Here’s how I remember it: It was Friday night, and I’d just finished watching “Millennium.” It was a spinoff series, sorta, of “The X-Files.” And as far as I recall, it was one of those Aura shows — there was the sense that Something Large and Evil was lurking just offstage, part of a Huge Conspiracy of Shadowy Forces, and it was all tied to the coming turn of the millennium, which was then, what? A little over three years away.
The credits were rolling, and I felt a contraction.
Damn. False labor.
I was in false labor, I was sure, because I’d just been to the doctor that day. Of course I knew the baby was coming eventually, but the nurse practitioner had checked everything out down there and pronounced my cervix “long and closed,” which meant she was willing to bet money I wouldn’t go before my due date, still five days away.
I was ready. My suitcase was packed, the camera loaded with film, the “Kind of Blue” CD ready in case the room had a player. The crib was set up, the little onesies in the drawer, the mobile of black-and-white shapes — supposedly the only thing a newborn could see — assembled and ready to be gazed upon. It was called the Infant Stim-Mobile. Stim is for “stimulation.” Everything was all about stimulation back then. Of course, the first thing you learn about newborns is, they’re already getting all the stimulation they can handle, and when they can’t handle it anymore, they scream. This was the first lesson of parenthood, and I pass it on to you now: Someone’s always trying to sell you useless crap, and 95 percent of it you don’t need.
I was ready, but there was still work to be done. I had to help Alan clean the gutters, the last onerous outdoor chore of the year, and I had to shop for and prepare a meal for Alan’s 40th birthday, which was Saturday. Once Saturday was over, I’d be all the way ready.
Only now, damn: False labor. I went to bed in the guest room. Alan had a cold, and I didn’t want to catch it with the delivery so close. Tried to sleep, but the false labor continued. Hey, I kept thinking. My cervix is long and closed, and I don’t need to be up all damn night with this false labor. I need my rest. I have to clean gutters and make a semi-elaborate meal. Give me a break, uterus.
I managed to doze a while, but still, all night — contractions. Some were sort of strong. Once I whimpered a little, and Alan said, from the next room, half-asleep: “Try to breathe through it, hon. Zzzzzzzz.” By dawn, I was beginning to think we were going to have to go to the hospital. Not for the baby to be born, mind you, but for the doctor to look at me again — long and closed! — and send me home. This happened to everyone we knew. And here I’d have to make dinner and a cake on a night of interrupted sleep. Damn this false labor; it was ruining my plans.
Second lesson of parenthood: Someone’s always ruining your plans.
I got Alan up, told him we were probably going to have to go to the hospital, and he should walk the dog. I called my parents and told them we were going, but not to get their hopes up, because my cervix was long and closed. The contractions were pretty strong and grueling by now, but honestly, I still thought they were false alarms. This ability to ignore reality when it’s right in front of my face explains a lot about me, including why I stayed in the newspaper business so long.
On the way to the hospital, I noticed the contractions were now three minutes apart, down from five. It began to occur to me that I might, possibly, be having the baby that day.
At the hospital they offered to check me in under an assumed name. Really. Apparently this service is available to certain VIPs, and as a newspaper columnist, I qualified. “I really don’t think that’s necessary,” I said through gritted teeth and another contraction. “I think the photographers are still staking out Madonna’s apartment.” Madonna was my celebrity pregnancy doppelganger and had delivered a month earlier.
We got up to the intake ward, where a jolly nurse checked everything out. “You’re six centimeters dilated, almost seven. You’re in transition.” I told Alan to call his mom and tell her dinner was definitely off.
I had the epidural, which I now regret. The day stretched out to its full length. I was no longer in pain; all activity seemed to be taking place on the other side of a glass wall that passed through my waist. The jolly nurse went home, replaced by a less-jolly but seemingly far more competent one, who ordered a pitocin drip. I pushed and pushed and pushed and nothing happened. They tried the suction-cup thing and it didn’t work. I looked up and saw my ya-ya, illuminated by halogen lights, reflected in six pairs of glasses, which was weird. At one point I blacked out, although I never lost consciousness. There’s just a long gap in my memory, which I’m thankful for, because apparently that’s when the episiotomy happened and the forceps appeared. All I know is I was pushing unsuccessfully and then the doctor said, “The head’s out,” and I thought, cool, I didn’t need an episiotomy. And the next thing I knew, they laid Kate on my stomach, all hair and huge, staring eyes.
I’d like to tell you we all burst into tears like the moms on “E.R.,” but all I remember thinking was: Wow. Get a load of those eyes.
