Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Childbirth and Other Hazards of Sex

During the fall of 2000, my wife called me at work and ordered me to get home NOW. She told me that she was going into labor, so I dropped what I was doing and tore through the office towards the parking lot. I then jumped into my Chevrolet Cavalier and raced through rush hour traffic at a velocity that would have induced incontinence in an Andretti. When the highway lost its fluidity, I jumped onto the shoulder. When confronted with shoulder obstacles, I cut off terrified geriatrics who insisted upon traveling in the passing lane at the pace of retarded garden snails on Valium. Speed laws were broken, commuters were righteously outraged and obscene hand gestures were displayed with an enthusiastic frequency seldom seen this far away from New Jersey.

When I arrived at the hospital, I found that my wife and mother-in-law were already on their way home. They told me that my wife had experienced something called “false labor” which, when translated into terms that I could understand, roughly equated to a false alarm. I was overjoyed. It was not that I dreaded the birthing experience at all, it was just that I do not get the chance to drive like that very often and I was giddy with the prospect of being able to do it again relatively soon. Then the doctor added that my wife was already quite overdue and if she did not experience real labor over the next three days, they were going to induce her on the fourth.

Once we left the hospital, it was around dinner time so we ended up going out to eat at a local barbecue joint. Experiencing a hunger that was intensified by ebbing adrenaline, we ravenously feasted. My wife, who had skipped lunch due to the mistaken belief that she was in the process of having a baby, displayed a particularly uncharacteristic exhibition of wanton gluttony and devoured nearly as much food as I had. When we finally arrived home, we were over-full and on the verge of slipping into a nutritional coma. I think we managed to embark upon a half hour’s worth of conversation before I finally excused myself to go to bed. I think it was 10:30 and I was sound asleep before my head hit the pillow.

At 11:00, my wife woke me up in a panic, telling me that we had to go to the hospital again and that this time it was most definitely real. Having fallen for that one just a few hours earlier, I just laughed and rolled over. I can not remember what she did to me immediately after that but I do recall that it was intensely painful and not only did it instantly force me out of bed, it managed to motivate me to act upon her every command with a fanatical mindlessness that I have not possessed since I was in boot camp. As I was getting dressed my wife explained to me, in detail far too graphic for a male to sanitarily process on a full stomach, what the term “water breaking” meant and expounded upon the need for urgency. After I had put my clothes on I threw my wife’s bags into the car and, with her “breaking water” narrative still fresh in my head, grabbed a plastic garbage bag to cover my Cavalier’s passenger side seat with. When my wife saw my new Hefty bag seat cover, she shot me a look that was obviously meant to call my intellectual capacity into question and asked, “What in the world is that for?”

“It’s to protect the seat the seat in case your water breaks on the way to the hospital.” The tone I used betrayed my waning confidence in this particular course of action.

She crossed her arms. “I am NOT sitting on that.”

I then proceeded to inform her that I was not subjecting my seat upholstery to an over-application of amniotic Armor All either. She then shot me a look that made absolutely certain that if the garbage bag was not removed, I would be physically unable to ever again father another child. Fearing for my reproductive health, I removed it from the seat.

After a couple of quick phone calls, we finally took off for the hospital. This second drive was nowhere near as much fun as the first had been. My wife, an inveterate backseat driver under the best of circumstances, was absolutely unbearable and the fifteen minute drive we embarked upon seemed to last an eternity. By the time we arrived, I was sorely tempted to drop her off at the front door and, after telling her I was going to find a parking spot, bolt for the border in a mad dash defection to Canada under the premise of marital asylum. Against my better judgment however, I parked the car and went back inside.

We got triaged and were shipped upstairs to the maternity ward. It was there that I discovered the complete and total uselessness of Lamaze classes. I tried to coach my wife’s breathing exercises from the beginning but all that I managed to do was elicit a look from her as if she had just caught me pantsing the adolescent mongoloid participants of the Special Olympics relay race. “WHAT THE $%&! IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?!?!?! WOULD YOU QUIT BREATHING IN MY $%@!#$% FACE?” She then went off on me with language that I do not think I have ever heard, and keep in mind I sent six years in the US Navy where spewing colorful vindictive had evolved into a highly respected art form. It appeared as if she was in the midst of a marathon screaming session when she suddenly went green and woozy. She then grabbed for a basin on the table next to the bed and purged the contents of her stomach into it before continuing her barrage of insults where she had left off. As she did this, I removed that barbecue joint we had eaten at a couple of hours earlier from my list of preferred dining establishments.

