In Tune

I linked to this video in my post about ‘‘Boy Meets Girl’ but figured I’d give it its own post as well.

I made this for Christmas, 2014, for Alexis. Clearly. It serves as kind of a warm-up for Boy Meets Girl. You’ll notice the song, ‘Window’ by The Album Leaf, is the same as in Boy Meets Girl (apparently I’m not too creative in that department). I’m technically (well, not just technically) using it illegally. I did this because I didn’t really ever intend for these videos to see the light of day beyond my family/close friends. Still, I feel a little bad about that. Anyone want to collaborate and write a replacement song?

Anyway, Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone, and especially Alexis.

A Valentine’s Day Moment

It’s 9:10 pm on Saturday, February 13th. Poe and Alexis have been asleep since we got home at 6:30 pm from a party thrown by some of Alexis’s colleagues. Poe has slept variously on my chest and on the couch next to me. This is, technically speaking, cheating, since Alexis and I have been trying to get Poe accustomed to sleeping on her back in the bassinet as often as possible. But Poe’s had a rough couple of days and got her first round of vaccines this morning, and we’re all pretty tired. So I cheated.

We’ve set Poe’s bedtime at 9:30 pm and done a pretty good job of sticking to it over the last couple weeks. So, I really should be (ironically) waking Poe up to get her to bed — changed, fed, swaddled, sung to, etc. But her sleep’s been so bad for the last several nights that I’m hesitant to wake her from anything. So, I head in to the bedroom, where Alexis is sleeping, to consult with her and figure out a plan. Alexis is dead asleep when I walk in, but immediately wakes up when she hears me and begins getting out of bed to go and comfort Poe. This is how I’ve awoken Alexis innumerable times over the last 9 weeks. I walk in, let Alexis know that it’s her turn with Poe, or that I’m too upset or tense or tired to finish my shift, and every time, Alexis gets up immediately, without complaining, without being negative or distressed in any way. Alexis is significantly more underslept than I am, but she is constantly looking for ways to ease my burden. Simply, lovingly, without complaint.

Anyone who reads this blog or whom I’ve spoken to lately knows that I’ve really struggled at times since Poe’s birth to be a good and present father/partner. I’ve had dark times; I’ve had anger; I’ve considered (impulsively, not seriously) fleeing, abandoning. It’s been difficult. But it would have been impossible if I didn’t have a partner as kind and committed and loving as Alexis. Impossible. Impossible.

Poe’s Sleep Log, or A Tedious Catalogue of Hell

At Poe’s one month check-up, her pediatrician urged us to start working toward a sustainable sleep plan, which involved Poe sleeping alone on her back in a bassinet. This was not what we wanted to hear. We had just reached a shaky truce on the sleep front. We’d been trying from the beginning to get her on her back in the bassinet and she wasn’t fucking having it. She’d wake up 5 minutes later, furious, or gassy, or a combination of both. I had already mentally reconciled myself to the thought of an 18 year old Poe screaming and crying when I tried to take her from my chest and put her in a bed (presumably because I was being crushed to death). So this news from the doctor was unwelcome. We were gun-shy PTSD sufferers less than willing to return to the source of our nightmares. But the pediatrician assured us it was the right thing to do and would likely involve three miserable nights of adjustment followed by (theoretically) sleep bliss. Or at least a little more consistency.

The doctor never used the term sleep training, though she made it clear that if we weren’t able to establish sustainable sleep habits in the next month or so, that was likely coming next.

We went home emboldened by the pediatrician’s encouragement. This feeling immediately fell apart when we began to discuss the matter. This was a joke: Poe had already proven herself unwilling to sleep on her back and we had finally (finally!) worked out a sleeping arrangement where we all got at least some chunk of sleep and no one was murdering anyone else or having a complete mental breakdown in the middle of Fort Washington Avenue. So, why change? Because, eventually, we had to. We couldn’t put Poe on our chests forever and the pediatrician thought this was a good time to start taking baby steps (HAHA, SEE WHAT I DID THERE?! OH GOD, BEAT ME TO DEATH WITH A BOPPY!) toward Poe sleeping alone on her back through the night.

So.

We set about inching our way towards sleep. We decided that we would put Poe in the bassinet in the bedroom and I would hold vigil next to the bassinet on a cushion and put my hand on Poe or pick her up and rock her anytime she woke up and got upset, which was bound to be often. At 1 am, Alexis would take over and do the same. If it really wasn’t working, we’d set up the co-sleeper in between us and hope that Poe was calmed being next to us. We also decided to keep a clear and detailed log of how things went, in an attempt to determine any patterns that Poe followed, as well as what worked and what didn’t.

