“I think something is happening,” my wife says.
She says this to wake me. At 1:30 in the morning.
The lights go on. Fan, off.
I don’t know what’s happening. Something. That’s what she said. Something is happening. Could be anything, I think. Leaky roof. UFO on our front lawn. Goblin invasion. Everything and anything.
“I think my water broke,” she says.
She asserts that she has not peed herself. Which is always good news in any situation. I do this spot-check periodically in my day-to-day. “Did I pee myself? Mmm. Nope. Score!”
We call the doctor. They say to keep an eye on it. We keep an eye on it. The water, it keeps on coming.
Along with it: the mucus plug. Which has another name: “the bloody show.”
We have no idea how apropos that will be.
* * *
The wife, she puts on makeup before we go. I pack some bags, get stuff together: camera, chargers, reading material. Just in case, we think. We know this is not real. This is not really the something that’s happening. It’s two weeks early. And besides, conventional wisdom says: new moms have kids late. Everybody’s told us that. She just saw the Obi-Gyn Kenobi the day before and, in his words, “There’s no way this baby is coming early.” Except he must have — oh, just for a goof — put a small thermal detonator against her internal membranes, a detonator that went pop around midnight, because why else would her water have broken?
Thermal detonator, shmermal shmetonator. Baby’s not coming today.
We go to the hospital at 5:00 AM knowing full well that they’re going to send us home.
* * *
They do not send us home.
In fact, they inform us quite frankly: we’re having this baby sometime in the next 24 hours.
We’re in a little room. So small that the nurse is entering our information into a laptop, but her chair is a medical waste bin. Doctors and residents come in and out. The one doctor says, she’s not that dilated. And she’s not even having contractions. They say, “we’re going to get you started on pitocin.” We say, hold up. We’ve heard about that. If we need it, we want it, but we’re not sure we need it yet. We don’t want to get on the drug train, not so fast. The wife, well, shit, she’s gone nine months without a sip of wine or a single goddamn Tylenol. She’s not ready to start guzzling drugs at the finish line.
They say we shouldn’t wait. “Infection,” they say. We say, “Yeah, but we have 24 hours to deliver before that’s a huge concern.” We want to wait. And we’d like to get her up, walk around, use a birthing ball. “No,” they say. “The doctor doesn’t want you doing that.”
Then they leave us. Emergency C-Section down the hall. The room is quiet but for the sound of our child’s heartbeat out of the monitor, rising and falling, and with every rise (and with every fall), I worry: is that too fast? Too slow? Where is everybody? Am I ready to be a father? Did I pee myself?
* * *
The contractions hit. They are small and lazy, like warm bay waters lapping up on a pebbled shore.
* * *
By the time we are again attended to, it’s a shift change. Like clouds parting and a priapic ray of sun thrusting through. The new doctor says we can get up, move around, see if we can’t move this baby-bullet into the cylinder naturally. No problem waiting on the pitocin.
We do laps. Wife bounces on the birthing ball (which is not, contrary to its name, a robotic sphere that vacuums the baby out of your hoo-ha, like you might find in Star Wars). She does squat thrusts and lunges.
Doc comes in. “Doctor Black.” Sounds menacing, like some CIA operative, but she’s bubbly, warm, young, petite. She does another cervical check, which means she basically goes elbow-deep and flicks my wife’s tonsils with her thumb. Still only 1cm dialated. Contractions are still tame, like mild salsa.
Wife is weathering them nicely.
“Want the Pit?” she asks. A nickname for pitocin. Not a nice nickname.
“Two more hours?” we ask.
Two more hours.
* * *
Two more hours.
Another “oops, I lost my wristwatch in your lung cavity” cervical check.
A big ol’ change of zip, nada, zilch, pbbbt, *poop noise.*
Still 1 cm dilated.
It’s time to enter the Pit.
* * *
Pitocin. Synthetic hormone. Takes the volume knob on contractions, cranks the knob, then breaks the knob off and stabs the mother-to-be in the eyes with it.
It’s still quiet for a little while. Not much to do. We watch episodes of The Dog Whisperer. I tweet. Some people chastise me for tweeting, as if I should be doing something else. Early labor is dull as watching the IV drip. I rub feet, I get ice chips, but it’s not like every minute is a circus. Not yet.