After enduring a good ten minutes of verbal abuse, I committed an unforgivable sin. Wondering how long it was going to take for the anesthesiologist to arrive with some sedatives for my wife, I accidentally glanced at my watch. My wife then went completely silent, which was the first sign that I had done something very, very wrong. I tried to figure out what I had done but before it had a chance to come to me, my wife asked, “Did you have an appointment that I am keeping you from?”

Still not comprehending exactly what transgression I had just committed, I gave her my “I-am-smart-enough-to-know-that-I-am-a-complete-moron-but-not-smart-enough-to-know-why” look and muttered, “Uuuuuuuuuh, no.” I knew right away that this was definitely the wrong answer but at that point, it is highly unlikely that there is any such thing as a right answer. No matter what I said, I knew I had a verbal bludgeoning in store and just braced myself for what I knew was coming.

One of the things they teach in Lamaze class is that childbirth is a very painful experience. They say one of the best ways to get through it is to pick a focal point, concentrate on it and imagine yourself in a happy place. That little piece of advice did not seem to do squat for my wife, but it worked fine on me. I focused my vision on a picture of Snoopy on one of the bags that we had brought into the room and imagined myself romping through the fields of dandelions with that animated beagle and Woodstock. We then chased got into a dogfight with the Red Baron while flying the doghouse, battling to the tune of that groovy piano piece they always play during those cartoons. I do not know how long I was in this little fanciful trance, I just know that at some point we had an encounter with a Charlie Brown adult. I never saw her but I heard the unmistakable, “MWAHHH, mwah-mwah mwa mwahhh” that I always heard in the cartoons. I was then magically transported right back into the delivery room where the nurses had just placed an oxygen mask over my wife’s face. The mask was not the kind that consists of a simple tube with two protrusions that are inserted into a patient’s nostrils. It was the old variety that covered the entire nose and throat. I turned to one of the nurses and asked, “What is that stuff?”

“It’s just oxygen. We’re out of the nasal applicators so we have to use the facials.” I sensed a lack of sincerity in her voice as she answered me. I was guessing that she was just as tired of listening to my wife as I was and, tired of waiting around for the anesthesiologist to arrive, did the closest thing she could to muzzling her.

I placed my hand on my wife’s forehead and asked if she was doing alright. She answered, “MWAH MWAH MWAH MWAH MWAHHHH!” I didn’t know what that meant so I just nodded my head in agreement and thanked God for having picked a day to send my wife into labor when the hospital’s supplies were running low.

The birthing process, at least in our case, was painstaking slow but replete with an impressive display of a chain-of-command in action. The doctor would look up at the nurses and say “Push”. One of the nurses would then look at me, nod, and say “Push”. I would then look lovingly into my wife’s eyes and softly say, “Push”. My wife would then dig her nails into my hand until blood was drawn and scream “MMMMMMMWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! mwah-MWAH-MWAH-mwah-MWAH MMMMMMMMWWWWWWAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!!!” I would try to translate, but I believe that transcribing what she was trying to say would probably be a violation of some sort of federal decency statute.

This went on for hours. By daybreak, I was getting pretty tired. I was exhausted to the point of hallucination, hungry, uncomfortable and dying for a cigarette. Fortunately, I am smart enough to have kept this to myself. I am sure that if I would have suggested to my wife then that she try and hurry things up, I would have been rushed down two floors to the hospital’s emergency room and would be typing these words in a much higher octave than I am today. Just as I thought I was reaching the end of my endurance, there was a sudden flurry of activity at the other end of the bed. One of the nurses looked up and told me the baby was crowning. I turned to my wife and said, “The baby’s crowning, Honey! The baby’s crowning!” I then tried to figure out what the hell that meant.

I let go of my wife’s hand and strolled down to the end of the bed to see what all the fuss was about. It was a decision that took no time at all to regret.

Now, I’ve had several veteran fathers tell me in the months leading up to this that witnessing the event of childbirth is one of the most beautiful things any person could ever hope to have the privilege of seeing. I realize now that the men who say these kinds of things are sick and twisted and probably get a nice cozy feeling every time they watch a gang of crocodiles rip open thirsty wildebeests on those National Geographic specials. The actual vision of childbirth is disturbing to say the least. It’s full of blood, sharp instruments, clear slimy fluid and more gore than an Iraqi election. It’s kind of like the meal scene in the movie “Alien”, but without the benefit of editing so that the effects are much more grotesque.

