined next steps or fluorescent blinking arrows pointing us in the right direction, we decided to call the hospital and make an appointment.
I’m sorry, we don’t have an opening today.
Oh, ok. Tomorrow?
You’ll have to call again.
Oh, ok. I’ll call again.
What the baby book should have said — with a few extra pages added at the end for those of us who needed to choose their own adventure — was that when your baby doesn’t come on time, or at all anywhere near the due date, that eventually you will have to follow the standard protocol for babies who stay inside the womb forever. Which goes like this:
Step 1: Call the hospital for an induction appointment.
Step 2: Get rejected, there are too many babies coming out that day.
Step 3: Wake up really early the next day and call again.
Step 4: Get rejected, apparently nine months ago was a very busy time.
Step 5: Repeat Step 2, several times, until your official appointment many days later.
Step 6: Attend appointment, finally learn what happens next.
Now, while we did have an official appointment (as I pointed out in Step 5 above), it wasn’t for many days later. And later meant closer to Week 42 — a day in fact before Week 42, which previously, we were told was quite serious, which is why we kept calling, as they said we should because you know, the sooner, the better, probably.
While I woke up in vain each morning, rejected before I could even say hello and how do you do to the maternity ward’s front desk, our official induction day eventually arrived, and we were able to proceed with Step 6 of the standard protocol. Not quite knowing what would be happening, if we would maybe even be having a baby in the next few hours or perhaps that day, or if we were even staying over or would maybe be invited back tomorrow, pending the nurses liked us and were able to save us a broom closet to continue this ambiguous induction ceremony everyone kept talking about — we brought everything.
And by everything, I mean the kitchen sink was the first thing we packed. We had pillows and tablets, laptops and speakers, clothes for days, baby outfits, a stack of fresh magazines, e-readers and phone chargers … sandals, shoes, and an essential oil machine. Our hospital go-bag had become a matching set of hospital go-luggage. Tissue boxes, toiletries, and tea bags. The list went on.
But better safe than sorry, right? And we, the well-oiled parenting machine, were aptly prepared for one heck of a prolonged labor. Swimsuits for the maternity room bathtub. Books and pamphlets for various breathing and stretching positions. Lavender and lemon scents to establish a calm and nourishing environment. Music to lighten the mood. We were ready to experience the wonder of childbirth in a secure, comfortable setting of our choosing. An experience we expected would reveal itself organically, and while not planned down to the minute, would offer the opportunity for us to creatively engage the challenges that would arise with the confidence, knowledge, and tools we had spent the extra time, effort, and money to arm ourselves with. That’s definitely how it would happen, without a doubt.
Upon meeting our induction nurse and settling in — with our luggage remaining for the time being in the car — we learned all about what was finally happening next. Amanda would be taking a medication that would do its very darnedest to ripen her cervix. Yes, you read that correctly. A cervix can be ripened, like a fruit, softened enough to allow for dilation to occur, finally making way for the baby to swim head first toward his or her final right of passage out into the great big world.
We also learned that cervix ripening was mainly a spectator sport. And so, while induction day had finally begun, our only real job was to sit and wait. Approximately every three hours and on the dot, the nurse would knock, enter, and after explaining that our baby was, of course, going to be a little baby boy, would proceed with a systematic inspection of the hopefully ripening cervix.
Turns out, the cervix was just about as stubborn as the baby. And so we spent the day popping medication, reading books, having cervixes inspected, and taking one-hour walkabouts around and through the hospital to ‘shake it off’ and ‘loosen things up’ before getting back in there for another dose. I should note, that this marked the beginning of what would become a long list of friendly nurse faces and personalities ready and willing to barge right into Amanda’s private places and ‘have a look.’ It was quite a learning experience, to say the least. One day your vagina is all your own and the next, it’s part of a group discussion, on display, and up for grabs — the very center of the team huddle. No big deal!