There was a lot of busywork then. A pulmonary tech hoovered out her lungs, because there had been meconium in the amniotic fluid. The nurses rubbed her rather vigorously. The doctor said, “She had a rough trip.” I didn’t know, then, that her one-minute Apgar score was a mere 4. Finally I said, “Is she OK? Can I see her?” And the pulmonary tech turned around and said, “Sure.”
(That’s the competent nurse on the right.) I told Alan, “Happy birthday. Don’t expect me to top this for 41,” and everyone made a big fuss.
I sometimes think back on this comedy of errors and wonder if it set the tone for anything. The denial of the obvious, the convenient blackout at a critical moment — what does this say about my chips-are-down mettle? Nothing, I hope. Third lesson of parenthood: Nothing ever turns out the way you think it will.
Anyway, this was 10 years ago today. Today, little Miss 4-on-the-Apgar woke up and caroled, “I’m in double digits now!” She and her father wished one another a happy birthday. Presents were unwrapped at the breakfast table; it was an electronics theme this year. Ten years of water under the bridge, more than halfway to adulthood (legal adulthood, anyway). I’ve made approximately seven jajillion mistakes but I think, for the most part, they were all non-fatal, and I’ve tried to learn from them.
The latest lesson of parenthood: Birthdays are special. Time to go make some cake. Have a good day.
Dorothy said on November 16, 2006 at 10:55 am
Ahhh I just love birthdays! Happy Birthday to Alan and Kate!
Your “ya-ya” reference cracked me up. We’re watching season 2 of Grey’s Anatomy one weekend at a time courtesy of Blockbuster, and we finally saw the episode where Dr. Bailey referred to hers as the “va-jay-jay.” I hear that was a real water cooler discussion stimulant the day after it originally aired.
brian stouder said on November 16, 2006 at 10:55 am
excellent! made my eyes water – good stuff!
Adrianne said on November 16, 2006 at 11:45 am
Happy birthday to my birthday buddies, Kate and Alan, (and the deceased Elvis Whitehead from Defiance, Ohio – Alan knows who I’m talking about!)
As far as denial – it took me 2 1/2 months, two missed periods, and weeks of falling asleep in mid-sentence to realize that gee, I really WAS pregnant with my first child. And this was a wanted pregnancy! I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
Scout said on November 16, 2006 at 12:28 pm
wow, just wow. what a great story! i love your style, nancy.
Julie said on November 16, 2006 at 12:35 pm
Re eyes watering: Mine too. Happy birthday to all!
Kim said on November 16, 2006 at 12:53 pm
Happy, happy and many more!
John said on November 16, 2006 at 1:21 pm
Lovely story Nancy. It could be used in a writing class, since the story of childbirth is the mother of all cliche magnets. I could scroll up and check. But I’m pretty sure I didn’t read “awesom responsibility” or “here was a life, sitting here in my hands” or “greatest day of my life.” What I git were telling details and a bit of what they meant. Beautiful writing.
And happy birthday to Kate and Alan!
And Patrick’s first APGAR scor was 1! (though the doctor said it probably should have been 2). I think his second one was 9.
Maybe by the time he’s 10 I’ll have my own site and I can tell the story, though probably not as well.
Ricardo said on November 16, 2006 at 1:52 pm
You brought back some memories. My daughter was born at home with a midwife, the midwife’s trainee, and our birth class teacher in attendence. We also had some friends over, mostly partying in the living room. 1980.
One friend had a video business and taped the event. This is when cameras were a large two-piece affair. We couldn’t have the soft lighting suggested because the camera needed bright lights. Jason had gotten a bootleg copy of that Robin Williams set where Robin is running around a lot and sweating (Robin was just getting ready to explode on the scene). We watched it while waiting.
At the time, I had an idea that it would be very interesting to show my daughter this video if she ever asked “where did I come from?”, but she never showed much inclination to watch it.
colleen said on November 16, 2006 at 2:05 pm
AWwww. Happy birthday to your family!
Joe Kobiela said on November 16, 2006 at 3:02 pm
Great story. Made this mean old republican smile, Our two girls are 19 and 21 and both at I.U. You will be taking Kate to Hillsdale some day thinking, it just seemed like yeasterday she was ten.
MichaelG said on November 16, 2006 at 3:18 pm
Happy birthday to Alan and Kate!
ashley said on November 16, 2006 at 3:20 pm
Alan’s 50? Da-yum. If you didn’t live in the frozen tundra (like there’s another kind), I’d suggest you go sailing all day long. She hits double digits, and he hits half a century.
Congrats to all y’all.
Dorothy said on November 16, 2006 at 5:19 pm
It’s been 39 years, but I swear I can still remember being so glad when I turned 10 so I could hold up both hands and all 10 fingers to show how old I was.
