And Suddenly All The Strange IKEA Furniture And Weird Doll Clothes Finally Made Sense

The whole time Jen was in the hallway in active labor the nurse kept saying how nice it was that we were so understanding about the fact that there wasn't a room ready. I can't speak for Jen, but I sort of assumed it wasn't like they were holding a table for a VIP, or that the rental car counter guy had an upgrade available but insisted on being a bitch about it. Besides, like the nurse joked earlier, what are you going to do, section 'em all and quickly change the bedding?

But when we finally got into the room, it was palatial.

NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, December 29, 2011

There was one of those great hospital reclining chairs that looked like the most comfortable thing in the world at that point. (Interesting item — the thing about medical recliners is that they're not cheap; I assume there's some Christian-Slater-on-West-Wing-as-Lieutenant-Commander-Jack-Reese-smashing-$400-ashtrays-to-prove-a-point-to-Donna reason but for the life of me, I have no clue why those things would cost upward of $1500.) Because we didn't really sleep the night before when Jen had contractions and we were thinking we'd be heading off to the hospital and of course we hadn't slept at all this past night. So I sat down and spread out on the chair for like 45 seconds, but there was just too much happening all at once.

Something else that a friend brought up to me: Who invented the design for those newborn hospital caps? They must be a gazillionaire!

Newborn Hospital Cap and Blankets, NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, December 29, 2011

A quick word about telling grandparents-to-be that their daughter is going into labor: No amount of rational argument will prevent them from getting up at 4 in the morning and driving up to New York from Philadelphia. And even though I said that it'd probably be easier to park at the house and take the subway in, they came straight to the hospital. I told them that they should get some breakfast or something, that according to the doctor we had about five hours or so (the rough guide to cervix dilation is an hour a centimeter, up to ten centimeters), and they did just that.

At around 8 a.m. I tried to go out to the waiting room to see where Jen's parents were and the nurse guided me back into the room: It was the 8-8:30 a.m. all-staff meeting and the floor was closed. I turned back and Jen announced that her water broke. I didn't know what to do — after all, the floor was closed, and I wasn't supposed to exit the room.

"Are you sure?" I asked her.

She was sure.

So I poked my head out and kind of arched my eyebrows and looked back in the room as if to say, "Um, something's going on over here."

So the doctor and nurse attended to Jen and confirmed that yes, in fact water had broken.

By this point, the day nurse had taken over. She sent me to go do the paperwork, which I hadn't had the chance to do when we were admitted because the computer had been down. I walked over to the office and saw that there were two other fathers waiting in line. I went out to the waiting room where Jen's parents were asleep. When the line died down, I stood and waited my turn. The paperwork lady stepped away to ask a question, then go to the copier.

At some point I got a little worried: Jen would never have forgiven me if the baby was born while I was waiting to do paperwork. Finally the doctor herself came to collect me: It was time to push.

And now a word about pronouns: We decided not to find out the sex of the baby, this despite the fact that we would be on the hook for two names. I'm not sure why I didn't want to know other than being surprised by the baby being a Boy! or it being a Girl! seemed like a quintessential baby experience. The doctor, for her part, thought this was "cool" — or she said something along those lines. Like most doctors, she didn't really betray a thought either way.

During the 20-week ultrasound, when the technician examines the baby's anatomy, you have to make sure they know that you don't want to know the sex. So the technician will tell you to avert your eyes or whatever. And it's important that everyone's clear about this — we had heard that people have been known to slip along the way and ruin the surprise.

After a certain point in the pregnancy, patients in the practice Jen's doctor was a part of were supposed to have a checkup with each of the doctors in order to become familiar with all of them in case one's doctor was not on call on a particular day. I happened to go along with Jen on the day she met the doctor who would deliver Animal. During the examination, the doctor said something about "her" immunity. I quietly processed this pronoun and debated bringing it up to Jen — if she missed it, she would be none the wiser.

Which is to say, for at least a couple of months I was convinced we were having a girl. I was so convinced that I didn't really feel the need to consider boys' names. So when Animal finally emerged and the doctor said "It's a boy!" I have to say, I was pretty surprised. Jen saw my face and she says that I looked very, very surprised.

Part of me wonders whether part of why doctors think it's "cool" or whatnot to be surprised is so they can have that thrill of announcing the sex. If you think about it, it's kind of a quintessential experience as well as a powerful one, and one that few people seem to allow for anymore. Our doctor seemed to relish the call. I certainly won't ever forget when she said it . . .

