Saturday, July 3, 2010


Fourteen Years Ago Today

The drive back to the B&B was exhausting and yet sleep was unattainable and undesirable. When we opened the doors on the rental car after pulling into the B&B parking lot and turned off the ignition the suppressive heat of south Texas once again punched us in the solar plexus even though the sun was beginning to fade. Once through the doors and into the air-conditioning Janet and Pat were waiting downstairs to meet us. Their curiosity was smeared across their faces as they drew us into the common area just to the left of the long central hall. Exhaustion, exhilaration and nerves were pushing all of our buttons as they pressed us for information about our day. Reliving the day through their questions was almost as exciting as the actual day had been. They calmed our anxiety and suspended time, time that could not pass fast enough.  Janet and Pat had a way about them making them the perfect hosts. Good thing they opened a B&B.
            Sleep came as a sweet gift that night with Rick wrapped up in my arms. Visions of the hospital, Amy’s eyes, the nurse’s soft pink hands with clipped polished nails and Beth’s belly and her back kept drawing me out of sleep. I got up early, shaved and took a long shower. Our first room at the B&B was on the second floor. We would move down to the first floor later on in our stay. The bed was very red, Janet and Pat’s version of a honeymoon suite. The bathroom was small, tiled in black and white with a window in the shower. It didn’t look out on much but it did fill the shower with a beautiful light. I stood in the shower while the window steamed over thinking of Rick asleep in the red satin bed and our daughter sloshing around inside Beth’s womb. The doctor had decided on her time of entry into the world. I kept thinking as the warm water washed over my body it should have been her decision when to come into this world. Questions continued to drip from my head. Could I love this child the way she deserved? Could I make up to her for all of the decisions being made for her, decisions that should have been hers or Gods? Would she grow to hate us for what we had done? Would she have rather not known us at all? Do we deserve this child? When I got out of the shower Rick was up. It was still early and we had time to sit. Last night, before we went upstairs, the girls had given us a basket to take up filled with fruit and breakfast muffins. There was juice in the frig. We sat down to breakfast before Rick took his shower.
            “How are you feeling?”
            “I’m not sure. I don’t know if I can handle being in the room for the birth.”
            “You’ll do it because you have to do it. Beth wants us there.” “I can’t believe how bad I am at that back rubbing thing. I think I was about to break one of her kidneys. I thought the more pressure you rubbed into her back the better it would feel.” “How long do you think it’s going to take?”
            “I can’t say. The inducing didn’t take yesterday. It could take a long time. I don’t know”
            “Rick, do you think we’re doing the right thing?”
            “What do you mean?”
            “We’re two men who are going to try and raise a child. This is real uncharted water. What if she hates us?”
            “These were my questions way back when. I don’t have an answer. We have the support of our friends. Suzanne has been our champion on this and we know we can be good parents. We want this child. That’s about as much as we can give her.” He got up and kissed me and went off into the shower.
            The same heat we had walked into the day before was outside the door again waiting for us and slapping us in the face just as it had done the day before but today we punched it back. We found our way to the hospital and just as it had been the day before, no alarms went off when we went in, there were no police in the neo-natal ward waiting to arrest us. The door to Beth’s room was open when we got there. As we walked into the room the activity of giving birth had already begun. Beth was sitting up in bed taking deep breaths. You could see the strain of childbirth in the shape of her mouth and the beginnings of beads of perspiration along the front edge of her hairline. Amy was squeezing her hand as we got there and the nurse from the day before was just leaving the room. We said hello to all three of them as the nurse brushed by us with a quick turn of her eyes and a small smile of acknowledgement. I thought about a token kiss for Beth but as I approached I decided to hold back. It seemed out of place. Beth gave us her best smile, a strained lifting of the muscles at the corners of her mouth and a barely perceptible shrug of her shoulders. There was no turning back and there was no desire to turn back. Rick and I knew without looking at each other this was exactly where we wanted to be, in this room with this woman who was going to give us a gift that would change our lives.
            We spoke to Amy deciding who would do what and then we all moved into our positions. Rick and Amy were to help with the massaging and when the time came Rick would help push. I had pulled out the still and video cameras. This is the job I was given placing me as far away from Beth’s back as they could get me. I think Beth had had enough of the uncontrollable brutality of my massaging technique. Beth had requested an epidural and they had asked us to leave the room while they hooked her up. The nurse came out right after and told us we could come back in. She had counseled us a bit out in the hall. She tried to sooth our nerves by telling us she thought things were progressing on schedule. I don’t know if its true or not but I think she requested to be with us. She was very protective of us in the way a sports coach is protective of his players. She was encouraging yet distant. It was a message that said she knew we could do this. We would make her proud.
            By this time the room had been fully outfitted for the birth. The warming bed with its heat lamps had been wheeled in, the stirrups had been raised and the epidural apparatus had been connected. The day before we briefly meet the doctor who was going to assist with the birth. He had come in to call off the inducing and then rescheduled the process for today. He had come in now to check on how Beth was progressing. He spoke to us only briefly directing most of his orders and questions to the attending nurses and Beth. There was no small talk. There was no sense of humor. He was there to do his job and to do it professionally and that was where he chose to draw the line. We had been at the hospital for an hour. The doctor had taken his position at the foot of Beth’s birthing bed. He looked to see how she was dilating. It was eleven AM when he said, “Let’s go”. Beth was at eight centimeters. It was time to begin. Two nurses remained in the room with the doctor, Amy, Beth, Rick and myself. There was a sheet draped over Beth’s knees making a curtain over the proscenium of our daughter’s center stage entrance. We had heard so many horror stories of twelve, sixteen even twenty hours of labor. We had no idea what kind of fight this