Sunday, November 20, 2011

Final Post - The Arrival

Violet has taken her first steps! Linda said she saw a few possible steps at the party yesterday, but this morning, as I sat with Violet in her corral, she took two definite steps. She looked at me, let go of the side of the corral, and took two smiling, wobbly steps before plopping onto her bottom. I have never been more proud of anyone for doing anything.

And that is the last event I’ll record here. I promised myself “one post a day until my kid turns one” and today, at 2:54 AM, she did.

I offer my deepest and most sincere gratitude to everyone who read these posts and/or commented on them in any way. I started this with the intention that it would be for Violet and for me, but it turned into so much more than that because of all of you. I learned a great deal, had some of my ways of thinking changed, and some were made stronger because of those of you who took the time to share your thoughts. If not for you and your encouragement, voiced, typed, or otherwise, I might have stopped writing down my thoughts about Violet, and I would have regretted it.

My final post, however, is for Violet. Over the past few weeks, I struggled to come up with a fitting way to wrap this whole thing up. I thought about posting a series of quotes, a single picture of her with her birthday cake, a list of advice, or even a run down of my stances on divisive political issues, but nothing seemed appropriate. Then, it dawned on me that it’s most fitting – since this is for and about Violet – that I end with what happened on the night of Violet’s birth. One year ago, when she born, I posted only photos and her birth weight, time, etc. Since then, I’ve shared only a few moments from our birthing experience. She’ll want to know details, and I don’t want to forget them.

Linda woke me up at 1:30 AM, Friday morning, November 19th. “I don’t think you’re going to work.” Her contractions were minor, irregular. I should’ve gotten up and started timing them, but the lazy voice inside me mumbled, “She’s not concerned, so you don’t need to worry. She’ll let you know when it’s time.” But her face would scrunch up and her breathing would get heavy every few minutes. She said she was keeping track and that it wasn’t time to call.

I was in and out of sleep, juggling dreams of bus stations and lesson plans for school. Our cats were all over us; Henry curled up between us, Alice was at my feet, Cheese snoring despite Linda’s kicks. The possibility of what might be happening felt like another layer, an exciting dream.

I eventually called in and on the message I left, I couldn’t resist saying that my wife was going into labor. Linda called the doctor soon after because she’d felt a “sploosh of water”, as she put it, and she thought it might be her water breaking. I gathered up the bags, wishing we’d had more time to make sure we had everything, and we were in the car. A half an hour later – 8:30 AM – we arrived at the hospital. It was a cold and sunny fall morning and I remember feeling sorry for the valets as they took my keys.

We entered into the labor and delivery doors, meeting Sharon, the midwife, and our assigned nurse, whose name I can’t recall. Linda had to get into her gown and the midwife gave her an exam. I felt powerless, watching Linda grimace in pain, and it was frightening, watching the metal instrument disappear between her legs. At the end, the midwife told us that Linda was dilated only a single centimeter. We would be going back home.

It was frustrating to think that the baby might not come for several more days. I was ready. I wanted to meet him or her! I certainly didn’t want to go back to school on Monday with no baby at home.

We left the hospital and went to the grocery store. The midwife had recommended picking up some energy drinks for Linda, since once labor began in earnest, Linda wouldn’t want to eat much. I wanted to find cohosh tea and make Linda drink it to hurry things along. I’ll never forget how odd it was – to be walking around Wegman’s on a school day, Linda stopping occasionally to have a contraction.

We arrived home at around 11 AM, had some breakfast, and seriously considered going to see the new Harry Potter movie. We were both too tired, however, and we went back to bed instead, but only briefly, because about twenty minutes later, we heard a honking in the driveway.

