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.