Monday, March 26, 2012

My Daughter's Birth Day (Or: How I Came to Do the Hokey-Pokey with My Daughter Five Minutes After She Was Born)

They say that when you become a father for the first time, your life is changed forever. They are right. (Whoever “they” are.) This is the story of the day, several years ago this week, when my life changed forever:

It started on a Wednesday. We had been to the doctor the day before. Amber was already four days past her due date, and we were told that if the baby didn’t come by Monday, they would induce labor. Since Amber had shown no real signs of labor pains or contractions, we were figuring on having a Monday baby.

I was off work that Wednesday, and we had lounged around the house all morning and most of the afternoon. When Amber sauntered into the shower at around 5:00 PM, all was calm and normal. When she got out of the shower, it wasn’t.

She opened the door and said, “Joe, you might want to call your boss and tell him you’re not coming in tomorrow. My water just broke.” I was dumbfounded. (As usual.) All I could think to say was, “Are you sure?” From the look on Amber’s face, I immediately knew the answer to my question, and also that my question was rather stupid. Of course she knew. (Never having broken any water before, I wasn’t positive about the level of certainty involved. Apparently, when you break water, you know it.) (I’ve spilled some water. I’ve dribbled some water. I’ve splashed some water. I’ve mopped up some water. But, I’ve never broken any water.)

We loaded up into the car and drove to the hospital. We were still relatively calm. We had, after all, been expecting and preparing for this day for almost nine months. (There would be plenty of time for panic later.)

We got checked in and they examined Amber. Apparently, to deliver a baby they want the mother to be 10 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. Amber was only at 2 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced. It was going to be a long night. (Do I know what “dilated” and “effaced” mean? Not even a little bit. But, I am familiar with the one to ten scale, and I know that 70% is a “C,” while 2 out of 10 is NOT a good score.) (My wife is, after all, a math teacher.)

We settled into our room. I was in a chair that folded out flat so that it was similar to a bed. But, “similar” to a bed is not the same as an actual bed, and I was not very comfortable. Of course, even in my uncomfortable “bed,” I was ever-so-slightly more comfortable than Amber was. Amber could only lay on her sides, and she switched from side to side about every hour. At around 9:00 PM they gave her an epidural (because nothing is better for easing your pain than having someone stick a huge needle into your back!)

We “slept” on and off (usually off) through the night and into the morning without things changing much. Finally, at about 1:00 PM on Thursday, it was decided that it was time for Amber to start pushing. So, she did. She pushed and pushed and pushed. And we all learned how to count to ten. Over and over and over again. After about two hours of serious, serious pushing, Amber had had enough. She even unleashed at least three “frickins” in her anger and frustrations. (Yes, “frickin,” not the other, more commonly used “f” word. I found it very cute that even in her worst moment, in the most amount of pain she had ever been in, the worst word that would come out of my sweet wife’s mouth was “frickin.”) (Of course, I didn’t tell her that at the time, or she might have punched me in my frickin nose!)

Eventually it was determined that the baby’s head was not turned in a way that was conducive to natural childbirth. So, after all the pain, agony, and pushing of labor, (of which much less than .0001% was mine) it was decided that the baby would come via a c-section. We had to prepare for surgery.

Who ya gonna call? (Fat Elvis!)
In order for me to be in the room for the surgery, they made me wear a slick (literally) outfit of one-size-fits-none white coveralls. I thought the coveralls made me look like Elvis. Amber thought they made me look like a fat Ghostbuster. (She didn’t actually say “fat.” I added that just now after looking at the picture again.) I was also given little booties to cover my shoes, and a mask to cover my mouth and nose.

I didn’t put my mask on until we got to the operating room. It was then that I realized that breathing with my mask on made my glasses fog up. This was not good. (I’m clumsy enough when I can see where I’m going. I don’t need additional impairments.) I couldn’t take my mask off and I couldn’t put my glasses on a shelf somewhere, because I didn’t want to de-sterilize the operating room. (I mean, who knows where those glasses had been?) So, I ended up either holding the glasses in my hands or pushing them so far down my nose that I could see over their foggy windshields. Neither option was optimal, but it was the best I could think of at the time.