The pushing itself went very quickly — in about 35 minutes, which is on the lower end of the range. It's not unusual for it to last two hours or more, which seems really horrible, actually. I was stationed up north; this was a point of contention for some time in the months (and years, in fact) leading up to this moment until Jen finally decided near the end that it would probably be OK to see down below. I sort of hovered over the top, which was good enough, and which still allowed me to hold Jen's head, which as far as I could tell didn't do very much for anyone other than keeping me out of trouble.

I tried to be as helpful as I could while the doctor coached Jen on how to push. She sort of equivocated that Jen would "know" what to do, that it would feel natural to push, that it would be obvious. Except she wouldn't ever say it was like taking a crap, which is what we'd always heard it was "like". I'm assuming this was intentional. Funny thing: We were watching one of those Baby Pops Out! shows on cable in the weeks after Animal was born and a male doctor told the pregnant lady that it was just like taking a shit; I wondered if it was a gender thing or something.

So I'm like, "Yeah, baby, you're doing great, blah blah, you're doing great," which is silly because I really have no idea what's going on, and I'm looking down and the doctor's like, "the head is there," and I look down and . . . oh, it's terrible to think about . . . and I still can't think about it because it's so gross to think about . . . and I look down, and sure enough, the top of the head is there, but the head is being squeezed in an awfully odd manner, and it's making me really skeeved out to think about how baby's heads are so soft, and then the doctor does this sort of finger sweep and I'm freaking out — well, not freaking out, because basically my only responsibility is to be comforting except I'm pretty sure that the look on my face while the doctor digs around the baby's squishy head with her fingers is so far from comforting that it could actually be at the point that it could be counterproductive, and no sooner do I pause to consider all this does the doctor tell Jen to push once more and — well, you can guess what happens next . . . and it's not that the contents of the baby's skull spilled out on the floor.

"It's a boy!"

And then I'm like, "Holy shit, a boy?"

And the nurse puts this little screaming thing on Jen's chest and at first the skin has this otherworldly greyish purplish hue and then it slowly looks more humanlike and the face — my goodness — it actually does kind of look like me I guess, which you always hear is the case but which when you actually see is . . . bizarre? I don't know. It's heavy, for sure. I just sat there thinking how crazy it is that Animal was floating around in fluid a few hours ago and now he — he! — is out in the world, and safely, at that. And it's just . . . amazing. And if there ever were a time to use a word like "amazing," it's now. And then I got to cut the umbilical cord, which is a lot chewier than you'd expect it to be.

Something else cool: The birthing room wasn't anything like you see on, I don't know, Grey's Anatomy or whatnot — it was pretty mellow. There's a lot to do directly afterward, including some things I know I'm not supposed to discuss, so you have a lot of time to sit there looking at this goofy grey-purple screaming monkey.

(There is a philosophical/scientific purpose to just hanging out with the baby plopped down on the mother's chest immediately after birth, including introducing breast feeding and "skin-to-skin contact," which I believe is supposed to confer immunological benefits on a newborn.)

Eventually the nurse took Animal to the little table next to the bed to clean him up and take his footprints. The doctor then showed us the placenta, which, if you've ever heard about people who use it afterward in some manner, will really skeeve you out. We asked her about it though. She said that one thing she heard was that some people are being counseled to not only cook it up or turn it into capsules or whatever but actually take a bite out of the fresh placenta. I could really talk about this for a long time, but for everyone's sake I think I'll leave it at that.

And then we joked about names for a little bit and then when Jen was finally covered up, her parents and Goober got to come in and see The Monkey. And that was definitely cool, too.

And then someone told me to pack up our stuff because we were going to the recovery room — I think there was a new Hallway waiting to get a room — and everyone headed over to that part of the hospital. We had to wait until we could go and Jen and I just looked at each other.

She had been scared about what would happen in childbirth, for obvious reasons, and I felt terrible knowing that she felt scared, but at the same time you know that a gazillion people make it through the same thing (even more since modern medicine took over and women stopped having to give birth in a kiddie pool with only a doula to assist). And — I think this could be the funniest part of the whole thing — she just looked up, not 45 minutes afterward, and shrugged and said, "I could do this again." She attributes this in part to the hormones or endorphins or whatever else is pulsing through a mother at this point.

So there we were, just the two of us, and we shared this moment — another one I'll never forget — and I looked down and made sure I had our bags, just like I always do when we take the train to Philadelphia, or go on a trip somewhere, and I started to say, "OK, are you ready to go?" when I realized something along the lines of, "Oh, right, that baby over there on the table — we have to get him, too."

And that's when I realized that things would always be a little bit different.

NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, December 29, 2011

Previously, The Amazing Little Things You Never Forget About The Birth Of Your Child: His Precious Cry, The Thick Snap Of The Sinewy Umbilical Cord, His Tiny Little Fingers Gripping Mom's Chest, The Bizarre Depiction Of Rhinophyma In Domenico Ghirlandaio's "An Old Man And His Grandson" In The Maternity Ward Hallway, Bascially A Human Head Is Forcing Its Way Through A Vagina.

Posted: March 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Amazing Little Things You Never Forget About The Birth Of Your Child: His Precious Cry, The Thick Snap Of The Sinewy Umbilical Cord, His Tiny Little Fingers Gripping Mom's Chest, The Bizarre Depiction Of Rhinophyma In Domenico Ghirlandaio's "An Old Man And His Grandson" In The Maternity Ward Hallway

Like we mentioned before, in general, the hospital doesn't want to see you until you're having contractions of at least one minute long, four minutes apart and lasting for at least one hour. Jen started feeling some major contractions around 7 p.m. or so, but it wasn't until nearly 11 p.m. that we started to think this might be the day.

I don't know if other people's experiences are different — I imagine they are — but I wouldn't call the contractions "regular," or at least regular in the sense that they were all perfectly four, five, seven or ten minutes apart. Sometimes they were two minutes apart, sometimes six minutes apart. Part of me thought that we shouldn't bother getting the doctor on duty out of bed, but Jen's better sense prevailed and she paged the doctor around midnight. By 12:30 we were getting our stuff ready to go to the hospital.

We called the car service and told the dispatcher the address of where we were going. I worried — just a little bit — that a driver wouldn't want a lady in labor in his car, so I kept it vague. Which is stupid: You think a driver doesn't know what's happening when you emerge from your front door at 1:30 in the morning with a giant lady and a roller bag? "First Avenue and 33rd Street?" you think he wonders, "Gee, I don't remember there being a bus station or airport there"? Though he did sort of — it seemed like at least — have an epiphany of sorts about where he was headed when he turned onto 30th Street from Second Avenue. It was almost as if he signaled "Why didn't you just say you were going to NYU?"

Along the way the driver didn't say much, only asking Jen if she was warm enough. And no water broke in the back seat — it's funny how wrong the movies get it — so often in a movie, even movies that seem supposedly realistic, a woman will be sitting there and all of the sudden "boom" followed by fifteen Steve Guttenbergs or Tom Sellecks rushing around with towels and hot compresses to tend to the suddenly incapacitated hysterical lady-in-labor. Like they painstakingly repeated over and over at birthing class, no one's going to fuck up the leather bucket seats with baby juice. Which is to say, the Town Car was clean, or at least as clean as it was when we were picked up in it. Still, I think I gave the driver a good tip.

So we walk into the main lobby sometime just before 2 a.m. and the lone security guard at the desk hopped up and beamed, "Baby? You're our fourth one tonight." So everyone's clear, while it's exciting to think that several other happy couples are experiencing the same joy as you this evening, it's not really a good thing to have a maternity ward overbooked.

This is actually an interesting thing to consider: How do hospitals know how many beds and rooms to have in a maternity ward? Basically, they just assume that the averages work out and that someone will always have a place to give birth. At one point we asked whether there were busy times and less-busy times and the nurses sort of shrugged no; I was convinced there would be a lot of people on New Year's Eve, looking for a tax break, or an empty hospital on Christmas or something, but apparently it doesn't work like that.

So we take Jen up to the maternity ward, where she waits to get examined, and I return to the intake desk back on the ground floor, where they make sure we can pay for everything. Just kidding. I don't know what the paperwork really entailed because the computers were down just then. They told me that they'd come get me later.

When I returned to the maternity ward I had to ask the nurses what happened to my wife; they pointed down the hallway, where Jen was sitting on a bed behind some bedside screens — literally in the hallway. They had hooked her up to the fetal monitor machine under a print of Domenico Ghirlandaio's An Old Man And His Grandson, which you might remember as a strange picture featuring an old guy with Rhinophyma. Huh?

Domenico Ghirlandaio's An Old Man And His Grandson, NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 First Avenue, Midtown Manhattan, December 29, 2011

The fetal monitor is cool — you can tell when a big contraction is happening by the 0-100 meter, zero being no contraction and 100 being the uterus squeezing itself tighter than a Wall Street stress ball circa September 2008. Jen doesn't think it's funny or soothing or anything other than annoying really when I tell her "Wow, that was a big contraction!" By this point it's clear that Jen's being admitted. We're just waiting for an available room.

"These other women, I don't know what's going on with them," the night nurse said to us at one point, "They should just section them and send them home!" She's of course kidding; hospitals don't do this; or at least I don't think so.

