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  • A Birth-day Memory

    Sometimes, when we pick up around the house, my wife wonders aloud if the air duct is clean. Depending on her mood, she may even try to climb onto something to make sure the dust is gone.

    On that day 12 years ago, she stared at it every few minutes, waiting for me to whisper in her ear. “Focus, focus,” I said. “Breathe. Breathe. Keep your focus. You’re doing good. There you go.”

    For hours we continued this routine, a process that began with an “Oh-my-God-that’s-intense” pain that woke her up around 1:30 a.m. on a cool Thursday morning.

    We arrived at the hospital around 5:15, and within an hour our room was filled with rhythmic, tribal sounds that came from the heart monitor’s tinny speaker. Drugs were administered to make her labor more regular, and the staring at the air duct began.

    Because twins presented a higher risk, more personnel and equipment were required than for a single delivery. We got the “good room,” twice as large as the others, to accommodate the extras.

    A ward full of nurses, some of whom we vaguely remembered from our daughter’s birth less than a year before, walked in and out. Three stayed with us on an irregular basis through their shift, talking about their families, what to eat for lunch — typical everyday-type things for everyone but the two of us. For them, it’s their job; they had five deliveries in 24 hours. We had other things on our minds.

    The rolling wave became more intense, and my wife requested drugs. A woman who would not come near an aspirin when she was pregnant the first time had become the poster child for epidurals.

    The next two hours were surreal, even for those not under the influence.

    Jill’s parents sat in a corner. Two health occupations students from a local high school observed while standing near a sink. The nurses continued their chatter while checking the vital signs. I jotted down notes on the hospital stationary. Jill read a newspaper between contractions, which with the epidural brought pressure but no pain. If not for the tribal rhythms of the heart monitors, it would be difficult to know she was in labor.

    The girl’s heart rate fell, dropping from the normal range — 140 to 160 — to 60. After 2 minutes, the nurses huddled. The doctor was called. Jill’s parents were asked to leave.

    The heart rate came back up; the doctor said our daughter was on the umbilical cord in some way. Since the rate was back to normal, it did not appear that a C-section would be necessary.

    The routine resumed. Jill continued to make progress, and the nurses rotated in and out as they left for lunch. Then the pressure intensified, and the time was near.

    Jill started to push, and push, and push. The baby girl’s heart rate leaped, then fell. My wife developed a fever. The baby was in distress —life-threatening distress.

    The C-section was ordered. I was told to put on scrubs, but I had to wait outside. If complications developed, I couldn’t be with my wife. 

    In 63 seconds, our bustling room was empty. All the equipment, the people, even my wife’s bed, was in the OR. I stood alone and waited. Seconds seemed like days.

    Finally, the anesthesiologist came in and got me, and I joined my wife in the operating room.

    At 2:34 p.m., Emma was born, the cord wrapped around her neck. The doctors worked on her quickly and she was fine, even though she narrowly escaped permanent brain damage because of the oxygen deprivation.

    At 2:35, Benjamin followed, announcing his presence as only a baby can do. We should have known then that he was a singer.

    Thirteen hours of labor. Nine hours at the hospital. Two new babies. One big scare.

    A memory of 12 years ago today.