When you’re within a week or so of the predicted due date of your first child, it should not come as a surprise if you’re nudged awake at some ungodly hour with the news that the moment of truth has arrived. I had convinced myself that some part of my brain – the automatic bits that function in my sleep that stop me from falling out of bed – would remain alert to the possibility. I believed – subconsciously so prepared – that when the day ultimately came, and Sana was going to make her appearance, that I would be calm, smooth, efficient, and on top of things.
Let me set the scene. It is 4:30 in the morning, Thursday before last. It is a tradition of mine, religiously observed, to be asleep at 4:30 AM. So I perhaps did not initially respond so well when Amynah tried to interrupt my devotions.
“Mark” (nothing). “Mark!” (Thump! as her elbow connects with my back)
“Fwah! Whuh fah?!!” I said, pleasantly.
“I think my water broke.”
“But I’m not sure.”
Slowly, the message sank in. There was something wrong with the bathroom sink, and it was Amynah’s fault, but I was supposed to fix it. Damnit… there was probably WAIT! WATER! BROKE! IT IS TIME FOR ACTION MAN!
I leapt (well, stumbled) out of bed, and fumbled for my wallet, where I kept the number for the maternity ward of the Ronald Friggin’ Reagan Memorial Hospital. I then spent five minutes attempting to locate my cell phone, which was on the lower floor in my jacket pocket… no, my desk… the kitchen counter?… another part of the desk??…. the living room?… my OTHER jacket pocket!! Phew. I ran upstairs, and dialed the number, pausing to catch my breath. Amynah was lying in bed, eyes half closed, in the middle of a contraction.
A nurse answered.
“Hi,” I said, calmly, coolly, in control of the situation, “My water’s wife just broke.”
“Excuse me?” said the bewildered nurse.
“My water thinks her wife just broke, but she’s not sure. We’re due in a couple of days,” I clarified, though confused by her reaction – surely they get calls like this all the time?
“Maybe I should speak to her,” said the nurse gently, sounding strangely amused.
I handed the phone to Amynah, who was holding back her giggles - not easy for someone in the middle of a contraction.
They told her to wait a few hours and, if it became more clear that the contractions were real and the
By 11 it became clear that this was the real deal, and so we grabbed the hospital bag with the needful items: diapers, baby clothes, clothes for Amynah, pajamas for Amynah, snack food for Amynah, water for Amynah… “Should we bring the car seat to bring the baby home?” Naw… (why I concluded this, I do not know). I remembered to bring the camera at the last minute, though I forgot any pajamas, changes of clothes, or toothbrushes for me. We piled into the car, throwing our small and insufficient pile of luggage into the trunk.
The Ronald Friggin’ Reagan Memorial Hospital is only a half hour walk from where we live – ten minutes by car. There is very little scope for something to go wrong in that distance. And yet….
Because I had, somehow, never managed to figure out where the parking for the hospital was, despite having nearly accidentally turned into it at least a dozen times, we elected to drive to the Emergency entrance and use the valet parking there. We pulled up, parked, and I popped the trunk. We hopped out, I grabbed the bag and slammed the trunk closed.
It bounced open.
I slammed it closed.
It bounced open.
I slammed it closed. It bounced open.
The valet looked at me, questioningly. “Sir?”
“This happened before… I can fix it,” I said, vaguely remembering an incident in Manitoba where my Dad had… reached in here… pulled that thing… yanked a cable…. Jiggled a latch… and slammed it closed!
It bounced open. I eyed the car angrily.
“I can figure this out… just a second…” I said, rolling my sleeves up like a proctologist.
“Umm, Mark? Maybe…. Ungh,” said Amynah, contractively.
“Right! Ummm… here’s the key. Look after it, will you?” I said the valet.
We went up the fourth floor of the Ronald Friggin’ Reagan Memorial Hospital, where Amynah was promptly, and with some urgency, draped in unflattering gowns, plopped on a bed, stuck with an IV, and covered with enough monitor patches that she rather resembled a medically-sponsored NASCAR driver.
And then we waited. And waited some more. We were visited by a host of medical professionals – nurses, charge nurses, residents, orderlies, specialists, nurses’ assistants, technicians… they all took pains to introduce themselves, but after the twentieth, I gave up trying to keep track of who was who, and instead identified them, like exotic syringe-wielding birds, by their plumage: blue gowns were nurses, purple were residents, a different shade of purple was a specialist, and our regular doctor – the doyenne of the delivery room – wore her own sweater and jeans, thank you very much.
To make a long story short, when we had gone to bed the night before, we thought we had five days to go. When we showed up at the hospital, they said we’d be parents within 14 hours.
We were still absorbing the implications of that timeline when a Purple-plumed Resident (Docotoris hospitalis violetus) appeared at the foot of Amynah’s bed. She had a serious, yet reassuring expression of her face, a mixture so self-contradicting and finely balanced that I can only assume she spent hours practicing it in her bedroom mirror.
