Are we having a Christmas baby?
This is partly what’s on my mind at about 1 AM on Christmas morning as Lydia begins to have contractions. More on my mind is that she’s been vomiting from the flu all night. At first, we thought it could be her body cleansing itself for delivery, but with each trip to the bathroom, we’re more convinced she’s got the stomach flu.
Still, we’re confused as to whether labor and the flu might have collided in a not-so-perfect storm. At her weekly appointment days earlier, the doctors said, “You could have the baby tonight or in two weeks.” We’re ready: My overnight bag has been in the trunk of the car for months; quite possibly the contents are frozen. Lydia, being a sane person, has had hers packed for a couple of weeks, at the ready, but in the bedroom.
We take it minute by agonizing minute. Lydia is beyond uncomfortable, but she’s incredibly brave, so I try to gauge whether she’s in trouble or not. I stay awake as her contractions come and go. At 6 AM she says, “I think I’m going into labor.”
A half-hour later, we’re in the car. It’s dark and the sky pours tiny white crystals that twinkle in the pre-dawn, ink-black, backcountry roads that take us through the buckle of the snow-belt to the hospital. We’re driving through a magical-looking, Christmas winter wonderland, except the winding and hilly roads are covered in ice. I’ve told Lydia that I’m the world’s greatest snow driver. She’s from Southern California, so takes my claim on faith. She doesn’t have much choice this morning.
We arrive and park. We walk into the back E.R. entrance of the hospital, as the front is not yet open. A nurse walks toward us in the deserted hall. I croak out, “contractions.”
“Oh, a Christmas baby,” the nurse says brightly, pulling up a wheelchair. Her smile fades. “Maybe,” she adds.
I wheel Lydia down the hall and up the elevator. She’s not happy about the wheelchair, and in her wrung-out state she says, “I don’t feel empowered as a woman.” We will laugh about this later. For now I just say, “I understand. Please sit.”
We get a nurse who’s been around the block; a real pro’s pro. I say a prayer of thanks for this. She asks Lydia a number of medical questions and we see that the baby’s heartbeat is high, which practically stops my own. Lydia’s in a zone, but not a particularly good one. A while later the doctor on duty arrives. One of Lydia’s regular doctors has been called at her home.
“The baby looks great. I’m not worried about him,” the doctor says. She isn’t smiling. “But you,” she says to Lydia, “are severely dehydrated. You’re not in labor now.” For five and a half hours, Lydia is hydrated intravenously. By early afternoon, she is out of danger, fully re-hydrated, the color back in her face, the baby’s heartbeat slowed down to normal.
We return home and the kids, who have been patient and concerned, but have watched “A Christmas Story” four and a half times, are happy to have their mommy back. I get Lydia back into our bed and I go downstairs. I’m determined to make a normal Christmas dinner, which is also a celebration that Lydia is okay. Our friend Jan Evans had dropped off a honey-baked ham for us two days earlier, and I somehow manage to throw together scalloped potatoes and green bean casserole and a few other things. Lydia, devoted mom that she is, makes it downstairs. Having opened the Christmas gifts the night before – the kids seemed to have had a premonition, which we went along with – we have a dinner full of laughs and gratitude.
There will be no Christmas baby this year, but Lydia and the baby are well, and that’s all I care about.
Now we wait. Our baby won’t be a New Year’s Day baby this year, either. Those dates that seemed special as a birthdays now seem immaterial to me, just numbers on a calendar that came and went.
• • •
At mid-morning on January 10, Lydia looks beautiful. She always does, but today something is different. We’re in the waiting room at the doctors’ office for her weekly check-up, which Lydia made a week ago for a Monday this week instead of Tuesday.
She goes into the doctor’s office and I sit in the waiting room. My stomach seems to have gone to Ringling Brothers Circus and the appointment seems to take three or four months. In reality, after about a half hour, I’m called into the examining room.
Lydia told her doctor that she had heavy contractions throughout the morning. The contractions are now more consistent than they’ve been the past couple of weeks.
“You’re dilated four centimeters. If you make it through the night without going into labor,” the doctor says, “we’ll induce tomorrow morning at 7 AM.”
• • •
At 5:30 AM, after 2 ½ hours of sleep, I scramble out of bed. Lydia is coming out of the shower. I feel good. Lydia says she does, too. A little while later, for perhaps the first time, I’m ready to go before Lydia.
We get on the road, which is clear today, but we’re stuck behind a school bus for miles. Finally, at 7:05 AM we pull into the hospital. This time Lydia walks. We’re escorted into Labor Delivery Room No. 11.
Our RN, Jeannie, asks Lydia a lot of questions. Then she says, “You’re just a healthy person having a baby.” She notes the room number, the date, and says, “That’s a lot of 11s. I hope he’s not 11 pounds. Who did your pedicure?”
“I did, last week,” Lydia says.
“Impressive,” replies the calming nurse.
But of course: I have to ask one stupid question; it must be in the Rules for Men book somewhere. “What should she do if she’s, you know, under anesthesia?” I’m not even sure what I’m asking.
Jeannie actually puts her hands up to her mouth. The 36-year veteran nurse is speechless. This, I will learn, is the way they did it, oh, fifty years ago. I need to shut up immediately, I say to myself.
Now they’re speaking woman to woman, the way it should be. Lydia is serene. My stomach isn’t hosting a circus so much as a full out, Vegas production of Cirque de Soleil. The nurse administers pitocin to move the labor along. We watch “Good Morning America,” and I see my old political friend, George Stephanopoulos. “I remember giving him a ride after a event,” I say. “He was such a kid then.” George and Robin Roberts talk about Kate Middleton and Prince William’s wedding. I can’t focus on a word they say.
