Past Due (August)

Finally, it’s time. Mommy’s off to the hospital, and Daddy, after months of careful training, completely forgets what he’s supposed to do. The newest chapter in our writer’s saga of contemporary paternity.

No baby.


* * *

No baby still.


* * *

Week 41 comes to an end. Instead of a regular supersonogram, a couple of medical salesmen and a doctor set up a brand new, super-duper-sonogram and use PL as a guinea pig to put it through its paces. We see the baby’s face very clearly for the first time and can really tell what he looks like as the salesmen pan back and forth across his features. His eyes are closed, and he looks a little squished. PL says, “He seems so generic. I don’t think we’d know him if he walked into the room.”

The rest is the usual, all’s well, fluid’s cool, tedium.


* * *

No baby.


* * *



* * *



* * *

Who cares.


* * *

Over it.


* * *

Around midnight, PL gets what feels like a stomachache, not the regular little pulses, something new. I feel her stomach. Rock, rock hard.


* * *

I wake up at 6:16. PL says, “Something’s happening.” She is sitting at the computer. She’s been up most of the night, playing solitaire and timing the contractions by the computer’s clock. They’re seven minutes apart now.

Dr. Berger returns our call and says to keep our biophysical appointment at noon, all’s well.

I am very weirded out and keep walking from room to room to do something and then, not knowing what I’m there for, walking around again. I decide to go to my office and get everything organized for my leave.

Then PL (still contracting) and I go to lunch. As Patti has her final bowl of chicken soup, the contractions start to slow down, as if they’re giving up. We head over to the hospital and they hook Patti up to the monitor. During the next 40 minutes, there’s just a single contraction, just a minute before they are set to give up and remove the sensors, as if we’d imagined the whole thing. The pelvic exam, however, reveals that Patti is three centimeters dilated and they tell us to get right over to Labor and Delivery.

At 2:15, we meet our nurse, Karen, and check into our room. The contractions start again and Karen tells us that’s normal, nature’s way of giving the mother a chance to regroup after each wave.

Despite all our months of preparations, of reading, of packing, of freaking, we’re totally unprepared. I rush home again to pick up PL’s nightgown, glasses, toothbrush, playing cards, and (of course) books and to wildly call Mum, Miranda, Phyl, and the folks at work. I rush back across town again. Patti’s not in her room. She hasn’t given birth or died but moved to another room, smaller and without a window. As we play gin rummy, the contractions build in intensity. I start winning.

Soon, Karen mutters to me, “I see she’s changing. She’s not so chatty, not so jokey anymore.” Over the next few hours, her personality is peeled away like an onion, revealing more tough and spare versions of Patti I’ve never known.

I admire her courage a lot, dealing with the pain with a bit of irritation and impatience but no panic or fear. She is an extraordinary person and I know I would have crumbled into a whiney blob in her place. I’m just a spectator chanting “one, two, three, blow,” and helping her out of her bed, but the enormity of her ordeal is nothing I can help her shoulder. I don’t know how I will ever be so impertinent as to think this baby is mine as much as it is hers.


* * *

At 6:30, somewhat to our chagrin, the jester, Dr. Berger, appears, yarmulke akimbo. Patti is now four centimeters dilated and he wonders if she is ready for an epidural, a spinal anesthetic that will basically paralyze her from the waist down and, supposedly, minimize the pain. He seems quite gleeful about it and keeps saying, “All you have to say is ‘I want an epidural.’ Just say the words.” But Patti, committed to Bradley’s ideas on natural childbirth, just sucks on some ice chips and hangs in there. She gets an IV with glucose and lactated Ringer’s solution but then, at 10 to eight, she is really in agony, Bradley goes out the window, and Patti says the magic words.

When the anesthesiologist arrives and starts to fit a needle into Patti’s spine, I get kicked out of the room. I stand around in the hall, in everyone’s way until a passing nurse suggests I go out for dinner. She sticks her head in the room to see if it’s OK with Patti and I hear her groan, “I love you. Go.”