I managed to retain consciousness, but just barely. Before I knew it, the baby’s head popped out, setting off another flurry of activity. It kind of looked like a cone-headed version of Winston Churchill, but with a lot more hair. I started to get excited. No female could ever look that much like old Churchill, so it must be a boy. A few minutes later, I was planning our first fishing trip together when the rest of the baby slid out, along with a bunch of extra stuff that I will refrain from describing. The doctor poked it around a little bit and then announced, “It’s a girl!”

My heart sank. It was not that I was disappointed that I had a girl. It was just that I was very sorry that I had a girl that looked like an awful lot like a cone-headed Winston Churchill. High school was going to be really hard on her. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting pregnant before she graduated.

I rushed over to my wife and congratulated her. She was spent, so completely and utterly exhausted but still anxious to hold her daughter. I was overjoyed at that. I had never held someone so tiny before and just knew that if I got my clumsy mits on her she’d be broken inside of a minute and I was fairly certain that those things were incredibly expensive to repair. Besides that, I had an up close and personal view of where she had been a couple of minutes before and I really did not want to touch her until she had taken a shower or something first.

After an hour or so while my wife was undergoing some post-partum medical procedures, I went to see my daughter in the nursery. She had changed colors a couple of times, was cleaned up much better and had lost her Churchill-esque appearance. I still felt more unease and trepidation about her arrival than anything else at that point, seeing her less as my daughter and more as something that I had the potential to screw up on an epic scale. All I could do was promise her then that I would do the best that I could and that, if nothing else, we would be able to share a few laughs along the way.

Still, I could not help but be relieved that she was finally here. I was glad to meet her and overjoyed that my wife’s hormonally-charged, homicidal mood swings were finally coming to an end. This was my first child. I was still blissfully ignorant of post-partum depression at that point.

Things eventually settled down and I started growing more and more comfortable with fatherhood. My daughter made it a breeze. She was an easy baby and the perfect child. She had her moments, but overall she was incredibly awesome for a newborn. In addition to that, at six months she was a total Daddy’s girl and still is. She is heartbreakingly cute, sweet to the core and a little princess through and through. Even though I had never considered parenthood a goal in my life before she was conceived, once she arrived I could not even bear the thought of an existence without her.

I was so enamored with my daughter that about a year later, when my wife told me she was pregnant again I felt no reservations about the experience at all. I was much wiser about the whole thing. I was able to brace for the mood changes, learned to tune out my wife during labor and could not wait to get another baby. When my son was born however, the hospital was fully stocked and equipped with the oxygen applicators that are inserted into the nostrils so my wife was free to talk the entire time. I was NOT prepared for that. Five minutes into the delivery, I had taken my fill of verbal abuse and was on the verge of responding in kind (which, by the way, is a capital crime when you are in the process of giving birth) when one of the nurses, a matronly old woman pushing retirement age with stern facial features that broadcast that she was not to be trifled with, pre-empted me. “Now knock that off!” she chastised my wife. “There is no reason for that! This will be over before you know it and there is no excuse for that kind of behavior.”

The rest of the delivery was unnaturally quiet. A baby soon came out, the doctor told me it was a boy, I beamed with pride, hugged the old nurse that saved me from making a potentially fatal error and then started making plans for an extended vacation in Mexico with my two new kids until the post-partum depression thing had blown over. This time, much to my relief, it never came.

My son turned out to be much more similar to me than I am really comfortable with. He is energetic, outgoing, intelligent, inquisitive, defiant and unable to relax unless he is unleashing a tremendous calamity of some sort. Immune to any disciplinary technique, a tempest of mayhem follows him pretty much wherever he goes and I find myself constantly thwarted in my efforts to bring him to heel. Still, I do not think I would have him any other way. He makes every day an adventure and is the source of a full blown belly laugh at least three times a day. He does things that I could not have possibly have imagined, and that is no small feat considering the breadth of my imagination.

My third child, my other son, was just born a few weeks ago. He’s still too young to decipher his personality yet, but from what I can see so far, I’m guessing he falls somewhere in between the extremes of the other two. I am sure that he is going to fit in just fine.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was beautiful, just beautiful.

*looks forward to reading this in book form*

And this has also solidified a thought which I have been having for the past year or so: I'm NEVER PHYSICALLY HAVING children.

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Aussie said...

I would love to hear your wifes version of this !

I too am glad this will NEVER be an event in my life.
Don't get me wrong , I like kids , but I prefer handing them back to their parents.

8:30 AM  
Blogger JEP said...

Aaaaahhhhh, you wouldn't want to hear my wife's version of this. She lacks my sense of humor on the subject as well as my sense of literary flair.

Judging by the above posts though, I can see that The JEP Report is doing its part for the world's overpopulation problem.

2:02 PM  

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