At 9:05 Jeannie requests an epidural because Lydia’s starting to contract a lot. I cover her in a handmade quilt made by her sister-in-law, Virginia. Twenty-five minutes later, Jeff, the anesthesiologist, comes in; another cool, confident person.
At a little after ten, Jeannie says, “This is really good, you’re doing great, the baby’s doing great.”
At 11:03 the doctor – the same one we saw the day before – breaks Lydia’s water. I can’t resist saying one more stupid thing. “Does this take it to the next level?” I ask. More silence. We watch “The View.”
I take a fourteen-minute nap in the rocker. I wake up and barely control my panic. Something’s wrong…I have never felt anything like it. Both Lydia and Jeannie look at me evenly. “There was a problem while you were asleep. The umbilical cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. The doctor is on the way,” Jeannie says.
I feel like I’m choking and lunge for the bathroom, where I dry heave four or five times. When I emerge I hear Jeannie say to Lydia, “You’re ready.”
Lydia dilated quickly from 4 to 8 centimeters in those fourteen minutes, and just now to ten. The doctor comes in; she and Jeannie put on rubber gloves. “You’re going to hold her right leg at the knee,” Jeannie says to me.
I take Lydia’s right hand in my left, and hold her right knee as instructed. “Now push,” the doctor says. This is happening so fast.
After this pregnancy, one that was difficult up to this moment, Lydia looks me right in the eye. “I love you,” I say. “I love you,” she says back. She has one contraction, pushes three times, and I look to my right. I see his head – he has black hair. A minute or two later, the doctor hands him to the nurse. Our baby has been born. “Oh my god,” I say, and begin to cry. “Oh my god.” They hand me a large scissors and instruct, “Cut the cord,” and point to the spot where I am to cut the umbilical cord and separate Finn Scott Lax from his mother for the first time in nine months. I clamp down hard. And suddenly, at 12:41 PM on 1.11.11, in LDR 11, Finn is in the world.
The nurses quickly clean him; it’s a blur. They put him on Lydia, with whom he will stay bonded for the rest of his life; then in the warmer bassinet. He’s wailing and waving his arms and legs and it’s the most beautiful sight and sound I could ever imagine. I look back at Lydia, who is being attended to. I’m still crying and I say, “You did it,” and she says, “We did it.”
I turn to Finn. The nurse grabs my cell phone camera and hands Finn to me, this tiny wonderful baby, and says, “Look up.” She takes a photo, which I will cherish, but won’t publish, because of the mucus and tears. But they’re not Finn’s. They’re mine.
He’s wailing in the bassinet now and I don’t know what to do, so I sing him one of the songs that I sung him nearly every night for the past few months: Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral. Finn stops crying and looks at me. My five-minute-old son is now calmer than I.
I do not remember much of that day after that, except that I have to leave after a couple of hours and pick up the kids from school. Today’s blizzard is worse than ever. While Lydia and Finn rest at the hospital, twenty miles but a blizzard away, I make the kids dinner. Later, we talk on the phone. I barely sleep for the excitement, and early the next morning, I take the kids back to school. I sleep for a few hours, then do baby shopping errands, then pick them up at school. From there we drive through the ongoing blizzard and have a reunion with Lydia and Finn at the hospital.
Finn Scott Lax entered the world weighing 8 lbs. 2 oz, and measuring 19.5 inches. He’s healthy and, for a newborn, I hear, remarkably mellow. Lydia is pretty beat up but doing great, all things considered.
What I do know is that what she has done, what every mother does, is perform a miracle. I feel humility, as well as joy, that are deeper than anything I have ever known. It’s a fact I don’t know a man can understand until he’s witnessed it. And that’s all I – and we men – can do: witness it.
• • •
At the end of day six of Finn in the world, as I again sit at my writing desk, I realize that Finn is the miracle and that Lydia is the vessel of that miracle. My love for them goes past where I can see, past where I can feel, as if beyond the physical universe, beyond, even, my imagination.
They are both asleep. I look at the clock and it’s just past midnight. I spend the next three and a half hours sitting by Finn’s bassinet, watching him, stroking his face, singing to him and looking over at Lydia. Since May, she has endured low-lying placenta and bleeding; severe anemia and the exhaustion it brought; and the dehydration that landed her in the hospital on Christmas Day.
I am thankful that Lydia decided to bottle feed, so I can help in this way with Finn. Lydia and I become something of an Indy 500 pit-crew with the bottles, diapers, and wipes. And though I feel grateful to help raise and nurture my infant son, it’s Lydia, through her sacrifice and pain, through her labor and love, who has allowed me to be a first-time father, and to share in these precious first weeks in the world with our son. For so long before I met her and before this all happened, it’s a chance I didn’t think I’d have.
At once I realize that this morning marks the first week anniversary of Finn’s birth. The days have passed so quickly that it both frightens and exhilarates me: I’m frightened that time moves as it does – as it always has – and wish I could hold it back; yet I’m exhilarated that Finn grows into himself before our eyes, and I can’t wait for tomorrow.
After my fifty-eight years, after disappointments and lessons too numerous to recount, I finally I know my reason to be. Those holes in my soul are covered at last, swaddled in love for a little boy named Finn.
Editor’s note: Congratulations, Scott and Lydia. You did it!