At some point I walked away to get Jen some water and passed by the nurse's station. "We've got to do something about Hallway," one said to another. I like the sound of "Hallway," and make a point of telling Goober about Jen's new nickname. A little after 5:30 the nurse tells us to take a walk around for about 20 minutes while they prepare an available room.

Previously: Bascially A Human Head Is Forcing Its Way Through A Vagina.

Posted: March 21st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , ,

Bascially A Human Head Is Forcing Its Way Through A Vagina

After we got back from the hospital and settled into maternity leave, we started watching a lot of TLC, which, if you didn't know any better, seems tailor made for maternity leave. I don't know if it's something to do with hormones or whatnot, but the midday lineup on TLC is like catnip to new mothers.

Back in January at least, in the middle of the day they aired those Baby Stories or Baby's First Day shows, followed by a few What Not To Wears. Each day I let Jen watch what she wanted — and the channel never changed from TLC — until I could stand it no more, which is how she became fond of Dan Le Batard's father Gonzalo Le Batard.

The other thing she watched in those first couple of weeks was Felicity, which I understood like not at all, not necessarily because it's a moronic show — like if Scooby Doo were set at NYU — but because she's seen all those episodes before. I finally asked her why she wanted to rewatch 88 episodes of Felicity, basically all in one shot, and she said that it was mindless for her, which was all she wanted while she recovered. Speaking of mindless, have you ever seen the last four or five episodes of that show? It's insane — apparently it is that way because the network wanted four or five more episodes. The only other thing I have to say is that J.J. Abrams is a pretentious dolt for scrapping a perfectly good W.G. Snuffy Walden theme for a song he — ugh! — wrote himself that goes "New version of you/I need a new version of me" . . . huh? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? And why is that somehow better than the dude whose guitar delay makes me cry in every single episode of Friday Night Lights. Which is to say, Just who the fuck do you think you are? And why is Andrew Jarecki involved? And what kind of name is "Meghan Rotundi" anyway? It's absurd sounding! In some ways I hope we don't have another child because I can't stand to see Jen so "mindless"

It's those Baby's First Stories shows that are really something though. It's tough not to get sucked in after you experience it. "Why aren't they doing skin-to-skin contact?" "She's really not getting an epidural?" "Where's the father!?" It was funny to go straight from the recovery ward to watching these shows. Basically the same thing. Basically.

So anyway, here's how Animal's head somehow made it out of Jen's vagina.

I don't mean to sound crass or glib, but when we went to visit the doctor four days after Animal's due date and I asked her if there was anything we could do to make Jen more comfortable, she sort of shrugged and said that she didn't know what one could do, since basically a human head is somehow pushing its way through a vagina. Don't get me wrong — I liked our doctor a lot. I liked the practice a lot. At least as much as a father can appreciate such things. But sometimes the way she phrased things . . .

We went to the doctor's office that day thinking that we might be smart to take along our suitcase — Jen had some big contractions the night before, different than other contractions she'd been having during the pregnancy. One more thing I didn't really understand was that contractions happen off and on for a long time during a pregnancy — it's not until the end that they become meaningful. But when the doctor hooked up Jen to the fetal heart monitor/contraction feeler the funniest thing happened: The contractions stopped.

The bottom line was that Animal could come soon or not so soon, but the whole thing would be over by the new year — and not just for the tax break. That's not to say that it wasn't fortuitous to get Animal before 2012 — I didn't know until relatively late that a child only has to be born some time in a calendar year to get a tax break for the entire year. Pretty sweet. But by week 41 or so, Jen wasn't thinking about tax break. Or at least she only was a little.

So we did what anyone would do: Walk a half-mile or so to a pizza place on the other side of Broadway. I think the pizza place was good for me, too. Not because it was galling to see a restaurant charge double for food that cost less than half of that on Staten Island, and not because I learned a new thing to do with a Negroni (substitute bourbon for gin) but because the hipster service we got meant that the hostess made Jen stand while she promptly forgot that she was supposed to clear a table for us. We almost left but there was nowhere else to go and you know what they say about aircraft carriers and PT boats? Well the same thing applies to ladies who are 41 weeks pregnant. My puppy dog (read: pussy) look said "moooo . . . boo hoo . . . you're making a pregnant lady stand?" and the lady totally did not give a shit. The takeaway for me: The pregnant schtick was losing its power; we needed this thing out, pronto. Jen and I still haven't really been to a proper restaurant since that lunch.

So we went home and settled in. And no sooner had we done that, the contractions began again.

Posted: March 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,