After a solid 12-hour day of cervix ripening and inspections, the nurses sent us packing with an invitation to return the next day and start all over again. We could even use the same room, as the broom closet was apparently filled with brooms, and not adequately prepped for medical procedures. Ever confident, cheerful, and good-natured, Amanda was, as always, rising to the occasion and taking the instructions and news as they were delivered in a no biggie, we’ll deal with whatever we have to whenever it happens kind of attitude.
Her head has always been screwed on the right way, while mine, well I’m just happy to have a head no matter how screwed up it can be at times like this. And so we left … tired and tuckered out, ready for a good sleep and another attempt early the next morning.
Or so we thought.
We did make it home. All thirty minutes of the trip, with no traffic, back to our apartment in the city. As I recall, right around the time we pulled off the highway, Amanda was pretty sure, that indeed, something that possibly resembled what could be a contraction, was definitely maybe happening. Ha. Wouldn’t it be crazy if we had to turn right back around, right now? But how could that happen? We were tired. Ready for bed. Weren’t there rule about these things? Like no going into labor when you’re already absolutely exhausted.
What is it?
I don’t know.
Hmm. Well, this is interesting.
I’ve never had a contraction before.
Much to our chagrin, all qualified cervix ripening inspectors were now thirty minutes away, and every piece of advice concerning contractions on the internet machine said things like ‘the experience is different for everyone’ or ‘trust me, you’ll know.’ Still perplexed by just about everything since the baby book ended, the app failed us, and our midwife set sail for the shores of Ohio, we sat, and we waited. Fortunately, we did not have to wait long. And unfortunately, holy bejeezus, we certainly did know when the contractions hit.
One moment, we sat in discussion, doing our best to tease out a strategy for what maybe was happening. Do we call the on-staff midwife for instructions? Should we have bought a birthing ball for pre-labor stretching? Do we have any cookies?
And then, as if an invisible bolt of lightning came down and struck poor Amanda somewhere right in the belly, she was writhing in pain on the bed, shouting and squirming for relief from whatever the heck it was that had just possessed her body. As contractions do, it came to a stop. And then, as contractions do, it began again, and not with much of a break in between.
Now approaching 10:30 at night, it was approximately one and a half hours past Amanda’s standard bedtime. To say that it was not exactly an ideal time to begin the labor process was an understatement. We were looking forward to a solid ten of slumber and shuteye before getting down to business once again.
But, as we quickly learned, babies don’t work that way: there is no schedule or manual or pamphlet once things really get going. Once the button is pushed, the thrusters engaged, and the course set, the whole event becomes a practice in letting go of all expectations. Of taking things one step at a time, and doing your best to remember even a shred of anything you were taught, read, or wanted to have at the ready to help you survive the whole thing.
And Amanda, whose cervix must have entered some sort of supersonic speed ripening phase (although I’m still a little fuzzy on the details), was in the process of skipping right over the beginning stages of labor. Not to mention all those hours we imagined spending in the comfort of our home, doing breathing exercises and yoga stretches, counting down the contractions until the appropriate time to make our way back to the hospital.
Instead, the bolts of lightning kept up a steady pace of arriving sooner rather than later, with not a lot of time for lighthearted chats in between strikes. Within fifteen minutes, Amanda transitioned from wow, that was something to holy mustard, that shit is real to catatonic and entirely unable to utter even a single word because the pain had become so great. Now a one-man decision-making team, I quickly realized that all the brain power we had between the two of us, of which, I’ll admit, was typically distributed unevenly in her favor, was running solo on the fumes of whatever I had operating upstairs after a long day of discussing cervixes and eating gourmet hospital ravioli.
The first step, I determined, was to call a priest. Because there was no possible way that what was now occurring in our bedroom was anything other than the complete possession of Amanda’s body by a real nasty asshole of a demon. That sucker would have to go pronto, and for that, we needed a few barrels of holy water and a guy dressed in black robes with a white collar, preferably trained in combat and possibly able to also deliver a baby just in case that happened too.