It was UPS, with the “birthing gifts” I had ordered for Linda – a dozen brownies and a dozen cookies from Babycakes in New York City – a gluten-free/vegan bakery. I think she was happy with them. She seemed to be. Maybe she really did want jewelry…

We just puttered around the house all afternoon; I made some lunch, worked on lesson plans for school, emailed people at work to let them know what was/wasn’t happening. At about 3 or 4 PM, the contractions started to intensify, and I figured I had better start timing them. At first, I was slightly terrified, because they were less than five minutes apart, and “less than five minutes apart” was the magic number according to the books; Time to go the hospital. But their duration of each contraction was all over the place. Some were brief, only a few seconds, while some were longer, fifteen seconds or so, and others were in between. They didn’t seem to fit the definition of “regular” contractions.

I called my friend Brian, a father of two young girls, to see if he could give me any advice, but he couldn’t. Still, there was a measure of relief in simply telling someone what was happening. Then I called Sharon, the midwife we’d met that morning, and filled her in on where we were. She told me that we should stay at home as long as possible, to keep timing the contractions, but she couldn’t give me a definitive time to leave home.

Eventually, I broke down and called Dr. G, the doctor from Linda’s practice who was on duty at the hospital that day, the same doctor who had been incredibly rough during Linda’s last pelvic exam. He is a man without personality and he came across as though he felt our child’s birth merited as much excitement as a tire rotation.

I thought for sure he would want us to head right in, which I, for some reason, was still reluctant to do. The contractions were, by now, all less than five minutes apart, but the duration of each was still all over the map. I didn’t know what the hell to do, but that “less than five minutes apart” fact told me we’d probably be heading into the hospital.

But Dr. G told us to wait! His exact words were, “I’d hate for you to come in only to wait here instead of at home.” At the time, I was grateful and surprised. Linda, despite the pain she was in, felt the same. She was willing to put up with almost anything to avoid going into the hospital while Dr. G was still on duty. But we would come to find out that his concern for us was self-serving, and that our first impression of him was on the mark.

The intensity of the contractions continued to get worse, and all Linda wanted me to do was to put on episodes of Seinfeld for her. I had this extremely serious situation going on in front of me – the impending birth of our child, my wife in pain, on her hands and knees, tears streaming – while Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer hammed it up on the TV. The worst part was that I kept getting distracted by the TV, my attention drawn to the screen and away from Linda. You wouldn’t think it possible, but there I was, laughing. I had to will myself to ignore the screen.

Linda kept trying to make me eat, now that dinnertime had come and gone, but how could I? I couldn’t deal with pots and leftovers. I’d burn the house down. There was no way.

With the pain getting worse and worse, food wasn’t an option for her. Her moans were getting louder, more emphatic, and more frightening. She’s a controlled person, and it was unsettling to see her that way, and there was no way for me offer any practical comfort.

By 7:30 / 8 PM, neither of us could take it anymore (her even more so than I), and I called the doctor again. Thankfully, Dr. G’s shift was over and Dr. C was on. Just the fact that he sounded interested in our situation was an improvement. I was, however, taken aback when he blasted Dr. G, telling me, “That man needs to retire. He just didn’t want to have to deal with you at the end of his shift. That’s why he had you stay home. He should’ve had you come in. It was irresponsible not to.” He went on to say that when he started his shift and Dr. G informed him of our situation, he had asked, “If that had been your daughter, would you have told her to stay home?”

I appreciated Dr. C’s frankness, but in the end, we found out Dr. G’s call hadn’t been too far off. Risky maybe, but it spared us having to sit in the hospital for at least two extra hours.

Once I hung up the phone with Dr. C, it was real. It was happening, and I lost it a little bit. I kept it together on the outside for Linda’s sake, at least I think I did, but inside, a loud chorus of schizophrenic voices shouted, “Warm up the car! Get pillows! Fill her water bottle! Make sure the stove is off! Does your shirt look alright?” The last one was silly, but I knew that whatever I wore to the hospital would be captured for every “just born” baby picture and I didn’t want my kid to look back in twenty years and think, “Man, my dad was a slob.” So, in the midst of tearing through the house, trying to obey all of the voices – including Linda’s – I changed my shirt two, maybe three times. Vain, I know, and a little silly, but I still say it was a smart call.

