being born

When people talk about “the best day they’ve ever had”, often they will assign that honor to the day their children were born. I don’t know about that. How can a day that was 50% terror and nervousness and anxiousness and worry be the best day of my life?

One year ago today, at this moment, Aria was in labor. One year and four months ago, I had no idea who she was and had no connection whatsoever to her, but by Christmas Eve 2008, it was heart-breaking to see her hurting as much as she did.

Obviously, I had the much easier job that morning, but that meant I had extra time to worry and fret. I paced up and down the hallways, drank cup after cup of coffee, and kept going outside to try to collect my thoughts and to listen to Sly & The Family Stone’s “Just Like A Baby” on repeat (perfect song for the situation, by the way – slow and steady enough to help you catch your breath, but with enough tension that it still feels appropriate). I didn’t know what to do or what I could do – I just knew that the biggest change ever in my life was roaring towards us at full speed and causing physical pain to someone I cared about along the way.

But then he was born, and if I’m reluctant to put the tag of “best day ever” on 12/24/08, it has no competition whatsoever for the “best afternoon ever”. The sweetness of holding that tiny infant was just beyond compare and beyond my ability to put into words.

And it still is the sweetest thing I’ve ever known, even as the term “tiny” starts to give way to “wriggly, crazy, wild, cuddly, joyful” and “infant” gives way to “big baby, almost a toddler”.

Best year ever? Absolutely.

I heard this song the other day, and I really liked the way it described a father meeting his newborn son for the first time – especially the 4th stanza. I’ll admit the room got a little misty.

The Mountain Goats – Genesis 30:3

For several days the visitors were here
We saw them turned down and we watched them disappear
Talked about the days they’d said were sure to come
Had a hard time believing

I remember seeing you my tongue struck dumb
When you first came here from wherever it was you came from
The power in your voice
Your rough touch

Open up the doors to the tent
Wonder where the good times went
I will do what you ask me to do
Because of how I feel about you

I saw his little face contract as his eyes met light
Tried to imagine anything so bright
You only see it once and then it steals into the dawn
And then it’s gone forever

For several hours we lay there last ones of our kind
Harder days coming maybe I don’t mind
Sounds kind of dumb when I say it but it’s true
I would do anything for you

Open up the promise of the day
Drive the dark things away
I will do what you ask me to do
Because of how I feel about you
You keeping care of me
Keeping watch

The lyrics of this song are ambiguous in who they are directed to, and the Biblical reference in the title certainly doesn’t clear it up. I like the interpretation of this all being sung to the new baby, but alternate interpretations are certainly possible.

I don’t know if we’ve mentioned this yet, but we have been staying this whole time with Aria’s family. Yeah, they’re that awesome. Gale and Dave are two of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and am tearing up a little bit even now thinking about it. Gale, especially, is a font of inspiration, knowledge, and experience. I had a minor freakout today…wanting Seth to be as happy and healthy as possible + not knowing how to always make that happen + lack of sleep had me pretty overwhelmed (and I’m sure it won’t be the last time). But Gale gave me encouragement and troubleshooted the situation. Truly my hero.

Gale and Santa's little helper
Big Dave and wee Seth

We’d been waiting a long time for this to happen. Betsy and I arrived in California on Dec. 3rd, and the doctor had told us then that the birth would probably happen within the next week. When it hadn’t happened by the 10th, the doctor again told us to expect it any day now. There was the false alarm on the 13th, and expectations were set for a birth “very soon”. Same with the next appointment, and the next…

By the time we checked in on Monday 12/22, everyone was very ready for the birth to happen. Aria was hooked up to the IV, which was feeding her the medicine to induce labor, and we were all hoping for something to happen that afternoon. A few DVDs and countless dumb TV shows later, the nurse came back to take her off the medicine, as they’ll only allow it to run for 12 hours at a time. Unless nature took over unexpectedly, nothing was going to happen until the next morning. We all settled in for a good night of sleep.

The next morning, on 12/23, they hooked the medicine back up, and the process began again. Only a couple hours later, though, they took her off the medicine again – there was another baby in the unit that was having some emergency issues, and as this was a small hospital, they couldn’t spare the staff to look after Aria until this baby had been airlifted to the Santa Rosa hospital (the airlift happened later that day, and we heard that evening that everything had turned out great). A few times during the day, they tried hooking her back up, and then took her back off a short while later – it was quite a tease.