little girl might put up. She hadn’t asked for this entry. Instead the gate holding her in had been artificially unlocked and she would have to decide how much of a struggle she wanted to make. Was there security in that womb or curiosity as to what lay outside? The contractions where now coming fairly rapidly. Rick had been asked to stand behind Beth and help her push supporting her back as she raised up gripping the bed rails and her sheets for strength. I remained removed from reality viewing the whole event through the lens of a camera as if I was watching a movie. The image of Beth so lost in the moment of childbirth and the astonishment painted on Rick’s face was focused within this tiny frame. The camera controlled what I saw. My heart controlled what I felt. It reaffirmed the miracle of birth. The second contraction kicked in. Rick picked up the pillows supporting Beth’s back and gently helped her force her body forward pushing and pushing. I could now see the crown of the baby’s head. The doctor’s hands were busy massaging and probing and easing the baby out of Beth and into the world. Life’s beginnings are frequently a measure of searing pain, an anguishing scream coupled with a slap induced cry. Emmy’s birth came quickly and without any of these. Rick would always say she swam out like a dolphin her eyes open and her arms and legs stroking the air as she glided into our world. The doctor scooped her up into his arms and from over his shoulder he asked if I would like to cut the cord. One of the nurses handed me the scissors. My hands weren’t shaky but steady. I clipped the cord and the doctor passed our child to the nurse. I looked up past the baby and beyond Beth into Rick’s eyes. They were wet with joy.
            The nurse put our daughter on the warming table and began the process of cleaning and measuring. Checking to make sure she had all of her toes and noting her vitals. She quickly swathed her in a blanket. Beth had told everyone she didn’t want to hold her after the birth. She didn’t want the physical contact to change her mind. In a whisper Rick asked if he could hold her. The nurse turned directly to him, “Of course you can. She’s your daughter.”
            Elisabeth Maud Shaver/Melahn, Emmy. We had pulled names from our families. Elisabeth was my mother’s middle name and Maud was Rick’s favorite grandmother’s name. We wanted her to be connected to our families. We wanted her to know her history would be with us. We were where she now belonged. We were her family. We were her future for better or for worse.
We were all exhausted and starving by now. I volunteered to go out and get food for everyone. Beth through her haze of childbirth had said she had a craving for fried chicken. I found the nearest sign for the Colonel and returned as soon as I could. Rick and Amy were waiting in the room. Beth was asleep. We gave the food to Amy who said she would share it with Beth when she woke. It was time for us to separate. As we left Amy handed us a card. I opened it, it was a typical Hallmark card, pink and flowers with a typical rhyme but Amy had added, “Congratulations dads”. It was another moment that made us blush with pride.
Rick had begun fighting for Emmy’s rights from the first moment he saw her. While I had gone out hunting for the Colonel Rick had gone to the nursery to see where they were going to put her. The windows to the nursery were made of glass embedded with wire making all of the babies look as if they were being held in some sort of stockade. When he got there a nurse was finishing checking Emmy out for anything they might have missed in the delivery suite. He jumped into parent vigilante mode when he saw the nurse pushing and prodding in ways he felt were too brutal.  His fists immediately began banging on the glass as he mouthed to the nurse to stop the rough stuff. No one was going to harm this child. The nurse had looked up and smiled at this, thankful the window had sufficient wire to keep Rick far enough away from her endangered throat.
It was becoming clear we had generated a bit of a buzz around the birthing floor. There were a lot of nodding heads and furtive glances cast our way as we made the rounds of the nursery windows and vending machines. We had acquired celebrity status. It was now time to find out which kind of role we had been cast in and it didn’t take long to find out. One of the nurses that had been with us in the birthing room was now in the nursery area. When she spotted us there looking in at Emmy from the other side of the glass window she came out and told us to come with her. It was just about feeding time and the babies would soon be taken to their mothers for some nipple lip lock. Emmy would not be going in to Beth so the nurses had made a special room for us just off of the nursery. They had equipped the room with a changing area and boxes of formula and disposable bottles and nipples. The kindness of all of the nurses at this Methodist hospital was remarkable. They showed us how to change her, how much formula she should take, and what was the proper way to burp her. They did it professionally, with respect and humanity. The first time they brought her in to us was almost more than I could bear. At the moment of birth and even through the wire reinforced glass I couldn’t really get a good look at her. It wasn’t until they laid her in my arms and I could smell her babiness and look into her eyes that I realized what an unbelievable gift she was. She was perfect and beautiful beyond imagination.
“You’ve got a real beauty here.” I assumed the nurse had said this to every new couple when she handed them their child for the first time.
I countered with “All babies are beautiful.”
“No they’re not. We see some really ugly ones. This one really is special.” And of course she was. From that first day you could see her classic beauty, full lips, perfectly spaced eyes, the Gerber baby nose and chin. Emmy’s beauty was the kind that took your breath away. Our job would be to make sure this physical beauty was matched with an inner beauty of kindness, self-confidence and respect.
Months later when we were back in New York I had made plans to meet Rick at a nearby restaurant. It was still warm enough that the outdoor cafe tables were out and people were dining al fresco. I had gotten there before Rick and sat down at one of the outside tables. I had Emmy in her pram and ordered some ice tea. Another couple was sitting at the next table and I could sense them looking at us and discussing Emmy. Since Rick wasn’t there they could not have had any idea she was the product of two dads but I could overhear some of what they were saying. The guy finally couldn’t contain himself any longer. He tapped me on the shoulder and said,  “No matter how hard I tried there’s no way I could produce a baby as beautiful as the one you’re holding in your arms.” I said the only thing I could think of, “Thank you.”
At the hospital we were given a rundown of daily feeding times. We weren’t allowed to be there during the night so until the next daytime feeding came up we decided to go back to the B&B to rest and freshen up. 

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