The Birthening


Wednesday, November 5, 2003: My Mom arrives in New Orleans. Sonya and Glenda and I go to Mona's and eat Middle Eastern food.

Thursday: I go to do some temp work. Sonya begins her maternity leave. My Mom and Sonya hang out all day and get along just fine, thank you very much. My Mom regularly asks Sonya if she's feeling okay and if she needs to go to the hospital. Sonya tells her no.

Friday: We begin the day with breakfast at La Peniche (says Adam, our waiter, to Sonya: "Have you not had that baby yet?"). Then we go to Metairie with last-minute trips to Target and Sam's to stock up before the Infant Onslaught. We go home and I cook beans.

Saturday: I clean the house, inside and out, in preparation for Sonya's parents. My Mom and I watch The Fellowship of the Ring. Says my Mom: "I've never seen anything like that." The in-laws arrive. My Father In-Law and I cook over the grill and get good and squiffy on Pabst Blue Ribbon. My Mother and Mother In-Law both start asking Sonya: "Do you want to go to the hospital?" Sonya keeps telling them no. She has had nothing resembling a contraction. I lay my arm across her stomach in bed at night and the kid is rattling and rolling around like a shoe in a dryer. He'll do it until I go to sleep. If I wake in the night and check on him he'll still be playing and having a fine old time. During this period Sonya often gets up in the middle of the night to take warm lavender and chamomile baths, which she says are very relaxing.

That night, after we're through cooking out, there is a lunar eclipse. We all go outside and look at the red, ghostly moon.

Sunday: A very big day. The family rides to Metairie so they'll know how to get to the hospital without me and Sonya. We make a final, absolute-last trip to Target. The chorus asking Sonya if she's ready to go to the hospital is growing in volume. Back to the house for naps. Sonya goes in the backyard with me and cuts my hair.

At about nine o'clock that night Sonya and I go to the hospital. The parents are coming the next morning. There was a great deal of lively debate on this. Sonya asked her doctor what we should tell the parents.

"You're not having the baby Sunday night," he said, "and if you do they'll have plenty of time to get there."

So we insist the parents stay home and get some rest. They are unhappy with this. In protest, they rest very poorly.

Sonya and I get to Lakeside - it's a maternity hospital in New Orleans, but in many other places it's a rehab. Funny! This is New Orleans, remember, so it's still warm and a bit muggy. The hospital, though, is icy cold with the air conditioner blasting away. We fill out paperwork and go to the room. Sonya puts on a sex-ay hospital gown and begins the drugs that will induce labor. I pull out the nifty little chair that converts to a bed. We sleep fitfully as the nurse comes to check on Sonya quite often. Everyone is very nice, and the nurses are utter angels.

Monday, November 10, 2003: The sun is barely up and the nurse tells me some people are here to see me and Sonya. I go to the waiting room and find the parents, who have barely slept and are more than ready to get the show on the road. I glug down a Red Bull and return to Sonya's room, the parents in tow. After a brief visit they go back to the waiting room and Sonya gets some more drugs.

These drugs really get hold of Sonya. The contractions come hammering at her so fast she can barely breathe and certainly can't recover from the last one. Teresa, the latest nurse, calls in the anesthesiologist.

(Sonya was never interested in a nutural childbirth. She didn't want to learn how to breathe - she wanted drugs. I thought this was entirely reasonable. I went around giving out my "nobody wants a natural appendectomy" lecture. [Ed. Note: Last night[06/27/2004], on the latest episode of Coupling, a guy who's girlfriend is about to have a baby used the same argument!])

"Am I being a baby for wanting the drugs now?" Sonya asked the nurse.

"Hell, baby," Teresa said, "OB nurses get their epidural in the parking lot."

Teresa had a lovely southern accent, the kind you don't hear enough of in New Orleans. NOt only did it turn out she was from Tennessee, but she had relatives in the town my Mother In-Law grew up in and they (the nurse and my Mother In-Law) had quite a few mutual acquaintances. Small world.

Anyway, Sonya became quite happy and then passed the hell out. I went to join the parents in the cafeteria, where they were having the breakfast. My Mother really wanted me to eat. That was not going to happen.

By noon, Sonya's doctor was a bit concerned. Everything was fine and Sonya was totally effaced and having lots of nifty contractions, but she was only dilated to about five centimeters. That is not enough for a kid to go through. He ordered a c-section as soon as possible. The parents are in the room by this time, fretting. My Mother is doing everything but making airplane noises with a spoonful of cereal, she wants me to eat so bad. I drink lots of water and try to calm down.

"Are you nervous?" my Father In-Law asks me.

"YOu know how, before a football game, you see the football players jumping up and down and yelling? I feel like that. I'm pumped up. I'm ready to go. Let's get this thing started!"

I'd had only water and Red Bull at this point. I felt like a sharpened pencil before a big test.

A little after two in the afternoon Sonya and I head out for the operating room. We'd talked it over and we really, really didn't want anyone else there. Hell, we didn't want to be there. The traditional birthing - Mother unconscious, Father smoking in the waiting room - sounded good to both of us. Sonya's doctor, though, was having none of it.

I didn't take a video camera, either. There's no need for all that. I took one camera, loaded with black and white film.

Just outside the operating room another nurse stopped me. She gave me a surgical gown, mask and hat. DO you call it a hat? It's the little paper thing that you wear on your head, so I guess it's a hat. Sonya was put on the operating table. I was put on a stool next to Sonya's head. Sonya's doctor shows up and asks Sonya if a Tulane medical student can observe. Sonya's all, like, "what the hell!"

