Well, it is over. After a difficult and worrisome nine months and a delivery that was nothing short of surreal we are home, with a beautiful perfect baby. He spends most of his time sleeping and nursing, but I’m not falling for it, not after telling everyone that Michael, at two weeks, was a quiet and calm baby. He went on, of course, to be nicknamed “Fussy Fussmore, the Horrible Adorable Baby”. Happily, Michael is now a thoroughly delightful 3 year old.
When Michelle developed gestational diabetes and was told she would have to have a physician deliver the baby and had to be monitored the whole time her initial reaction was one of defiance. She wanted to just stay home and have the baby on her own. A clinical birth, hooked up to machines, ran counter to her every instinct. She began to have bad dreams and a sense of foreboding.
We talked. I told her that six years ago, when I was told I needed heart bypass surgery, I was horrified. I had spent my adult life avoiding physicians and I felt like now I had fallen into their clutches, that they were now plotting something unnatural and invasive. And scary. At first I wanted to blow them off: What do they know anyway? But then I realized that if I was wrong and left my children fatherless I would have a lot to answer for. So I resolved to do whatever they said, to passively endure whatever came my way. You know, the old “lamb to the slaughter” thing. And I did so, even when I was pretty sure I was going to die as the nurse prepared me for surgery, just before the anesthesiologist knocked me out. But to my surprise, in what seemed like the next moment, I was waking up in the intensive care unit. It was over, and everything got better.
I suggested that this was a similar situation. If she dismissed the doctor’s opinion and went her own way and something happened to the baby she would never forgive herself.
So Michelle surrendered.
And we entered a foreign world. Our previous birthing experience consisted of a quiet room, dimly lit, with a midwife and maybe a nurse present. Michelle walked a lot, took showers, and changed position frequently. She spent a lot of time laboring on her hands and knees, rocking back and forth.
In complete contrast to this, we were in a bright room, with Michelle literally under a spotlight once hard labor began. There were three physicians and five nurses surrounding her, barking instructions. A line from somewhere- Firesign Theater?- came to me: “These geeks a’ gawkin’ at me”. She had an oxygen monitor on her finger, a blood pressure monitor on her arm, an IV in her other arm, and a band around her belly to watch the baby’s vital signs. When they also slapped an oxygen mask on her face she said “I feel like I am giving birth on the Starship Enterprise”.
The whole thing was as unnatural as can be. Delivery was induced, as her diabetes had swelled her placenta. The drug used for this was called Pitosin, which the nurses called “The Pit”. All I could think of was “Pit ‘O Sin”, and wondered that the usually savvy drug companies could not have come up with a better name. When the drug was administered at 8:30 am the nurse confidently predicted that the baby was going to be born by noon. Michelle resisted for a long while the repeated entreaties to submit to an epidural, which numbs the body from the waist down, but after hours of nothing much happening she realized that her body was simply not going to cooperate and she gave in. Even when she closed her eyes and rested her face was tense.
The one singular grace in this was that the picture window in her room looked out on St Joseph’s church, perhaps 300 yards away. St Joseph’s was the Italian parish in Canton, and indeed looks like it was miraculously translated from Tuscany. On the facade, just under the rose window, was a large statue of St Joseph, offering his blessing to us. And so I turned again and again to St Joseph as my bride looked more and more desperate. Every labor is a type of Passion, but in this one Michelle looked confused instead of focused, as if she was tasting not only life-giving suffering but Christ’s cry of forsakeness.
And then, at 5pm it suddenly was over. We had been hoping for a girl, but I looked down and saw what appeared to be and alien with a penis.
You must understand that the first birth I witnessed, that of my son Patric, was unlike any other. I had braced myself for a red faced newborn, but he was pink, with no blood or slime on him at all. I caught him and he gave two little cries: “Waah. Waah.” Then he opened his eyes and studied my face. Then he started looking around the room. He looked like he was a month old when he was born. Subsequent babies were more typical, red and wrinkled and wailing, but this one was a bloody mess: greenish purple, mucous pouring out of his nose, with what looked like a coating of cheese. I quipped that we could name him Stilton.
Within moments he had been wiped off and looked not only human but beautiful and most importantly, healthy. And Michelle underwent her usual Transfiguration/Resurrection, from bedraggled to radiant. She had done what had to be done- “Not my will, but Thine be done” – and emerged on the other side.
And this little baby: he is very sweet and very blonde, unlike the others, even the three who eventually turned blonde. This one’s hair is a light as mine was when I was born.
Hence his name is Daniel.
And his middle name is Joseph, for at a most desperate moment I had turned to St Joseph, blessing us from across the way, and told him that if we could have a safe delivery of a healthy baby I would name him or her some variant of Joseph in gratitude. A couple of people have objected that we already have a Joseph Francis, but I don’t see the problem. Rather, our family is now even more under the patronage of St Joseph.
Surely there is nothing wrong with that.
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