Friday, March 29, 2013

For New Fathers: Bathroom Duty

All the fathers I talked to glazed right over the real duties of a brand-new Dad.  I won’t do that to you.  Here’s duty #1.

Duty #1:         Bathroom duty.  

It probably shouldn’t have, but bathroom duty took me by surprise.  I didn’t expect to have to take my adult wife to the restroom every time she needed to go.  I was primed to have a regular bathroom task in about two years, when Jonah reaches the age of responsibility.  I didn’t expect to be pressed into duty this early. Before you judge me, place yourself in my shoes.  I have never been around a woman who has had to go to the restroom, post-delivery.  Never. 

Since we spent a solid 24-hours in the hospital—she, having a baby and me, sitting around—Sunday was in a good amount of pain, and I was in good enough shape to continue sitting around.  The first night Sunday let me sleep, so she called a nurse to help her go.  After that, I was on duty. 

Here’s how it went the first time.  I was resting, or holding Jonah, or watching television or talking to someone in the room, or any of the four activities you can enjoy in a hospital room.  (Resting, holding a baby, watching television, or talking.  Some argue that a rousing game of bocce ball is the fifth activity that can also be enjoyed in a hospital room, but bocce courts have been banned in U.S. hospitals since the widespread bocce scandals of the late 1980’s).  Sunday saw me doing nothing, so she asked, “Matt, can you help me to the restroom?”  The way she asked, though, showed that she had been through a 24-hour delivery process, ended by a C-section. 

I felt very sorry for her.  She, in turn, welcomed my pity.  Quickly stopping whichever activity I was enjoying in our hospital room, I went to her bedside and physically moved her legs to the edge of the bed while helping her slide her body so that her feet touched the floor.  She wrapped her arms around my neck as she stood up.  Here’s where it was great.  I got to support her body a little and we got a quick snuggle.  At this point, we had gone without “snuggle time” for about a day-and-a-half.  When she was ready, she shifted so that we were standing beside each other and so that we could begin slowly, very slowly, walking to the restroom. 

When we actually got into the restroom, with Sunday “in position,” I did something that I never thought I’d have to do.  Never.  In that small restroom, with the toilet, trash can, and shower crammed into the space of a tiny janitor’s closet, in that small restroom, I slowly kneeled down in front of Sunday and pulled her undershorts down around her ankles.  Most people would call a woman’s “undershorts” panties or even underwear, but those words don’t describe them.  They’re undershorts and they look like they’re made of gauze. 

So, as Sunday completed her restroom task, I was busy doing another something I thought Id never do:  I cleaned up the mess.  I didn’t know this, but women who have just given birth tend to make a mess. I didn’t know about the mess. Nobody told me about the mess.  I claim ignorance, so that’s why this is important to say:  new dads have bathroom duty, even if it extends into the hallway or bed.

I’m trying to be discreet here, but let me tell you that growing up in an all-male household didn’t help.  I got a really quick education.  A Master’s degree in mess.

Although I wasn’t comfortable, I was expected.  Expected to help, expected to console, expected to clean up.  I was even expected to understand.  I could do the first three.  I was pretty weak on the understanding part, though.  Sunday didn’t care.  She just wanted help using the bathroom without having to hear complaints or sighs of frustration.

In my effort to offer something I thought she needed, I attempted to comfort using my favorite method:  humor.  After helping her get up from the toilet, I hugged her gently and whispered into her ear, “You wanna fool around?”  She didn’t laugh. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Changes from My Dad’s Generation to Now

“Husbands, love your wives just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”  Ephesians 5:25

When I talk to my parents about how they dealt with the delivery of my brothers and me, I get very vague descriptions of what happened.   In my family, “vague descriptions” don’t happen.  We have great stories describing trips to a yard sale, so I know something is up with the whole child-birthing experiences of my parents. 

In a nutshell, here is what I found out.

Fact #1:        My parents had three children.  This fact is verifiable because, well, I remember having two brothers.  We would usually spend time together, playing catch in the backyard and wrestling each other for the extra chicken leg at dinner.  I don’t remember much from childhood, just a bunch of playing and sleeping and sometimes fighting family members for leftovers.