I love birth stories. I forgot to say that this was a great way to start the morning, reading this.
brian stouder said on November 16, 2006 at 6:15 pm
Two sentences from the male perspective, regarding Birth One and Birth Two:
Before the night that Grant came into the world, we attended every class, read every book, heeded every warning, bought a stopwatch, and timed contractions at 2 in the morning as we drove to the hospital (I remember shooing Pam away from a broken jar of instant tea in the kitchen, saying I’d take care of it).
The night Shelby came into the world, our sister in law who has never had a baby came over (at 1 in the morning) to watch Grant, and she was freaking out that Pam was in the bathroom curling her hair before we went! (“Just GO, for goodness’ sakes!”)
Lance Mannion said on November 16, 2006 at 6:36 pm
Happy Happy Birthday Birthday Alan and Kate!! Many Many happy happy returns returns of of the the day day!!
John said on November 16, 2006 at 7:53 pm
Semi-surprised you didn’t touch on this development:
We’re going to follow suit and begin referring to the News-Banner newsroom as the “information Center” as well, except its just one big room with reporters, advertising, composing, and clerical in one place. And even as an information center it would still smell like ink and sulphur. Just more informational.
To me information center is the place tourist brouchures get handed out in a vacation place. Or the stroller rental place at the mall.
By the crowdsourcing definition I work in local, Digital, Public Service, and Community Conversation , plus multimedia. Our sports editor read the article above and is more confused than ever. Is this anything more than management with too much time on their hands. It doesn’t appear that anyone’s job really changes.
mary said on November 16, 2006 at 9:04 pm
You’re probably mid-party right now, but Happy Birthday to both your loved ones. Ten is a great age to be. Fifty really isn’t too bad either.
Marcia said on November 17, 2006 at 8:50 am
Happy Birthday wishes all around!
CD said on November 17, 2006 at 8:57 am
As the mother of a 12-year-old middle schooler I can tell you and Alan to enjoy this day — and to get back out the child-rearing books for “the second 10.”
Having a preteen/teenager in the house is as much of a change as having a baby in the house!
Emma said on November 17, 2006 at 10:35 am
Double digits! Yay! Congrats all around.
Your story reminded me of heading to the hospital at 3 a.m., wondering, “What do you wear when you have to hold a giant towel between your legs?” I decided on a skirt and flip-flops.
Dave said on November 17, 2006 at 11:50 am
Good thing you went to the hospital, Nancy, even though you thought she couldn’t be coming now. My mother went to the hospital a week to the day before I was born with what turned out to be false labor pains. So, one week later, when it was the real thing, she told my father she wasn’t going through that again and wouldn’t go, until it became apparent it was the real thing. This all resulted in me being born in the back seat of a 1949 Plymouth in the alley behind what I think was old Doctor’s Hospital in downtown Columbus.
nancy said on November 17, 2006 at 11:58 am
But your mom got a much better story out of waiting, didn’t she?
I think one of the very, very first “This American Life” episodes, or maybe it was another show, featured a guy talking about how he delivered a baby on the New York subway. Some lady was yelling that her baby was coming, and everyone was ignoring her, so he went down to check, along with a Jamaican woman.
The Jamaican woman said, “You got something to catch dat baby, mon?”
He took off his shirt, knelt down in front of the laboring woman and held it over his hands like a towel, just as the woman gave a huge push and squirted the kid right into it. Now that’s a story.
brian stouder said on November 17, 2006 at 1:36 pm
Well, there are ‘hairy dog’ stories, and then there are ‘really hairy dog’ stories, and there is this one:
Woman claims puppies were born to cat
Brazilian says neighborhood mutt impregnated feline; tests due next week
PASSO FUNDO, Brazil – Geneticist Adil Pacheco took blood samples on Friday from three puppies in a poor neighborhood in Passo Fundo in southern Brazil to settle a dispute over a claim they were born from a cat
And aside from that – Bo Schembechler, the immortal Michigan coach, turned out to be mortal afterall, and just died.
and a hush has fallen all across the great state of Ohio…..
Dave said on November 18, 2006 at 3:01 am
Bo? Dead? Funny what you can learn here, first I knew of it. Nancy, does this mean the Columbus rock group that specializes in Michigan hate music has to change their name?
For the rest of you, there’s a group in Columbus that calls themselves the Dead Schembechlers.
Suppose Woody and Bo are renewing ties?
Dave said on November 18, 2006 at 3:02 am
BTW, it’s kind of fun to tell people I was born in a 49 Plymouth and it did give my mother a great story.
Dave said on November 18, 2006 at 3:20 am
And this just in.
Ricardo said on November 18, 2006 at 9:12 pm