September 18, 1991
Exactly fifteen years ago I was in very hard labor. No epidural. No progress. I had this incredibly big little person inside me struggling to get out, and my body was not cooperating. My poor husband was massaging my lower back for all he was worth. The Three Stooges ignored us and went on with their antics on TV. Jack was almost three weeks late making his appearance into the world.
At about 10:00 in the morning, after 11 hours of no progress in my labor, the decision was made to do a Caesarian. My regular doctor was not on call, and young Doogie Howser, his new partner, showed up for the surgery.
“Why is my side hurting so much?” I screamed at him between contractions.
“I don’t know,” he responded with a worried look. Great, I thought to myself. Then I yelled with another contraction.
The epidural, which came after 12 hours of contractions less than two minutes apart, was a blessing. As the epidural kicked in and the pain left, I was exhausted but relaxed. It was a welcome relief.
Almost as soon as the pain dissipated, Jana, one of my best friends, breezed into the room. I don’t think she was supposed to be there, but as a federal prosecutor she tends to go wherever she wants. My husband left to grab a meal. There was a monitor hooked to my belly that measured the contractions on a visible graph.
“Wow,” she said. “That was a big one. Did you feel it?
“Um, not really. I was feeling them earlier, but the epidural made the pain go away.”
“Oooooh, check that one out! It really peaked!”
“Jana, I don’t want to know. I’ve been kinda suffering here.”
“Yeah, but you don’t feel it now. Wow. See how it starts out low and the just surges up? Are you sure the baby isn’t coming? Because that contraction looked like it went over the top of the meter.”
“Oh. Sorry. But it’s really cool to watch the muscle contractions on this machine.”
At that point Doogie Howser came in and fiddled with one of the other machines I was hooked up to. “Hmmmm,” he mused.
“What?” I asked.
“Well, we ought to go on and get you prepped for surgery right away.”
“Is the baby ok? Is there something wrong?” I asked, feeling a surge of hormonal emotion through the seductive sedation of the epidural. At that moment I was almost panicked because I didn’t care – I just wanted the ordeal over with.
“No, no. He’s doing fine. We just need to get him out of you.” Doogie looked a little worried, and left the room quickly.
“Did you hear that? What he said about the baby?” I asked Jana. She had a serious look on her face and I wondered if she could see something on a monitor that I couldn’t.
“The baby’s fine,” she said reassuringly. “They’re going to do a C-Section and both of you will be fine.”
“No, I mean he said the baby is a boy. He said ‘he’ is doing fine.”
Jana’s mouth formed a silent “oh.”
My husband and I had intentionally refused to know the sex of our baby. We wanted it to be a surprise, the old-fashioned way. Now just before delivery, a doc slips up and tells me I have a boy. I had wanted a girl so bad I could taste it. Damn. My husband wanted a son, of course. I hated the name a son would have. And irrationally, I was more upset about the fact that I knew the gender of my kid than I was about the fact that I was about to have major emergency surgery.
“Whatever you do, don’t tell,” I said. Jana nodded her agreement. When Doogie Howser came back he launched into a long explanation of why they had to do an emergency C-Section. I never heard a word he said.
“Hold on,” I interrupted.
“You have a question?” he asked.
“No, there’s something I have to tell you,” I said. “When you said the baby was doing fine you used the word ‘he.’ We didn’t want to know whether the baby is a boy or girl until he’s born.”
In 1991 it was much more common to know the child’s gender before birth than not. Poor Young Doogie had a horrified look on his face. I could tell he was worried about how his bedside manner was coming across.
“Please, just don’t tell my husband, ok?” I asked.
Doogie blustered, “Well, ‘he’ is kind of a generic pronoun, you know. I just said ‘he’ for the heck of it. It might be a girl.” I knew he was lying. Poor Doogie. I felt sorry for him. But I really didn’t want my husband to have the same flash of disappointment I did when I learned too soon that Jack, not Laura Elizabeth, was to be our baby. I wasn’t disappointed that it was Jack, I was disappointed to know, before he was actually born.
The nurses prepped me for surgery then kicked Jana out. As they wheeled me and my bed into the operating room, Jana called to me, “See you in a few minutes!” That epidural sure was making me feel good.
Doogie loomed over me in surgery. “You’re going to stay awake if we can manage that,” he said. I just nodded. He made the incision. Then he went back over it. I had a vision of an X-Acto knife going through foam. I hoped he wouldn’t cut the baby.
“Wow, that’s a lot of muscle!” one of the nurses exclaimed. “Have you been doing sit-ups or something?” Yeah, I thought to myself. With a ten month belly I can do sit-ups.
The truth was, I really had done sit-ups as far into my pregnancy as possible. I have a sway back, and all my life I had been told to do sit-ups to strengthen my abdominal muscles. Because of lower back problems, I knew I had to keep my abdominal muscles strong or pregnancy would be destructive to my back. I did at least 50 a day until my belly was too cumbersome to allow me to move.
They had to lengthen the initial incision. From the comments the nurses were making, Doogie must have been sawing through pure Pittsburgh steel to get to the baby. Then Jack’s head popped out. He gave a cry immediately. My husband was standing near my head and told me, “It looks like that scene from Alien.” Alien. Yes. Sigourney Weaver’s finest acting hour. And the monster that erupts from the man’s chest and goes skittering out of the room – eeeewwww.
It did not appear that Jack would be doing any skittering, though, because the delivery crew couldn’t get his shoulders through the slit in my abdominally superior body. Three nurses and Dougie were working on the problem, and finally they decided brute force was the answer. On a count of three, they jumped on my belly. Over and over again. I felt like I was getting navel CPR. Somewhere a baby was crying. After about five jumps, Jack’s shoulders came free.
When they gave him to me the first thing I saw were his dimples. He has his dad’s dimples! Deep, sweet dimples! “Awww, honey,” I said, “he’s got your dimples. And your hair.” He had his dad’s blond hair and hairline and I already saw the twin cowlicks on his forehead.
Jack is the best thing I’ve ever done, and he is my favorite person. He is the most important person in my life. He is “Jack” because I don’t like his real name. No, his real name isn’t John. The nickname came from his dad’s maternal grandfather who had an awful name, too. When Grandpa was drafted and went to Ft. Hood, his buddies decided to call him “Jack,” and the name stuck with him for a lifetime. It seemed like an appropriate nickname for my son, who is saddled with the same name as his father and his other grandfather.
Jack is extremely smart. He tests higher than I do on IQ tests, which is saying something (I’m not trying to brag on myself, but on my kid!) He tests in school at the 99th percentile in all verbal fields, and at the 85th or above in everything else. He is creative. He and a friend are writing a script for a TV series that will be a riot if it’s ever actually aired. He is kind and good. He is empathic. He is good with little kids. He has a crush on a girl and he’s actually trying to work up the nerve to ask her to a movie. I am a very lucky mom. I have a fantastic teenage baby!
I will eventually write about all of the joys of being Jack’s mom. Yes, I adore my kid and I always have. Even Laura Elizabeth could not have been an improvement on him.
Happy 15th birthday, Jack. I love you most.
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