Sleepless in Chicago

“Get ready to not sleep.” – the first words every parent said to me when I told them your mom and I were expecting you

*****

You’re two weeks old today, son. I’m writing this right now in our bed in our Chicago condo; your mom is breastfeeding you next to me. A little bit ago, we put you down to bed so we could have dinner, which he had to make quick, because you decided you were still hungry too. I am eating a beef and cabbage stew as I write this. The stew was the gift of a friend who stopped by to meet you the other night, and to also visit with Jessica Jones.

“I love our life,” I just said to your mom as I got situated on the bed here with my laptop. “It’s a little strange right now, but I love it.”

Such is the life of parents to a newborn child.

*****

Your mom and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in two weeks. There were a couple of nights when we first brought you home where there was practically no sleep at all. Your mom would breastfeed you, you’d have gas from the feeding after that upset you, and by the time we had you calmed down, you were hungry again. We had one night where you only woke up once, and we had to wake you to feed you. That was a night your mom and I deconstructed the next morning trying to determine what we did right and how we could recreate it. Alas, no luck so far. Most nights have been somewhere in between the two. We have worked out a pretty good system: You start crying, I get up and unswaddle you, change your diaper while your mom gets ready to feed you. I hand you off and rest for a while. After 20 minutes, 40 minutes, sometimes over an hour, you’re sated. Your mom hands you off to me, tries to go back to sleep. I do another diaper change if need be. I keep you sitting up for 20 minutes or so, otherwise, you’re too fussy to sleep. Then I put you back in your swaddling blanket, and put you back in your crib.

That’s the idea. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Last night, for example, you ate for over an hour, and just when we thought we had you calm enough to go back to bed, you began crying and smacking your lips again. Your mom, overwhelmed, wept as you began feeding once more. Eventually, you went back to sleep. But last night was one of the rougher ones.

*****

It sounds like we’re unhappy or perhaps bitter, but we’re not. Actually, we’re both handling these first couple of weeks better than what we thought we would.

You’re mom and I, you see, we both love our sleep, and neither of us are much good with functioning without it. That said, your mom and I go about getting our sleep a little differently. I’m very much a morning person; she would stay up every night until 3 or 4 in the morning if she could. The biggest source of conflict between us when we first started dating was over sleep. I was working seven days a week at the time, going to work in the mornings, and so I wanted to be in bed early. Your mom had a more laid back schedule, and she preferred staying up later.

Over the years, our sleep schedules have become more compatible, and when I say that, what I mean is, your mom has conformed her sleep schedule more closely with mine. She comes to bed with me some nights when she’s not tired yet at all, and will lie in bed and listen to podcasts through her earbuds as I lay passed out. Then she’ll sleep as late as possible in the morning while I get up, feed and walk Jessica Jones, eat breakfast, and watch shows she can’t even handle as background noise, like Star Trek. (She’s already braced herself for me introducing you to all the series, and I’m looking forward to that, but I have no expectations. You’ll enjoy them if you do, and if not, I’m eager to see what your own interests in art and pop culture are.)

We’ve worked out our sleep differences over the last few years. You, however, are a new challenge.

I am glad to say, though, we’re handling it well. Even when it’s a completely sleepless night, I find a mental switch goes off at about 7am, the time I have to feed and take Jessica Jones on her morning constitutional, and with a little coffee (okay, a lot of coffee), I can fool myself into thinking I’ve had a full night’s sleep. Your mom is on maternity leave now, and she gets by with little naps throughout the day while you are having yours.

It’s a struggle sometimes, for sure, but still, at least once a day, your mom and I look at you in awe, look at each other, and say, “We did that. We made a human” and all the sleeplessness is worth it.

*****

We’ve been told we’ll hardly remember all the sleepless nights that mark the first couple of weeks of a newborn’s arrival. Maybe that’s true. But then, last evening, before the rough nighttime hours that followed, your mom and I, and you, and Jessica Jones, were all laid out on the couch, watching Parks and Recreation. You were passed out on my chest, and I passed out for a little bit too.

Those moments, I never want to forget.

Here Comes the Son

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“Hi hon! Can I call you real quick?”

This was the response I got back from your mom when I texted her to ask how her afternoon matinee movie was, and how she was feeling. I was at the start of my dinner break.

I had just wrapped up with a client – a long-time client who I see once a month, a client who shares my first name, and sometimes, that still feels a little weird, like I’m talking to myself in the session. “Dennis, how are you feeling today?” “Alright, Dennis, let’s have you turn over on to your back.”