It seemed to take forever, but I bet we got ourselves together in five minutes. Every time I went out to put something in the car and came back into the house, the thought would pop into my head, as bright as a nighttime billboard on the highway, “The next time we return home, it will be with a baby.” Eventually, the only thing I had left to take out to the car was Linda. We walked out the door into the cold dark and the moment I shut the door, a contraction hit. We stood under our patio light, her hand clutching mine and my arm around her. No noise from the woods or the road, just her shallow, quick breaths, finally slowing to a less painful pace that told me we could move.

I got her into the car, and I prayed to my mom to keep the deer out of our path. I prayed on and off for the entire car ride.

Linda decided to call her mom a few minutes down the road, to let her know we were on our way. (Writing this now, I have to wonder, did I think to call my parents?) She waited for a break in her contractions and managed to get her mom right away. I pictured her mother at home, TV off, coat on, crouched by the phone, staring at it. Waiting…waiting, and then acting casual when she answered it. I was stunned at the tone in Linda’s voice as she spoke – calm, regular – not the voice of a woman in the midst of a birthing run to the hospital. I felt proud of her.

But I could tell that Linda was in pain and she wanted off the phone, but she didn’t want to worry her mom. Tiny cracks in her voice betrayed the start of another contraction. I don’t know if her mom noticed it. Linda kept talking, as calm as a blanket on the grass, only the slightest ruffle to let anyone know that something was happening underneath.

The phone call ended and Linda was silent. We didn’t talk much on the way to the hospital. I don’t think we even listened to music. Maybe we did. I was too busy praying – praying we’d make it there, praying that Linda (and I) would do okay through the delivery, praying that the baby would be okay.

Then we were there. The drive was smooth and uneventful. Despite it being a Friday night, traffic was light and we made it to the hospital quickly. I was worried about how we’d get ourselves and all of our gear (and there was a lot of it) up to delivery, but I shouldn’t have.

I pulled up to the entrance, got out of the car, and said, “We’re here to have our baby,” and the three valets moved to help us. They got Linda out of the car, and one asked her if she needed a wheelchair. Linda hesitated. I knew she wanted one but didn’t want to admit it, so I said, “Yes, she’ll take a wheelchair,” but I had no idea how I’d push her, carry our stuff, and figure out where to go.

I was relieved when I realized one of the valets would be pushing Linda, taking us right up to delivery. That gave me the chance to carry as much of our gear as I could, and I did. It must have been obvious to anyone who looked at us what was going on. The new entrance hall of the hospital was bright and glassy, and I remember being surprised that there were people sitting in many of the seats arranged there. I shouldn’t have been, it was only 8:30 on a Friday night, but we’d been awake for so long and waiting all day for this. It felt like the middle of the night.

I had so many bags on my shoulders and under my arms, along with several pillows; I didn’t think I was going to make it. The valet seemed to be taking the longest possible route to get to the elevators, and my arms were failing. I couldn’t say anything, of course. I didn’t want to ask them to stop so I could readjust my load. One, I didn’t want to appear as weak as I felt, and two, I knew what Linda was going through was much worse.

Finally, we reached the elevators, and I dropped everything – at least until we got to the fourth floor. They put us right into a room. Our nurse was all South Buffalo mom – warm and rough around the edges, but the midwife on duty was ornery, and not in a good way.

I put away our things while Linda changed, and then the midwife examined her. She was now at 3-4 centimeters. The nurse said we had come at just the right time – not too late and not too early. Although Dr. G’s advice to stay home had been potentially dangerous, in our case, it gave us two more hours of freedom at home.

Linda’s contractions were fierce now. She was hooked up to a machine that allowed us to see them on monitor, a forward-moving line that inclined slowly with each contraction. When it started to rise, we braced ourselves. At times, Linda went somewhere else in her head, her eyes fixed on the light on the ceiling, glazing over in a haze of pain and concentration.