But then the real contractions hit. The waves just got bigger. These are Oahu pipes. Surfer’s paradise.
Crashing hard against the rocks.
* * *
The wife says, “No epidurals.”
She tells everybody this. I say okay. I say it’s also okay if she wants to change her mind on that, but for now, it’s understood that my job is to help her cleave to her vision. Her birth plan.
With each contraction, she goes to her Zen place. Breathes in, breathes out. Nose, mouth, nose, mouth.
She bobs with the tides.
* * *
It’s only a few hours later that the Doc comes in, uses the wife’s cervix as a wristwatch, and informs us (to her surprise): it’s working. The wife is now at 5cm. And something is “effaced.” Dignity? Peace and quiet? Certainty? I dunno. Whatever it is, it’s gone. Or going away fast.
What’s not going away are these contractions. Now the waves are tall. Pier-breakers. Dock-collapsers. Each hitting like a fist. With each, the wife grabs the rails of the bed, holds on like she’s on a ride.
But not a happy ride. This, like a log flume through fire and bees.
I rub the small of her back with a blue plastic dolphin back massager. Not a sexual device — it’s actually shaped like a dolphin. An unyielding dolphin whose fins turn muscle to dough.
The Dog Whisperer episodes continue as the pain amps up.
* * *
Every time the nurse comes in, when nobody’s looking, she gives a little switch by the pitocin IV a flick. She’s upping the dose. This stuff is like the anti-morphine. It doesn’t steal your pain. It gives it as a gift.
* * *
It’s a tag team effort, now. Me on the small of her back. Her mother rubs her upper back or shoulders. Her aunt monitors the fan. Sometimes I pocket the dolphin, hop over and give her some orange snow-cone.
That’s a mystery to me. No food or drink. Except she can have ice chips or a flavored snow-cone. When a snow-cone melts, it becomes a drink. Because ice is — as it turns out — just liquid, frozen.
And yet, no foods, no liquids.
That Gatorade I’m drinking? She can’t have it. But she can have a cup of melted orange flavor water.
“You cannot have this thimble of water, but you can have this thimble-shaped ice cube.”
Damn you and your mad logic, horse-spittle. Damn you.
* * *
The contractions are punching her in the back now. We’re afraid it’s “back labor,” where the baby is head down but facing the the more difficult way. (Curiously, it’s not.)
Her whole body twists with each tsunami crash. She’s like a sailor on that boat in that movie, except here there’s no George Clooney. He was sort of a dick in that movie anyway.
The whole time, though, she’s polite. She doesn’t yell out. No cursing. She’s nice to me the whole time even though I can do little more except stand over her juggling Snow-Cone and dolphin massages. It gets so she can barely speak: her words are breathless rasps, and even the effort it takes to make them is hard-fought. She sleeps between contractions. And the contractions are coming hard and fast now. Every minute, a new shelf of snow tumbling upon her.
“Bowel-twisting.” That’s how she refers to them. Like a kinked up yard of gutty-works that undoes itself after a minute, maybe a minute-and-a-half. But the twisting comes faster and faster.
They check her again, just an hour and a half later. She’s now 7cm.
* * *
She maybe wants the epidural. She doesn’t know. It’s hard to tell. She’s so tired. And it hurts. It hurts like a sonofabitch. Mean invisible hands twisting her guts and stealing her strength. Incubus hands.
It’s not that she thinks the epidural is the demon’s seed or anything. It’s not going to turn a good child bad. But it’s also not ideal. The baby might come out a little groggy. Maybe he won’t want to nurse. Could be that it’ll give him horns, or a tail. We know that the epidural can be nice and ease labor. Of course, pitocin is supposed to ramp up labor. You have an epidural, they might need to kick more pitocin. Which could lead to a longer labor overall. Or fetal distress. That train ends in a part of town called C-Section. (That morning, C-Sections all around us. A troubling warning sign.)
I tell her, give it 15 minutes. If you want a epidural then, you got it. If you don’t, then we go another 15 minutes. And on and on, in equal iterations. Agreed? She’s good with that.