I was in the break room now, microwaving my Trader Joe’s Palek Paneer frozen meal. As I popped holes in the covering with a plastic fork, it occurred to me I should check in with your mom and see how she was doing. You were four days past due at this point, and I had gotten to checking my phone in between each massage. But I had already started, and I thought, surely this isn’t the time. I texted her right after I put my meal in the microwave.

“Hi, hon! Can I call you real quick?”

And I knew.

Her water had broken about 15 minutes before. She was at home, doing laundry. She called the midwife team at the hospital first, and the midwife on call suggested she wait a few hours until active labor started. But still, I should come home right away.

There are certain chapters in your life you can’t fully experience in the moment, because you know from the very beginning how monumental a particular chapter is, and you’re going to be sharing the story over and over for days, weeks, and even years to come, and so you’re not just living the story, but you’re chronicling the story as well. You’re both a participant and a reporter of the tale, aware of both roles simultaneously.

So this was the beginning of the story of what your delivery was like.

***

As I sit to write this, you’re just a little over 48 hours old. You’re asleep in the bassinet in our hospital room, and your mom is resting. In a few minutes, I’ll need to pause to wake you both so she can feed you. I’m writing this because I don’t know the story of my own delivery. My mom and dad passed away years ago, and I never heard the story from them. I want to write this story down for you now while it’s fresh in my mind.

***

I went to the front desk of the spa, and told the ladies working that you’re water had just broken. They cheered for me, I told me they would call my last client of the night and let him know I had to cancel. I inhaled my microwave dinner. I texted your mom and asked her if she wanted me to bring dinner home for her.

The first few hours of your delivery were calm. We planned with the midwives to head to the hospital once your mom’s contractions began coming five minutes apart. We sat on our couch and ate dinner, watched some TV (Netflix’s “The Crown”; I’m sure by now you know your mom’s love of anything that involves British history), and relaxed. We lied down in bed and tried to get a few hours sleep. Your mom got up after a couple of hours, unable to rest at all. I was able to, but it was a fitful sleep. Like I said, we knew we were living the story of your delivery, and lying down to sleep during it just hadn’t been part of either of our preconceived narratives.

By midnight, your mom’s contractions hadn’t picked up. We called the midwife on duty, and she said to plan to come in at 5 or 6 am. We both laid out on the living room couch in an ‘L’ shape around the sectional, and snuggled with Jessica Jones, who knew something was out of ordinary, but was content to go back and forth, taking turns curling up next to either one of us.

Betsy called the midwife a little after 5am, and since contractions still weren’t coming regularly, there was no rush to get to the hospital, in the next hour or two. We decided to have breakfast before heading there. There was plenty of food in the fridge, but Betsy wanted McDonald’s.

What mama wants, mama gets.

A sausage egg mcmuffin, hashbrown, and breakfast burrito each later, we were on our way to the hospital.

***

Son, I’m going to be honest with you. I’m writing section of this entry now when you’re all of six-days-old, and your mom and I have had a couple of sleep-deprived nights. The last few days have been a bit of a blur. And so I don’t remember much of the first few hours when we were in the hospital to have you.

I remember your mom checking into the birthing unit, getting weighed, getting situated in one of the birthing rooms. We met the midwife who would be helping with your delivery, and the nurse on call, Liz and Wendy respectively.

Your mom’s contractions stayed sporadic and weak throughout the day. They were painful, but not painful enough to further labor along. In the late afternoon, Liz suggested some medication – pitocin – to induce stronger contractions, and possibly an epidural to relieve your mom’s pain. We debated the pros and cons, the possible side effects. Liz checked your mother’s cervix, and she was 7cm dilated, which was much more progress than what she had expected. Liz was confident the pitocin could help push your mom over the edge into full labor, so we decided to go forward with it, but not the epidural. In a short time, your mom went into active, and painful, labor.

***

A few days ago, I read a quote: “Best thing you can probably do as a father is make sure they see how you love their mother.” It’s attributed to an actor named Matthew McConaughey, who is sometimes rightfully mocked for his public persona, but he makes a good point.

I didn’t know it was possible to love and appreciate your mom more than I did, but after watching her struggle through the pain for the next 14 hours, I love and appreciate her even more. I hope you see that love and appreciation in how I treat her day to day.

Between the pain and sleep-deprivation of being awake more-or-less for over the last 24 hours, your mom was near delirious, but pushed through. Despite the medication and the pain from the labor, her contractions still weren’t frequent or strong enough for the first few hours. The level of the medication was increased little by little, and we would wait a half-hour or an hour to reevaluate. We went through this cycle three or four times over the next six hours. Every time we were told your mom wasn’t ready to enter the final, pushing, stage, it broke her heart a little bit more. For much of this time, I lied in the hospital bed behind her, rubbing her low back during her contractions.

