As Reese’s due date approached I kept wondering how it would all play out. Lindsay telling me that it was time, the drive to the hospital, the hours of labor and our daughter introducing herself to the world. But I expected that events wouldn’t follow exactly as I scripted it in my mind, and no, they did not.
I had a temporary work assignment end on Friday, September 21st, and I had an interview for a new job on Tuesday the 25th. When I was asked if Tuesday was convenient I said sure, so long as my wife wasn’t in labor, ha ha. Tuesday morning I was up early trying to get my (deleted) printer to spit out a copy of my updated resume, the pins or pipes or whatever were clogged and every copy came out a smeary mess. I finally got the machine to do it’s duty when Lindsay poked her head into the room and said, “Now, don’t panic, but…”
It’s always fun when your extremely pregnant wife tells you not to panic. She very calmly informed me that she thought her water had broken, and as she was about to leave for her last checkup she figured her doctor could tell her for sure. I asked her if I should postpone my interview and she said no way, I should head downtown, dazzle them, and then she’d let me know if we were having a baby that day. No pressure.
I suited up and drove downtown, and on the way Lindsay called to say that the doctor had confirmed that her water had indeed broken, and that she should get herself to the hospital forthwith. So I wouldn’t be the one driving her to the hospital. Well, OK, that was fine, the situation was pretty calm at the moment and I had a job to land. I informed my interviewers (both women) that my wife was, even as we spoke, in labor, and if nothing else I knew they’d remember me (and I got the job a few days later). When I left Lindsay said that she and her dad had made it to Magee safe and sound, and I had enough time to zip home, change, grab my overnight bag, and head to the hospital.
Which I did, to find Lindsay lounging in bed, looking relaxed and radiant. Much as she had throughout her pregnancy–she’d only gained about 20 pounds, she hadn’t had bouts of nausea, and other than sore feet and frequent trips to the bathroom she bragged that she’d pretty much had the perfect pregnancy.
I got to the hospital a bit after noon, and over the course of the afternoon and evening things moved along, but slowly. Around 1AM the doctor said that she still had a ways to go so I lay down on a couch and rested my eyes for about two hours. When I woke up the doctor was examining Linds and he said, “Good, we’ve made good progress”. I thought he meant that she was dilated from 4cm to five. Nope–she was at 10cm and was ready to push.
Which was a nice way to wake up from a dreamless sleep. Now, of course I was going to be in the room as Lindsay delivered, but I wasn’t quite sure how involved I was going to make myself. I’m not squeamish, but I wasn’t sure about seeing everything as it was going on. And I also wasn’t sure about cutting the umbilical cord, for some reason just thinking about that made me lightheaded.
But now, still shaking the cobwebs out of my skull, I was ordered by the nurse to grab one of Lindsay’s legs, push it up toward her chest, and help out as she started pushing. I didn’t seem to be a good time to say, “Um, y’know, not sure, you see, about all this.” Nope. Reese was coming and I was gonna have a front row seat to her debut.
Linds pushed for about an hour, and as I watched events unfold my mind took it all in from alternating viewpoints. On the one hand this seemed the most natural, the most fundamentally simple and correct thing I’d ever witnessed. A baby, emerging from her mother’s tummy, her father waiting outside to greet her and make sure she was safe and warm. I looked down and saw the top of Reese’s head starting to work it’s way out and I thought, “Hey, there she is. Hi, Reese.”
But. On the other hand. On the other hand I was thinking HOLY SHIT THIS IS FREAKING BANANAS, MAN. THAT’S A HUMAN BEING IN THERE, THAT’S A HUMAN BEING AND IT’S FREAKING INSIDE LINDSAY, AND SHE’S TRYING TO PUSH IT OUT OF HER, AND IS THAT A HEAD? WITH HAIR ON IT? THAT’S A HEAD WITH HAIR ON IT AND IT’S COMING OUT OF MY WIFE. ALONG WITH A LOT OF FLUIDS THAT I DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT RIGHT NOW. HOLEEEEEEE SHIIIIIIIIT.