As I didn’t know any priests, I instead called the midwife currently doing rounds at the hospital. I tried my best to explain to her what was happening and eventually settled for putting the phone on speaker so she could hear it for herself. She said things using words and language, and I may have understood, although probably not, it’s difficult to recall. I asked questions and tried to remember what I was supposed to be doing other than being completely terrified and useless.
That’s good. That’s really good.
Are you sure?
Yes. She’s doing great.
So we should come to the hospital now.
No, not yet.
Just keep counting and call me back.
All I could think of was that there was no way we would even make it back to the hospital and that if we tried, we would soon be on the morning news. The latest couple that couldn’t make it to the hospital in time and had to have their baby delivered in the middle of a highway by a team of firefighters on their way back to the station from a false alarm.
I kept counting the contractions, and in between the contractions … the whole time not really knowing if I was doing it right or why I was even doing it in the first place. What I saw and what my brain told me was that my wife had skipped over most of the pre-labor process and was ready for a medical team to slap me on the back and say,’Don’t worry kid, we got it from here.’
And that made sense. My wife is efficient and used to taking care of business on her own terms, a no time for nonsense kinda lady. If anyone would have the audacity to skip right to the end of this insanity and squeeze this baby out without first taking the time to repeat our birthing mantras over and over again, or practice visualizing positive outcomes to the tune of Enya or some other soothing background soundtrack, it was Amanda.
Already having believed that I had waited too long, I called back one more time before doing my best impersonation of a wheelbarrow and dropping my wordless and writhing wife into the passenger seat of the car. She was a brave woman, tough as nails, and experiencing a level of pain I had never known or seen in another human being. I drove much too fast, putting the pedal to the medal like an unqualified man behind the wheel of a car being chased, giving him permission to bend the rules a bit in an attempt at a lifesaving escape.
Adrenaline was rushing, as it does. Amanda clutched the door handle, her only support during the constant impact of incoming contractions, her body convulsing in anguish and shock. Me, stupefied and unable to assist in any practical way other than delivering her safely to the hospital, which, thankfully, I did. After twenty minutes, the bright red lights of the emergency room lit up the night sky like a beacon of sweet relief — we had made it, safe, sound, a bit worse for wear, but nevertheless ready to queue some jazz flute and get on with the show.
Assuming that rules no longer applied to us, I hastily parked the car directly in front of the entrance in a position that was not exactly appropriate or one that could not be described as not being in the middle of the road. As I scrambled across to Amanda’s side, a pair of hospital staff, looking a lot like they were leaving for the evening after a long shift, recognized my distressed state and immediately rushed to our rescue with a wheelchair in tow. That was when we met Doug.
Where to Doug?
You’re a real lifesaver.
Actually, I’m an MRI technician.
Oh, cool. Well, thanks.
Sure thing. Know what you’re having?
It’s going to be a boy. I can tell.
As wheelchair Doug pinned the boy tag once again to our unborn child, he heroically weaved a path through the emergency room and down a corridor that looked suspiciously off limits and perhaps under renovation. Tools and ladders were haphazardly laying about. An area roped off with caution tape.
Not quite running, but moving forward with some real vigor and hop-to-it-ness, I couldn’t help but notice that we had taken more than a few turns … some lefts … some rights … some straight-through-the-swinging-doors and around the corner. And that quite soon, if not already, I would be at least one very tricky labyrinth away from ever seeing our car again.
After all, during the tour many weeks ago — the one where we learned about where the snacks were and the importance of ice chips, and that the apple juice and in fact, all juices, were free of charge — we had parked on the complete opposite side of the hospital in the easily accessible parking garage.
This was new territory for me, and yet, as I analyzed my own neuroticism in real-time, I understood that somehow, wheeling my poor wife into the hands of the professionals waiting in the wings of the maternity ward was much more important than the safety and security of our recently paid-off, used, low-mileage, 2012, black forest pearl Toyota RAV4. And so it was time to let go, get a move on, and focus on the now.
