I never cease to be in awe of the ways that the universe finds to force patience upon impatient men. (This isn’t intended to sound like sexism, I just don’t know any impatient women.) As one of these impatient men, recently, the same stars that saw fit to deliver my son within an hour of his due date delayed his sister by over a week. Our lives had been on hold for almost a full ten days when, finally, Sonja started going into labor in the middle of the night. We threw a few things in a bag while her contractions increased in frequency from six minutes to five to four and then to just over three, at which point I became insistent that we leave for the hospital immediately. I’d seen childbirth once before, and I did not want that to happen on my carpets.
Our son Titus’s birth had been an ordeal, one that ended in an emergency cesarean section, followed by a second emergency surgery, and several years of therapy. Our hope was to successfully deliver our second child without some of those complications, and while we did what we could to prepare, we were also grounded in the realism that haunts even dreamers like me. Things could go wrong. Hell, things could be worse than they were the first time. Much worse. Nevertheless, we prepared for the best, braced ourselves for the what we hoped would never happen to anyone, and took off for the hospital, leaving Titus slumbering at home with his grandparents, unaware that his world was about to be dramatically and irreversibly transformed.
We arrived at the hospital and were met by a nurse, later our doula and a midwife, and after that a doctor. The dream team assembled, Sonja’s contractions began causing her a great deal of pain. She briefly resisted an epidural, wisely gave in, and shortly thereafter was in far better spirits and no longer crushing my hand in her own. Though the doula kept saying she thought we’d have a baby by noon, I wasn’t so sure.
It was around noon that Sonja was ready to start pushing. This lasted for four grueling hours, with the looming threat of a second C-section growing ever more vivid in our minds. Her contractions slowed, which we countered with medication, but ultimately, it appeared that our daughter was quite pleased with where she was, and she wasn’t going to come out of there on her own. A doctor, followed by a second and a third in quick succession, visited and examined Sonja. The third, the apparent queen bee, stated matter-of-factly: “I’d be comfortable attempting to remove her with a vacuum.” She briefly explained the risks, and answered as best she could our questions about how to contrast those risks with the threats posed by cesarian. There had been twelve people in the room at that time. Sixty seconds later, there were two of us, and a baby inside. With eyes dewing over, Sonja said “I can get the C-section. Maybe just try the vacuum for a minute?” I couldn’t hold back my own tears; “I want her to try the vacuum for as long as she’s willing.” Sonja smiled, nodded, and another contraction started, firing me out of the room to get our team back inside. I stepped into the hall and signaled to Jean, one of our nurses, who brought the group back in. Only later did I realize that they were all entirely “scrubbed in” and holding various instruments, including an odd little vacuum, in their hands. They had clearly taken our moment of deliberation to prepare themselves.
What followed was part dream, part nightmare. The details don’t really belong to me for sharing, though if you ask, Sonja and I will gladly tell you. The best of times included a successful vaginal delivery and a terrifically beautiful baby girl. The other end of the spectrum involved nearly two dozen medical professionals and a lot of time and worrying. In the end, of course, everything turned out as we had hoped, though the road to success certainly held deep ruts.
The following day was a blur of family, doctors, lactation specialists, our pediatrician, our chiropractor, friends, flowers, and more. It flew past in the way only time spent in a euphoric yet sleep-deprived daze can do.
Finally, our second night in the hospital, with the lights turned down low and our little girl asleep in a basin next to her momma as I prepared for a second night of sleeping on the stone slab of a couch provided by the otherwise excellent hospital, we remembered to breath. Exhausted though we were, I had one last thing to do before another day went by. I mentioned earlier that we had prepared for the best, and I meant it. Pulling a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon from the refrigerator, I popped the cork as noiselessly as I am able and poured two flutes, one for Sonja, and one for me, to pair with some slightly-above-average sushi I had picked up in the hospital cafeteria earlier in the afternoon. The wine, a splurge I had yet to try, was magical, perhaps in part because it was the first wine I’d had in several days, but also because it doesn’t fail to live up to its reputation. Powerfully effervescent and graced by thick streams of tiny, agitated bubbles, the classic Champagne notes of baked brie, green apple, warm bread, and more were a welcome sensation upon the palate. We clinked glasses in the half light and toasted our lives. Specifically, my toast that night was to the bravery of her mother in this delivery, and to the long life of our little girl, Zooey Elizabeth Gudgel. We are so very fortunate.