Fact #2:        My mother had all three of her children in a hospital.  No cornfields or living rooms for my mother, no.  She was there, in the hospital, ready to have children.

Fact #3:        My father didn’t show up at every birthing experience.  I don’t blame him, though.  The seventies—when we were all born—were a time of transition for childbirth.  Fathers weren’t automatically welcome in the delivery room, but toward the end of the decade, daddies seemed to be invited in more often.  Either way, my Dad was in the room for some of my delivery. Then, my mother kicked him out of the room because he was annoying her. 

              Fact #4:        Nurses took care of many things in the hospital during the recovery process back then.   Mom or Dad didn’t have to do much, except for recover from the delivery.  (In Dad’s case, he didn’t even have to do that!)

Considering past years, I really could have been a Dad from back then.  Having almost no responsibility for our child, while also enjoying Jonah’s life, would have been a nice, relaxing way to begin parenthood. 

I wish someone were there to offer guidance. Someone who has had success in all this.  No such luck. 

First, doctors and nurses came in and out of our room like it was a shortcut between the ER and the cafeteria.  We had everybody from the cleaning lady to the candy stripers coming in there, taking care of Sunday.  I just wish they didn’t have to do any “caring” at 3am, though. 

Also, our hospital required us to decide whether we wanted Jonah in the room or not.  In the old days, the baby was brought in, but not too often.  My parents didn’t have too much control over whether “the old poop factory” was going to keep quarters with his parents.  They happily looked through the glass of the nursery, wanting to touch the baby.  They were happy because they couldn’t smell through the glass. 

For us, the decision-making effort caused undue stress.  After all, who wants to say, “We don’t want our day-old child in the room with us.  He’s really getting annoying.”  On top of that, we really didn’t know what we were doing.  Really.  It wore us out, trying to act like we had confidence in the steps we were making as parents. 

Unlike my father, I had my duties as new Dad, both while we were in the hospital and later when we left.  None of them—and I mean none of them—were expected.  NONE!  I had no one tell me about any of these duties.  I am bitter about that, too.  I heard horror stories, but I really didn’t get the lowdown on what my duties may have been.  The fathers I knew relayed their stories in the “dating experience told in the locker room” genre of storytelling, which requires much laughter, much detail, and not much accuracy. I don’t mind doing tough, exhausting or gross stuff, but I like to be forewarned. 

The next few posts will provide expected duties for all fathers in the 21st century.  Tell your friends....

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jonah Screams

February 26, 2004—8:50pm:                      I walked into surgery and Sunday was strapped to a table that was shaped like a cross, and her arms were perpendicular to her body.  A curtain divided her head from the rest of her body.  About seven or eight nurses were in the room in addition to our O/B and the anesthesiologist.   They pointed to a metal chair near Sunday’s head.  I was supposed to sit on it during the surgery, but I leaned forward and watched as the doctor cut her open.  I couldn’t help thinking during this time that, if something bad was going to happen, I wasn’t going to sit behind a curtain and just hear it all.   I could see everything directly if the doctor stood at a certain place while he was doing the surgery.  When the doctor stepped in the way, the shield that the nurse across from the doctor wore served as a good “mirror”, showing me what happened.  I saw everything, and I am glad.   In fifty years, I’ll still be able to tell this story in great detail. 

February 26, 2004—9:02pm:                      When the doctor pulled Jonah out, there were two concerns:  (1) since he pooped in utero, the doctors were afraid that he would aspirate it; (2) I was afraid that the time spent in delivery in the wrong position would somehow hurt him or her or both.  Thankfully, none of that happened.  As he was delivered, the anesthesiologist told me to stand up so that I could see the first seconds of his life outside of Sunday.  It was the most terrifying moment of my life.  I was surrounded by the anesthesiologist on my left, the doctor right in front of me and nurses seemingly honeycombed throughout the room.  As I stood up, I got another angle on the surgery I had been watching for the past two or three minutes.  (It seemed like I’d spent the night in this room, but it hadn’t been over five minutes since the nurse came in the room down the hall with the surgery outfit.  Time had elongated, making every second seem like a day). I stood up and the doctor had Sunday’s guts up on her belly—I later learned it was her uterus—and they pulled Jonah out, covered with all manner of fluid and filth.  He was green, mostly, punctuated with pink and black and grey.  He looked like a rotten watermelon. 

