Okay, let’s set the Wayback Machine for Tuesday of last week.
I slept for roughly 2 hours due partly to a litany of things that needed to be accomplished prior to D-Day, but mostly due to Jib’s refusal to sleep like a normal dog. (He scratched at the door 4 times from midnight to 3 am.) So I’m exhausted from Jumpstreet, but I get up at 3:30 anyway, shower, and prepare for what was to be my very last pre-fatherhood drive.
We arrive at Memorial Houston Katy at 5am, and it’s a ghost town. Which, to be honest, was a little unsettling. Echoes of “No Mercy” in Left 4 Dead kept floating around in my mind and I had a firm grip on the Boppy, should I need to comfort a zombie into submission.
We eventually find the Labor & Delivery wing, and they hustle us immediately into our room. And the very first thing I notice is the art on the ceiling, which they’d obviously procured from a Chinese buffet fire sale and forgotten to turn on the water animation light effect.
Jen gets changed, suffers some preliminary poking and prodding, gets hooked up to an IV, and we settle in for what is certain to be one of the longer days of our lives.
After a couple hours there’s a shift change and Robin, our new nurse, arrives. An entire un-funny conversation about how that makes Jen “Batman,” which I suppose makes me “Catwoman” but only if I get to be the Eartha Kitt one and not Halle Berry, plays out in my head. Wisely, I decide to say nothing to this end, and opt instead for, “good morning, Robin.”
This was a smart move, because Robin was awesome and antagonizing your delivery nurse is pretty high up on the list of, “What Not to Do When You’re Expecting.”
Things progress, fiddly bits get dilated, and contractions are measured. The call is made to Dr. Feelgood who shows up with an Epidural hobby kit. One that looks suspiciously like the plutonium encasing from Back to the Future.
The anesthesiologist asks me to leave the room, presumably to keep watch for Libyans, and after 30 minutes Jen is hooked up, flyin’ high and feelin’ good.
Then a nearby monitor buzzes an alarm and Robin looks…concerned. She says that the heart rates of both Jen and Daphne have dipped suddenly and she’ll need me to leave the room. A few more nurses hustle past me as I head out into the hallway.
And there I stand.
Staring at a door, behind which my entire life is currently in danger and I’m very powerless to help.
That is what alone feels like.
After a minute or two (or a lifetime, depending on your perspective), the door opens and they beckon me back in. Things have calmed down and Jen and Little D are both fine. I, however, become laser-focused on the heartbeat monitors for the following 12 hours. And mentally mark each slightly irregular pattern like my life depended on it.
Because it did.
The day stretches on. Family comes and goes. We chat with Robin about dogs and fruit and movies and Canada… All the while, a strange and mysterious “dilation” number continues to incrementally grow.
At 5:30, a little more than 12 hours after we arrived, it’s announced that Jen’s dilation is 10. Which apparently means that all uterine systems are “GO.” Activity starts, and preparation for “test pushes” begins.
Jen does her first push and, once again, Daphne’s heart rate plummets, terrifying everyone in the room. Robin suspends all launch protocol and calls for Jen’s doctor, just in case something should go wrong. Her doc arrives and we commence pushing again.
Daphne’s moving along just fine until she gets to Jen’s pelvic bone, at which point she decides to take a siesta and suspends the extrication op.
Push! Forget it.
So, extreme measures are taken. Our doctor ties a couple overhand knots in a cotton sheet (I would’ve gone with figure-8s, but whatever), and tells Jen, “okay, you and I are going to play a little tug o’ war.”
Jen takes one side of the sheet, the doc takes the other. At each contraction they both pull like hell while nurses push Jen’s knees back toward her head.
And then, there’s me.
Now I had originally stated that I did not want to watch the birth itself, and that would busy myself by looking right at Jen’s face while telling her what a fantastic job she was doing. At least, that’s how I thought it was going to play out. Then this tug o’ war business got started and suddenly I had a job to do. And my job was to lift up on Jen’s neck and back during each push session, helping her into a position not entirely unlike doing a crunch.
As such, there was absolutely no way to avoid seeing the details of all the vaginal proceedings.
Many contractions later there’s another flurry of activity from the doctors/nurses in the room. They start putting on gowns and gloves and masks, and the doc herself puts on some kind of welding mask and removes the bottom half of the bed that Jen has been lying on since 5am. I am, conspicuously, still wearing a plaid button-up, SubPop t-shirt and a Red Sox cap. (Gogo GrungeDad.) And, more’s the pity, no one is rushing to provide me with similar sterilization couture.
So I’m going au naturel. Okay.
A few pushes later they ask Jen if she wants to reach down and feel the head. She declines and wants to focus on her pushing instead. Smart move, methinks.
Suddenly, sticking perfectly out of my wife’s paching, is the back of a very small head. And in that moment, my addled, sleep-deprived brain went, “huh…looks like a little bulb has sprouted outta there.”
A few more pushes came and went and, at 6:46pm on April 28, 2015, Miss Daphne Miranda Shaw arrived safely and was placed in her mother’s arms.
I’d like to tell you that, at this point, I was a stoic mountain of a man. That I put my hands on my hips, nodded at a job well done, lit a cigar and grinned.
But that isn’t the truth.
The truth is, my emotions were completely unchecked and were ricocheting around my head with wild abandon. I watched them lift my child up to lay on the chest of the woman I’m wildly in love with, the same woman whose life I’d feared for earlier that day. I kissed Jen’s forehead and told her I loved her and that she was beautiful and that she’d done well. And then I shed a few quiet tears of relief and joy and gratitude. Only Robin noticed.
For posterity, I did not cut the umbilical. First, I was the least qualified person in the room to do so. Second, I’d been subsisting on a diet of NOTHING for over 13 hours and was more than a little shaky. And finally, there seems a strange connotation to it. That…severing. I can’t quite place why, but it feels a little…I don’t know…patriarchal, I guess? Anyway, the doctor handled that part.
I notified the waiting room that Daphne had arrived, gave hugs all around, showed off a couple quick pictures I’d taken, and then I headed back in.
And there is where I’ll leave this for now. Tune in next time when we discuss our trip home, and Daphne’s first doctor visit.