Lindsay didn’t have the luxury of such philosophical waxing because her epidural wasn’t helping much and she was feeling almsot everything. And as Lindsay pushed for all she was worth Reese’s head would emerge, then slide back, emerge, slide back. And then there was Reese’s head, free and clear and very cone-shaped, and the doctor did some manipulating and Lindsay pushed one more time, let out a yelp of pain I can still hear in my head, and WHOOSH! Reese popped out whole and hearty in half a heartbeat. One second she was inside Lindsay, the next she was in the doctor’s hands taking a deep breath before letting out her first lusty cries. It was 4:42AM.
I understand that it’s a good sign when a baby cries. Well, she did that. And when the doctor put Reese on Lindsay’s chest she peed and pooped all over the place–Reese, I should stress, not Lindsay. I started taking pictures and did a quick inventory–ten fingers, ten toes, everything in it’s place, and yes, Reese was indeed a girl. I reached out and let Reese grab hold of my finger with her tiny hand. I felt no overwhelming rush of emotion, other than relief. Relief that it was over, that Reese and Lindsay were OK, and that we could all take a deep breath.
And that’s when all hell broke loose.
The doctors were working on removing the placenta while the nurse took Reese to the scale to be weighed. I had my attention split between them, and the doctor seemed to be having some trouble getting the placenta out. My friend Mark, who is a doctor, told us ahead of time that the placenta is the “most disgusting thing in all of medicine”. If anything he undersold it, and I took no photos. I walked over to where the nurse was determining that Reese was eight pounds, four ounces, and that’s when Lindsay let out a moan and I looked over at the doctor pressing down on her belly. She looked to be in pain, and that’s when I saw the blood, the blood coming out of her.
Her uterus wasn’t contracting, and she was bleeding. And when I say she was bleeding, I mean the blood was pouring out of her. Without going into detail, the doctor tried to manually contract the uterus, which was awful. Lindsay was sobbing in agony, which was bad, but what was worse was that I could see that she was bleeding even more. And the doctor, who up till now had been a calm, almost lethargic presence, was becoming more and more agitated. I’ve never liked flying but I’m always reassured by how routine the act is for the crew, how the attendants go through the motions during the safety drill, how bored the pilot sounds as explains, for the ten-thousandth time, what altitude we’ll be cruising at. The birthing process was much the same, the nurses and doctors went through their familiar checklists, performed the tests they’ve done upteenth times. To see the doctor sheeted in my wife’s blood and obviously flustered was like having your plane diving at a 45 degree angle and the pilot coming over the speaker to declare an emergency.
I asked the nurse who helped deliver Reese if Lindsay was OK, and she said yes, that this happens sometimes. That was right before the doctor said, “I can’t stop it” and Lindsay started screaming in pain. I went to her to hold her hand and it was around that time that the room suddenly became full of people in scrubs. Everyone in the room was yammering back and forth — not to us, but to each other in an indecipherable crosstalk that I only got bits and pieces of. Someone said that they needed to start hanging blood, now, and a very tall doctor near across the bed from me said no, if they were going to hang blood they were going to the OR.
There was more back and forth and I saw a female doctor who to me was the eye of the hurricane. She wore glasses and a glacial expression and in a confident, calm voice asked Lindsay’s doctor, “How much blood has she lost?”
And Lindsay’s doctor, covered in blood, kneeling in blood that was pooling on the floor, looked at the female doctor like that was the stupidest question he’d heard in his entire life. “A lot,” he said.
That’s when I got really, really scared.