We go 15 minutes. She says, “No epidural.” Not yet.
We don’t make it the next 15 minutes because next thing you know, she’s telling everybody she has this urge to push like she’s pooping, and that urge persists beyond the contractions.
They check. She’s 10cm dilated.
Shit just got real.
* * *
Ambrosia salad with a toupee on top of it. That’s the first glimpse I see of our son. That’s what he looks like coming out. An unformed deflated head that looks like gelatin. Gelatin covered in hair.
Birth is both a miracle and a misery. Like Buddha said, all life is suffering. He meant it in a good way. Or like in the Princess Bride: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
My wife is surrounded by a cheer squad of lunatics. Doctors in doctor garb, nurses, me, all cheering her on to push push push, bear down, push past it, keep going, breathe in, push, stop, relax, do it again. Everything is red faces and sweat and bright lights and lots of pain and yet despite that there’s this airy, eerie feeling of euphoria, this blissed-out top-of-the-rollercoaster sense of promise and possibility that hints at a secret truth, a truth that says that yes, indeed, all life is suffering, and that all the best things in that life require effort and pain and sometimes even misery to succeed.
Sometimes, it’s all about pushing past the ring of fire.
* * *
Nobody ever turned the TV off. It’s a special on Nat Geo about squid. Humboldt Squid.
I hear the phrase, “A thousand biting squid.”
And I think, maybe it’s time to turn the TV off.
* * *
Over the last nine months I’ve seen scads of videos of mothers birthing babies, and in every video is one moment I dread: the baby emerges, he’s purple, he’s blue, he flops over like a rubbery puppet whose strings just got snipped, and then they have to jostle him — only a second, maybe two — to get him to resurrect, a rebirth trapped in a birth. I’m not looking forward to this.
But a strange thing happens. His head pops out and he’s already looking around, his mouth moving. They corkscrew his body out on the next contraction and he’s red as a beet and dancing around and crying. No prompting. They give him an Apgar score of 10. They say they haven’t seen a score that high in a long while.
Then he’s with Mom. His crying quiets as he hears her voice.
* * *
I cut the cord. They don’t give me those kindergarten safety scissors I keep hearing about. These are small and sharp. Even so, it’s like cutting through calamari.
(“A thousand biting squid”)
* * *
They take him. Just for a few minutes. For the cord clamp, the measuring, the weighing, the warming.
I hover over him as they do all kinds of shit in the robotic embrace of a Robbie-the-Robot looking thing called a Panda Warmer. A tiny part of me cries out — No, that’s the wrong device! He’s not a panda! This insane robot is going to try to feed him bamboo! — but the fear is gone as they warm him up and prick his heel and squirt goop in his eyes and suck out some other goop from his face.
Then he’s back with Mom.
The wife looks to me and says, “No epidural.” She holds up her hand to high-five.
“Go Team Wendig,” I say.
And then, just like that — *snap* — we’re a family.
* * *
Benjamin Charles Wendig — aka “B-Dub,” or “The Little Dude” — is downstairs with Mom and Grandmom as I type this. Chilling out after the first feeding of the night. He’s cluster feeding, now, which means he likes to eat a lot in very short order. He’s like a shark the way he shakes his head and approaches the nipple. (“Boppy goes onto the bed. Wife goes into the Boppy. Baby’s on the bed. Our baby. Fairwell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies…” “We’re gonna need a bigger boob.”)
The kid’s got witch nails, so we have to cover his hands because he seems hell-bent to tear his own face off.
He’s got hair that’s equal parts black, brown, and blonde.
His skin is as soft as the toys you give babies.
Today he looks like a baby. Moreso than yesterday. Definitely moreso than the day before, when he looked like a angry little goblin man, a changeling who stole our original child.
We’re home now. He’s warm. And weird. He cries. He’s cute. Sometimes he makes these faces that looks like he’s on the edge of a smile. Other times he looks like Popeye. Or, perhaps, “Poop-Eye.”
He didn’t lose much of his birthweight, so he’s a good size — 7 lbs, 14 oz. Kid’s a rock star. And the brightest star in our constellation. And a hungry little sonofabitch.
He kinda looks like me.
Like I said, miracle and misery.