When I tell people that my oldest son is having his 20th birthday (this week!), I often hear an exclamation such as, “Get out of here”! Apparently, I still look reasonably well-preserved for my age, which can be attributed either to good genes or daily tumblers of formaldehyde. Not sure which.
But that phrase has far more meaning attached than might first meet the ears. You see, #1 son was very nearly a casualty of childbirth gone haywire.
It had taken us a while to conceive. Not that I had any argument with the required process, mind you – in some things, both trying and succeeding can be quite rewarding. Finally, a bit of intervention-by-Clomid was required to jump-start the female plumbing out of beta and into production mode. Bingo!
My wife was not subject to the digestive disarray suffered by so many millions of her sisters, and all the standard prenatal tests were happily unremarkable. We patriotically jumped through all the expected first-time-parent hoops, including LaMaze class, where I was first introduced to the all-important concept of the “cleansing breath.” We also learned all about the expected run-up to labor and delivery, so we settled in and prepared for a nice, normal, healthy, middle-class, suburban-hospital delivery of baby #1.
Sunday, September 25th dawned with contractions. Woo-hoo! But, first-timers that we were, our early morning trip to the hospital was quickly followed by an early-morning return home to “wait” – the expected centimeters of dilation turned out to be millimeters of frustration. Oh, well.
Then, as morning turned to afternoon, the childbirth-by-textbook started to break down.
Contractions became weirdly irregular. The uterus tightened up and didn’t want to relax. A sharp and continuous pain began to develop from one spot. Perplexed and concerned, it was time to head back to hospital.
After the usual hookup of the myriad of monitoring devices, an ultrasound was ordered to take a look. That’s when stuff starting flying. Fast! Forms were tossed in front of me to sign – right now! “This one is for such-and-such: sign! This one is for such-and-such: sign! This one is for a normal vaginal birth – don’t think we’ll need it, but sign anyway!” That one kinda clued me in that we were in for an emergency C-section – hey, I may be dumb, but I’m not stupid! Sign, sign, sign!
Meanwhile, they start prepping both my wife and operating room down the hall for a very quick meetup. Diagnosis: Placenta abruption (premature separation of the placenta from uterus – the cause of her unusual pain, and a common cause of both fetal and maternal mortality). No time for discussion – this was an emergency bailout!
To my surprise, they let me stay in the operating room for the procedure. Spinal anesthesia started the process, and I’ll just delicately skip over the rest – let’s simply say, on my part, it was part medical fascination mixed with a generous dose of high anxiety.
In very short order, they extracted a bluish/ashen looking baby, cut the cord in the blink of an eye, and rushed our limp little Nathan into a room across the hall. As the seconds ticked by, the silence got to me – I hesitantly left my too-brave wife and wandered over to where my too-still son was.
“Get out of here!!” roared one of the doctors massaging my still-silent baby, as he saw me walk wide-eyed into the room. Too stunned to do anything but comply, I hustled back to the operating room, and shortly thereafter, we heard that sweet, stark, wonderful sound of baby-cry floating across the hall from the other room. By the grace of God, and through rapid and skillful medical care, our first son made it. With not a lot of margin to spare.
Later, I find out that I had agreed, through one of the many forms which I had hastily signed without reading, not to leave the operating room. Ooops, I guess I missed that memo. But even at the cost of being told to get out of there, it was worth seeing those doctors do their thing to jump-start our first-born.
Now, twenty years later, Nathan is taller than me and looking frighteningly adult-ish. He’s far more talented, personable, and, yes, good-looking than I was at that age (mother’s genes). Yesterday, on the way back from working out at the gym together, he whizzed past me on his Rip-stick (a variation of a skateboard) and I held my breath as he sped down the hill, literally and metaphorically moving ever farther out of my orbit, and with mingled fear and trust, I had to once again learn to let go.
The goal has always been to successfully launch him into an independent life – not to say “Get out of here!” at the front door, but to lovingly hold it open when it’s time to leave this little womb called home, and trust that he’s in better hands than mine for the rest of his days.
It’s been a wonderful 20 years. Happy birthday, Nate.