People started moving about in the room, someone ran out to make sure an OR was ready, there was more cross-talk, and as I tried to make sense of what the hell was happening the female doctor with the glasses appeared at my elbow. From her affect she might’ve been standing in line at Starbucks. Without preamble she said, “Now, I’m sure you understand what’s happening…”
Which was, without a doubt, the stupidest thing anyone has said to me in my entire life. I turned to face her, I made sure that she was looking directly into my eyes, that I had her full attention, and that she would completely understand what I was about to say. “I have no goddam idea what is happening here,” I said. She didn’t seem surprised at my lack of comprehension, I don’t think surprise exists in her world. She explained that Lindsay was hemorrhaging (I knew that) and that this was not uncommon (that didn’t reassure me) and that this was a serious issue and that they would have to address it immediately. I don’t like doctors or pilots using the phrase “serious issue” so I asked what that meant and she said that it was possible that they might need to perform a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. I was about to ask if a hysterectomy WOULD stop the bleeding when someone behind me said, “Let’s go!” and they started to wheel Lindsay out of the room.
She was still crying, and scared, and she told me to take care of Reese. I wanted to go with Lindsay but of course I couldn’t be in the operating room, and I was told to stay with the baby. The door to our room opened and there was Lindsay’s dad and brother, all smiles and waiting to seen Lindsay and Reese. Instead they saw a half dozen medical personnel wheeling Lindsay out of the delivery room and down the hall. The change in expression on her dad’s face as he saw his daughter is something I’ll never forget.
There was a nurse with Reese, rubbing ointment in her eyes, giving her a vitamin K shot. So I had a few moments to tell Bill and Jason what had happened. Throughout it all, the delivery, the birth, the hemorrhage, I’d been calm. You get in huge situations like these and you just lower your head and do what needs to be done and get through it. But now, in the desperately quiet hallway, all of it caught up to me. I was explaining what happened to Lindsay and my eyes saw the trail of blood going down the hallway and I started breathing harder and harder until I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t stop. I got the shakes and the world started spinning and my legs wouldn’t work and I slumped against the wall. Jason helped me get to my feet, I took a few deep breaths, and then I ran to the bathroom and threw up.
Someone from Environmental Services came and mopped up the blood in the hallway and the room. It took him awhile. I was allowed back inside and the nurse handed me a bottle of formula and said that I should give Reese a few milliliters. The plan was for Lindsay to breastfeed right after the birth, but with that obviously not an option Reese needed some nourishment. Jason grabbed my camera and took this photo of Reese just before her very first meal — later, when I looked through the pics on the card I did not recognize myself. This is me, completely terrified, trying to hold it all together while, oh yeah, holding my daughter, not yet an hour old:
Lindsay’s doctor came into the room about a half-hour later to say that she was doing well. They’d had to insert a balloon inside her to staunch the bleeding, and that seemed to be doing the trick. She was in the ICU and that I could do see her in a few minutes. I think they took Reese at this point, I don’t actually remember, I think that when I was told Lindsay was in her room she was holding Reese when I arrived. It’s all a blur.
As it was for Lindsay. As she was whisked to the OR she honestly thought she was about to die. And if we hadn’t been in a hospital for the birth she might have. When I had hand surgery they put me under and I was scared, not sure if I’d ever wake up. Lindsay thought she was dying when they put her under, and that’s a terrible thing. The last thing she remembered was the doctors discussing whether they would need to do a hysterectomy, and when she woke up that was the first thing she asked, and was told that it hadn’t been necessary. I found her in the ICU looking like hell, with a half-dozen IV’s and probes and leads attached to her. But she was smiling, and holding Reese, and that’s when I knew, at last, that everything was going to be OK.
The bad memories fade, over time. But while writing this I felt the terror of those few hours rise up again, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a good thing to remember how scared I was at 6AM the morning of September 26th when I’m up feeding Reese at 6AM with a miserable head cold (like this morning). On Friday she was one month old and she’s doing well, everyone seems to think she looks more like me but we’re hoping she’ll grow out of that. We’ve gone from measuring our lives in days and weeks to ounces of formula and poopy diapers. Every cliche about having a baby has proven true, how her smile melts your heart, how her screams send you into a panic, how stupendous is the smell of a full diaper. One month in, all is pretty much right with the world.