She explained that Sana’s heartbeat was not responding well to Amynah’s contractions – it dropped considerably, though not dangerously, during the stronger ones. Our Doctor was recommending a C-Section. If we agreed, we’d be in the operating room in an hour, and parents within an hour and ten minutes. Things were moving fast.
After she left, Amynah looked at me, somewhat shocked: “This is a bit overwhelming,” she said, shakily.
“I know!” I said, “It looks like my betting-pool average came out almost exactly right. That’s amazing!”
More doctors and nurses came in to explain what was going to happen. Basically, Amynah’s head would be on one side of a curtain – the doctors and their scalpels would be on the other side.
“You’ll be able to watch what they’re doing if you want,” said a nurse to me. “How are you with blood and things like that? It can be pretty disturbing for some people. We need to know if you’re going to faint.”
“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m a writer - I’ve managed to lead a pretty sheltered life when it comes to stuff like that,” I said, “But I don’t really need to find out. I’ll keep my head down.”
I made a few phone calls to let our parents know what was happening, and before I knew it, they were wheeling Amynah away to be prepped. Shortly thereafter, a – nurse? orderly? friendly passerby? – told me to put on a space-suit they’d left for me and wait out in the hall, pining for the good old days when I was born and expectant Dads were free to smoke nervously in a waiting room, instead of worrying about fainting in front of a flock of giggling nurses.
Soon, I was asked to join the party in the operating theatre. As promised, there was a curtain separating the guest of honour from the festivities. I was given a chair. On our side of the curtain, there was just Amynah’s disembodied head, me, and a chatty anesthesiologist.
The anesthesiologist did not normally work deliveries, and she was thrilled - thrilled - to be here for our special moment.
“Wow, so December 10th. You know, that’s the day that property taxes are due in California. That’s what I spent my morning doing, meeting with my accountant.”
“Err… really? I didn’t know that,” I said as my mind screamed Why are you talking to me?
“Yeah! So you can tell your daughter that the day she was born, her anesthesiologist had to pay $5000 in taxes. That hurt!” she burbled on.
“Yeah, haha! We’ll do that,” I said, wondering how, exactly, I came to be forced to feign interest in someone’s taxes while at the same time clutching my wife’s shaking hand as she underwent major surgery to bring a new life into the world.
Fortunately, the conversation was interrupted by a nurse peeking around the corner – “The baby’s coming out now! Do you want to see, Daddy?” just as a sharp wail came from the other side of the fabric. Daddy?
“Umm, no that’s all right,” I said – I was perfectly content to wait until Sana was processed by the competent authorities, but my preferences didn’t matter – the excited anesthesiologist grabbed my arm and hauled me to my feet to witness Sana being rescued from the Lovecraftian spectacle of horror that the doctors’ art had made of Amynah’s lower abdomen.
"Lovecraftian spectacle of horror? You haven't even read any Lovecraft, you jerk!"
I am proud to report that I didn’t faint – didn’t even come close – but I was right - wonder of birth or no, I didn’t want to see that.
A couple of minutes later, the same nurse returned: “Daddy – do want to cut the cord?”
“Ummm… do I have to?” I said (thinking I’m not your Daddy!), but again, I was pushed out from behind the protective shield of the curtain with a hearty “Go on! We’re fine here!” from the anesthesiologist, who I was frankly beginning to believe had it in for me for some reason. Carefully averting my eyes from the area where Amynah’s viscera were being aired, I made my way to where a team was checking Sana’s vitals. Someone in purple handed me a scissors-like device.
“Congratulations Daddy! Just cut here,” she said. “It’s kind of rubbery, so you have to cut hard.”
Isn’t this something a doctor should be doing? I thought, panicking. I don’t even know how to pick up a baby, let alone use sharp medical implements on one. And why do they keep calling me Daddy? They knew my name this afternoon!
“I’m left handed,” I said, in a last-ditch plea to get out of it. “I don’t know if these scissors will work for me.”
“It won’t be a problem,” someone said, guiding my hand. It wasn’t.
And it wasn’t a problem when they handed my daughter to me either – I carried her like I’d been doing it all my life. I wasn’t a problem when I brought her back to Amynah – there was no need to avert my gaze from the gore on the table this time, because I was too busy staring into Sana’s eyes, which were wide open, staring at my white-masked face, at this strange new world of colour-coded people, of tubular florescent stars and beeping boxes and finally, once I cleared the frontier of the curtain, her mother, The Disembodied Head.
And there we sat as a family – me, my wife, my daughter – for a precious moment, it was the three of us, in a tiny little world of our own, together for the first time. Except, of course….
“My God, she’s beautiful,” said the anesthesiologist, softly.
What a wise woman, thought Daddy.