I knew that I was “on” then, expected to comfort her and do all I could to ease the situation. I held her hand, fed her ice chips, and told her what I thought she wanted to hear. It mostly consisted of me saying, “Don’t you want the epidural now?” Even after we’d been there an hour, with the contractions coming on strong, Linda wasn’t asking for it. I knew she was holding out as long as possible, maybe even holding onto the notion that she could go the distance without it.

Part of me - the minimalist, organic, and all-natural part of me – wanted to encourage that, but the practical side of me, the side that usually wins out, looked at her sweaty brow, her eyes shut up tight, her grimaces of pain, and said to her, “Linda, take the epidural.”

She consented, and they kicked me out of the room. I wasn’t allowed to stay while they administered the shot, probably because I’d lose my mind when the pain of the shot hit her and she reacted

I went to the waiting room and there was Linda’s mom. I filled her in on what had happened so far, and we sat making small talk. A collection of young to old people filled the other chairs, watching the Sabres game, texting on their phones, and trading chairs to go have a smoke outside.

The epidural took longer than I thought. I was getting nervous and I overcame my reluctance to buzz the delivery desk and asked what the hell was taking so long. They told me that everything was fine. They would need just a few more minutes.

When I got the all clear, I headed back to our room, unsure of what I would find, and what I did find surprised me: Linda smiling, in good spirits, fully aware of her surroundings and me. On the monitor, the peaks told me that her contractions were still occurring, and the epidural was obviously working.

They allowed Linda’s mom into the room for a few minutes, and Linda told us that the procedure had been one of the most painful experiences of her life. The doctor had rolled in a cart that, in her words, looked like something from Black and Decker. They had asked her to remain still during the shot, despite the fact that her hormones were causing her to shake uncontrollably and the contractions were hitting every few minutes. She described the shot as feeling like someone shoving an entire finger deep into her spine. She had screamed – loud – and then they asked, “How are you feeling now?”

Despite the pain of the administration, the drug worked exceptionally well. One look at her face told me that the pain of the contractions had lessened considerably, if not ceased – for now.

After that, Linda’s mom went back to the waiting room, and Linda and I are both unclear on what happened next. We both remember a stretch of quiet time during which the staff left us alone. Linda had me hook up the iPod so she could listen to some music, and then she tried to sleep while I sat in the chair next to the bed and wrote a bit of all this. It must have been about 11:30, because that is what I wrote in the heading of my journal. I recall feeling extremely anxious and excited. I wanted it to be over, but I didn’t want it to begin either – the pushing, I mean.

At some point in the evening, probably soon after we’d arrived, they’d asked me if the baby turned out to be a boy, would we want him circumcised. It will be to my everlasting shame that I said yes. I didn’t have much time to think, and I didn’t ask for more, nor had I spent enough time looking into the subject. The procedure is not necessary, as modern research has proven time and again. There are minor risks either way, but obviously, it all started because of religious, not medical, reasons. There’s just no compelling medial reason to have it done, but I caved to my, “I want him to be like me” gut reaction.

After a time, Linda’s water broke and soon after, she said that the contractions were getting worse, that she was starting to feel them through the epidural. The nurse came in to check on her and announced that the dilation had progressed to eight centimeters, and that, soon, preparations to start pushing would begin. This part frightened Linda the most. The nurse told us, “First time mothers typically push for 1-3 hours.” She said it like it was good news, but it sounded way too long to both of us. “That’s not long at all!” I said to Linda.

I don’t remember much of what Linda and I talked about during the waiting. I know I held her hand a lot, kissed her forehead, poked fun at Dr. G (the nurses told us their nickname for him was “Scary Larry”), and tried, unsuccessfully, to reassure her that the pushing wouldn’t be so bad. We didn’t speak at all about whether or not the baby would be healthy. I don’t know if she was thinking about it, but it was on my mind.

