Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflections (Part 2)

Last week I told you the story of the birth of my son.  Just typing that story out last week and reliving it in my mind brought joyful tears to my eyes again.  Although that wasn’t why I wrote it, I was flattered to hear from many of you who told me what I wrote resonated with you and apparently the stock went up on several brands of tissues.  As promised, here’s the rest of the story of my reflection on my wonderful wife and the birth of my son.  The emphasis changes a little here, from my amazing wife to the beginning of my own development as a first-time father.

Paul’s Pitstop Along the Canal
I mentioned my wife labored for 51 hours before Paul was finally delivered by C-section.  As you recall, he was breach, then on the day we were to originally have the C-section, he flipped over and was properly oriented for a normal delivery.  And then there was the marathon.  After Paul was born and we were all resting quietly in the Labor and Delivery Ward (L&D from now on), our doctor came to us to explain what caused the lack of progress.  It seems that Paul had turned his head to the side at about the time he started progressing down the birth canal.  As a result, the shape of his head didn’t line up with companion shape of the birth canal and he simply stopped.  No amount of labor was going to change it, especially since Steph’s body was properly trying to move him along, creating enough pressure that Paul’s head just wasn’t going to turn back.  In times past this could have (would have?) resulted in the death of both mother and child, but thanks to God, modern medicine, the wonderful skills of the medical professionals that took care of us, I enjoy the company of my beautiful wife and son today.

I learned a bunch of cool stuff as Steph rested and recovered, and began bonding with my infant son.  Steph “held” him for nine months and now it was finally my turn.  I was nervous but eager to learn.  He had his first bath and I learned how to change his diaper and swaddle him.  The Super Bowl was on with the volume down and Steph fed Paul his first meal outside the womb watching the game.  (I can’t make this up!)  At about halftime, Steph fell asleep and Paul and I sat with my new son in my arms, watched the game, and bonded.  And every now an then, I found myself weeping just for a moment.  It wasn’t for any specific reason.  I think it was that intangible and very real bonding--father’s and son’s hearts were touching.  It was, and remains, one of the best experiences of my life, sitting in the quiet and warmth of that room next to my sleeping wife who had just done something truly heroic, and holding my hours-old son.

