Dear Jackson,

August 1, 2009

Reflecting on your birth

Filed under: Birth to 1 year-old — Tags: — aJOHNymous @ 7:26 pm

Monday, July 6, 2009 started just like any other day. Your mom and I went to work, we ate lunch, and then we went home. It was boringly normal—until we got home.

When we walked in the door, your mom wasn’t feeling particularly well. She was complaining of heartburn and was just in general, uncomfortable. We al ready had a planned doctor appointment so we were mostly just trying to wait it out, but I guess you had other plans.

Your mom was beginning to show symptoms of pre-eclampsia over the past few days so we knew something was going on. We had hoped her symptoms would clear up, but they actually appeared to be getting worse. When we spoke with the doctor on the phone, she pretty much said to get to the hospital as soon as possible and to prepare for a probable cesarean section.

Umm, holy shit. I was not prepared to hear this, and neither was your mother. She was so adamant about having as natural a childbirth as possible: vaginal delivery, no painkillers, no induction, and not too early. Suddenly, we were sitting on the precipice of throwing all of that out the window at least six weeks before we were ready to even start thinking about you actually coming. It was a sobering moment.

Silently, yet dutifully, I packed a suitcase with your mother’s belongings, just in case. I cleaned up the house a little bit, just in case. I said goodbye to the dog, just in case. I did all of these things whilst thinking about how silly we were going to feel when we got home later that night after such a scare. The thought of actually meeting you sometime that evening was never far from my mind but it was an afterthought. It wasn’t really going to happen. That’s what I was trying to tell myself as I got everything ready and drove your mom to the hospital.

The drive was pretty quiet for the most part. I was trying to reassure your mom (and myself) that everything would turn out fine and that this was just a little indigestion or extreme heartburn. I’m pretty sure neither of us actually believed that, but we did the best we could, considering our circumstances. Your mom was surprisingly calm. She took on this sort of “whatever happens, happens” vibe and took it pretty well. I’m pretty sure I said “I’m really not ready for this” about 25 times during the drive.

By the time we got to the hospital, I was pretty numb. My fear and anxiety had started to kick in which caused me to get pretty shaky, which in turn made my voice waver. I must have sounded like I just entered puberty for the amount of times my voice cracked. It was a pretty sorry sight, for sure.

Upon exiting the elevator on the 4th floor of the hospital, we were immediately rushed into an examination room for tests. The dialogue below is nearly verbatim:

Nurse: Okay, we’ve got everything scheduled to go.
Me: What do you mean?
Nurse: Oh, for the c-section. The doctor is on her way and the room is being prepped.
Me: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on. They said we were just coming in for routine tests.
Nurse: Nope. [checks her orders] The doctor thinks we ought to get the baby out now.
Me: [silenced panic begins]

That’s pretty much how it went down. No pomp and circumstance, just incredibly matter-of-fact: we’ve got to get the baby out NOW. Not knowing any details, I was furious that they were resorting to the worst case scenario so fast. I was literally shaking with rage, fear, and anxiety. Eventually, the nurses were able to calm me down enough so that they could explain the situation to us in one of the delivery rooms.

They hooked your mom up to all of the appropriate machines and began running tests. By the time the doctor got there—a fill-in for our normal doctor, who was currently on vacation—I was just about shitting in my pants. To her credit, the new doc handled the situation perfectly. She assured us that the situation was not going to get better and that we really couldn’t just wait this out. They only way to stop your mom’s pre-eclampsia was delivery via cesarean section. She did a phenomenal job of explaining everything, but I’ll never be able to recall all of the information that was thrown at us during the 15 minute conversation. I just remember that we all knew she was right—you had to come out that night for both your sakes.

You’re probably wondering why they couldn’t just induce your mom and deliver you normally (vaginally), aren’t you? This was our first question as well. The answer is incredible simple: you were breeched. Simply put; you were upside down. Standard vaginal delivery involves a baby being born head-first. You were currently sitting in a sort of sideways position inside your mom. The best way to correct the positioning of a breeched baby is to manually turn him or her by massaging the mother’s stomach in such a way that the baby is literally turned into the correct position. As you may very well imagine, this can be pretty traumatic for both mom and baby. So factor in your level of prematurity along with your mom’s rapidly deteriorating condition and we all realized that turning you would not be possible. A cesarean was inevitable.

