Monday, April 05, 2010

The day you were born

This is the story of the day A was born. In case you haven't heard, A is our new daughter, born today. Objectively speaking, she is extremely cute. Her nose and lips and ears are small and perfect. She has a funny hairline. Her skin smells warm and fresh. She has deep, milky eyes. She usually has a very placid demeanor, and she reacted to her first diaper change with an air of dignified resignation. When she sleeps her arms fly akimbo and her fingers grasp for something we can't know. Her first life lesson today appeared to be, "It's OK to sneeze." Her first sneeze resulted in tears; by the end of the day she could handle it, while her parents rejoiced at the chance to bless their lovely daughter once again.

But before A realized that sneezing was ok, she had to get born first. Here is what happened. It's rated PG-13 for language and stressful situations.

The original plan was for us to head into the hospital to induce labor around 9 pm tonight. We went to bed last night expecting to spend the day waiting for nighttime to roll around so we could swing into action. Consequently, I slept late, and woke up around 9 to find L anxiously pacing through the apartment. She was having contractions, and had started writing down their times. The contractions were lurching along at irregular intervals: ten minutes, twelve, seven, eleven. I briskly showered and ate breakfast and got ready for something. The contractions intensified; L was in pain. Around 10:15 we called the doctor. I explained what was happening. "She's in labor, come on down to the hospital," they said. Okay.

Except that L couldn't come to the hospital -- she was in too much pain to leave the bathroom, let alone the apartment. She was in agony and was making the kind of sounds you don't ever want to hear from a loved one. I expected her to emerge from the bathroom crazed with rage and pain, Hulk-like, like she had been ripping the linoleum out with her fingertips. After a half hour of cajoling and pleading (including one false start) I lured her out of the apartment. She was moaning in the elevator. Outside I dashed through the crosswalk, hauling our three bags of hospital-bound stuff, as L clutched her body and slowly made her way. People were looking at us but not saying anything. I ran back to get her and hailed a cab. I loaded everything up but the cabbie said, "Wait, does she need help?" L couldn't make it through the crosswalk. I guided her to the car and we got in. Before she stepped in the car, though, my delicate orchid of a wife said those magic words that every prospective father longs to hear: "I'm going to poop in the cab." "That's ok!" I said. After slinking through a few stoplights I asked the cabbie to take the West Side Highway, to make sure we could get all the way to St. Vincents Hospital, down on 12th street. We had almost 100 blocks to go.

In the cab L's contractions started out at about two and a half minutes apart. L was gasping, moaning, yelling out, arching her back and clutching onto the handrest or window frame so hard that her muscles would tremble with her pain. And then her contractions started coming at two minutes apart. During those brief intervals I would pray that we could somehow advance 40 blocks before the next wave, but L had to suffer through each crashing wave as we slowly made our way south. Later, I would laugh that she also seemed to be having a mild Tourettic episode. "Breathe through it, honey," I would meekly suggest. "FUUUUUUUCK," she would reply. Or I would helpfully say, "Just breathe, my darling," and then she would say, "SHIIIIIIIIT." It was a useful dialogue.

Finally, an eternity later, we made it to the hospital. It was around 11 o'clock. L got out and shuffled inside as I stayed back to pay. She hadn't pooped in the cab. Our angelic driver had turned the meter off early so we could dash out quickly, and he helped us get our bags from the trunk. I gave him a massive tip. We shook hands and he wished us luck. I kind of wanted to give him a hug. As we went in, someone else called out, "Congratulations!"

We made it up another elevator to the labor and delivery floor. L held on to me, buckled over, as I explained our situation to the nurses. They ushered us into a delivery room and a nurse checked L out. "Shit, there's the head," the nurse said. Our midwife, Barri, appeared, and there was a flurry of activity as they raised the bed and got L in the position to push, summoning forth piles and piles of covers and blankets and protective gloves. "What about an epidural?" I said. "There's no time -- the head is here -- it's time to push."

I started to laugh. What the hell was going on? According to our birth plan (which explicitly stated that the baby was to be born over a week ago), we were going to have a nice, easy birthing experience, including an epidural and a veritable rainbow of the pharmaceutical industry's finest painkillers. Now we had the midwife telling us there was no time, that we would just have to push through an all-natural, granola, hippie-dippie birthing experience. Well, stop the Joan Baez CD, I'd like to get off. L and I looked at each other and laughed at how things always happen to us in the craziest possible way. This was it. I was so proud of her. At that moment, stepping off the brink together, I loved her so much.

Three or four pushes later -- at 11:19 am, less than fifteen minutes after we arrived at the hospital -- our daughter was born. She arrived a bawling tangle of blue limbs, plopped on L's belly as the midwife and nurses performed their ministrations. Our girl. A few minutes later I cut the cord, and made the nurses laugh when I said it felt like a scallop. We all laughed at the utter irrelevance of our birth plan and all of our expectations. We thought about how close we came to giving birth in a taxicab. And we would have, probably, but for a few short minutes.

We spent the rest of the day holding her, feeding her, gazing at her, taking pictures of her, speaking with loved ones all over the country and the world, and introducing Hank and John and Anna to our girl. I left to get some lunch in the afternoon and ran into an old neighbor, as well as our friends at the bookstore and Chipotle. Everyone was so warm, so happy for us -- L and A and me, our little family. It felt like a holiday in our city. What a blessing. What a tremendous blessing.


Ruth said...

Blessings on your little family, Michael. You have such wonderful adventures ahead of you. This is one that will seem fresh in your mind forever. Enjoy, savor and memorize her while she is this tiny because she won't stay that way for long. We rejoice with you. Love, Ruth

Jessie said...

So much for birth plans! I guess it is good to have them though it is impossible to predict nature's plan. You have a wonderful story to tell your daughter about her glorious entry into the world! You are truly blessed.

SMS said...

Priceless! Alice is definitely a New Yorker :) I just read this out loud to Stephen over coffee. SO great. Thanks for sharing the story with all of us. Love and many blessings to you guys. She - is - beautiful.

Kim said...

This is the best story ever! You have such a way with words. Give your delicate orchid of a wife a hug from me!

Ellen said...

Awesome story. Congratulations! When I saw that Sarah mentioned a friend's baby was born today, I clicked over immediately. So happy for you...