The day was spent watching movies and playing Scrabble. Notice the clever positioning of Aria’s rack of tiles:

When the evening nurse came on shift, she initially made a bad impression with us. We had been raiding the “nutrition center” pretty regularly for snacks, as they were stocked with applesauce, pudding, milk, soda, jello, and even small things of ice cream. She shut our party down as soon as she came on shift, telling us that the food was only for the patient. There’s no quicker way to earn Todd’s frustration than by separating him from ice cream. We had also spread ourselves across the room, covering every countertop and cabinet with our stuff, and she cracked down on that, pushing our stuff back into a small corner of the room and telling us exactly where our cots could and couldn’t be. To be fair to her, none of her requests were out of line – clearing the counters for the doctors and saving the food for the patients is entirely reasonable – it was just so different from all of the previous people we had worked with.

She did get the medicine going again, and for that, we were grateful. She kept a pretty aggressive schedule of upping the dose every 20-30 minutes, and as we went to bed, I think everyone had a sense that tonight could be the night.

At 4am, I was awoken by Aria expressing significant discomfort. The next two hours were pretty tricky, as there were certain medical criteria that had to be met before the epidural could be administered, and the anesthesiologist lived 45 minutes away from the hospital. When he was finally called, we were all watching the clock closely, and once that 45 minute mark passed, every second ticked away like a glacier melting. The nurse at one point announced that she had just buzzed the anesthesiologist in to the hospital, and when we heard the curtain rustling a few seconds later, we were all excited, only to be disappointed to see Auntie Heather walk in the room. I don’t think she’s ever received such a negative reaction from a room full of people before.

Fortunately, the epidural did arrive a few minutes later, and the next couple of hours were relatively relaxed. Family members and well-wishers started to arrive, and before long, the room was full – Gale, Dave, Skyler, Heather, Timmy, Ethan, Todd and Betsy. Aria slept for much of the time, relaxing after a very difficult morning.

Around 11am, the doctor came by to discuss getting started on the actual pushing. We all went out to wait in the waiting room to give Aria her privacy, with Gale and Heather remaining as emotional support. The next hour was one of the longest ones in my life, wondering what was happening just down the hall. We received a text message from Heather around 12pm telling Betsy and me to come down to the room and wait outside the door – the time was imminent, and we should be nearby to see Seth arrive. When we got to the door, the nurse at the front desk starting hassling us, telling us that we couldn’t wait outside the door, and that it was a security and privacy issue for the people in the rooms next to us. We returned to the waiting room, nerves jangling, and unable to get a reply when we tried to text message Heather and Gale to let them know what had happened. (It didn’t help that the first message sent went to the wrong “Auntie Heather”, prompting some concerned replies from Seattle.) Finally, a different nurse came down to retrieve us, and she dealt with the front desk guy and allowed us to stand outside the room.

The next 10 minutes were a blur of overwhelming emotions. It was the scariest, most amazing, nerve-wracking, wonderful, intense thing I’ve ever been able to witness. It was so hard to know that someone we had come to know and love was in so much pain (and that someone we were soon to know and love was not having the best time either). She was awesome and brave, though, and I am beyond impressed and amazed with everything she did.

When the tears in my eyes cleared, I was standing by the bassinet station, looking into the beautiful blue eyes of my son, locking gazes and smiling at each other (at least, I was – his smile was more on the inside). He was calm and content already, with barely a single peep of a cry.

I ran out to the waiting room and gave Ethan a big hug. I was barely able to describe anything that had happened, and unable to talk without my voice cracking and tears welling up again. I called my parents to give them the news and let them start celebrating with us.

When I returned to the room, Betsy was holding him and nursing for the first time. He was a natural at feeding immediately, with an amazingly strong suck. I also got my chance to sit with him, bare skin to bare skin, and it was one of the most magical moments in my life:

He was so mellow and patient with everyone who came to visit that first day. He never let out a really strong, angry cry. Even over the first night, Betsy woke up in the middle of the night with the plan of waking him up to make him nurse, but he was already awake, just contentedly waiting and staring at the ceiling. In the morning, he had a dirty diaper, but he had never complained about it and was pretty mellow when we changed it.

