The First Ten Days
As our due-date came and went tensions were high. We knew that Emmy would arrive soon but it was clear that it would be on her terms. Despite our best efforts to take walks, eat spicy food, and other elusive ways to induce labor, Emmy was no closer to leaving the comfort of the womb. We walked miles and miles daily in our futile efforts to get the show on the road. The doctors scheduled an induction for the following Sunday and we were agreeable. Then, like most parents, and soon-to-be parents, we doubted our decision. Was it best? On the advice of a couple friends in the medical profession, we called the doctor and postponed the induction another week. Being induced meant an increased chance in cesarean section. While that would be fine, it was our understanding that the recovery was much harder on the mother. By proxy, that would mean more work for me. I was happy to delay in an effort to birth more naturally. I’ll say it; vaginally.
Days continued to pass until our next appointment. Our doctor, Cox, quipped, “What are you doing here?” Our sentiments exactly. She ordered an NST or non-stress-test. It detects contractions and monitor the baby’s response. The verdict was in; the doctor didn’t love the results and ordered us to go to the hospital for further testing. My heart, along with Emmy’s, responded unfavorably. The terms of the pregnancy were slipping further out of our control. We were no longer being pro-active: We were being reactive. Both Jamie and myself were frazzled.
With our carefully packed hospital bag at home we headed to triage for an extended NST. Jamie and Emmy lay in bed hooked up to a machine akin to a polygraph recording the hills and valleys. After more than ninety minutes of sitting, squirming, the nurse came in with results. They were, “okay.” OK. What does that mean? She explained that we could go home and continue to wait for Emmy to come on her own. She further explained that they’d prefer us to stay and be induced now. The nurse left us to discuss. Jamie was emotional about the situation and I tried to put her at ease. I decided that we had no choice but to be induced. The only reason we would go home would be selfish. Being induced might mean a higher chance of c-section, but it was the safest thing for Emmy. This bit of rational thinking calmed Jamie.
Time began to blur as the night stood still. I rushed home to get our bag while Jamie was moved to labor and delivery. I also managed to get a speeding ticket. How predictable? The room was larger than any master suite in the nicest of neighborhoods. The view was better too; facing east, we looked out over Lake Michigan from the 8th floor. We settled in knowing we might be in this room for 48 hours. Around 9:00pm the pitocin drip started – a drug with one purpose – stronger, faster contractions. Project get the baby out was officially underway. After five hours of mostly painless contractions Jamie was 3.5cm dilated. Encouraging progress. It was after 2am now as we struggled to get some rest. The adrenaline of the evening still had us in its grip.
The pitocin was upped to 6ml/hour and within moments the contractions crashed into my wife. It was like she was caught in the undertow of a wave. It would engulf her, overwhelm her, until it would release her and then wash again, and again, and again. She wanted to be, “…in a ball, but no position offered relief.”
Then I was kicked out of the room. I knew why, but it didn’t make it any easier – to leave her like that. They were going to drug my wife. I wandered the strange and sterile halls at 3:30 in the morning when she got the epidural. Through another patient’s door I could hear the grunts and screams of a woman in labor. No more than thirty seconds later I heard the sounds of a crying baby followed by a tear falling down my face.. We were getting close and I knew it. Get it together I thought.
When I was allowed back in the room Jamie was already at ease. These days, having a baby is a science. Still a miracle, but such a science. They added a catheter to the number of tubes coming from my wife. She was numb from the waist down and felt nothing.
“Is it in?” Jamie asked.
“Yes,” the nurse responded.
“Yes,” the nurse cut her off, “You’re peeing.”
Jamie laughed: She had no idea. We were both able to get some rest for the next four hours as the pitocin and contractions pushed on Emmy while the epidural pushed back. Then, I looked out the window to see the sun rising over the lake. New day, new life. It was cheesy. It was poetic. It was perfect. Just then a nurse came in to check our progress, neh, the progress of Jamie’s uterus. How dialated, how effaced?
“Take a guess, how far dilated do you think you are now?” the nurse asked.
Jamie’s guess was negligible since she assumed she’d be slow. No reason to believe otherwise. I guessed 6cm optimistically. The nurse surprised both of us when she shared that Jamie was 9cm dilated. She said we were going to have a baby this afternoon. The excitement was building evermore.