What follows is the record of several of those nights. I’ve tried to be clear who is speaking at any given time. Aside from some minor grammar/spelling clean-up, this is pretty exactly what we experienced. Apologies for some odd and/or confusing jumps between third person and first person. It was late. And we were tired. So tired.

A couple notes: notice the dates are from nearly a month ago. Mercifully, and unsurprisingly, things are getting better. So, I can post this madness and (mostly) laugh ruefully and a little nostalgically about it. Also, you’ll notice a lot of references to grunting. Poe, like many babies, has a lot (like a grown man amount) of gas and often responds by grunting and straining. Anyway, here we go.

Key terms:

Nose Frida: draconian-looking but ultimately harmless and helpful apparatus for sucking mucus out of a baby’s nose.
Kissy Face: this means Poe is hungry.
‘Farting’ her: an act wherein someone pumps Poe’s legs in an attempt to encourage the expulsion of gas.

1/13/16

Andrew:

9:55 pm – Poe swaddled, rocked to sleep, put in bassinet, white noise – no pacifier
10:13 pm – grunting and complaining
10:14 pm – some crying
10:17 pm – rocked and soothed
10:23 pm – put back down in bassinet – no pacifier
10:25 pm – crying
10:26 pm – tried pacifier
10:27 pm – grunting/complaining
10:33 pm – complaining ceased
10:34 pm – wish I was spooning Alexis
10:43 pm – spit out pacifier
10:46 pm – awake and complaining
10:47 pm – put pacifier back in
10:48 pm – this is a tedious catalogue of hell, isn’t it?
11:32 pm – Complaining
11:30-1 am – intermittent complaining but no crying
1 am – I woke her up for change/feeding/re-swaddling
1:45 am – put her on my chest for 20 minutes
2:05 am – put her down in bassinet

Alexis:

2:15 am – more boob after diaper changing
2:30 am – Poe falling asleep on mom
3:07 am – Poe swaddled and in bed with Mom in office. She’s MUCH quieter than last night at this interval. Makes her little percussive sound every 5 min but it’s mild. Alexis places hand on chest. Alexis likes being close to Poe.
4:15 am – Got gassy, she got frisky and seemed to be waking herself up. Fed her a little bit to see if it would help soothe, without unswaddling her. Then put her back down. She woke up.
4:25 am – unwrapped her to see if it would help her poop it out. She was not crying.
4:30 am – changed diaper. Poop.
4:40 am – gave her right boob. She seems very awake and curious about the room.
4:56 am – She’s super congested. Going to get Andrew to help me Nose Frida (Ed. note: I was so groggy when Alexis woke me up to do this that I had no idea what was going on and thus was of no help. Alexis leaned Poe against my inert and confused body and did the whole thing herself.)
5:15 – she’s totally awake. Letting her hang out in swing.
5:30 – she whimpered. Picked her up. Left boob.
5:58 – swaddled and lay her down in co sleeper
6:18 – after 20 min total silence, she started constant grunting. Put hand on her. Didn’t do anything. She will wake up
6:30 – picked her up. She went quieter. Put her down. Clearly needs diaper change. Considering just waking her. Going to lose my f)$&@@;/ing mind.

1/16/16

Andrew:

9 pm – fed and napped on mom
10:00 pm – swaddled and rocked by dad
10 – 10:30 pm – very lightly asleep on dad’s chest – squirming often
10:30 pm – put her down in bassinet – she started crying immediately
10:31 pm – tried putting a hand on her – did not help
10:35 pm – tried a pacifier – she immediately calmed
10:40 pm – dad’s stomach making comically loud gurgling sounds, as if trying to wake the baby – dad wants to tear his own stomach out, throw it out the window, and jump out after it.
10:42 pm – dad not feeling up to the task tonight. Long day followed by having to take care of baby at night feels a bit like prison. Having unreasonable feelings of persecution. The feeling that everything is, and must always go, wrong.
10:35 – 11:10 pm – Poe slept pretty soundly until dad banged into the door knob upon trying to exit the room (apparently it’s just going to be one of those nights) and now Poe is grunting/straining pretty regularly.
11:15 pm – took Poe out to the couch
11:15 pm – 1:10 am – fitful sleep with some uninterrupted chunks thrown in (none more than 20 minutes) – every time she woke, I used pacifier or arm around her and she fell back asleep