* * *

I stumble into the nearest restaurant. I try to read my New Yorker but my brain is smoking. This morning I was in a tizzy, trying to leave my office in some kind of order. But now all that foolishness is insignificant. As I poke at my penne puttanesca, I have yet to see the curtain rise on the final and most awesome act. But I’m already completely shaken by the power of what I’ve seen, something I can only begin to comprehend now that I’m temporarily away from the scene. While everyone else is down to the earth with their sleeves rolled up, I feel like a grandiose reporter on the scene, an historian in the trenches, no rifle, no rounds. I am closer to Patti than anyone else in the hospital but simultaneously just the fifth wheel that drove her to it. Poor me.


* * *

At 9 p.m., I’m back at Beth Israel and the half of Patti that can feel feels much, much better. For the next hour, we watch the contractions on the monitor as they ebb away. Berger starts her on Pitocin to stimulate the contractions and then has to boost her epidural as the pain storms back in.

At 10, we get a fresh doctor. Wahl relieves Berger (and us), his manner so much more professional and confident. He doubles the Pitocin and returns at midnight for another pelvic. We expect bad news but he surprises us by announcing, “We’re ready to push.”

Karen has been replaced, first by a surly nurse whose name I never catch and then by Lorraine, who starts to train Patti how to push and me how to help her. She grunts and groans along with us to demonstrate the feeling and appearance of a true push. Wahl wanders in and out (it’s an incredibly busy night on the ward; every bed is full and three other Garber patients are in labor) but then begins to coach Patti in earnest from 2 to 3 a.m.

All of our lessons with Stacy, our careful practice and our sequence of positions, all go out the window. Patti’s legs are completely floppy and useless, paralyzed by the epidural. She can’t squat or even sit up properly. But, boy, does she try.

Dr. Wahl decides that the baby’s face is up instead of down and that we had better move to the operating theater to try forceps, suction and, if worse comes to worse, a C-section. We don’t even seem to think about it, moving like automatons to do whatever he says.

I put on ill-fitting paper scrub clothes as Dr. Wahl, Lorraine, and some new doctor we’ve never seen wheel Patti away. I hurry after them into the operating theater. Now things become grim and medieval as they try out a crank suction device, like some hand-held bilge pump with a funnel on the end. Next they reveal a pair of glistening forceps, like giant shoehorns. I flash to that Cronenburg movie, Dead Ringers, with Jeremy Irons playing the homicidal obstetric twins, as Wahl and the other guy circle with their masks and blood-spattered gear.

Patti pushes and pushes and pushes and the doctors urge her on. I whisper encouragement in her ears then switch to shouting at her to “Push, damn you, push!” It’s all very Moby Dick. The forceps slip a few times on whatever they’re gripping (an ear, a nose, a hank of hair?) and then I just know that Wahl is getting ready to toss it in and reach for his Cesarean shears. Patti seems to know it and gives a Herculean shove—suddenly Wahl’s voice shifts gears, rising with excitement, very unscientific, as a matted black goiter pops out between Patti’s thighs.

While everyone else is down to the earth with their sleeves rolled up, I feel like a grandiose reporter on the scene, an historian in the trenches, no rifle, no rounds.I nip around to where the action is. Wahl slowly turns the goiter around to reveal a squashed face, completely still, then suddenly animated and crying. Another screaming grunt from Patti, and a human baby appears in the room, adding to the noise. My view is obscured by teal backs as the experts converge in a flurry of activity. Then Lorraine surfaces from the scrum, holding the baby, and hustles him over to the bassinet surrounded by heat lamps.

For the next half hour, I scurry between him and Patti. The baby is incredible to see, with huge hands and feet and swollen red balls, wailing like a champ. Meanwhile, Patti is in her worst agony as she delivers the afterbirth and then has to endure as Wahl sews up the transverse episiotomy—apparently without anesthetic. All the while she had been pushing with all her might, he had been down there, slicing at her. Her pain is overwhelming and she says, “Don’t show him to me yet. Let me get over this before I meet him. I don’t want to scare him. But is he OK? Is he? He is?” and falls back, totally wiped out, onto the steel table again.

I feel tremendously guilty, darting between both sides of the room, splitting my loyalties between both of my family members, the one shocked and alone in the world, the other writhing in agony on the gory table. I have images of Patti saying, “As soon as the baby came, you left me alone. You just don’t love me anymore,” and of the baby saying, “I was just born and you’re already ignoring me from the get-go?”

