The Story of MJ
To say I had always wanted to be a father was an understatement. As the time came I can honestly say I wasn’t nervous about parenthood, or finances, or adjusting to a new life. But I was a basket case worrying over Mommy and Baby.
Christina and I were over the moon with anticipation for Michael James Easterling. Ultrasounds were a tease, and hearing his heartbeat always made me feel better – no matter what the situation. Nina and I had planned since the beginning to have a natural birth. We had a wonderful birthing center chosen, took multiple classes, took natural herbs and prepared for a nice water birth. As labor rolled on past the 40th week, and out until the 42nd week, we saw our plans fade away. We tried everything to naturally induce labor we could find – primrose oil, walking, bouncing on a yoga ball, pineapple, you name it. MJ just wouldn’t drop. Nina even tried castor oil! Yeah, Michael? Don’t ever say your mother doesn’t love you!
Eventually we had no choice but to go with a hospital. Nina was far more crushed than I was. I suppose my priority was their safety, and once the How and Where we wanted slipped away I let it go. Still, I would have preferred a natural birth.
Our first foray into the hospital assembly-line experience came with meeting our OB/GYN “Dr. B.” We had several visits to his office, which was on a run-down block in what amounts to the inner city of Gainesville. Nearly every time we had to wait in excess of two hours to see anyone, and the place wasn’t exactly 5-star. Still, it had to be done. We had several ultrasounds and check-ups and then once we passed 41 weeks we were sent to the clinic for a non-stress test. But first our kitten Yin had to be rushed to the vet for a serious illness, after which we raced to the hospital. We passed the stress test, which meant we got one more day to come home and try things there. Michael was perfectly healthy, he just wasn’t moving!
We headed back to Shand’s for the second part of the exam. We had a lot of worries and concerns with being at a hospital for birth, but fortunately we had an excellent triage nurse. A midwife herself, she talked over induction methods and which drugs NOT to take, and overall helped put us at ease. We decided avoid Cytotec at all costs – considering it says not to use it while pregnant – and instead start with a cervical softener and eventually Pitocin. Just as we were getting settled and comfortable, Dr. B’s assistant came in. She treated us rather callously and rushed, and gave Nina an “exam” – which was extremely violating and uncomfortable. I was too shocked to say anything at the time.
So there we were with one final day to get everything ready. We went home and packed for an unknown number of days in the hospital. We got a call from B’s assistant, where she again tried to push a number of drugs on Christina. She then gave a convincing ultimatum that it’s drugs or nothing. Nina was heartbroken, and I tried to console her as best as I could. But the fact was that no hospital can force treatment or drugs on anyone. When we refused to accept her drugs or hospital-mandated procedures, she passed us off to other personnel instead. Got to love some medical professionals.
To mark our last evening home, I made dinner – rosemary-breaded chicken with vegetables, and a S’mores cup for desert. I completely destroyed the kitchen, but I cleaned it up. It was worth it to see Nina smile.
Tuesday began with a gulp and a sigh. This was not going to be easy. Nina was extremely hesitant about a hospital birth, and I can’t say I blamed her. This wasn’t what we wanted. Still, I considered the fact that Michael was pushing 10 lbs already and packing on a pound a week. Nina wanted to wait, but doing so would have led to a 11+ pound watermelon that wouldn’t have been any easier to birth – in fact quite the contrary. I knew our natural birth dream was gone, but Michael had to come out.
We got to the hospital and checked in. It was a rather small room, but it worked. Nina’s mom and I helped gather the essentials from my car – pillows, water, clothes, food, Nina’s purse, etc. Dona had fun pointing out how nervous I looked and the fact that I was practically power-walking, but it was true. It was a combination of excitement and concern – I knew Nina wasn’t happy, and I just wanted to make sure she was taken care of and treated with respect. I didn’t want her to have any regrets – that was my priority.
After finishing with another patient, Dr. B finally arrived. He suggested Cytotec, which Nina bravely refused several times, and eventually they agreed to start her on Pitocin in the hopes that it would soften her cervix.