Shortly after, the doctor made her first appearance. We had many doctor visits before this date. In fact, we had met all but one doctor in the practice. Now, thanks to Murphy’s Law, we were meeting Dr. Wise. She began coaching Jamie on how to push and breathe. She explained what was going to happen next. There are no lamaze classes these days. Learning is done on the job. Dr. Wise instructed Jamie to do a test push. A test push? There was movement. The doctor began taking apart the bed and gearing the room for labor. The spark of adrenaline was back. I asked her, “…once we start pushing, are we talking about 10 minutes, an hour, 10 hours?” She told us the average push time was three hours. It seemed like a long time. I felt helpless and scared for Jamie and Emmy. I knew that we are about start down a long one-way road and there wasn’t going to be anything I could do but hold her hand and offer flat words of encouragement.
Around 10am on September 17th, Jamie was pushing. Hard. Contraction and push. Her face, like a beet in mid summer, she was red hot and focused. I was worried she was going to pop a blood vessel as she strained. She was determined. Contraction and push. The doctor and nurses were very impressed with the progress of each round. I didn’t know if they were being genuine. Contraction and push. I would reward Jamie with ice chips after each go like a dog who’d completed a trick. Doctor and nurses were amused as we tried to keep the atmosphere in the room light. Contraction and push. Every couple minutes Jamie’s stomach would tighten. She’d grab her legs, curl into a ball and strain as the doctor counted to ten. Contraction and push. Then a deep breath and another 10 count. Then again. Every couple minutes for thirty seconds at a time Jamie inched Emmy into the world. Seeing my wife’s power and simultaneous vulnerability filled my eyes with tears. Jamie looked at me and told me to stop crying. I would not. I could not. Dr. Wise got up and put on her scrubs. Contraction and push. Emmy was making her debut.
“Look at all this beautiful hair!” Dr. Wise exclaimed. “Jamie, feel it! You have to feel it! Reach down and feel her hair,” she continued. Jamie did so reluctantly. Contraction and push. Such power and focus. I think I heard the doctor say one more push and then it’s all blurry. Chaos. Fuzzy memories. Adrenaline. Commotion. Crying. Sweet, sweet, life breathing, wet, throaty cries. Sighs of relief, giggles, tears, laughing, adult crying. Joy.
People always look at the new baby and say things like, ‘she’s so beautiful, strong, ect..’ The baby has done little to deserve such praise. The mom, in our case Jamie, has done everything.
The calm that came next was not expected. Everything slowed down. Tensions in the room dissipated in an instant as Emmy was placed on Jamie’s chest. Our family had grown by one. I felt such happiness and gratitude toward the doctor and nurses. They may do it every day, many times over, but I hope they never forget how much it means to those in the room. In those initial moments, few things matter outside these four walls. However, I’m not proud how quickly my mind moved from, okay, everyone is doing well and healthy; now, is she cute? How vain. Yes. She’s beautiful. Another sigh of relief. Why do we care? Do I care for her sake or my own? Am I a monster? Could there be a physiological reason to think your own baby is especially beautiful? In the middle of the night and exhausted, surely it helps to look upon our child as strikingly cute. Does that not make it easier? If she had any flaws, I was blind to them. The classes warned us that newborns may not be ready to star in commercials – that they may have a strange look to them. True or not, when I looked at her, I thought she was ready to be the star of Gerber and I wanted all the world to see what we had created. So much beauty in that moment, in that face.
Just Moments After Birth
Again, I pulled myself back. Did I really deserve any credit? Probably not. I donated my DNA which was given to me by my parents and they theirs in the same way. I did no work to split cells repeatedly for Emmy. While not particularly religious, it certainly feels undeniable that there is a great miracle that happens in utero. I had not chosen such lovely features for her. I did not pick her little eyebrows or cute nose. Perhaps she had my eyelashes, but I had done nothing to assure that I myself had nice eyelashes. At least Jamie had to make some serious sacrifices while she was pregnant. She had to allow her body to be morphed, stretched, and bones moved. She had to give up many things she enjoyed for nearly a year. Now Emmy was a part of this world, my opportunity to contribute to her in a real way was now. It was time to be a father.
We were moved a few hours later to the recovery floor on eleven. Another room with a view – this time facing the Hancock building to the north. Who would look out when there was so much to see in? Emmy laid in a clear bassinet; on display for the world to see. Like the Hope Diamond behind glass, but much more precious. For the next two days family poured in to share our joy. As nice as it was to have our loved ones there, my favorite part of recovery was the night.
It was so quiet and peaceful. Just the three of us, I could hear Jamie and Emmy breathing. I could hear faint cries of other babies and they too made me happy. I could hear thunder in the distance and the sound of the rain dribbling on the glass. Emmy was laying on my chest, skin-to-skin, we were so warm, so content. Then, in the still of the night, there was a flash and the sound of a camera shutter. I peeked over to see Jamie crying as she tried to capture the tender moment between a new father and daughter.
