The Drama

I had been hearing for years now what a singular and life-altering moment the arrival of a firstborn is. Everyone framed it to me as an epiphany. A recognizable moment when the skies opened up and a new father was struck with the revelation of his deep love and commitment to the new life that was before him. It was the kind of story that I was skeptical of because it so sounds heavily melodramatic, but it was a story I heard repeated 100% of the time from new fathers. Some would be more restrained about their phrasing of the event, but if I presented it to them in this manner, none of them shook their head that “No, it wasn’t like that.”

It wasn’t really like that for me.

The moment Joshua was born had a bit of its thunder stolen in our case. When he arrived there was still the feeling of awe and wonder that here was a new life, a whole PERSON and that Janelle and I had created it and that here Janelle was fulfilling a positively ancient rite. There was also the surprise of exactly what little Joshua was, as we had kept his gender a secret from ourselves the entire time. Finding out Joshua’s sex, though, was immediately overshadowed by wanting to know how he looked, how he sounded and even though he was brand new to this world, did he already know who his parents were and did he love us already?

The big moment for me, the moment when I knew the gravity of emotion behind my relationship with Joshua came about eight hours before his arrival.

At around 9am on May 31, Janelle and I were discussing, as much as you can have a discussion with someone on the verge of total exhaustion, whether or not to abandon a natural childbirth and get Janelle an epidural. It was coming down to a question of stamina, if we decided to wait, could she handle waiting longer? And then could she still muster the strength to push him out if we did? The longer we waited, the more the omnipresent C-Section lingered. While we were flexible on anesthetic, we were adamant about avoiding surgery. So we made the call. We’d like the epidural.

A nurse came back in a few moments later and we were in the middle of telling her the news when the constant lub-dub sound from the external fetal monitoring device watching Joshua’s heartbeat seemed to just stop working. The nurse immediately moved her stool up to Janelle’s side and took on the look of someone who has just gone into efficiency mode and I could feel touches of panic on the edge of my mind. When the nurse turned to me, pointed behind me and asked me to get something that my brain parsed as “oxygen mask” I knew there was trouble. When I turned to find that mask and found myself staring into a cabinet of fairly benign-looking medical apparatus and had absolutely no idea what she had asked for, that’s when the panic hit in earnest.

On cue, several more nurses and the on-call emergency OB burst into the room and immediately began going to work on Janelle. They moved her flat to her back and dropped her bed down flat from its sitting-up position. They swirled around me and recovered the oxygen mask from the cabinet that I had managed to pull off of its connection to the oxygen feed in my misunderstanding and fluster. Janelle was given oxygen and status updates were called out from the nurses to the OB.

I could tell I was in the way and so I stood back, ran both hands through my hair in the most classic expression of helplessness I’ve ever made as an adult and I was broken.

My baby had gone into distress. He was in the kind of danger that warranted a medical emergency. I could not help him. And just on the eve of getting to meet him, I felt for the first time ever that he might be lost to me forever.

It’s still hard to think about.

It took everything I had left in me to not collapse on the floor, sobbing. There was a part of my mind that realized that for whatever reason, Janelle didn’t yet look like she understood the gravity of what was going on around her, and seeing me lose my grip would certainly bring it home for her. So I stood up and stood back and tried not to cry too hard in front of a room of medical professionals.

In the words of Oliver Grigsby, “Spoiler alert.” Joshua is fine, as you well know.

Even before arriving into the world, Joshua was ahead of schedule on things. His bag of waters broke before labor had even started and I’m pretty sure the reason Janelle was so overwhelmed by the urge to push her entire labor was that the kid just plain wanted out. When Janelle stalled out dilating at 8cm, Joshua’s position in her pelvis was at 0. Positioning for babies about to be born is measured by the placement of their head in relation to the pelvic bones of the mother. The range is from -2 (far back in) to +2 (on your way out). What Joshua had done at that 9am timeslot was drop himself down from 0 to +2 in one movement. Not common.

What is more common, however, unbeknownst to me, is that when baby’s drop down in the pelvis like that, it’s not unusual for their heart-rate to drop in response to the stress and compression they are experiencing. In Joshua’s case he fell from a healthy and happy 150 beats per minute down to something around 30. The concern at that point is only how temporary that drop will be. Almost always it’s a short drop and for Joshua it was no different. In less than a minute (I’m assuming, that moment is basically eternal in my recollection), he was back up to the 140-150 beats per minute range.

Hopefully I’ll save someone else a moment of crushing drama, but I have the impression that foreknowledge will not save you in a scenario like this.

This moment, when I thought I could lose my baby, was my big epiphany. I had not met him yet and I could feel with certainty that losing him would destroy me and would wreak heavy damage to Janelle and I. It would be the kind of event most people don’t come back from. I knew then how much I cared for him and how much I would work to protect him and how important he would be in my life from that point forward. That moment was so revelatory for me that when he actually arrived, it felt more like an introduction.

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