An Angry Dad
The next morning everyone was doing fine and the process began to do some final testing in order to discharge mother and son.  We were excited, tired and happy to think about taking our son home for the first time.  But there was this little thing called jaundice we had to deal with first.  He didn’t look jaundiced, so this came as a surprise when, as we were being discharged from L&D, we were taken upstairs by someone from another department.  It was the first we’d heard that this was the plan rather than going to our car and heading home.  And now I was angry in addition to being tired.
The change from pleasure with the L&D crew to thorough disgust for the “professionals” in the new ward was dramatic, none of whom could competently or authoritatively explain to me why we were even there other than to say, “your son has jaundice; his bilirubin levels are on the edge of high, and this will prevent a problem from developing.”  It made sense, but we couldn’t get a doctor to see us until I threatened to take my family and leave the hospital.  An orderly actually told me I couldn’t do that.  I didn’t mention to him that I could have snapped him like a twig and instead maintained my composure and told him he needed to rethink what he had just said.  We weren’t under arrest and no one could even confirm we were the right people who were supposed to be there.  I told him if a medical doctor didn’t come explain to us why we were in this new ward within two hours, in an adult manner, we would be leaving.  We had signed formal discharge papers in L&D and had not been formally readmitted to any part of the hospital.  As far as I was concerned, this was all a mistake reinforced by lack of any interaction with a physician or appropriate staff.  I wanted to see test results and have them explained to me like an adult.  I also wanted to know clearly and concisely what the “treatment” would do to remedy the alleged problem and how long it would take.  For those of you who are familiar, you know the treatment for an infant with elevated bilirubin levels isn’t cosmic and really doesn’t require a lot of explanation--it involves baking the boy under some incubator lights (technically called phototherapy, accomplished with lights or a photo-optic blanket) in a controlled manner.  Having a medical background I was actually familiar with the treatment, but didn’t like that no one with any authority or medical competence seemed to want to explain it to my wife and I.  I was literally packing our bags up again, when a doctor showed up.  I politely and professionally let him have it.  With the doctor’s apologies appearing genuine, along with his sufficient explanations for why we were there and for how long, we ended up staying through the next night to let Paul bake and went home the next day.
Don’t Look Into The Light:  Shaping a Father’s Heart
The real story is actually about the time that passed with Paul under those lights, especially through that night, and the thoughts and feelings that continued to emerge as a brand new, first-time father.  My wife was exhausted and I was beyond tired.  The hospital didn’t have a photo-optic blanket, so Paul was laying helpless in an open-sided incubator with ridiculously designed little goggles on to keep the lights from causing damage to his eyes.  For those of you who are parents, you know about infants--they have no motor control and so I worried about him knocking the goggles off and ending up with eye damage.  Designed as they were, they seemed to come off his head when he simply thought about moving.  And so I intended to sit up all night hoping to let Steph sleep as much as possible.  She was actually doing well and thankfully was able to sit up with Paul for part of the night, giving me about three hours of sleep.  But it wasn’t very good sleep and I was entirely consumed with this little son of mine and that my wife now had to stay awake even longer.  All Paul had known was nine months of comfort in the womb, then suddenly he’s on the bright, noisy and cold outside but in the protective arms of Steph and I, and before that dust could settle he has something awkward on his face and no real contact with either of us other than the sound of our voices and fairly regular adjustments to the goggles.
I still don’t know how a heart can be full of joy and thoroughly broken at the same time, but mine was.  What’s really beyond my ability to explain is although I couldn’t have loved my new son any more than I already did, every moment that passed as I sat awake with him my love grew.  My heart was full, but somehow it kept getting fuller.  A better picture of this is that my love for my son was growing deeper and stronger with every minute that passed.  I know this would have happened even without the frustrating side trip to the incubator, but this little bit of additional frustration and adversity simply highlighted it for me.
Homeward Bound
The next day, and two very tired parents later, we took our son home.  Everything was exciting and scary.  Was the car seat in right?  Was he warm enough back there?  Would his little head flop over too far and hinder his breathing?  Would we know since the car seat faces to the rear for safety?  I can’t stare at him the whole time; what if we get into an accident?  Somehow we made it home.  Since then, like all parents, we’ve received perfect support and great advice from a variety of folks within our circle of friends and family.  I think we’ve managed to do OK as parents so far.  It’s wonderful to have the experience of others to lean on, and to learn that you really can do this parenting thing--a subset of this marriage thing--without an instruction manual.  By the way, that last statement doesn’t mean you can’t raise a child without both parents.  Life is messy and things happen--at a minimum the “Ds” haunt many of us:  deployments (or long business trips), divorce, death.  There’s other stuff too, but to keep this truthful, after my own experiences these last three and a half years, it seems to me solo parenting isn’t the default or preferred situation.  It takes two of us to make those little, wonderful kids, and it seems two should bring them up.  When that can’t happen, I hope that same circle of family and friends is there to stand along side the parent flying solo.  
Honoring our Women
My wife Stephanie is amazing and she’s also a hero to me, on that same very short list I have with just a few other people on it, including my dad and both grandfathers.  Ladies, every one of you stands on a pedestal in my world, for many reasons.  In the absence of other reasons though, you still hold that special place for that most wonderful and miraculous thing you can do--bare children.

Men, if we don’t honor our women--all women, but especially our wives--then we’re not really men.  The word “honor” gets used a lot in certain circles, but I’m not sure many of us really understand what it means practically.  Not that I agree with every premise behind his statements, consider this amazing conversation between Robert MacGregor and his son in a scene from the 1995 movie Rob Roy:
Son:  Father, will the MacGregors ever be kings again?
Rob Roy:  All men with honor are kings, but not all kings have honor.
Son:  What is honor?
Rob Roy:  Honor is what no man can give you, and no man can take away.  Honor is a man’s gift to himself.
Son:  Do women have it?
Rob Roy:  Women have the heart of honor, and we cherish and protect it in them.  And you must never mistreat a woman, nor malign a man, or stand by and see another do so.
Son:  How do you know if you have it?
Rob Roy:  Never worry in the getting of it.  It grows in you and speaks to you.  All you need do is listen.
Men, all our circumstances are different whether we’re single, married, or fathers.  But we can’t afford to mess this up.  We live in the world and others see us:  other men, sons, women, and daughters.  Never be an ass; just be an honorable man.  
Single men, it’s OK to be the man that women want you to be and that younger men can genuinely look up to.  Be a real man of strength and honor--mentally and physically.  Don’t let yourself fuel the caricature that men are full of rudeness and too much testosterone.  Don’t go to the other extreme either though and be that ugly model of overdone pasta with no idea who you are or what you stand for, and who doesn’t know where to find his spine or what testosterone is.  If you’re a husband, you have a wife to love and cherish.  If you’re a father, you have sons and daughters to raise.  For those of you with sons, join me in my hope that we raise our sons well.  We are men.  If you’d prefer not to be, like last week, feel free to send me your Man Card; I’ll quietly and discretely dispose of it for you and we’ll never speak of this again.
It’s great to be a dad!

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