I was at work when I got the phone call; I had just released my last class of the day and was settling in to my desk to complete some much-needed grading.
“Hey Rachel, what’s up?”
“Hey… I think my water just broke.”
How can I describe the rush of emotions? Excitement, of course, but also surprise, confusion, and a bit of fear. Our due date wasn’t meant to be for another month, after all. He still had some growing to do. We still had some work to get our house ready for a new baby. We hadn’t even packed an overnight bag the way all the books said to.
A cop followed me on the way home; he rode my tail all the way down Tamiami as if daring me to speed. It was all I could do not to just push the pedal to the floor, devil may care, and attempt to outrun him like Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto.
Rachel wasn’t in any pain, and seeing her helped calm my nerves. Together, with her seated on absorbent pads we’d thankfully had left over from our incontinent pet rabbit, we made the 50-minute drive to the hospital triage unit. Since the baby was breech, we would need an emergency caesarian section—but apparently not too much of an emergency. Rachel’s contractions were very mild and there was time for me, while Rachel was working through some of the preliminary paperwork, to make a run to Walgreens for some much needed canker-sore medicine and to the nextdoor Publix for a sub and a Coke. We arrived at the hospital at around 1:43, were told we would go in for surgery at 7:00, and actually went in at about 8:30. C’est la vie.
We were given a fair amount of scary worst-case-scenario talk about all the things that can go wrong in a c-section. The words hovered in the air like hydrogen blimps on the verge of exploding: infection … blood loss … remove the womb … We were told that our son might have underdeveloped lungs and be unable to breathe. I tried not to let it bother me. I know they’re required to let patients know this stuff in advance, in preparation should things take a turn for the worst. None of these things would happen to Rachel or our child. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t. Things like that only happen to other people … to women on daytime TV melodramas or to your mom’s friend’s sister’s baby. I willed my nervousness away. We prayed together. Over my clothes, I put on a paper suit—loose fitting shirt, MC Hammer pants, hair net, silly little booties. The doctors said it was time and took Rachel away for local anesthetic. Half an hour later they came and got me.
The operation itself went faster than I had expected—after the nurse anesthetist did his thing, the actual surgery was over in a matter of minutes. I held Rachel’s hand, anxious, as she winced and gasped and told me how weird it felt: “Tugging, but no pain,” as the surgeons said. I tried my best not to imagine them fiddling about wrist-deep in my wife’s guts.
After a tense few minutes, we heard the baby—our baby—cry. It was one of the best sounds I’ve ever heard. I immediately began to laugh. I couldn’t help it. I was overjoyed. That was my son, my little David. If he could cry, he could breathe. He would be ok.
The next moments were a delirious blur of activity. I kissed Rachel, then was whisked to an adjoining room that seemed no bigger than a closet. Doctors were wiping him with cloths, sucking fluid from his mouth and nostrils with a bulb syringe, squirting ointment into his eyes. I cut the umbilical cord with a pair of scissors, trying to take in his tiny hands, his smooth, pink skin, his angry little face. In a daze, I watched when they brought him over to meet his mom, dutifully snapped a picture when instructed, then followed the doctors down a series of corridors to the NICU unit.
Wee Davey was placed under a heat lamp, given an IV, and hooked up to machines that go “bing.” The nurses (who were great—equal parts compassion and professionalism) stuck him with what seemed like dozens of needles, trying to insert tubes into tiny veins to draw blood off and put other fluids in. To distract and calm him as they worked, I dipped a pacifier into sugar water—the newborn equivalent of a lollypop. They took his weight and measurements: five pounds, three ounces, seventeen inches. His breathing, heartrate, and body temperature were stable. His blood was sludgy thick and would not come easily when the nurses needed to draw it; it would need to be thinned out. He cried and wiggled and made soft chimpanzee noises, but mostly he slept.
I wasn’t allowed to hold him that first night—was barely allowed to touch him, except to comfort him when he was already awake. Sleep was the most vital thing for him at the moment, the nurses said, as he had a lot of development to catch up on, and I oughtn’t disturb him, except at specified “touch times” when he would be awakened to take care of all his medical needs at once. So instead I watched. I stood beside his little incubator-bed and stared at him, trying without success to read my or Rachel’s features in his little wizened face. I admit I cried a little. This was my son, after all. My firstborn. Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, and all that. It was—is—simply amazing.
When he cried, I kissed him and sang to him: rock and swing, hymns, nursery rhymes. In the midst of it all I thought of a song I hadn’t heard in years—perhaps not since my days as a middle-schooler racing round and round the disco-ball lit hardwood floor at Kate’s Skating Rink: Aerosmith’s power-ballad, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” I know the song is about a guy singing to his wife or girlfriend or whatever, but it felt super-appropriate for our situation.
Don’t want to close my eyes
I don’t want to fall asleep
Cause I’d miss you, baby
And I don’t wanna miss a thing.
Cause even when I dream of you
The sweetest dream would never do
I’d still miss you, baby
And I don’t want to miss a thing.
I spent the night ostensibly on a cot in his room, but probably only slept about half an hour in total. Most of my time was spent either restlessly watching him, talking with the nurses, or running errands between his room in the children’s hospital and Rachel’s room in the main unit where she was recovering from surgery—It would be about twelve hours before she would be well enough to come see him—right after I was able to hold him for the first time.
God is gracious—so many things that could have gone wrong didn’t, and we are thankful for a healthy son. I have no doubt that little Davey, “from his mother’s womb untimely ripped,” will grow to do mighty things.
The staff here tell us that we can expect David to remain in the NICU unit for at least a couple of weeks—maybe all the way up through our due date at the end of October. Healthy as he is, he is yet small and fragile, being premature, and he’s going to need time and care to continue to develop properly. We’ve applied for a place at the Ronald McDonald house, which would make staying up here far more convenient—there’s only room for one parent to really sleep in David’s room with him. I’m going to need to go back to work soon (perhaps Monday, but we’ll see what the weekend holds), but I plan to spend every possible moment here with him.
Because I don’t want to miss a thing.