Thus began the preparation. I changed into blue medical scrubs while your mom was getting prepped for an IV and epidural. It’s important to remember how much your mom really wanted a natural childbirth without pain meds so knowing she’d need to have an epidural was heartbreaking. I spent most of her prep time standing stoically next to her in my blue scrubs while the nurses did what they needed to. I was so scared that something was going to wrong during the procedure that I nearly broke down a few times. It’s horrendous to have to watch your wife go through such things and not be able to do a damned thing for her except hold her hand. I’ve never felt so helpless in my entire life. I had no words, no visible reaction, no emotion, just—nothing. But your mom is one incredible woman. She never cracked once during the entire ordeal. She was an absolute rock and I have so much admiration for her. In fact, she was smiling and laughing throughout the whole process. Perhaps it was a defense mechanism. I don’t know. I just know that she handled it far better than I did.

But I digress.

The walk from the prep room to the surgery room was pretty weird. I think I experienced every human emotion in that 45 second time span. I was told beforehand that I couldn’t be in the room with your mom while she got the epidural, so while she was wheeled into the room, I was forced to sit on a stool in the hallway mere feet from where she was getting a huge needle shoved into her spine. The 10 minutes I spent sitting by myself in that dimly lit hallway seemed to last a lifetime. In retrospect, the scene couldn’t have been more clichéd. There was a shifty light bulb directly overhead, there were empty gurneys and beds on either set of me, and I could clearly hear the faint murmurings of your mom and the team of doctors and nurses behind the rather large steel door directly in front of me. When I look back on this scene and see it from an outside perspective, I almost chuckle. It was like a scene right out of a bad movie. Eventually, the door opened and a nurse motioned for me to come inside.

When I walked in, I saw your mom lying on a table with her arms spread out on either side of her body. I stood next to her and held her hand throughout the entire 20 minute procedure. Like I said before, she was a trooper. She was wide awake during everything and while she was cracking jokes and chatting with the doctors and nurses, I was trying my best to hide my tears behind my surgical mask.

Since your mom’s view was blocked by a sheet placed in the middle of her chest, I was left to describe the events of the surgery and take pictures to document everything. I sometimes have problems watching surgeries on TV, but for some strange reason, I had no problem watching the doctors shoving their hands inside a 6-inch gash in your mom’s stomach and casually moving everything into place. It was a surreal experience to say the least.

Looking back, it seems like it was over before it even started. About 15 minutes after the procedure started, I saw once of the doctors pull out a leg. And then an arm. And then your entire lower torso was visible to me. It was at this point that I quickly changed the setting on the camera from ‘still image’ to ‘video’ and began recording your birth. This was also the moment I began to openly cry. Tears streaked down my surgical mask as I watched them struggle to pull your head free from your mother’s womb. It took a little bit of pushing and pulling, but eventually, at 9:52 PM, you made your long-awaited—and somewhat surprising—debut. As I watched you take your first few breaths and begin to cry, I was overcome with emotion. Watching you transform (not literally, of course) from an image on a blurry ultrasound to a living, breathing, human being is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. As you started your existence, I think I finally understood the meaning of mine. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes as you read this, but someday you’ll understand.

But I digress—again.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make the separating cut in the umbilical cord due to them rushing you to a table for examination, but they did allow me to cut a few inches off the remaining nub while they were washing you about a minute after birth. I guess it was so I could have the experience of “cutting the cord”. After that I snapped a few pictures and rejoined your mom’s side as they finished cleaning you. I showed her the video of your birth as the doctors began stitching her up and I desperately began to wipe the tears off my face as she chided me (in jest) for being such a sissy. A few minutes later, they brought you over so that she could see you for the first time. You were swaddled up pretty tightly as the nurse held you in front of us so all we could see was your face, but that was more than enough. You were perfect. We only got to see you for about a minute or so before they whisked you off to the special care nursery in order to begin monitoring your vital signs. Your mother wouldn’t see you again until 24 hours later.

The docs finished stitching your mom up in about 10 minutes and then wheeled her into the room next door to begin recovery. All told, from first incision to final stitch, the entire procedure lasted only about 25 minutes. We were in the recovery room for an hour before they let me go in to finally see you.

You were lying on your stomach in a small, glass-walled box and were hooked up to various machines in order to monitor your vital signs. There were three cords monitoring your heart, a nasal breathing tube, and a large IV was inserted into your left wrist. Seeing you so helpless was heart wrenching. The nurses must’ve sensed my uneasiness and explained everything to me in order to quell my fears. It seemed to work for the most part. I was able to spend 10 minutes with you before they asked me to leave so they could continue running tests. I snapped a few pictures and made a quick video of you “singing” (this is what the nurses called the noises you’re making in the video) before I left.

