“Every child mythologizes [their birth],” is close to the line in _The Thirteenth Tale_ by Diane Setterfield. It is one of my favorite novels because it is the origin of so many quotes. I am sure many more will arise because they are so timely for what it is truly like growing up in a world of adults. If every child mythologizes their birth, here’s Eleanor’s mythology.
Earlier that morning, we had been on a Zoom call for yet another OB appointment. These appointments had become more surreal due to Covid 19. Sara and I sat side by side across from my tiny phone screen propped against the dashboard of our Mazda CX-5. We could see ourselves looking expectantly, and see the doctor and usually only a portion of Birth Mom (Eleanor’s Madrina) for her privacy (it was a doctor’s visit afterall).
When the pregnancy began, both Sara and I were able to be in the room alongside Eleanor’s Madrina. The doctor was amazing! She would address Madrina when it was about her body, her health and her decisions to make, and she would turn without hesitation to address the two of us when her questions were about the baby. We had a great working relationship with this doctor even though she was technically Madrina’s doctor.
But when Covid hit, we were no longer allowed into the exam rooms or even allowed into the medical office unless we were the patient. Therefore, we met the good doctor and heard our baby’s heartbeat each month, then every three weeks, then every two weeks, then every week via Zoom video conference.
That particular morning, Madrina expressed that she was very ready to be done being pregnant. The good doctor explained that since we were all at 39 weeks, she could push the birth along with some sort of membrane scratching. Madrina was very eager to agree, and both Sara and I were equally excited to meet our little one. So after a quick dilation check and an uncomfortable scratching experience, Madrina was sent home and told to tell the doctor if she experienced contractions about 5 minutes apart or her water broke.
Later that evening, Sara and I were blissfully enjoying what would be the last of our couple time when we received a text that Madrina definitely felt contractions, but they were consistent and these irregular contractions could last several days. So we didn’t worry, and we went on with our video game.
We went to sleep at our normal time around 9:30 or 10pm (we’re early to bed, early to rise kind of people). Around 12:15am, her husband (Eleanor’s Padrino) had texted us twice to denote contractions around midnight and quarter past. I had also missed several texts from Madrina that said 11:15, 11:30, and 11:45. So these contractions were consistent, but were they shrinking in duration. When they called the good doctor, she said to give it an hour or come in if her water broke.
Well, around 1am, Padrino texted to say they were going in. It was obvious that contractions were progressing and Madrina would like to have the baby in a hospital – not the back of a car. So Sara and I executed the plan we had created:
I drove Sara to the hospital. Sara helped Madrina get to the wheelchair and off they went. I took a photo of the hospital doors because that was all there was to document. There I was: 1am with my car running and my driver door wide open with nothing to do but go home and wait. So I did.
I went home and posted to social media the photo of the hospital door. I wrote to my sister who lived in Germany at the time because it was the middle of her day. I remember saying this was going to be the longest wait of my life. I texted my wife, “give me a text when you’re settled in.” That text did not come.
At 3:15am or so, I received an image of my brand new baby girl as a response to my text request. I told my sister she was an aunt, and I had to go. I made another post to social media about the baby born so quickly, and started receiving messages back immediately from east coast family and friends.
There were questions about why I wasn’t allowed in the hospital. There were requests for pictures and photos already. There were congratulations, of course. But mostly, there was a sense that I had missed my baby’s birth, and that birth story would need to come from Mom for the rest of Eleanor’s life. I could tell my version of the story as a “before and after” bookend to the story, but the story of each contraction, that one last big push, the sound of her first cry, the cutting of the cord, the way the nurse whisked her away to be cleaned and weighed, the feeling of that tiny hand grasp Sara’s pinky finger for the first time… all would be a story I heard second-hand.
The glorious bright side of this story was the nurse team saw and heard Sara taking photos and calling me with every chance she got. Sara was able to video chat with me after Eleanor had quieted down and was sleeping on Sara’s chest. I got to see Sara’s face and meet our baby for the first time virtually.
After everyone got a couple of hours of sleep, Sara called me around 8am and told me, “pack a bag. The nurses worked with their boss to make an exception and allow you to come visit your baby on her first day of life.” I have no idea what the next few moments were like because I don’t even remember changing my clothes. I ran out of the house, grabbed Starbucks for the group, and wound up at the hospital to say, “I’m allowed in as an exception! I get to see my baby!”
I arrived a little after 9ish to be the first person to ever change Eleanor’s meconium diaper. Sure, not the most glamorous “first” but it was ours, and I can say where I contributed to the narrative. I got to take photos of Mom and Madrina and the hospital room and Eleanor’s first day of life. All of this we may have gone without due to how tired everyone else was.
I had to leave before midnight that night, so I took the evening shifts for feeding around 8pm and 11pm, and then made my way home. Sleepy, but excited. I called my best friend who is a pediatrician in Santa Barbara. He helped get me home without falling asleep because he knows what it’s like to pull a 36-hour shift without sleeping. I hit the mattress around 11:30pm, and I have no recollection of falling asleep or any dreams. I slept until 9:30 the next morning when Sara called to tell me they were releasing within the next hour or so.
I drove to the hospital again. This time to welcome Sara and Eleanor, fight with a car seat to be the right size for Ellie, and snap it into place as the nurse looked on. Only then were we able to drive away. The drive home consisted of Carl’s Jr’s burgers, a phone call to Gramma and Grampa to see how their visit down from Washington was progressing, and getting home in time to crash again.
This time, the whole family, Mom, Mama, Ellie, and Coda, slept soundly for the next several hours. (Pssssst… don’t worry: I got a picture of that too!)