Alexis:
1:10 am – diaper just pee
1:20 am – left boob drunk solidly. She fell right to sleep then. Alexis placed her on chest.
1:40-1:45 am – swaddled her then let her rest on chest again.
1:50 am – placed in bassinet. A little groaning and alexis places hand on chest.
1:53 am – groan and immediate hand on chest.
2:03 am – still quiet. Afraid to have hope.
2:20 am – No dice. Note to self to put her in co sleeper because then crossing the room to put hand on chest is unnecessary.
2:44 am – either going to let her strain and see what happens for 5 min or going to move her. Indecisive. There are a lot of hours left and standing over bassinet feels bonkers. Want t.v. Or chocolate cake.
2:59 am – left her to grunt to for a few minutes. I think it gets worse when I don’t place hand on her.
3:00 am – I’ve peed 300 x tonight. Going to go again. My toe hurts.
Going to move Poe after pee. What’s the point of her sleeping in bassinet if I can’t sleep at all with this arrangement?
3:30 am – She woke up. Diaper change – pooped. Right boob. She’s got some stinky gas. Maybe I should stop eating raisins
4:07 am – put her on my chest to calm and burp her. Then decided to do tummy massage after she fought swaddling. She spit up on me after massage. Then wanted to eat.
Left boob.
Getting to point where I am considering abandoning swaddling and back sleeping for the night in favor of sleeping on my chest. Or swing?
Put her on chest and slept
6:46 – right boob
7:06 – diaper changed, left boob
7:30 – left boob some more

1/17/16

Andrew:

9:30 pm – put Poe down in bassinet awake with song, white noise, and pacifier.
9:30 pm – 9:50 pm – Poe closed eyes a couple times but mostly awake. Pacifier fell out a couple times – dad put it back in
9:50 pm – Poe awake but calm – dad, in hilarious act of wishful thinking, retreats to living room
9:52 pm – Poe upset – Dad returns to find Poe without pacifier, ripping major fart
9:55 pm – Poe closes eyes and keeps them closed – probably playing hilarious trick on idiot father
9:56 pm – maybe dad shouldn’t stare at poe’s face, using every ounce of his being to will her into sleep. Therapist would probably think that terrible use of time/mental energy
10 pm – a series of comically loud airplanes somehow fail to wake Poe, but I know if I move a fucking muscle she’s going to be wailing
10:06 pm – another hilariously loud plane – seriously, are we being attacked?
10:35 pm – some grunting
10:46 pm – loud, consistent grunting
10:47 pm – Poe awake but not upset when I came in. Closed her eyes when I laid a hand on her for a bit.
10:50 pm – upstairs neighbor honestly sounds like she’s stomping around on stilts.
10:50 pm – 11:15 pm – some whimpering/grunting
11:15 pm – 11:45 pm – mostly quiet
11:47 pm – she’s been pretty steadily asleep for almost two hours and I feel like that’s some sort of miracle
12:05 am – intermittent loud grunting
12:40 am – seriously, is there a helipad on the roof?
12:52 am – strained a couple more times but definitely not waking up
1 am – heavy grumbling, so dad woke Poe up for diaper change (very small poop), and feeding (2.5 oz or so)
1:25 am – put her back in bassinet sleepy but not asleep – immediate straining/grunting
1:26 am – put in pacifier – calmed slightly but not entirely
1:27 am – put a hand on Poe – calmed significantly
1:30 am – eyes closing and opening
1:35 am – spit out pacifier
1:36 am – eyes open but quiet

Alexis:

3:15 am – Alexis woke to constant grunting noises. Breasts going to pop. Sat next to Poe putting hand on her. She actually yawned in her sleep. Lots of smiling as she strained
3:24 am – she awake. Now I have to pee. Crazy happy smiles.
3:36 am – left boob
3:45 am – diaper change and right boob
4:03 am – she’s very awake
4:57 am – swaddled and in bassinet
5:00 am – she’s silent. I don’t trust it
5:20 am – grunting starts
5:33 am – moved to bed. Andrew put pacifier in. Now she’s grunting with it in her mouth. Going to unwrap her and put her on me. Want to sleep

1/18/16

Andrew:

9:45 pm – Poe put down in bassinet with song and white noise. Super squirrelly until pacifier
9:50 pm – eyes open for a couple minutes then asleep
9:55 pm – pacifier falls out – still asleep though
10:20 pm – big time straining – putting a hand on her does not help – accepts a pacifier but keeps straining
10:23 pm – rips a fart and immediately calms
10:23 pm – 11:05 pm – period of consistent (every 2-5 minutes) insane grunting
10:50 pm – took Poe out to living room because of grunting
11:07 pm – Poe awake and farting – put pacifier in – not helping much
11:12 pm – pulled Poe out of co-sleeper and farted her to see if that would help
11:15 pm – seems like it actually might have
11:20 pm – 12:10 am – period of mercifully silent sleep
12:15 am – straining starting back up
12:45 am – awake and straining/kissy face
12:50 am – fed, changed (medium poop), re-swaddled
1:30 am – put back in bassinet very awake with pacifier

