Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What We Can Remember Now That We've Started to Forget

"The Girls" are now home, as of Sunday morning, for good--in every sense of that last word.

The past few days are already fraying around the edges in my memory, so I want to get it out and down before nature completes the job. So bear with me.

Last Thursday night around 7 p.m., after we'd finished dinner (I can't quite remember even now what we ate--see?), my wife's water broke. She had been feeling, well, different for the past few days, like a small hand had reached through her stomach and was gripping her lower back. Which means that we weren't that surprised, really. And since her water broke with our son, is was clear what was happening. This time I wasn't on a plane from Memphis, and we were much more calm overall. We even had a bag packed, like in the movies. We called our babysitter, and she came right away, practically shoving us out the door to the hospital.

It was a beautiful night, the huddle of buildings in lower Manhattan "unutterly crisp" in the twilight, as cummings put it somewhere. We wound our way around the east part of the island on the FDR drive up to the hospital, passing under the bridges dressed in pearls for the night. Traffic was light, so we weren't worried that we'd someday be telling the story of our daughter arriving in the back of a taxi. (And besides, what to tip for that?) We walked in the front doors of the hospital, and when the guard stopped us to ask for ID, my wife pointed at her belly, and he stepped aside. It was late enough that the usually busy halls were rather empty, almost as many mops as people going up and down the marble.

Up on the 7th floor, we checked my wife in and were pointed to Triage Room 4, which was a profound change from the last visits--the first of many. We knew from last time that once the water breaks, we would be meeting the girl rather soon. And since my wife was nearly 36 weeks along, the doctors wouldn't work to keep the little girl in and may in fact induce if nature proved too lazy. The nurse strapped on the familiar monitors and the concise room filled up with the blips tracking her quick heart. We waited. Eventually, a resident came in to check the position of the baby, among other things, and things looked good. A newer nurse, all Texas cheerleader like, arrived to find a vein for my wife's IV. After taping down her line, she wheeled around to me to ask "Would you like one too? I don't want you to feel left out." Funny.

We were moved over to Birthing Room 3, one of the smaller ones but with a nice view. The nurse there, the one who would be with us until the end, could have been, well, more nurse-like. (Throughout the night she questioned my wife's tolerance for pain. Knowing my wife as I do, her questions were certainly unfounded and not at all entertaining to either of us.) Rumors soon began about the doctor who would deliver our daughter, mainly concerning how to say his name. He's French Canadian, and the various accents of those who passed through to check blood pressure, temperature, etc., all finished off his name with their own peculiar flourishes. He himself came in later with his own pleasant lilt in his speech, which helped him seem just a little foreign in the right way and immensely competent. We made introductions and forced jokes.

Her labor progressed all by itself, and no drugs were prescribed beyond penicillin and just plain water. Everyone went away; and we were left to wait. A couple of hours slunk by, and my wife's contractions became more assertive, pulling her face tight every 4-6 minutes. We're skipping lots of downtime here, but eventually my wife decided not to be a hero and asked for an epidural. The two anesthesiologists arrived and ushered me out of the room. Turns out that men are required to leave during this process because in general they don't tend to react all that well to the insertion of a rather large needle into their wifes' spine--reactions that (we were told) usually constitute threats to the doctors or fainting dead away. I probably wouldn't have done either, but I was grateful for the excuse in any event.

I came back from the hallway outside and an overpriced bag of pretzels to find the epidural guys finishing up. In perhaps the most bizarre stretch of the evening, we talked for several minutes with them about one of their passions, namely a website called (billed as "The world's largest online directory of private islands for sale or rent"). He proved scarily knowledgeable about where one could buy entire islands, from $20,000 plops of sand in the Philippines to multimillion dollar places off more popular resorts. So there's that. Satisfied with my wife's numbness, they left us alone to rest as much as we could.

I'll skip ahead again, bypassing the fitful attempts at sleep and the nervous chatter about muscling two kids. And so the resident came in around 4 a.m. to check my wife's progress, and she was nearly ready. "You're an excellent patient," was her diagnosis. She called the doctor, and he came in looking a little rumpled. He had been napping when the resident called him, but he sharpened up quickly (and the confession was cute, we thought). The baby was indeed on her way.

I expected more doctors and nurses to flood in, but only one, a staff pediatrician, started to shuffle things around in the adjoining room housing the newborn warmer and the isolette. With our son, I can remember at least five to six folks standing ready. No Code Blue expected this time around apparently. In what seemed like a Why Don't We Try This? kind of approach, my wife was encouraged to push as her contractions came on. So she did that, me counting to ten like in the movies and on TV, reminding her to breathe. (ASIDE: Lamaze is basically a rip-off; any kind of distraction will do just as well.) For the weak-stomached, I'll pass over the particulars to the most striking difference to our first birth experience. She came out rather easily all in all, wet and slick and flailing. The doctor lifted her in a towel and settled her in my wife's arms for just a moment. No crowds, no tubes. The pediatrician took her to clean her up, and a strong, sharp cry burst out of her. We didn't hear our son cry for about two months. They weighed her. We had placed our bets--I said 5 lb. something, my wife, feeling reckless, guessed in the 6-lb. range. She came in at 7 lb. 1.5 oz., a true heavyweight for a 35-weeker. And her APGAR scores were 9 and 9. (We were told that the pediatricians at the hospital "just don't give tens.")

I got to hold her in delivery for a bit before they took her to the nursery. She felt like nearly nothing, a piece of light that would float up if I let go. I didn't. We looked out the window together for the first time at the great city into which she was just pushed. I could only imagine her thoughts, her body beginning to bloom just like the city itself on any Friday morning. She met the sight with a cry, and it was all I could do not to join her.

Our girl had arrived.

Good night.

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