The operating room is bedlam. Puddles of blood cover the floor. The steel carts hold gigantic dirty surgical instruments and a big metal dish filled with afterbirth that looks like a raw cow’s liver. The whole room rings with the cries of mother and of child, the hushed voices of the doctors, the clinking of tools. Lorraine is bent over the baby, examining and testing him. His football head is splotchy and he has perfect little chain-smoker mahogany fingernails. Lorraine tells me he seems fine. I say, “He has big feet. Hello Bigfoot,” and, offended, she says, “Hey, don’t call him ‘Bigfoot.’” I look at her. Blonde hair bedraggled, bathed in sweat, she looks as if she just ran a marathon in her scrubs. How do these people do this every day?

The room finally calms down and Patti and I have a moment alone with the baby. He stops crying and just looks at Patti through the sides of the bassinet, opening his big blue eyes and just quietly gazing at her as if to say, “Oh, that’s what you look like, I’ve been wondering for months.”

Then a fresh nurse comes and takes him off to the nursery and another trundles Patti to the recovery room, still in pain and shivering. A tiny Filipino woman sits vigil, monitoring her vital signs for an hour and allowing PL a few sips of water.

It’s just after 4 a.m., and I go off to alert the clan. First, Miranda, who has been so excited and helpful the whole way through. Then Mickey and Phyl who have walked around with their cordless phone for days. Then I wake Pipsi. Weeks ago, she had postponed interviewing groups of lesbians about their Isuzus so she’d be in town on the official due date; now she was in a hotel room in Boston and had missed all the fun. She is very excited and will rush back in a day or so. Finally I pile the rest of my quarters into the slot and call Gran in Jerusalem. He asks if the baby has a good singing voice and wishes Patti well.

I go back to Patti, who is now sufficiently recovered to go her room and I walk alongside as a couple of indifferent porters brusquely shove her gurney into the elevator. I kiss her and head down to the nursery where Jack lies under a heat lamp in his ski cap, just like the baby we saw so long ago in this same room. His hooves are black from the foot-printing and he looks at me as I hold his little hand.

My boy.


* * *

At 7 a.m., I stagger home to walk Frank and take a nap. At 11, the phone rings and Patti, sounding refreshed and chipper, says, “I’m lying here with my baby.” I can’t wait to rejoin them, though a small truck seems to have run me over several times. I bolt down a bagel and then stagger into the shower. As I stand on my right foot to wash my left, I suddenly slip. I fall through the shower curtain, swiping the lead crystal mouthwash decanter off the back of the toilet, the bottle Patti had bought to replace the one that broke our former toilet. It falls onto the floor of the tub and smashes into jagged shards and an explosion of cinnamon Lavoris. I come tumbling after, landing full force on the glass, my head bouncing off the faucet.

I lie there for a moment, sure I have split my skull open. Eventually, I get up and see in the mirror that my face is fine. Why is there so much Lavoris everywhere? Shit, it’s blood. The palm of my left hand has a nice deep puncture wound by the pinkie and the back of my right hand has an eye-shaped slit like a surgical incision. I daub at blood and mouthwash and soapy water with a mass of toilet paper. Then I try to bandage myself with odds and ends from our meager first aid kit. I then mop the floor, going back time and again to catch the fresh spatters of blood.

In a fog, I grab a cab back to the hospital. As I exit the elevator, someone vaguely familiar, maybe a girlfriend of Patti’s, rushes up to me and bubbles, “Oh, my God, Daddy! How excited are you?” I grunt. She recoils in horror as she registers my gory shirt and pants. I lurch past her and head into Patti’s room.

She and the baby are resting in a sunswept bed, looking fresh and lovely. I keep my distance and, as calmly as I can, explain that I have to go immediately to the emergency room. Not waiting for a response, and feeling utterly selfish and incompetent, I abandon my family and ride down to the ER for a few dozen stitches. When I am done looking after my own needs, I return to our room and change my first diaper. Miranda takes pictures of me holding the baby, his red face surrounded by my white bandages and black stitches.


TMN Contributing Illustrator Danny Gregory first learned to swim in the canal behind the Lahore American School, to kill ticks at Canberra Grammar School, to snap bras at the Kibbutz Givat Brenner, to light a match with one hand at Princeton University, and to mount sheep at the Northwestern School of Taxidermy. He is the author of several books and the obligatory blog and lives in Greenwich Village (with his first wife and son), where he does not attend NYU. More by Danny Gregory