Sunday, July 27, 2008

Reflections on Ethan's Birth Day

It is July 27, 2008. Tomorrow morning is when my daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, is going to be born. I’m currently sitting in the terminal at Baltimore-Washington International and my flight is delayed to thunderstorms here and at home in Atlanta. My experience today reminded me of when my first child, Ethan, was born.

The time was February of 2004 and we were living in Florence, Kentucky where I was a First Officer with Atlantic Coast Airlines/ Delta Connection flying from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Debi and I had been going to frequent ultrasounds, and a couple of days after one of them, we received a call from the doctor’s office telling us that they thought that the most recent ultrasound showed a birth defect on the baby. We were instructed to come in for another ultrasound with a specialist at a neighboring hospital two days later and about a month prior to the due date.

I was off work when for the ultrasound, but was scheduled to work the following day. At the time, I was a reserve pilot at the airline, which meant that, even though I was on duty, I might fly and I might not. As it turned out, the company called and assigned me a trip for the day after the ultrasound. I was to leave CVG and fly through Boston to an overnight in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

We reported for the ultrasound together with our pastor, Steve, who came for moral and spiritual support. The technician started looking at the baby, making notes, and not saying a whole lot. Finally, the medical gurus told us that they were concerned because Debi’s amniotic fluid was low. For some reason, this reminded me of Lewis Grizzard’s book, If Love Were Oil I’d Be a Quart Low. Unfortunately, their solution was not to add a quart, they wanted to keep Debi in the hospital overnight and give her an IV to bring up her fluid level.

This caused a problem. I had a limited number of sick days. I had applied for FMLA for when the baby was born, but I was a regional airline FO. Regional First Officers are poor and FMLA is unpaid leave if you run out of sick time. I could not afford to be out of work long and I might have to miss more work days after the baby was born.

We talked it over and finally decided that since Debi would be going home in the morning, I should go on to work. I felt uneasy at the prospect of leaving my pregnant wife in the hospital, alone and eight hours away from both of our families. As I was about to leave to go home and pack my bag for Canada, a nurse nonchalantly told me, “You might want to wait. I think you are going to have a baby in the morning.”

My reaction was basically, “huh?” This was quickly followed by the slightly more verbose, “are you serious?” She was.

I’m not sure who was more shocked: Steve or me.

I still really have no idea when or exactly why the doctor decided to induce labor. At the time, it really didn’t occur to me to ask. The next few hours are a blur of calling our parents and telling them that their grandson would be born the next morning, not a month from now, and, no, I wasn’t kidding. My parents had non-revenue/standby travel benefits from my company so I booked them on a flight to CVG. Debi’s parents set out on the eight-hour drive as quickly as they could pack.

The new plan was to have Debi spend the night in the hospital where they would monitor her and the baby throughout the night. They would induce labor with Poticin in the morning, then we would go home with a happy, if slightly smaller than expected, baby boy.

That afternoon, I went to pick my parents up at the airport and pick up Debi’s suitcase, which, she had already packed, thank goodness! Our carefully laid plans were all falling apart. We were having the baby a month early and in a completely different hospital than what we had planned. We had recently completed the nursery, but Debi had a baby shower scheduled at our church the following weekend. She had actually joked about not being able to go if the baby came early. Only now it didn’t seem very funny!

I spend that night at the hospital with Debi while my parent stayed in our apartment. Debi’s parents spent the night on the road between north Georgia and northern Kentucky. Ironically, Debi’s sister was also pregnant. She had set up a c-section for February 17, so Debi’s parents thought that they would have plenty of time between births. Now they were dealing with having two grandchildren within days of each other.

I remember the night of February 11, 2004 as being one of the longest nights of my life. On top of the anxiety of becoming a parent the next morning, Debi was trying to sleep with a fetal monitor across her stomach. She would get comfortable, then Ethan would move. The nurses would immediately realize that they were no longer monitoring the baby and come in to readjust the monitor, which would wake us up. I don’t know exactly how many times this happened throughout the night, but I’m sure it was at least a million.

Finally, morning came. With it came the nurses with Debi’s dose of Potocin at around seven o’clock. Not long after, Debi’s parents arrived just in time. About the same time, the medicine kicked in and Debi started having contractions. We were going to have a baby!

It wasn’t long after that that the doctors and nurses started looking worried again. Ethan’s vital signs were erratic whenever Debi had a contraction. He was going into fetal distress. The doctor thought that the umbilical cord was probably wrapped around his neck, which could cause major problems as the birth proceeded. Someone mentioned the possibility of sending Debi to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, but my sweet, southern wife put her foot down: “I don’t want no yankee baby!”

The next thing that I knew, they were suiting me up in scrubs for an emergency c-section. It is probably a good thing that I had no idea this was coming; otherwise I would have been more nervous than I actually was. As it is, I was more numb than nervous.

In much less time than you would think, they had Debi in an operating room. When they had her settled, they brought me in and gave me a seat by her head. As I sat down, alarms started going off and the nurses and doctors looked up in alarm! They quickly determined that everything was all right; I had just sat on a cord going to the monitoring equipment. They told me to move. Stat!

The actual c-section was uneventful. It was a little bit surreal looking my wife’s organs being moved about by doctors. In no time at all, they pulled forth from her a baby boy.

The nurse asked if I would like to see my baby. I felt torn between staying beside Debi and going to Ethan, but she indicated that I should go. I don’t remember holding him then, but I went to the table where the nurses were examining him.

I remember hearing that babies often looked pasty at birth. Not Ethan. He was born looking as if he had a tan. I remember his head full of black hair and his blue eyes, as well as his really pronounced lips. I put my finger in his tiny hand and he grabbed it.

The nurses said that he was perfectly healthy. There was no sign of a birth defect.

Shortly after that, we were back into Debi’s hospital room with a new baby in her arms. Our parents said that we left so suddenly that they didn’t know where we went. You can imagine their shock when we showed up with Ethan in hand.

We did take the opportunity to play a practical joke on the grandparents. We (I) had toyed with several potential names, as all parents do. We considered Andrew Taylor, a nod to Debi’s maiden name and the Andy Griffith Show. I kept saying that we should name him Ezekiel and call him “Zeke.” Since his birthday, February 12, was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, we told the assembled crowd in the hospital room that we had decided to name him “Abraham Ezekiel.” There were more than a few forced smiles in the room at that point.

An additional item that will be good blackmail material when Ethan starts dating came before we left the hospital. The name card on his basinet read in big blue letters: “I’M A BREASTFED BOY.” We definitely got a picture of that.

The story after that is routine. Ethan went home with us three days later. He was healthy in spite of being born a month early. At five pounds one point four ounces, he had virtually no body fat, so he ended up spending a night in the incubator after a checkup the following week.

A memorable moment was the first time I changed a diaper… ever. There in the hospital nursery, in front of doctors, nurses, and everyone, my newborn son peed on me. After that I learned to treat a little boy like a loaded weapon. Don’t point it at anything you don’t want to get shot and keep it holstered as much as possible.

And, oh yeah, the baby shower that Debi missed? The church people brought it to her after she and Ethan had returned home. It's a rare thing for a baby to be the guest of honor at his own shower!

So here I am four years later. Ethan is about to be a big brother. Debi is again wondering if I’ll be there for the big moment. The family is assembled and I’m just waiting on Air Tran to let me know when I’ll get there. All I can say is that if the eve of Sarah’s birthday is any indication, it will be an interesting experience.

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