February 26, 2004—9:05pm:                      Jonah was taken to a table across the room from where Sunday lay unconscious, but they wouldn’t let me get near to either table.  I stood midway between them—both of them unable to make a noise—and my life stopped. 

I had never been forced to depend on two people more than I had at that moment.  

Sunday was one person, the human being who knows me better than any on the planet.  She was there, deeply cut open, knocked out and unable to move.  She looked bad, really bad. 

Then, there was Jonah.  Although he came from both Sunday and me, he was at the other end of the relationship continuum from Sunday.  We’d spent the least amount of time together.  Heck, the doctor and some of the nurses had spent more time with me than Jonah had.  I know nothing about him.  Unlike Sunday, he didn’t know me at all.  Yet I felt like I had spent my entire life up to that point for that moment, between the two tables. 

I was there, in the middle of them, praying with all the energy I could produce in that room, that both of them would be alright. 

The doctor to the left of me was scrubbing Sunday’s insides clean.  He seemed calm, which calmed me a little.   The seven or eight nurses all surrounded Jonah on the table and it sounded like a pit stop at a NASCAR race.  I swore I heard air guns being used to try to change tires over there. Then, the greatest thing I had ever heard in my entire life. 

Jonah screamed. 

My legs almost buckled I was so relieved, because after he started crying, I knew we were doing well.  If I concentrated, I could still hear his first noise, his proclamation that he was alive.  It was one of the most beautiful sounds I could imagine.  Although I know that I’ll get tired of him crying, I haven’t yet.  It just reminds me of how low I was and how high I went, just because of his screaming. 

February 26, 2004—9:10-11:00pm:                        I carried him to the nursery, where more wiping and buffing and suctioning and cleaning continued…and that was just the work they do on me!  Sunday’s family stayed in the hospital waiting room the entire night and day to see this moment and the hospital staff told them that they had to wait four more hours.  I thought there was going to be some knuckin’.  Regretfully, the in-laws left to go to work the next day, so they waved through the glass of the nursery and said goodbye to me, but not to Sunday.  She was still sobering up from the surgery. 

February 26, 2004—9:10pm:          As I took Jonah out of the operating room, Sunday briefly woke up from her drug-induced haze.  She looked at me first, but then she recognized what I was holding, smiled, and she quietly cried herself back to sleep.

Friday, March 8, 2013

One Slow Delivery, Part II

February 26, 2004—9:30am:                       Sunday was looking deeply in my eyes, wishing I would have never touched her.  Ever.   I tried to hold her hand and comfort her, but she punctuated her feelings about my touch by gently but firmly attempting to break the small bones in my hand.   I could no longer stand the pain, so I called the anesthesiologist to get an epidural.   While she got the shot, I was required to leave the room—which I did—so I went to the waiting room where my brother-in-law, sister-in-law, nephew #1, nephew #2, father-in-law #1, mother-in-law #1, and mother-in-law #2 wait for word.  (Yes, you read that right.  All those people waiting in a very small room with the bad network television).  Fun times. 

February 26, 2004—9:32am:                       Sunday loves me again, but I was still a little shy about holding her hand.  The epidural was particularly effective, almost shutting off Sunday’s vascular system.   Apparently, the epidural is not supposed to be administered to someone lying flat in bed.  Thus, the numbing power of the drug traveled north of her chest, which caused the difficulty in breathing.   Adjustments were made and she breathed freely again. 