Around 1 AM, the nurse declared Linda’s dilation complete and that it was time to start pushing. Up went the head of the bed and off came the lower half. The nurse folded out the stirrups and Linda dropped her legs into them. The nurse told her that when she felt a contraction coming, she should take a cleansing breath and then push like she had to poop. Linda’s first few attempts, according to the nurse, were no good. “You’re pushing with your face,” the nurse said. Linda was apparently able to decipher this advice because soon the nurse was telling her what a good job she was doing, and that the head was now visible. The nurse asked me if I wanted to look, and I surprised myself by saying yes. There are times when blood and bodily fluids make me queasy and other times when I can somehow shut off any sort of reaction. I can never tell which reaction will surface and this time, thankfully, I was fine. I was able to look at my wife’s nether regions in a, “Wow, that’s so cool!” frame of mind. There was the top of the head, barely visible but there. The nurse took my hand and had me touch the wet, warm, hairy crown. Ewww. But fascinating.

The doctor was coming in now and then to check on us, but the nurse stayed with us, reassuring Linda and cheering her on. It was now 2 AM. When Linda pushed, the head would move farther along, but when she stopped, the head would disappear back in. The nurse called the doctor in and I felt sick when he recommended an episiotomy, saying that the baby would have too much trouble coming out otherwise.

I tried to watch, but as he brought the scissors close, I had to look away. I just couldn’t watch him cut her. Between contractions now, Linda was surprisingly calm. From the corner of my eye, I could see the blood from the episiotomy, but Linda said that the pressure she felt before was now gone. More contractions came, more pushing, and I alternated between standing at Linda’s shoulder, trying to urge her on and standing down by the stirrups, watching the birth progress. The top of the head with its dark hair was fully visible now.

Then, the baby slid out, so much bigger than the top of the head suggested. It was impossible and beautiful. Her presence brought such a sense of relief, and then she started crying and I felt even more relieved. The nurses wrapped the baby in towels and rubbed the dark fluid off her I thought I saw that she was a girl, and I asked to be sure, and Linda asked, too, disbelief in her voice. The nurses confirmed it, and I kissed Linda. They announced the time – 2:54 AM.

They called me over to the warming table and I got my first full view of Violet. I wanted to touch her, but I was afraid to hurt her. They dried her off and made impressions of her footprints in ink on a small card. I asked if I could touch her, and they said, “Go ahead!” I reached out my finger and Violet took hold of it, fragile but strong. I said hello. The nurse took my other hand and rolled Violet’s foot across the back, the ink still wet, and left an impression of my daughter’s foot.

They said they had to take her into the hallway to get her weight, and I followed them out. They placed her on the tray, and she looked incredibly small. All I wanted to do was take her off there, to get her to Linda.

And then she was back in the room, dressed by the nurses, and placed in my arms. I couldn’t stop looking at her, couldn’t stop talking to her, but the entire time I wanted to share her with Linda and I couldn’t. Linda was getting stitched up and they didn’t want her to hold the baby until the procedure was finished. So, I alternated between sitting in the chair next to the bed, trying to stand next to the bed so Linda could see Violet, trying not to look at all of the blood on the floor, and feeling guilty that I was holding Violet while Linda had to wait. But while all that was going on, I was enveloped by a warm glow from and for the baby in my arms. It was impossible to look at her enough.

Finally, the doctor was finished and, after a comical and frustrating scene in which four staff members spent at least five minutes trying to figure out how to get the bottom half of my wife’s bed reattached, I was able to place Violet in Linda’s arms. And I just sat in the chair, enjoying it - finally getting to see both of them - together - for the first time.

364 days old

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Violet's First Family Birthday Party

Scenes from today...

Linda’s pride at seeing Violet’s home made birthday cake come together, and her horror when one side of it started to break away, a big, chocolate fissure opening up along one side of the cake (She managed to glue it back together with more frosting). The cake looked lovely, and it tasted absurdly good.

As the party started, I held Violet’s hands so she could walk across the floor. A moment later, she pulled one of her hands out of mine, and I realized she was practically walking by herself; I was holding on to just one of her hands.

Our families gathered around the kitchen table in my brother’s house, everyone singing to Violet. Linda said it best afterward, “…one of the happiest moments of my life.”