We started the Pitocin at 4 PMand the contractions started about an hour later. Nina, Dona and I kept up the energy in the room by joking and moving around. Nina bounced on her yoga ball, and we all listened to the ungodly moaning of a woman having a natural birth next door. Fun times. Nurses came in and checked on us periodically throughout the evening, each time turning up the Pitocin levels. Eventually they maxed out the dosage, and the contractions did indeed get stronger and more frequent – they just weren’t productive. When Dr. B came in and realized the contractions were back-to-back, he lowered the dose. Such heavy contractions were more harmful than good.
When the contractions showed signs of distress on Michael, the staff put Nina on oxygen. She took it well enough, but we both felt defeated. I was helpless to do anything but hold her hand, which we were both grateful I could do. But looking down at this tangled web of oxygen tubes, wires and IV’s I couldn’t help but feel so completely distanced from our dreams of a natural birth. This was about as far from it as you got. Still, I remained positive and stayed by Nina’s side. I knew no matter how bad I felt, she was going through far more mentally and physically. She was so brave, and I had never been more proud of anyone.
As the night hours became the morning, Nina and I had a serious discussion about having a C-section for the first time. It was something we were both adamantly opposed to, but considering the lack of progress and the strain the drugs were putting on them both I proposed we may want to reconsider. The other problem was that no one had properly measured Michael’s skull size recently – so we didn’t even know if he COULD fit through naturally. We knew he was heavy, but his head was the deciding factor. Eventually we decided to wait it out and make another bid for a natural birth. We did, however, consent to an epidural. The pain was getting unbearable for Nina – understandably – and beyond that she was completely exhausted and couldn’t sleep with the pain of contractions.
We called our birth photographer, Wrenda, in the early morning hours and she kindly arrived soon after. It was nice having another kindred spirit in the room to comfort and distract us.
Dr. B returned to check on Nina about 7 AM. Nina had dilated and effaced slightly, but Michael was still very high. His head hasn’t passed though the hips at all. Worried about the condition of the fluid, Dr. B suddenly positioned Nina to where he could break her water. Unfortunately she had no idea he was doing this, or she probably would have objected. He commented that the fluid looked perfectly healthy, but now that the water was broken we had a very serious timer now.
Several more hours went by, and now with reduced fluid the contractions grew stronger and more powerful. Nina finally asked for an epidural. Drawing close to 24 hours without sleep and ever-escalating contractions, it seemed the best thing to do. The anesthesiologist came in after a few hours and administered the epidural. Unfortunately he had to make several attempts at finding the right spot, which was pretty painful for Nina. Eventually he got it, and Nina laid down to rest. It didn’t take long to kick in, and Nina fell asleep several times. I tried to stay awake when she was, and sleep when she did, so I set up a blanket and pillow on the floor beside her bed. It was actually kind of funny, because while “under the influence” Nina didn’t notice me standing there sometimes – or imagined whole conversations with people who weren’t there. Good stuff.
Nina slept the majority of what remained of that day. She woke on occasion, asking for ice cubes or popsicles to eat. At one point we noticed that Michael not only dropped, he LIFTED. He had somehow pulled higher up into her rib-cage like drawing a shade. Don’t know how that happened. Finally near midnight Dr. B returned. With now negative progress, Nina and I finally relented to the C-section. It was time to end this. We had tried everything we could possibly do to have a natural birth at every turn, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us.
Things picked up rather quickly. Nurses flooded in and out of the room. Dona and I made sure we got everything from the car we would need. Nina asked if I was ok. I said “I’m fine, baby. I’m only thinking of you. You’ll be fine.” Of course, I was also trying to convince and comfort myself. I can’t tell you how many nightmares I’ve had where Nina goes into that surgery room and doesn’t come out. Still, I kept my chin up as they came to wheel her away. “I’ll be right there,” I said – to which she answered “you better.”
As Nina went off, Wrenda helped me put on my scrubs, mask and surgical hat. Dona and I made sure the room was cleaned out, and she moved everything to the recovery room. I stood in the hallway, waiting what seemed and eternity for permission to enter the surgery room. I took several deep breaths and closed my eyes, filling myself only with positive energy and hope. Everything was going to be ok.
