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Friday, Oct. 04, 2002
If there is one thing I haven’t seen much of, it’s the whole process of birthing a child from the male perspective. I read many diaries and journals, seems half of the woman writing them are pregnant. The other half either wouldn’t be pregnant if it paid a handsome wage, or they are moms who are bemoaning the fact that they ever got pregnant in the first place.

I’m kidding. There are some awesome women out there.

Male perspective is creepy, sometimes. Women see newborn babies and can be expected to coo hold out arms to hold them and generally act delighted. Men tend to stand off a little, nodding sagely and trying very hard not to say something like “Is it possible that the milkman was running late 9 months ago?” or something equally smooth.

I have 3 children, and am constantly reminded that the day of their respective births set the tone for their entire lives. Sure, they’ve grown up. But, for the life of me, their personality is exactly the same as the day they arrived in this world.

Beth, for example, was born crying. Making a helluva racket. We thought it was normal at the time but 18 years later, she’s still the noisiest of the three. Maggie arrived without a sound, just a curious look and a shy smile. I swear, she was smiling at delivery. I ought to know, I was there, but no one else saw it and I gave up years ago trying to convince everyone of what I saw. To this day, though, Maggie still smiles at odd times, and she’s still the quiet one.

Ben arrived confused, in a confused way, and sure enough he’s still wandering around with a dazed expression most of the time. Or maybe he’s just emulating me. I just thought of that. Hmmmm. . .

The birthing of children has one unsung hero - the driver of the vehicle that carries mom to the hospital. I had already made up my mind before the birth of Child #1 that I was going to chauffeur Ally, to go into the room with her, to witness and participate with the miracle of birth. We had taken Lamaze classes together (if you knew me personally you would be astonished at this, I am the very last person on earth you would expect to find in a Lamaze class) and were primed with vast amounts of knowledge in the fine art of delivering babies. We were a little pompous about the whole thing, I suppose. Had it all figured out, we did.

I started to talk about driving cars. Ally called me at the end of a workday in her ninth month of pregnancy. “No need to rush, but I think we’ll need to go into the hospital when you get here.” So I drove home and picked her up, she had calmly packed and was spending her waiting time by reading a nice soothing novel. I was calm too, not having quite raised the art of calmness to the state of near catharsis that I have now, but there wasn’t any bellowing or rushing about. We just got in the car and left.

It was so surreally calm that I felt the need for some nourishment. Swung into the drive-thru at Burger King.

Ally: “You’re eating? I thought we were going to the hospital?”
OF: “Yeah, we will. Just a quick burger or two, though.”
Ally: “Um . . .yeah. Okay.”
OF: “Want something? Some fries or something?”
Ally: “I’m going to have a baby in a couple of hours and you want me to eat fries?”
OF: “Oh yeah. Sorry.”
Ally: “Can we hurry this up just a wee bit, please?”

I sure was glad I stopped though. Turned out she didn’t have the baby for 6 hours. It might have been an ugly scene if I’d had to run down to the hospital cafeteria at the 5 hour 50 minute point.

She gave me gentle hell about the Burger King incident for the next two years. Anyone subject to the tale of the whole birth experience heard about it somewhere along the way. I didn’t see where it did any harm, but you’d never know it from the looks her mother gave me when she heard about it.

The male perspectives of the hospital events are predictable. I spent most of the time looking for amusement where I could find it. They had Ally hooked up to this heart monitor gizmo that registered beats per minute in a red LED readout. She’d have a contraction and the rate would go up, she’d relax and the rate would slow. It was a little like a NASCAR thing, I started cheering for ever higher scores as the contractions started becoming more frequent. “Come on baby, let’s shoot for a mid-seventies at least! That’s it, by God I think you’re gonna break your own record with this one!” The readout meter was small and portable and I was running around, carrying it like a transistor radio at a football game.

Eventually the nurse came in and took it away from me.

Ally found that by having me bend over the bed and hooking her arms around my neck and pulling herself off the bed she could alleviate the contraction pains. Lamaze skills went right out the window once she figured this out. All the hours spent practicing the various breathing exercises? The only one who benefited from that was me. Because let me tell you, I was blowing plenty hard after a half dozen rounds of trying to pick my wife up off the bed using my neck as a fulcrum.

Beth arrived just after midnight. Which, now that I think about it, is just about the time she shoots for on any given Friday night these days. Curious.

Maggie was born 18 months later. Having weathered one birth, and assuming that one birth was pretty much like any other, I think we were both a little too casual about it. Assumed that a six hour labor and delivery were the norm. Figured we had plenty of time to pack, drive to and arrive at the hospital.

In the 18 months preceding, we had also managed to acquire a house that was 40 miles from the hospital, as opposed to the 15-minute around the corner deal we’d had for Child #1.

Ally woke me up at 3 am. She was in trouble. “My water broke! Ohmigod there’s another contraction!” She flinched and bit her lip and strained for a minute, then relaxed.

I sat up in bed and mumbled “Yeah? How long ago was the last one?” She didn’t answer because she was in the middle of having another contraction. “Oh. That long, eh?”