They strapped Amber down to the operating table and set up a big curtain just below her neck. They told her they could drop the curtain if she wanted to watch the operation. She said, “No!” (Emphatically no!) They stationed me just above Amber’s left shoulder. There was a stool there for me to sit on. It had a round seat with no back. Toward the bottom, the frame of the stool formed a circle with three or four spokes connecting to the middle. From the circle, four legs came down, which all had wheels on them.

The stool was just tall enough that I had to slightly step up in order to get my butt on it. I attempted to sit on the stool and it shot back several feet. (Luckily, I did not lose my balance and fall.) It was then that I discovered just how slick my “slick” Ghostbusters outfit was. I think it was coated with the stuff they use for non-stick pans. Teflon would be proud. Eventually I figured out that if I held the stool with my hands and jumped up onto the seat, I could actually sit on it without it slipping away.

I occasionally peeked over the curtain, but I wasn’t much more interested in watching the surgery than Amber was. Eventually there was a flurry of activity, then the sound of a baby crying. The doctors quickly handed the baby to a woman who rushed it into the next room to be cleaned off, measured, and weighed.

I stood there dumbfounded for a few seconds as they waved me over to the other room to see the baby. I finally got my booty-covered feet in motion and came around the corner. I immediately took a picture, because that’s part of my duty as “Annoying Camera Guy.” They wrapped my little girl into a bundle, so all that was showing was part of her face. Then, they handed her to me, and I held my baby for the very first time!

I’d heard that holding a baby for the first time is a life-changing experience. Maybe it is for other more thoughtful, less clumsy people. But, here I was, wearing coveralls so slick I don‘t think gum would stick to them, and the only thing I could think was, “Don’t drop her! Don’t drop her! Don’t drop her!”

They told me to take the baby over to show Amber. I very slowly, very carefully strolled across the room to where Amber was still strapped down to the table, still worried about dropping the baby. I went to sit on my stool. That was a bad idea.

I had both hands around that baby. I was NOT going to drop her. So, I tried to pull the stool closer to Amber by putting my foot inside the circle of the frame at the bottom of the stool, between a couple of the spokes. I managed to pull the stool closer, but soon found that my big, booty-covered club foot was stuck in the frame of the stool. I tried to extricate it. I couldn’t.

So there I was, glasses barely hanging on my nose, looking like a fat Ghostbuster hopping on one booty-covered foot, doing a mad version of the hokey-pokey while trying to get my other foot out of the stool, all while holding on for dear life to my newborn daughter.

It would have been quite a sight, if anyone had been paying attention. (I had even started to embarrassingly mutter, “My foot is stuck. My foot is stuck.”) At that moment, though, all of the health care professionals were concerned with getting Amber sewn back together. She was having a disagreement with the anesthesiologist as to whether or not she was in pain. (Hint to any anesthesiologists who might be reading this: if a woman who has just given birth says she is in pain, chances are that she IS IN PAIN!!! It’s not the best time to argue with her.)

Luckily, I was able to calm myself down and very carefully get my foot unstuck. I then found the nearest nurse who didn’t look busy and handed her the baby. (As much as I loved her, I knew it was safest for her if someone else held her for a while.) They put her in a little bucket-looking thing and wheeled her off toward the nursery.

I followed them into the nursery and had one last bit of fun with my Ghostbusters coveralls. I absent-mindedly tried to sit on another stool. It shot out from under my butt and into the wall, where it hit an air-line nozzle and turned it to the “on” position, so that a loud hissing sound filled the nursery. I quickly turned the air-line back off, only to find myself under the disapproving gaze of every health-care professional in the nursery.

“You can take that off now,” one of them said to me about my Ghostbusters outfit. Gladly, I thought, although its one-size-fits-none nature made it a bit difficult to actually accomplish.

It was pretty clear that day that I had no idea whatsoever how to be a father. And now, several years later, I don’t have any better idea what I’m doing. It still seems like I’m hopping around with my glasses fogged up and one foot stuck in the furniture. All I can do is try my best.

Maybe for her birthday I’ll hold my daughter in my arms and jump around doing the hokey-pokey, just for old times sake.