A perfect gentlemen, Doug was like a ballerina with a wheelchair, pirouetting past nurses and important looking doctors, maneuvering in between fancy looking medical equipment, lost children, security guards, and abandoned stretchers — he twirled us through corridors and hallways, up an elevator, across a lobby, and then down another elevator. There was no telling where we were, whether now twelve floors deep underground or towering into the sky at the penthouse level — let alone if we were even in the same building we had entered such a short time ago.
With the front desk abandoned at this late hour, Doug plunged us through the doorway of the top secret, very secure, and always on lockdown for obvious reasons maternity ward using his handy-dandy badge. I imagine we pulled up much like we did at the emergency room, our body language saying it all, help us! We need help. My wife is possessed! And help came. As Amanda was rushed into a room for an immediate assessment and assistance, Doug and I said our goodbyes.
This is it.
Wow. Thanks, Doug. Seriously.
It was my pleasure.
Do we hug?
We could. But let’s not.
Right. Well, thanks again.
When having a baby, one thing you notice right away is that the nurses and midwives and doctors are all perfectly calm. Your wife may be laying there on the bed, her limbs contorted and moving in odd directions, her groans shattering your heart with every plea for relief. And yet, here these people are, calm and collected, going about their business like a woman in labor was nothing more than a spreadsheet that needed filling out or a line of code that needed to be written. Not to say that they were heartless; certainly these people were among the kindest and most caring I’ve ever met — I doubt there are many who do this work who don’t feel a passion and sense of extreme satisfaction, as their day job is much, much different than most.
As midnight approached, Amanda’s cervix was officially deemed ripened, dilated, and ready for action — well, almost. Whether by protocol or by mercy, the maternity team installed us in the official birthing room for a brief inspection followed by a series of short cat naps as we waited for the next stage. Amanda was given medication and made comfortable, her pain easing a bit until finally, the anesthesiologist arrived with the good stuff. And the good stuff she got.
It’s one thing to start labor with a mild contraction and a good old break before the next one. To have time to gather your wits, remember the next steps, call the hospital, start your counting, and settle in while you gradually get used to your body turning into a giant squeeze bottle. But that didn’t happen. Amanda never even graduated to the actual birth inducing medication, the stuff that comes after the cervix ripening phase. She went from zero to sixty in a matter of minutes, the pain taking her body over as if it had been waiting there the whole time, crouched in the shadows, eagerly waiting for Amanda to drop her defenses to unleash all hell in one single and all-out assault.
As the nice medicine man went about his business, we requested a shredder, a barrel, and some gasoline be brought into the maternity room. It was time to say goodbye to our birth plan in style. We needed first to shred the plan to pieces. Then, to ensure its demise, watch it go up in flames with the help of a good old fashioned barrel fire right there next to the bathtub we would not be relaxing in and the birthing ball we certainly would not be using and the pile of luggage we brought, packed with unread magazines and a very unused essential oil machine. There would be no birthing mantras today.
While shredders were not exactly banned, apparently barrel fires were not only frowned upon but illegal anywhere in or outside the hospital. We would have to settle for folding the birth plan into a paper airplane and launching it out the window. Waving goodbye as it sailed deep into the night, perhaps found eventually by another pregnant couple somewhere, wandering the streets and in need of a one-page list of events they would prefer to occur at the birth of their child but most likely, and in all reality, definitely would not happen.
Drugged up and resembling a woman no longer experiencing the most extreme pain of her entire life, Amanda dusted herself off, smiled to the room, and happily welcomed the newly assembled team of nurses, the midwife, and me — who, if listed in the credits at the end of the movie, would be: Guy Who Held Left Leg and Blew His Nose the Entire Time.
While I was somehow able to navigate my way back through the labyrinth that was what had to be the most confusing hospital layout in the modern world — all without Doug’s assistance — retrieve the car, park it legally in a garage, and find my way back to the maternity ward with our childbirth luggage ... I did forget the box of tissues. Which was, unfortunate. Since approximately two days ago, my nose had begun a steady course of cycling every single ounce of fluid within my body out and through my nose. It was not fun but also not surprising that my body had identified the most inopportune time to initiate such a distracting inconvenience.