363 days old

Friday, November 18, 2011

Piece of Cake

Linda wants to make Violet’s first birthday cake herself. She wants it to be delicious and vegan, but, apart from the fact that neither of us know anything about making a cake for 30+ people, we also have to deal with the fact that timing is tight. Both of us worked today. That leaves tonight and tomorrow morning to make this cake happen. The party’s tomorrow at 2 PM. Linda went out earlier in the week and got all of the necessary supplies. She planned to come home tonight, eat a quick dinner, get Violet into bed, and start baking. The first three steps went fine, but then she discovered that I used up all the cocoa powder last night, making ice cream for the party (I thought she bought extra!) So, after a quick call to a neighbor and still no cocoa powder, I got in the car and drove into town, meaning the baking didn’t even start until 10:30 PM. Now, it’s 1:30 AM. The two layers of the cake have finished baking. They smell divine and look beautiful, cooling on our kitchen counter. We’re going to bed, but we’re still not sure how one goes about putting the layers together. We’re not quite sure how to frost the cake, either, or how we’ll transport it to the party…

The worst part? A week ago, Linda said, "I'm going to make cupcakes for Violet's party," and I said, "No! Just make a cake. It's so much easier than cupcakes."

362 days old

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One more quote...this one's from Uncle Noam

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
Noam Chomsky

361 days old

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Forced Merriment

I gave my second graders small notepads today – we call them their "Tiny Topics" notebooks. The idea is for them to carry these pads wherever they go, collecting ideas like pennies as they move through their day, jotting them down so they'll remember when it comes time to write. After handing out the notebooks, I gave the kids some time to decorate them. Each student received a small rectangle of construction paper to create a personalized cover, and they got to work with markers, crayons, and colored pencils. Then I remembered that I had a stack of stickers in my cupboard - scratch and sniff stickers, glitter stars, tiny sticker faces, animal stickers - and I thought the kids might like to add them to their notebooks.

You'd have thought that I was handing out puppies. Their eyes grew big and squeals of delight came from boys and girls alike. Their enthusiasm was so intense, it startled me.

And their reaction made me think of last spring, when the debate was on about our school budget, and I was in danger of being cut or assigned to a different grade. A fellow teacher asked me how I would feel if I had to teach kindergarten, and I was honest. I said, "I don't think I could do it." I'm sure I've said it in a post before, but I'm a low-key person, and the best kindergarten teachers get excited about everything. They do it for the kids. I just don't have the ability to generate that much forced merriment, or to say it more precisely, I didn't think I did. What I didn’t realize before – what I didn’t realize until Violet came along – is that show of enthusiasm doesn’t have to be forced. When I play with Violet, my own enthusiasm for small things surprises me. Her laugh, her smiles, and her interests generate and feed that enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter what the focus is – a stuffed animal, a block, a Tupperware lid, or an uneaten spoonful of food. There are times when I mentally step back for a moment, bewildered by the high, girlish excitement I hear in my own voice as I try to get Violet excited about this or that. Maybe my enthusiasm will dull with time. I hope not. I like being excited with my daughter, as excited as a second grader over stickers.

360 days old

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Her Getaway Sticks Are Still Under Construction

I tried so hard to get Violet to walk to me tonight. She clutched the wall of her corral with one hand and reached for me. I was sitting on the floor, just a few feet away, doing my best to encourage her. She stared at her feet, as though wondering how to make them go, then at her hand holding on to the wall, then back to me. Over and over, her face neither happy nor sad, but thinking, working the situation out. One foot came up, and when it came down, so did the rest of her. I was disappointed and relieved. I want to see her take those steps, but the idea of her walking is terrifying, too.

359 days old

Sunday, November 13, 2011

First Base

Violet gave Linda a kiss yesterday - first one ever. She put her little hands on Linda's face and pressed her open mouth against Linda's cheek. I'm pretending that I'm not seething with jealousy.

357 days old