[Scroll down to yesterday’s entry for Part 1 of this entry.]
If the labor room was time suspended, the delivery room was time in warped speed, pulsing forward with fits and stops. When I arrived Cheryl was already on “the table” with two nurses scurrying around preparing for the doctor’s arrival. As Dr. McDonald arrived and greeted us Cheryl was requesting an additional pillow. One of the ladies in white begrudgingly exited and returned with the extra pillow. I was standing behind Cheryl’s head and between contractions attempting to help her get situated with the two pillows. She decided she needed a third and requested it. The nurse staired with a look of frustration and proceeded to ignore the request. Cheryl repeated her request and as the nurse turned to respond Dr. McDonald spoke up, “Well Nurse, you heard her. Get the lady a pillow.” She huffed and exited to retrieve the contraband.
I was impressed and thankful; things were about to get more interesting. With the pillows in place Cheryl turned her attention to the stirrups. Sitting up as much as possible she grabbed the one at her right calf and said, “I don’t want these.” The nurse, clearly not accustomed to taking directions from anyone but a doctor, responded, “Now honey you have to leave those alone. We can adjust them up or down, but we an't remove them; they are staying there.”
I wish you could have seen the nurse's face as Cheryl pulled the stirrup out of its socket, “No, I don’t want them. Take them away.”
Just as a tug of war was ensuing, the voice of authority drifted across the room, “You heard her nurse. Remove the stirrups. Haven’t you ever seen a baby delivered without them? Back in Scotland I delivered babies on the kitchen table.” With that settled, Alethea agreed it was time for her entry.
“She’s at 10 and fully effaced.”
“OK, young lady, now push. Push. Push hard ... One more time. Push hard, hard, harder. You’re almost there. Give me one more good push. That’s it. Now stop. Stop. OK, one more hard push.”
Moments later, there was Alethea. Naked, umbilical cord clamped and cut, covered in a waxy film, squinting, crying, and red around her eyes. Heaven and earth stood still. All things were new. Once she was cleaned up and wrapped in a blanket I held her for the first time as the doctor completed working with Cheryl. I had held dozens of babies but I had never felt anything like that, exuberance, awe, exhaustion, and terror all woven together. A few minutes later she was resting in Cheryl’s arms as they wheeled the two of them toward Cheryl’s room.
At one point in the hallway they stopped and took Alethea so she could be examined in the nursery. The world stopped. We had worked so hard to get her out and into our arms and suddenly they were taking her away. As they rolled Cheryl to her room I walked down the hallway to tell Mom and Darlene the good news. The waiting room at the end of the long hall was well lit giving the feel of walking into the light. Mom and Darlene were excitedly standing as I approached. Looking at them, my chest was full of pride and although I could feel my feet moving, it was as if I was floating in mid air. I am certain that walk was the closest to the streets of gold I will experience this side of heaven.
The day was not over. I made a quick trip home and returned for the evening. I was there when Cheryl tried to nurse for the first time. I don’t know how piglets, calves, puppies, and kittens make their first effort look so easy. Human babies seem a little slower at latching on and triggering the sucking reflex, or so I have been told. Sometime around ten or eleven a nurse entered the room with a bottle of clear liquid which she promptly handed to me with instructions to feed my hungry baby.
In my youth I had heated many bottles and fed them to my cousins. Thus, I was not prepared for the terror about to ensue. I had never tried to feed a newborn. I struggled to get her to stop crying and wrap her mouth around the nipple. I drew circles on her lips with the nipple. I pushed it in and out. I massaged the roof of her mouth with it. Nothing worked. It became clear she did not have the aptitude for it. “Oh, no, my baby is retarded. She doesn’t even know how to suck. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck and cut off the flow of oxygen to her brain. How am I going to tell Cheryl?” When the nurse returned I inquired, with less drama, about Alethea’s difficulties and she ensured me it was normal; she would catch on soon enough. “Liar,” I thought. I must have prayed the prayer of faith that night; a fervent effectual prayer turns the mentally challenged into pediatricians.
Before we left the hospital with her a couple of days later, she had the nursing thing down pat. It was Cheryl who was discovering that fulfillment sometimes comes with a painful price tag. I was not overly traumatized as we drove away from St. Joseph’s. My mother was with us for a few more days. Everything would be all right. On the other hand, I was fully aware of how little I knew about caring for a baby. Traumatized? No. Fearful? Oh, yes. Where’s that owner’s manual?
May 23, 2010