Alexis:

2:45 am – consistent straining since she was put in bassinet. Alexis decides to move her so Andrew can sleep.
2:50 – there’s no ground decaf in cupboard. Blasted.
2:59 am – she smiles as she makes crazy grunts. Does she think this is funny? She partly woke up in the move. I pick her up and rock until she’s silent
3:00 am – arms and shoulders ache. She heavy.
3:01 am – no commentary as per normal in Andrew’s notes. He must have felt gloomy.
3:05 am – put pacifier in when I lay her down since she opens eyes and strains and cries. Insane grunting persists. She closes eyes. Hand on her at all times
3:10 am – pacifier fell out and she’s quiet. Silence of the gods
3:20 am – diaper change. Just pee if anything. Left boob.
3:50 am – swaddled and put in co sleeper. Grunting immediately resumes.
3:55 am – picked up to soothe and given right boob. She sucked a moment and then fell asleep.
4:01 am – abandoned co sleeper. Put Poe on her back next to me. Silent
5:42 am – she started to grunt. I put her on my belly because I really wanted a little more sleep
7:13 am – right boob

1/19/16

Andrew:

Mama says Dad did not include enough jokes in his commentary last night, so:

10:40 pm – Poe put down in bassinet with song, white noise and pacifier, after SLIPPING ON A BANANA PEEL.
10:44 pm – Take my baby. PLEASE. Pacifier falls out.
10:46 pm – Poe awake and grunting. THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID. Dad puts pacifier back in and puts a hand on her. She calms.
10:49 pm – pacifier falls out: WHOOPSIE-DOOPSIE-DOODLE! Poe restless. Dad puts it back in and puts a hand on her. She calms.
10:50 pm – 11:30 pm – Sleeping like a BABY (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAjust kidding, she’s actually sleeping pretty quietly.)
11:30 pm – 11:50 pm – consistent bouts of groaning, eased by laying a hand on her and periodically farting her. Kid you not. Here I am, a (purportedly) self-respecting adult man, farting his infant daughter.
11:50 pm – 1 am – slept pretty soundly with occasional grunts. Women can’t drive very well, am I right?
1 – 1:40 am – period of pretty intense grumbling.
1:40 am – Poe awake – Dad changed her – tiny bit of poop

Alexis:

2:00 – 2:18 am – left boob
2:41 am – right boob. She spat up a lot of left boob I think because I let her stay on her back too long after feeding from a side lying position
3:02 am – sending text messages about wedding housing breaking my phone use rule. Poe needed extra time to settle down.
3:16 am – swaddling and heading to bassinet
3:46 am – grunting begins
4:00 am – put her in bed with me
5:46 am – that did nothing and I let it go on too long. Putting her on chest
7:25 am – also did nothing for grunting. I am grumpy.

The Bloom

I have these little meltdowns. Intense but rarely outward-facing – implosions rather than explosions. Something goes just wrong enough and I completely shut down. It’s happened before, as Alexis can attest, but has grown more common since Poe’s birth, no doubt due to the added stress caused by sleep issues and trying to keep a tiny human that stubbornly refuses to obey common sense alive. The first post-birth meltdown occurred when I tried to install Poe’s car seat to get her home from the hospital. I had spent a good 20 minutes up in the hospital room looking over the instruction manual and watching YouTube videos and felt capable of installing the seat.

I was not.

At the first sign of trouble (buckling the seat into the recessed bars in the back seat of the car was difficult) I melted down. The world and everything in it was terrible; I was worthless; fate was set against me, and my best bet was to give up and take a forever nap in the Hudson.

Alexis rubbed my back, her mother said some kind words, I took a few deep breaths and was quickly ok again. The car seat didn’t have to be rigged that way. It had another option in which you could thread a seat belt through the base of the car seat and secure it that way. Simple enough. Except I couldn’t get the seat belt tight enough. The car seat wiggled easily back and forth. I pictured explaining Poe’s auto-related death to the police. Meltdown #2 tapped me on the shoulder. Everything was shit. I was shit. We were never going to get this car seat installed, and we were going to have to walk home with Poe, and she was going to die of exposure.

Encouraging words, deep breaths, and I was able to try again and find success.