I went back to your mom’s recovery room and showed her the pictures and video while she waited to regain sensation in her legs. I think it was about another hour before she was feeling well enough that they were able to move her into the long term recovery room suite where we would spend the next few days. I think this can also be considered the worst part of the ordeal. You were literally lying 25 feet from us in another room and only I could go in to see you. Your mom had to wait until she was well enough to sit in a wheel chair. I can’t begin to imagine how hard the wait must have been on her. I tried to take as many pictures of you as I could but I know it just wasn’t the same for her.

It was during these first few days of your existence that sleep was hardest to come by. I didn’t sleep at all the nigh of your birth and I think I got about 3 hours total over the next two nights. It didn’t help that I was trying to sleep on a rock hard couch, but whatever. I felt sort of guilty for having to sit in that room and try to sleep while you were only 25 feet away trying your best to breathe. I wish I could’ve spent more time in there with you during those first few days but your mother needed me as well.

By the time she was finally able to see you, you were looking a little better but it was still hard for us. You had a CPAP machine attached via nasal tube that allowed you to breathe a little easier since your lungs were so underdeveloped. This tube was attached in such a way that almost completely obscured your face as well as rendered your head and neck entirely immobile. The pictures we took make it look far worse than it actually was but it was still a very scary time for us all.

The stress of the situation finally overcame me a few days after you were born and I went home for the first time. I had to grab some clean clothes as well as make sure the house hadn’t burned down in our absence. It was really difficult to walk into the house without you, your mom, or the dog in tow. I could feel emotions welling up inside my body as I drove home and I nearly broke down a few times but was able to gather myself every time. Walking into that empty house was another story, though. All the fear, helplessness, anxiety, and sleepless nights finally caught up with me as I was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the kitchen. I don’t really know what happened. It was literally within seconds that I went from leaning up against the counter eating a sandwich to dropping the sandwich on the counter, nearly choking on what was in my mouth, and holding myself up as I lost all composure and dignity whilst sobbing like a baby. It took a few minutes to regain my bearings. I’m pretty sure the last time I cried that hard I was a toddler. No joke. I lost it for nearly five full minutes. It must’ve been a pretty pathetic sight. But you know what? Afterwards, I felt 100 times better. I’d been holding those emotions in for so long that I guess my mind and body couldn’t take it anymore so it all just came out. Lucky for me, my sandwich fell on the counter so I was able to finish it. If it had fallen on the floor, I might have had another breakdown.

But I digress—yet again.

I guess there really isn’t too much left to say except to try and summarize your time in the hospital. You made positive progress every single day. Your lungs began to rapidly develop and eventually the CPAP was replaced by a normal nasal breathing tube. This allowed you to move your head more freely as well alter your appearance so that you actually looked like a real baby. That was a great day. The gavage (tube) feedings also became less frequent as you learned to nurse from your mother’s breast. Eventually, we were able to completely cut them off during the latter days of your second week of life. It was around this time where you also had your nasal tubes removed and we were finally able to dress you in real clothes as well as change your diaper every few hours. Being a parent was starting to become more and more of a reality for us but we were still dependent on the nurses until the day we could take you home.

Since I’m treating this as sort of a confessional, I’ll let you know that even though I continued to go to work every day you were in the hospital, you were never far from my mind. I thought about you constantly. I told everyone who asked that the hardest part of my day was going into the room with you every morning and saying “Good morning” and “Goodbye” at the same time. I knew you were going to be well taken care of by your mom and the nurses while I was gone, but I couldn’t help but feel as if I was abandoning you everyday. I know I wasn’t, but that’s it how felt.

I’m going to move through the nearly three week hospital pretty quickly here because there isn’t too much to really say. Every day started with me getting ready for work and spending a half hour holding you before I left. While I was gone your mom would feed you every few hours. As soon as the work day was through, I’d rush back to the hospital to hold you, change your diaper, and watch your mom feed you. It really doesn’t get much more exciting than that. That was our routine for a few weeks.

Tuesday, July 21 was the first night you were able to sleep in our room. Obviously, due to the multiple feedings and nurse interventions, your mom and I got about 3 hours of sleep. This really didn’t matter to me, though. You were finally able to leave the room you had spent your entire life (just over two weeks) in. As far as we were concerned, it was at that time we really felt as if you were officially (and finally) ours.

On the morning of July 22, you were circumcised. There’s a part of me (the individual rights loving Libertarian part) that wishes you could have been able to make that decision for yourself when you got older. There’s another part of me (the parental part, I suppose) that didn’t wish to see you ostracized as an adolescent for “looking different”. Kids can be cruel–especially teenage boys in a locker room. Trust me, I’ve been there. I apologize for my part in making the decision for you, but I felt that it was the right thing to do.

Last digression–I promise–because on Thursday, July 23, we FINALLY brought you home.

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