Finally I want in. There was Nina, on her back, strapped to a table with a swarm of people around her. I sat by her head, and honestly it was easily the most troubling moment of my life. There was the woman I loved more than the world, twitching and shaking, pulled and rocked like she was being tortured in a medieval dungeon. I had to compose myself before I could even speak. “It’s ok. I’m here” I said - once again for my own sake as much as hers. I kissed her and looked deep in her eyes. I was so proud of her. With everything going on, the way things turned out, she still had a smile. I’ve never loved anything so much.
I heard Dr. B say “Born at 1:15AM” and looked over to see a nurse carrying a squishy little baby onto a heating table. “There he is!” I said. Nina was silent. “Let Mommy hear you,” she said. After a little suction and massage, we finally heard the most beautiful squeal on Earth. My heart skipped & Nina cried. We did it!
I held Nina’s hand and we realized Michael wasn’t calming. The nurse tried, but he just cried. Nina told me to go to him, and so I did. I stood and looked at him for the first time. Honestly, my first thought was “Man, he is WHITE.” But after that I remember thinking of how scared and confused he looked. So I did the same thing I do with Nina in those situations. I grabbed his hands and whispered “It’s ok. I’m here.” Instantly, Michael stopped crying. He just looked up at me and blinked. He was so beautiful.
He did have a rather large bruise on the top of his head, almost shaped like a cone. However, since his skull was still completely rounded that told me his skull never even made it past the hips. It was 15” around, for crying out loud! His right eye was also slightly puffy, but I figured it was temporary.
After putting on several hats – since the nice newborn one we made wouldn’t fit – I took the swaddled Michael over to Nina. She looked over and said “there you are!” We all smiled – even Michael, I think. After years of trying, we were finally a family. And for the first time in weeks, Nina looked truly happy.
As Nina recovered from surgery, I accompanied Michael to the nursery. The nurses took his vitals and measurements, but in keeping with Nina’s wishes I turned down his bath. They said he had a slight heart murmur, which while probably nothing, called for more observation. He sat under a heat lamp for a time, content to just look at the ceiling. Soon, though, he got a little fussy. “You can hold him if you want,” one of the nurses said. She didn’t have to tell me twice. I carefully gathered him up and sat in a rocking chair. I couldn’t believe it. I was a Daddy. I was looking down at myself, and he looked back at my with Nina’s eyes. It was so surreal I was suddenly terrified that I’d wake up soon. But it was real.
Soon Dona and Grandpa Jim came in. They got to see their grandson up close for the first time. “He’s a honky!” was Dona’s classy observation. Both had bigger smiles than I had seen in a long time. I swear Jim’s eyes twinkled. It was really nice seeing them so happy and proud. There have been times when I didn’t exactly feel accepted or integrated into their family, but Michael seemed to bridge that gap.
Word came that Mommy was ready to see Michael. I pushed him in his bassinet and, on seeing Mommy sitting up in bed and waiting, announced “Here he is.” Mommy did her typical show of excitement – a high-pitched “Yay!” accompanied by quick clapping. It was cute. I handed him off and Mommy attempted to nurse. Despite any concerns about breastfeeding, he latched immediately and went to work. I had never been as happy as seeing Mother and Child looking to one another, holding each other. I remember thinking, despite all the drugs and procedures, we could still do something natural.
Shortly thereafter we moved to yet another room – this one a rather cozy private room near the NICU. Finally able to relax, Mommy and I began the arduous task of texting, calling or Facebook-posting everyone we knew about Michael’s birth. For the first time we were left alone, just our little family. It felt great. Nurses did come in on occasion, checking on Michael and Mommy, bringing food and asking if we needed anything. It was funny to learn that we had “The 10-Pound Baby,” and apparently he was a local celebrity already. Still, the best part was our first night in that room. Just us three, sleeping for the first time. We both took turns sleeping with him, skin-to-skin as often as possible, for the next few days. Michael rarely cried – only when people messed with him. Leave him alone and he’s fine. Must be a Scorpio thing.
It was nearly a week from entering to leaving the hospital, but we emerged with the most perfect and beautiful baby in creation. Our crazy journey began with “I do” and concluded with “Welcome Home.”