The Party Crasher
As I was collecting breakfast ingredients from the kitchen cupboard in a post-sleep, pre-coffee fog, I heard my pregnant wife mutter, "Oh, no."
I turned around to discover her standing motionless as blood ran down her legs forming a pool at her feet. We made eye contact for a split second before I raced to gather our son while simultaneously trying to shield him from the emergency at hand - that tightrope we walk as parents in times of crisis. The baby's due date was still eleven weeks away, so I automatically assumed my wife was having a miscarriage. As we rushed to the car, my wife's OB/GYN instructed her over the phone to go directly to the nearest emergency room.
Months earlier, my spouse had insisted on reviewing the location of the nearest ER with me just in case such an emergency arose. She is nothing if not a planner. Thus, without hesitation, I sped to the ER entrance of the Kaiser on Sunset. Due to a really shitty design flaw, it was impossible for me to leave the car parked at the curb of the ER dock without blocking incoming ambulances. Consequently, my terrified wife was forced to waddle in blood-soaked shoes across the medical facility alone while I scouted for parking as if Christmas shopping at The Glendale Galleria. Following an interminable hunt for the parking structure (has anyone ever heard of a fucking sign with the word "parking" and an arrow on it!?!) and one illegal U-turn on Sunset Blvd - all the while maintaining a casual patter with the curious child in the backseat - I had to walk a quarter of a mile with the slow-footed four year old on a hunt for Labor &
By the time we finally arrived at my wife's bedside, I was surprised to discover that the baby's heart-rate monitor showed that he was still alive inside her. My wife insisted that the four year old should go to school instead of sitting in the hospital all day. I acquiesced to her request after confirming that she was sure that this was the best course of action. She confirmed. I then whisked the four year old away with an "Okay...See ya later," tossed back in my wife's general direction. I would find out later that she wasn't sure if she was going to die that day and that she wanted to impart some meaningful last words to our son if it was going to be the last time that he would see her... Whoops. In my defense, I was playing everything super casual, so as not to scare the four year old. Apparently, this was a grievous error on my part that I will be periodically reminded of until I die. Or longer if she can find a way. I drove the four year old home; made his lunch; dropped him at school two hours early. Having been a veteran of many hospitals over the years (I hate to brag, but I am very good at breaking bones) I knew this process was going to take all day....and I never had the chance to cook the aforementioned breakfast...I was feeling rather peckish...Hence, as I was sitting in a McDonald's drive-thru waiting for my egg white McMuffin to arrive, my second child was born.
Double whoops. When I returned to the hospital I was escorted to a very large, deserted recovery room. The scale of the place increased my sense of isolation. Following a long, lonely wait, a tall, black woman entered the room wearing scrubs. The doctor informed me that the baby's heart-rate had dipped; leaving them no option, but to get him out. My wife had been rushed into the O.R. where she had a "splash and crash" C-section. They had knocked her out as quickly as humanly possible, splashed iodine on her belly, and gotten the baby out with a team of neonatologists standing by.
There was no time to count the surgical instruments prior to operating, so they were waiting on an X-Ray machine to make sure they hadn't left any inside her. I was also informed that intubating the baby had been difficult, so they couldn't be certain how long our child had been deprived of oxygen. The doctors were still treating the baby, so I wouldn't be able to see him until the neonatologists were done working on him.
A black woman saved my son's life. I love America. Then came the waiting again...Ordinarily, I pass the time by reading the news, but reviewing the latest horror that the deplorable-in-chief was perpetrating on our republic was not the kind of distraction I needed at this point in time. I tried to focus on the things within my control, but it was difficult to keep my thoughts from drifting: One of the primary motivations for us to have another child was the desire to give our son an ally in life. I wondered whether I had inadvertently given him an anchor instead. The doors opened. A nurse wheeled my pale, sleeping wife into the recovery room. Once the anesthesia wore off, my wife felt responsible for being unable to carry our baby any longer. I reminded her that it was impossible to take better care of a baby inside a womb than she had, but there is only so much that words can do. I told her I'd check on the baby in hopes of lessening her anxiety. A nurse led me through a maze of doorways before having me wash my hands up to my elbows as if I were a surgeon scrubbing in. I was led back to a room where I discovered:
I'm not one of those people who fall in love with a baby the moment they pop out. It is more like a crushing weight of responsibility crashes down upon me. Then I keep it alive. Over time my heart becomes fused with the child.
It was impossible for me to process in the moment the idea that a 2.98 pound fetus living outside his mom, but inside a mechanical womb; hooked up to a myriad of life support machines, was my child. I also wasn't ready to let my guard down because I wasn't sure how long he was going to live. As I stood awkwardly to the side trying to not spread germs or slow down any of the team of workers keeping him alive, the realization that I was responsible for this tiny creature started to dawn on me.
A nurse asked me if we had settled on a name. We hadn't. But, on a day that I had been a powerless observer to a succession of life changing events, here was one thing over which I could exert some measure of control. I was determined that the baby was not going to die without a name. If I couldn't give him anything else, I was going to give him that. Without hesitation, I gave the nurse his mom's favored name choice. I knew that when I informed my wife it would be a small respite for her from the pain and anxiety. It had taken me a while, but I finally figured out that I would have to treat this baby as I would any other. I took my iPhone out of my pocket and captured the above photo. Then I leaned in to the isolette...
I told him that he looked like a fighter to me and that he needed to keep on fighting. I also reminded him that wanting a little attention was okay, but this was taking it a bit too far and he should try a little harder not worry his mother so much in the future.
He didn't take my advice.