Okay! See, there's a little cloth barricade at Sonya's neck. I guess it was supposed to keep the patient from seeing their own flesh cut open. This is good. I agree with the little cloth barricade. Unfortunately, it's only a few inches high. It blocks Sonya's view, yes, but it doesn't do anything for me. I'm sitting there, looking right down at Sonya's soon-to-be-cut stomach. I hunker down and put my head right next to Sonya's. We are chatting lightly (Sonya is very, very high on The Drugs) while Sonya's is cut open and yanked back and forth, hard. I'm surprised at all the moving and the yanking. Birth is very violent, no matter where the kid comes out.

The process is moving right along and Sonya's doctor and his partner (who is making an unexpected cameo) are bantering back and forth like Hawkeye and Honeycutt. I raise my head over the barricade and see an unforgettable sight: my son's head sticking out of my wife's stomach. He's yelling. This was not what he expected. I duck down back behind the barricade, hold up the camera, and take some pictures without looking. I hope they turn out. I look over at the medical student. Her eyes are very, very big.

John cries and cries. The nurse invites me over to the little table to take some pictures of the new kid. He's pretty much perfect. I look over and see Sonya, looking a bit cut open. It is, in the abstact, kind of neat.

The baby and I return to Sonya's side. Pictures are taken by the nurse. She is the NICU nurse and fortunately no one needs her attention today. She was wonderful. She commands me to come with her. She puts John in an incubator for the trip to the nursery. I tell Sonya I'm going with the boy and I'll be right back. Her reply is muzzy.

"Have you got people in the waiting room?" the nurse asks me.


"Well, get 'em. We've got a minute."

So the grandparents met the new grandchild in the hall, and through a layer of clear plastic. He studied us all, deep blue eyes squinty. He didn't seem upset.

That is, until they stripped him naked in the nursery to weigh him and subject him to other indignities. He yelled and yelled! I took pictures. The grandparents took pictures (through the glass). Finally they put him under a little heat-lamp and he passed the hell out, too.

Outside the nursery I yanked my gown off and went looking for my wife. The hallways in the maternity ward are clogged with children, husbands, grandparents, all manner of hangers-on. Everyone had a baby that day. I find my wife being wheeled back to her room. She is still a little fuzzy, but getting clearer-headed by the minute. I get her ice to eat. Sonya's parents go to find food for themselves and my mom. I go to get the pictures developed and grab a burger. Sonya goes back to sleep. My mom stays in the room, watching over the mother of her grandson.

I drop the film off at Target. I go to McDonald's and get a burger. I can barely eat it for grinning about being a daddy. I go back to the car and call everyone programmed into the cellphone. It's a boy! It's a boy! It's a boy!

Back at Target I pick up the pictures. They are awesome, journalistic and a little bit arty. Back at the hospital it's time for Sonya to move to her regular room. We pack up and Teresa (who has been delivering babies left and right) rolls Sonya down the hall.

"So, can she have some champagne?" I ask.

"Hell no! She just had surgery!"

The way Lakeside does the rooms is pretty sweet. You can request (and pay extra for) a private room, but what they recommend you do is get a semi-private room. They're rarely so busy that two patients have to occupy the same room, so you get a big room with an extra bed for the husband to sleep in. This was a very good think, I thought.

So Sonya and I are there, and the grandparents are there. I turn on the wrestling. Around nine o'clock John makes his entrance, sleeping. We pass him around. Eventually the grandparents go back to our apartment to sleep. Sonya and I are left with the boy. Within two hours I've changed two diapers full of crap. Our relationship is established. I wheel him back to the nursery shortly after midnight. Oh my God...we have a kid.

Tuesday: I'm up and out of the hospital shortly after the pediatrician (who is cute, female and mine and Sonya's age - how weird!) brings John in. Everything looks good, she tells us. He's a perfect specimen.

I have a job interview at Harrah's. But I'm not the only one! It's a cattle-call; dozens of people fill out paperwork, take a test on a computer and get a short interview. It turns out the job in question is part-time. I tell them that's not what I'm looking for. The HR lady understands; she tells me they like my test scores and will call me soon. I never hear from them again.

Back at the hospital I help Sonya take a shower, then take my mom to catch a train back to Memphis.

The next 48 hours are a blur, but a pleasant one. John eats a little and sleeps a lot. We look at him.

Thursday: And Thursday, at noon, we go home. It's the first cool day of the fall, and I'm worried. He's just wearing a little shirt and a diaper under a thin blanket. Will he get too cold? The straps on the car seat are too loose. Will we break his little neck? Somehow we get him home. My father in-law and I run to Walgreen's and KFC.

Friday: Up early, crying boy. I put a roast on. Sonya's sister and her husband arrive. We eat the roast and look at the baby some more. That night, John declares that he wants formula. Nothing else will do. We give him a bottle and he immediately starts to gain weight.

Saturday: Sonya and I go to vote for governor, because Louisiana votes on Saturday. The family watches John. And then, when we get back from voting, they leave. And it's just me, the wife and the kid.

That weekend was rough, I admit, but we had it figured out by the next weekend. John was on a four-hour cycle: sleep for four hours, wake, get changed, eat, socialize for a few minutes, then sleep for four more hours, repeat. Once we'd get him to sleep at a somewhat bedtime-y time we'd go to sleep, too. Then when he'd wake up we'd tend to him and go back to sleep with him. We'd do that two or three times until we were rested, then we'd start again. And that was our schedule for two months.