As the morning hours approached, and the first sunlight began to crawl over the horizon and into the night, the lead nurse instructed us on the game plan … it was time to push. With maybe a few hours of sleep under our belt, energy levels were minimal, confusion was high, and the realness of it all was increasing by the second. Tired and shellshocked, we were having a baby.
We’re having a baby.
This is so weird.
Nurses shuffled in and out of the room, adjusting the baby monitoring machines and wires, tinkering with medications and IV drips, and watching as I not so subtly blew my nose over and over … and over again. I was certainly on the receiving end of more than a few sideways looks, my nose roughed-up and red, the see-through fluids or mucus or whatever it was at this point exiting my body like an unplugged fire hydrant releasing a singular wave of goo and slime. The tiny trash barrels were piling up with the sandpaper tissues provided by the hospital, which, apparently, were custom-made to shred the inside of any nose to discourage further use or waste.
The midwife, who just a few short hours ago was nodding her head through my smartphone, propped Amanda up into different positions with pillows and leg adjustments, bending limbs and body parts as if preparing her for a very awkward portrait. Like any great painter, she would step back to frame the scene with her hands, taking a moment to assess her work before fiddling with it once again or making a minor improvement.
Amidst the controlled chaos, we watched from the eye of the storm as this whirlwind of activity occurred around us: a million miles away from cervix ripening and casual chit-chat, Amanda was thrust on stage and right to the end of the act without much time to rehearse. With each new nurse or midwife or doctor the same prediction was heard again and again, as if there was some sort of universal agreement between all the people of the world, among family and friends, strangers and hospital employees who had never once met in real life, that of course, this not so little bundle of joy we were attempting to coax through the birth canal could be nothing other than a perfectly happy little baby boy.
And then, once we had gone around the room and made sure that all participating hospital staff were in agreement on the baby’s gender … the pushing began!
The thing about pushing is that it’s not just pushing. What was clearly also absent from the birthing classes and the baby books and packets, was that there is actually a technique to pushing that nobody really tells you about until you’re called upon to do it. The act of pushing, I think, is typically something thought of as easy to understand: you move something forward with your own effort. And yet, this was not that.
For hours (although sometimes it felt like days), Amanda would assemble her body into different postures and positions, following the advice and commands of the team as I transitioned between holding her left leg, blowing my nose, and racing back and forth between the Purell machine, hoping that if I showed vigorous attention to my hygiene at least, that nobody would kick me out before the big moment.
And so the pushing continued, taking its toll on Amanda’s body and mind as she weathered the storm with great courage and physical strength. Her reserves apparently filled with endless amounts of each even as our baby defiantly stayed put — a rebel down to the very last minute, outright refusing to be evicted from what he or she believed to be their forever home.
Amanda charged on, breaking every so often to accommodate a team huddle, discuss a new position, or review once again the vague terms and puzzling instructions on how to ‘properly push.’ Eventually, with the return of Nurse Jane — our ripening nurse from the day before, and a personal favorite of ours — she found a rhythm that took us through the morning.
With her breathing on point and now proportionate in skill to any advanced yogi, Amanda began shifting internal levers and finding new buttons to activate. She transformed from listening to advice to running with confidence the command center of her own body, setting in motion the kind of physical encouragement any baby would be crazy to mistake as anything other than a very polite but forceful request to come this way.
The hours passed by and still, there was no movement. It wasn’t that the baby wasn’t coming out, but that the baby wasn’t budging at all. Nurse Jane, with all her enthusiasm and energy and thoughtfulness was even beginning to suspect that our little baby boy — yes, even she, and probably more so than anyone, was counting on this little baby to have a tiny little wee wee machine — wasn’t coming out this way. She explained that sometimes this happens, that between pelvis shapes and sizes, baby positions and conditions, and who knows what else, that sometimes through no fault or lack of effort that babies just don’t budge.
Amanda was wiped, her body working on no sleep and still in shock from the trauma and sheer physicalness of everything that happened over the past 12 hours — her absolutely heroic effort going down in my own personal history book as the most awe-inspiring, remarkable event I had ever been witness to.