It got to the point where both Betsy and I were scared that there might be something wrong. We kept asking every doctor and nurse the same thing: our baby is far too perfect – is there a medical condition that could be causing excessive perfection? How do we treat such a thing? He passed every medical test with flying colors, though, and was pronounced as “perfectly healthy, just one of the calmest babies I’ve ever seen”.

Finally, we got to check out at 12pm on Christmas day, and head home together. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to develop the type of relationship we have with Aria and her family, and it felt perfectly natural to walk out together and just say, “see you back at the house”. We all drove back to the house for showers, changes of clothes, more relatives and well-wishers, and Seth’s first Christmas.

Everyone is still very happy and content. Seth has finally learned how to stretch out his lungs and give a pretty good holler when we are changing his diapers, but he remains the most mellow, laid-back baby I have ever seen. We remain in a pretty steady cycle of sleep/nurse/diaper/sleep, but that’s okay for us.

I have lots of things I want to write about and lots of memories to record, so expect those soon. For now, though, here are some pictures:

A rare moment of wide-open eyes.

Asleep in the hat Aria knitted for him. On his lips you can see his birthmark, a small red area in the middle of his lower lip, Queen Amidala style. Viewed sideways, it looks like a little heart.

Being examined. He passed every exam with flying colors.

Todd, Betsy and Seth back at the house for Christmas

Aria and Seth in his Christmas hat.

More pictures in our Flickr account (scroll down to the last 17 pictures). I’ll probably be using some of these in future posts, so if you like surprises, just wait. :)

I’ll write more tomorrow (and post pictures!), but the quick update is that Seth is happy, healthy, very mellow, and amazingly handsome. We all got released from the hospital this afternoon, and everyone is back at the house for Christmas celebrations.

Merry Christmas everyone!

4am. Things are starting to get more interesting. We’re watching Cops to help distract Aria while the early pain medication starts to take effect, and they’re starting the preparations for the epidural in an hour or two. Nurse said we were probably looking at “late morning to early afternoon” for the actual birth.

We’re still at the hospital, no new news to report. Watching lots of TV and movies, reading books, and just hanging out. The Pitocin (labor-inducing medicing) was stopped overnight, and they’re starting a new batch this morning. Could still be another couple of days, though – induction of labor is a long process.

The hospital staff opened a second room for me and Betsy, and we each got to sleep in real beds. Definitely an upgrade from sleeping on the floor with a coat for a pillow, but cots are not the most comfortable thing either. Gale and Ethan slept in Aria’s room on fold-out beds.

Speaking of movies, we watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles last night. It parallelled our lives in some weird ways. The most obvious one is the snowed-in airport and the difficulties of travel in winter, which is currently affecting our counselor, who is trying to reach us from Seattle right now, and which may affect our travel back to Seattle in the coming weeks. The unexpected parallel was the end of the movie, which dealt with strangers being welcomed into each other’s families for the holidays and building relationships in the midst of weird, stressful times. And the goosebumpily parallel was when Steve Martin’s character introduced his family, and his baby boy had the same name as our soon-to-arrive baby boy. (At least, that’s what Gale and I heard – Aria and Betsy didn’t hear the name used, and the name doesn’t show up in the credits anywhere.)

I went walking around the parking lot this morning, and took some pictures:

The window on the right (pinkish curtains) is Aria’s hospital room.

Aria hooked up to IV full of labor-inducing drugs

Baby station in the hospital room, Betsy in the background

Visit from Ethan. He went off to pick up movies and hot chocolate for Aria.

Free pudding and cola!

At the hospital now. Looks like we’re moving forward with the induction, so we’ll be here at the hospital for the long-haul. Inducing labor can be a long process, so we could be here for a couple days, but it’s nice to have some progress moving forward.

I have a weak wifi signal, so I’ll do some updating of the blog and checking of email when I can – no promises, though. I’ll notify people of the big event as soon as is reasonable once it happens, so if you hear no news, it’s probably due to busyness or lack of signal – news will come when news is available.