February 26, 2004—10:00am through 2:00pm:   I traveled back and forth between the waiting room and the delivery room shuttling Sunday’s family members, making sure that the order of the visits coincide with the expectations of the hierarchy of the power structure in the family….ok, I just made sure that certain people did not have to attempt small talk in the hall on the way to the delivery room.   The entire group—now friends and family—seemed to be getting along swimmingly.  To be honest, I didn’t know how they are holding up so well.  It was my child and I had moments where I just wanted to go home and shut the door and never come out.  Nevertheless, the conversations between Sunday and her visitors went something like this:  “How’s it going, babe?”  She returned the question with a look of, “Are you on crack?  I have a human being shooting out of me!”  Or, “How’re you feeling, Sunday?”  She returned this question with a look of, “Are you on crack?  I have a human being shooting out of me!”  Or, “What’s the doctor saying?”  She returned this question with a look of, “Are you on crack?  I have a human being shooting out of me!”  You get the picture. I felt good for Sunday that she had support from her family and such, but I really felt bad that she couldn’t eat or drink during this entire time, especially when I was down in the cafeteria eating chili and onion rings.  (I am a bad, bad person).

February 26, 2004—2:00pm through 4:00pm:     Sunday and I attempted to sleep because we both knew that she was not quite progressing and this birthing process was not going as planned.   She passed out, but I simply could not get the rest I require.  This was uncomfortable for me and I was considering not having any more children.  In addition, Sunday’s health was doing well, but Jonah was not. The amniotic fluid had mostly escaped, so Jonah’s body pinched the umbilical cord—much like a garden hose—and cut off his circulation. I noticed his heart rate cut in half when Sunday shifted to certain positions.  A few times during this section of the day, the nurses came running in the room to stare at Jonah’s heart rate on the monitor.  As they stared, the little blips plummeted to one-half the previous level, then rose at an excruciatingly slow pace.  These were the moments when I was glad Sunday couldn’t see the computers. 

February 26, 2004—5:00pm through 6:00pm:     The Simpsons.  Priorities.

February 26, 2004—6:00pm:                      The doctor returned after taking most of the day off.  When he returned, the doctor gave us mixed news.  Sunday had dilated to about seven centimeters, but Jonah was looking at her bellybutton instead of her backbone, which was not a good thing.   His head and shoulders would not fit through the birth canal as easily as if he were faced the other way.   

February 26, 2004—7:00pm:                      Nursing change:  The wide-eyed Romanian left in exchange for Helga the nurse from the Hinterlands.  I think we got the most evil, vicious woman they could find.  She was tough and she had a potty mouth. I saw her out in the parking lot later kicking the snot out of bikers and young children in wheelchairs.  Mean woman.  She was good, though, because Sunday and I both needed more encouragement, since the nightly news just finished and I didn’t know how I was going to pass the time until Jonah was born.     The doctor determined that Sunday had dilated 9.5 centimeters, so we planned on starting to push at 7:30.

February 26, 2004—7:30pm:                      Doctor “checked on” Sunday, and tried to turn Jonah while the nurse verbally abused elderly hospital volunteers out in the hallway.  I was completely shocked by her rough language.  Sunday remained unfazed.

February 26, 2004—8:15pm:                      After about forty-five minutes of pushing, the doctor determined that “we” could be pushing for another two hours and not have any progress.  What’s this “we” business?  I almost asked if he had a mouse in his pocket, but I didn’t think humor at this point was a good thing.   Thus, the doctor made the decision to go for the C-section, which was music to Sunday’s ears, in addition to other parts of her body.  While most of her pregnancy was spent discussing this eventuality—and we really didn’t want this to happen this way—the welcome news of a C-section was just another step in the realization that, THIS AIN’T OUR LIFE ANYMORE!  Since Sunday’s epidural had been wearing off for about two hours, the thought of more drugs was a good thing, too.  I think the anesthesiologist could have handed her a crack pipe and she would have gladly sparked it up. 

February 26, 2004—8:45pm:                      I got dressed to go into surgery.  The nurse brought in what I have to wear, and it looked like something Elvis wore in his “fat Elvis” Vegas days, but I kept my mouth shut and put it on.   In fact, she could have brought a bikini-style surgery outfit and I would have run down main street wearing it, just to get our son delivered.