Before we were discharged the staff showed us how to bathe baby. How to nurse baby. How to change baby. How to dress baby. How to swaddle baby. Fortunately, we were prepared to feel unprepared. The nurse showed us how to use our carseat and we were given the green light to leave. Really? You are trusting the life of this child to two parents who have never babysat, never changed a diaper until 36 hours ago, never even held a newborn? What a crazy world. We walked gingerly and carefully through the halls of the hospital to the exit. Jamie looked as fragile as Emmy. I again felt a weight on my shoulders despite the one that lifted after meeting our healthy Emmy Lu. I was glad to know that my mother was at our apartment to help us during our first week home. The outside air felt crisp and clean. I pulled the car around and felt the sun warm the cool air against my skin. I felt so alive, I felt ready.
Learning to care for a newborn is a J-curve. It’s fortunate that It happens quickly. All our peers told us so. They assured that we’d simply, “…learn on the job,” and that we, “…had nothing to worry about.” Just ten days into parenthood and my confidence level is 100x that of a week prior. Seasoned parents tell us still that, “…it will get better.” That’s wonderful, but it’s already so great.
Even the not so great parts have a distinct charm. Eat, Pray, Love is what the book said. In our house, it’s more, Eat, Poop, Love. There’s also a sprinkle of sleep. It’s not unusual to go through nearly 20 diapers in a day. How is that possible you might ask? Every diaper change runs the risk of being a triplet. There’s the dirty diaper, the fresh diaper that gets peed on, and the third that actually makes it; hopefully before an explosion sprays the pad, the door, and the wall beyond. Yes, that happened, like a Gallagher show – the front row should wear ponchos. This is dangerous work. Best to have a sense of humor about it all. *Note: Gallagher does not spray feces on his audience.
The first nights in the hospital were very easy. Emmy, like mom and dad, was exhausted from all the excitement of her birthday. She slept a lot and hardly made a sound. When we got home we started in on the battle for sleep. Emmy was good, but we were bad. We had not yet had time to learn her. What her sounds meant or what she wanted was a mystery. After being asleep for only an hour, she would start crying. I would get out of bed, pick her up, and shuttle her to Jamie. Mom’s warm body and milk soothed instantly. Then when she was full and content, I would pick her up and change her. This would wake her and she’d be upset again. So, the next night, we decided that when she would cry, I would change her first and then give her to Jamie. It was better, but then, when she was done and content, I would swaddle her – which would again wake and upset her. It wasn’t until we resequenced again that we achieved a three hour sleep. Cries. Then I would grab her, change her, give her to Jamie, put the swaddle under my warm body in bed while she fed, and finally swaddle her with a warm blanket to put her down after she ate. That was the secret pattern she’d be looking for. Three hours may not sound like a long time – but it was wonderful.
I could say that the first week was full of learning and that would be half true. Mostly however, the first week was like being at the zoo. We just peeked in at a life that was difficult for us to understand. We looked at a living creature we could not communicate with. We all just watched Emmy. We watched her sit, we watched her sleep, we watched her eat, we watched her live. Seeing her chest rise and fall became a hobby. A really sweet, beautiful, and disgustingly morbid hobby. Checking to see that she was indeed breathing is a horrible feeling. I already do it less than I did a week ago, but I am certain there will be days that I will be overwhelmed by the desire to peek in on her. To make sure she’s alright.
When she does cry, it seems to pierce Jamie more than myself. I think it’s physical. I don’t mind letting Emmy cry for a while. Worst case, I figure she’s strengthening her lungs and muscles. I enjoy the opportunity to try to calm her. It is a battle of the wills. I don’t want to have to rely on Jamie to soothe her. I wanted my time to learn how I might be calming for Emmy.The mind and body of a mother are intimately connected. When a nursing woman hears her baby cry, even if she’s in another room, it triggers the release of a hormone that lets down her milk and makes her breasts leak. That kind of physical response, combined with the strong emotional connection, means that most mothers respond to a baby’s distress more quickly and strongly than fathers.
When she was fussy I would pick her up; try to decipher why she was upset. I would walk around the house and talk to her. It’s strange that we know she cannot understand but it makes no difference. In an instant she would make eye contact and it was enough for us to believe she understood everything. Perfectly. She understood that we might not be the best parents but that we were doing our best. She reminded me that her expectations were low. That made me laugh. Standing with her 18 floors up at the window, I returned the favor by paraphrasing the Lion King as I reminded her, “…that everything you see, all that the light touches, is your kingdom.” I told her that she, “…could do anything, that she could be anyone.” I asked her to be a good person. She got the message. I wondered what she would do. I wondered who she would be. So full of possibility. Again, she looked right at me, pursed her lips as though waiting for a kiss, and shit her britches.