At about 4am Sunday, the idea of an epidural came up again. Epidurals, assuming they work properly, take away most of the pain of childbirth, but can also prolong labor. Prolonging things any longer was a concern because by this point, it had been nearly 36 hours since your mom’s water broke, increasing the chance of infection for the both of you. Your mom was in so much pain at this point, she suggested she was even open to a cesarean section, which is cutting the abdomen open to get to extract an infant. This is something that should be a last-resort option, but it’s often done as a matter of convenience for doctors when doing a traditional hospital birth. This is one of the reasons your mom wanted to use a midwife instead of a doctor. She didn’t want a cesarean. But that this point, she was desperate for the pain to stop. Luckily, Liz and Laura (the overnight nurse who took over for Wendy earlier in the evening) quickly talked her down from the ledge.

By 5:30am, your mom was finally dilated enough to start the final stage, pushing you down through the birth canal. By this point, she was falling asleep in between contractions. She didn’t know if she had the strength to push, but three of us (Liz, Laura and I), helped motivate her through the pain.

Throughout the next hour and a half, I saw your mom find the strength within her to push and push and push. I watched her vomit in a basin, the pain was so intense. I watched her physically go through pain you or I will only ever be able to imagine.

In the last hour, I held one of her bent legs up through every contraction (Laura, the nurse held the other.) During these pushes, your heart rate would drop, what looked like to me, dangerously low. I know this is actually normal, but it was hard for me to take. At one point, I had to step into the corner of the room for a second so your mom wouldn’t see me freaking out.

About 20 minutes before 7am, Liz commented she could see your head, and your full head of hair. A few minutes later, she invited your mom and me to reach down and feel it. A few minutes after that, your head began to emerge.

I had to look away while Liz began extracting you from your mom, because even as I knew what she was doing, it also looked like she was going to tear your head from your shoulders. I finally looked back down as your legs were being pulled out.

Your head was misshapen. I was prepared for that. That happens during birth.

I wasn’t prepared for you to have a sickly, bluish color. You were quiet, and still. By this point, other nurses and a doctor was in the room. I didn’t hear this, but later, your mom told me she heard someone saying, “Heart rate, 40! Heart rate, 40!”

Liz showed me precisely where to cut your umbilical cord. They gave your mom just a moment to touch you. (She wasn’t expecting you to be so big. “He went on for days,” she said later, describing how it felt for her hands to explore your body) Then they whisked you away to the warming table in the room to smack your bottom, pat your feet, move you around, anything to get you active, get your heart rate up.

Hearing your cry for the first time a few moments later, is probably the biggest feeling of relief I’ve ever felt in my life.

They weighed you, they measured you. I watched over the nurses’ shoulders as they tended to you. Liz tended to your mom’s post-delivery needs.

I asked questions about what was going on when you first came out of the womb. They said the heart rate dropping was a fairly normal occurrence, but all was well and there was nothing to worry about. Relieved and satisfied, I looked at the clamp placed on your umbilical cord and asked what decided if it your belly button was an ‘innie’ or an ‘outtie’. (It all depends on how your ab muscles develop in the first year.)

Eventually, Liz and Laura said their goodbyes, and another nurse, Kim, came in to help us until it was time to transfer to a recovery suit. I simply said goodbye and thank you to Liz and Laura, but considering everything we’d been through, I wanted to give them huge hugs. I intend to send them both effusive ‘thank you’ cards.

We had all but decided your first name was to be Harrison a couple of months before you were born. You were not named for any particular Harrison, we simply liked the name. We had decided your middle name should be one syllable, to contrast your multi-syllabic first and last names. One night about three weeks before your birth, we were listening to music in our living room, and a Johnny Cash song came on. You begin kicking and dancing pretty vigorously in your mom’s womb. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “Cash!”

We had a couple of other options, but a few minutes after you were born, I played for you a Johnny Cash song on my phone, and a look of recognition came across your face. And then the first time you nursed, this happened…

And that solidified it.

***

You were born at 7am on the dot. A couple of minutes before, a nurse commented you were going to be sunrise baby, pointing out the window, which faced east. Sure enough, the sun was just coming over the horizon.

“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles began playing in my head. It’s a song I’ll now forever associate it with you.

***

So here it is, son. The story of your birth. Perhaps one day I’ll come back and clean up the prose a little bit when I’m not as sleep-deprived, but for now, I just want to get it written down.

As I put on the finishing touches here, your mom is nursing you on the couch next to me, and Jessica Jones is on the living room floor destroying yet another chew toy. We’re about to go out for a walk as a family.

We’ve been waiting for you for a while. We’re so glad you’re finally here.