It was mid-February and the roads were icy. It was also pitch black and freezing outside as I bundled Beth into a car seat, Ally into a real seat, and gunned the Bronco down the road. If you ever want to not find a cop on the highway, try going 90 miles per hour at 3:30 am on a freezing February morning. With a pregnant wife screeching at you to go even faster.

We’d alerted the babysitter, a good woman who was not at all unfamiliar with expectant parents showing up at her doorstep in the middle of the night. I ran to the door, shoved Beth into her arms and hauled ass back to the car. Ally was using the handle above her door to good advantage, gripping it and attempting to rip it off the headliner as the contractions started to really kick in. “Are you going to make it, Ally? Maybe we should stop here and call an ambulance?”

She glared at me and through clenched teeth, gave me the mission plan. “Drive this thing. Get going.”

We entered the home stretch to the hospital, running a series of red lights in the pre-dawn darkness (another way to not find a cop, I would have cheerfully pulled over and let Ally give him a piece of her mind if they had turned on the flashing lights at me). A couple of blocks before we got there, the mutely lighted Burger King beckoned.

“Don’t you even freaking think about it, buster!”

We slid into the parking lot and up to the emergency room door. At 4 am, I hustled Ally into a wheelchair and me into Admissions, where a bored nurse took down all the particulars. At 4:10, I banged into Ally’s room, she was alone and looking for all the world like she was going to pop a baby any second. “Where the hell is the nurse?”, I asked. “Is this going to be one of those low rate affairs where I get to do all the work? If that doctor thinks he’s gonna get full fee on this one. . . .”

With about one minute to spare, a woman appeared (she might have been a nurse, for all I know she might have been the cleaning lady) and Maggie slid into the world. Smiling, like I said. It was 4:15 am. “Cutting it a little close there, aren’t you sweetie?” was the only substantive thing the woman said the whole time she was there.

Funny thing. The first birth, they had me all dressed up in full hospital regalia, the cap and gown and booty things. We were in a regular operating theatre, there was a full staff of people, all the monitors and equipment and a little heat lamp thing for Beth to lay under after the birth. Very professional, very brightly lit and sterile.

With Maggie, it was me and Ally and the unknown woman and a bed. I remember how dark it seemed to be in the room, like there was only a night-light turned on over the headboard of the bed. It was very simple, very quiet, not a peep out of Maggie or me and Ally only made a series of low moans, and then was quiet too.

I don’t think she even had time to do her reverse Heimlich maneuver on me.

Maggie entered life with little fuss, and it has been little fuss ever since.

If Maggie’s birth was the height of low maintenance, the simple quiet dinner-for-two affair, Ben’s was the bowling party on a Saturday afternoon. We over corrected. Ally decided that she was most definitely not going to be rushed, this time. She decided that “I’m going to check-in tomorrow morning, and I’m going to have this baby if it takes me a week to do it.”

She went so far as to invite her best girlfriend Susan along, to stay in the birthing room and make a day of it. There was a great bustle of packing and preparation. Ally was prepared for a leisurely birthing, this time. We arrived at 6 am and by 12, she hadn’t even had a contraction worth talking about. Nothing seemed to be happening, so I decided to go into work for a while.

OF: “I’m gonna go to work, this could take days.”
Ally: “What? And leave me here?”
OF: “Well shoot, Susan will be here.”
Ally: “What if I need to do my maneuver thingy, I’ll need your back!”
OF: “Just give me a call, I’ll be right there.”

The two of them clucked over that, of course. From the male perspective, it made perfect sense. If you’re going to schedule a birth, let’s cut to the chase and get on with the birthing, this waiting nonsense just wasn’t cutting it.

So I went in and worked for an hour but got a phone call from Susan. “She’s dilating fast, better hustle back here!” I drove back, passing the Burger King with a sigh, walked into the room and sure enough, Ally was in the middle of an impressive contraction. She motioned me over and again, I got to feel the arms around the neck as she endeavored to crack my spine by lifting her entire weight off the bed. “It’s the only thing that takes the pressure off!”, she said after relaxing back into the bed and watching me collapse heavily into a chair.

A long, long time later Ben finally arrived. He had a bit of trouble with the umbilical cord, he got delayed in traffic so to say, and after all the preparation and waiting, the actual birth seemed to be a little anti-climactic.

At fifteen, Ben is perpetually late, forever misplacing things and getting in his own way with the gangly awkwardness of the male adolescent. So it goes.

I visited Ally that evening in the hospital, after having taken care of the other children and seen to a series of errands. She smiled at me, tired, holding our latest child in her arms as she lay in the hospital bed. We’d already made the decision that this would be our last child. With a few snips, our childbearing days were over and the whole drama of raising them could continue.

She looked content laying there, the nurse had brought her a small dinner and she had eaten well. “Gee honey, I know you’ve been running around all afternoon, did you want something to eat? Maybe the nurse has an extra dinner tray or something. Want me to call her?”

No, I specifically did not want any hospital food.

Matter of fact, I had a date with a Whopper not fifteen minutes later. I celebrated. Birth of a son? Throw in some onion rings, please.

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