Monday, January 24, 2011

The Birth of a Child: For Jessica on Her Birthday

January 24, 2007, was a Wednesday. We will probably never forget that it was a Wednesday. Anna had taken the day off to go to her doctor's office for an ultrasound to check on Baby Burdett, and we were going to go out to lunch afterwords. The ultrasound wasn't quite routine; at her eight-month checkup the week before, Anna had measured "a little small," so Dr. St. Charles wanted to bring her in the following week for an ultrasound to make sure everything was okay.

We weren't expect to have a baby that day. If we'd had any idea that that were even possible, we would have packed our bags at least, instead of just saying, "We really need to get around to getting our suitcase ready," and then not doing it. So imagine our surprise when Dr. St. Charles said, "You're going to have this baby today."

"What? It almost sounded like you said we're going to have a baby today. But that can't be; the due date is still three weeks away--February 14, Valentine's Day, remember? We've still got plenty of time to finally adjust to the fact that we will soon become parents. We still have time to get ready!"

That kind of readiness is not a factor in such decisions, apparently.

Dr. St. Charles told us to get ourselves straight to the hospital. "Can we at least go home to get some clothes?" "No! Go straight to the hospital. This baby is going to be born in the next few hours." Based on the ultrasound measurements, they believed the still-in-the-womb Baby Burdett (we knew her name would be Jessica, but we hadn't told anyone yet) weighed about four and a half pounds, which is very small for a soon-to-be-born baby. Since Anna was 37 weeks along at that point, and they consider 37 weeks to be full term, Dr. St. Charles believed it would be best to get little Baby Burdett out into the real world to determine what issues she might have that were making her so small, rather than wait for Anna to go into labor.

So we went to the hospital, scared, concerned, totally inexperience, but still with excitement, albeit somewhat muted.

I remember so clearly sitting on a chair outside the operating room where they perform C-sections, wearing the flimsy hospital outfit they had given me over my clothes, including the paper booties over my shoes and the cap on my head; the face mask dangled down onto my chest, the top straps not yet tied, just like I'd seen countless times on "M*A*S*H." Inside, they were prepping Anna for the surgery; Baby Burdett's heart rate had dropped when they tried to induce labor, so a Cesarean was the only option. I sat there, not knowing what was going on anywhere, writing over and over in my back-pocket notebook, "Please, God, let this baby be okay. Please, God, let this baby be okay. Please, God, let this baby be okay." I sat out there nearly forever.

They called me in.

It takes a long time to perform a C-section, and it was comforting that while they were cutting my wife open and pulling our baby out--Bobcat Goldthwait once said a C-section is "when the baby comes out like toast," and I couldn't get that image out of my head--Dr. St. Charles and the assisting nurses were talking about vacation plans and family visits and other mundane things. On "M*A*S*H," you know everything is going to be okay when the doctors are chatting and making jokes; when they're quiet and really focused on their work, it's time to worry.

After a short eternity, Dr. St. Charles said, "Here comes the baby," and seconds later we heard crying. And we cried.

She was skinny; we didn't realize at the time how skinny, she was the only baby we'd ever had. And she was purple and covered in blood and everything else newborn babies are covered in. But she was crying, and wiggling around, and she was so beautiful to me. I didn't know I could feel so much love so fast.

I stood at the nurses side, tears streaming down my face, as they cleaned our little baby up and weighed her--three pounds, thirteen ounces, more than half a pound less than their estimate--and put her in a diaper and blankets; they showed her very quickly to her mother and then whisked her away to the NICU.

And that's how Jessica was born.

She was in perfect health, though they kept her in the NICU for six days--perhaps the longest week we've ever lived through--before they let her come home. They never found out why she was so small, but ultimately it doesn't matter; she was fine, and by five months she had caught up to most babies her age.

I can't believe it's been four years now. Four years is, of course, really not very long, but in a way it really is. I hope that the next few years go by very slowly. I hope our oldest daughter is telling me the truth when I tell her not to be in any rush to grow up and she says, "I'm not."

Happy Birthday, Jessica. I love you.

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