I doubt I could have done what she did at all. Let alone for so long and so close to exhaustion nearly the entire time. She was going to be a great mom, not just because of this, but indeed, this did count for something, an accomplishment that probably very few people talk about or get credit for or can even put into words after the fact. We sat there, still a team but she the captain and I the cheerleader with the runny nose and red face.
To help us finish strong, a newly assembled extraction team convened at the rendezvous point, which, of course, was the agreed upon headquarters of the day’s mission, Amanda’s vagina. I may have made a crack about starting to charge an entry fee that went over well with this new crowd, and was pleased with myself for doing so.
As they poked and prodded, we listened in as they discussed with us our options and best case scenarios. They mentioned tongs and talked about a possible vacuum-assisted delivery, but not enthusiastically or with the sense that it would be an easy no problem kind of procedure. And so, with the support of Nurse Jane, the midwife, and the extraction team, Amanda agreed it was time for a C-Section, time to bring this little boy (or girl, there was still a chance!) into the world and begin our new life as an exhausted, slightly-oiled, parenting machine.
From that moment on everything went by very fast. The team dispersed to prepare the operating room, gather their surgical utensils, and formulate the final game plan. Amanda and I said a brief goodbye as she was whisked away for some preparations of her own. And I, alone with my tiny barrels of trash filled with sandpaper tissues, was left to gather our belongings and trounce along to the next room where my surgical gown awaited my arrival.
And I’m happy to report that the rest of the story is quite boring, uneventful, and brief ... save for the actual appearance of our newest character. I dressed from head to toe in my very own blue surgical suit. Feeling quite important and taking the time to wonder what life would have been like if I were a doctor, I did my best to plug my nose with tissues only to be told that not only was that not permitted, but that upon entering the operating room there would be no blowing of the nose whatsoever, obviously. Ah, yes, obviously.
I joined Amanda behind the curtain, which protected us from seeing the realities of our mortality, with all the gooey insides of our internal mechanisms temporarily set aside for the removal of the baby. Perhaps not surprising, but still fascinating, we sat together and listened as this team of nurses and doctors bantered about normal everyday things, joking and laughing as if Amanda’s open abdomen was the water cooler for their 15-minute break in between shifts. Casual talk would be interrupted from time to time with strict medical instructions, agreements, and confirmations, which assured us that these folks were, in fact, medical professionals and not just a merry band of chums having a friendly get together over a baby and some major surgery.
Amanda, still calm and collected, waited eagerly as I stared back at her knowing that she would be perfectly fine but also praying for the outcome just the same. With my attention on her, I was brought back to the matter at hand with a sudden cry that sounded a lot like a little baby. And indeed it was, it was our little baby.
Take a look, Matt.
At your baby.
You know, to tell your wife the gender.
Always one to be on the ball and quick on the draw, I stood up and was presented with a squirmy little human who looked more blue than rosy, sounded more confused than content, and was, in all its glorious goo, very much perfect in every sense of the word.
It’s a boy!!!
I yelled. Amanda smiled. The extraction team clapped and cheered. So after all that, all the measurements and predictions and foregone conclusions, everyone was right — our tiny little nugget was a little baby boy all along.
As our highly anticipated and long-awaited gender reveal party held right there in the operating room came to a close, part of the extraction team broke off and began an extensive process of cleaning and washing, weighing and measuring, assessing and assuring. They even let me snip off a very tiny portion of the umbilical cord during what felt like a very peculiar ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Finally, our squishy little man was ours, returned to my arms and meeting his mom for the very first time as she was expertly patched up and beginning the process of falling in love with this miniature little creature of cuteness. With our naming list down to just a few, the expression on his face helped us figure out the rest … this was Jack, our little baby boy. And all of a sudden, after forty-two weeks of waiting, our family of two turned into three, and our fearless wife and mama, who had just put everything she had and much, much more into the act of delivery, could finally rest … at least, for a little bit.