The next meltdown occurred when putting together the hand-me-down swing/rocker we had gotten from a close friend of Alexis’s. I won’t bore you with the details because it was exactly the same as the first two meltdowns. Minor technical thing briefly doesn’t work, everything is shit, this product is designed to ruin my life, I want to put my head in the oven.

Take a deep breath, rewatch the YouTube video, realize I am putting one piece into another piece backwards, easily rectify the issue, voila.

Often, in my previous life, I was able to avoid these sorts of meltdowns with a deep breath and some perspective. In the addled/stressed state of taking care of a newborn, I lack these coping mechanisms, so I feel that my flaws have been laid completely bare. I am a petty, easily disturbed, rage-filled manchild.

But ultimately these meltdowns are meaningless when they are directed at inanimate objects. So, I broke the new needle to my record player on purpose when it wouldn’t snap easily into place and then had to go stand alone in the other room for 10 minutes. Who cares? No one got hurt.

But then I noticed the moments happening in relationship to Poe.

The first few days home were filled with a sort of hormonal bliss. Poe wouldn’t sleep for long stretches and Alexis was on essentially no sleep at all, but it didn’t matter. We both felt the soaring accomplishment and appreciation of new parents. I had never loved Alexis more and felt a need to take care of her that I have never felt for another person. Poe was a miracle and the fact that she had constant needs was outweighed by the fact that each moment brought on new and exciting developments.

Then the aura wore off a bit and reality settled in. Poe wouldn’t sleep in the bassinet for more than 20 minutes at a time. In fact, she wouldn’t sleep at all unless she was on someone or directly next to them in bed. This meant that someone needed to be awake at all times while she slept to prevent asphyxiation or the dreaded SIDS. By nature, this ended up being Alexis most of the time. I would take the early shift (9 pm – 1 am) but then Alexis would take over and get 0-1 hours of sleep between 1 am and 7 am, when I would wake up and relieve her. I was averaging 6 hours a night, so I was outwardly functional, but I became obsessed – monomaniacal – about getting Poe to sleep on her own so Alexis could sleep. Alexis’s lack of sleep became a profound source of anxiety for me, and the only solution was to get Poe to sleep by herself.

The rocker helped, but even then, Poe would (LIKE A NORMAL NEWBORN BABY) sometimes wake up quickly or need multiple feedings in a row. One night, we tried to put Poe down in the bassinet and she immediately started complaining. She had been fed 10 minutes prior, so I thought she just needed to be soothed. I took her out of the bedroom and told Alexis to try and get some sleep; I would handle it. I took Poe out to the living room, put her in the rocker, turned on the fancy vibrate feature, and set the rocker to swing Poe automatically. She was unmoved. She squealed and writhed and cried. I tried to give her a couple minutes to see if the swing would take effect. It didn’t. She simply got more upset. “Fucking impossible,” I thought to myself. “You just had a full feeding 10 minutes ago, and I know how big your stomach is – I REMEMBER THE LACTATION CONSULTANT’S DEMONSTRATION. YOUR STOMACH IS THE SIZE OF A PING PONG BALL SO YOU CAN’T BE FUCKING HUNGRY AGAIN.”

The rage rocketed up my spine and I picked Poe up from the swing. Brusquely. With anger. I stopped myself. I had just picked up a helpless infant like a sack of flour because she wasn’t conforming to the adult logic I was laying out in my brain. What was wrong with me?!

I took a deep breath. Poe was fine. Still hungry, but fine. Even in my rage, I had picked her up carefully. Quickly, with an ugly thought behind the action, but I had supported her shoulders and neck and had kept her safe.

Still.

It happened again. Nearly the same circumstances, but this time I had been asleep. We had put Poe down at 10:30 pm after a full feeding and after a long day in which Alexis had gotten in zero nap time. It was now 11:20 and Poe was up and screaming and writhing. Again, the rage bloomed in my brain like blood in water. I held Poe in bed and bounced her gently, shushing her like fucking famous Dr. Karp said to. No effect. Alexis headed to the bathroom to pee, ready to nurse upon her return if necessary. “Please calm down, Poe,” I thought. “Please go to sleep. I need to get Alexis more than an hour of fucking sleep tonight.” Poe’s complaining intensified. The rage pressed against the insides of my skull. I rocked Poe in my arms. Hard. Too hard. I stopped myself in horror. I was one degree away from shaking a baby. One degree away from a fucking crime. I put Poe down next to me in bed, put my hands over my eyes, and cried.

Alexis came back into the room and rushed to my side. She asked what was wrong, fear in her voice. I felt hopeless, helpless. I couldn’t control myself around a tiny infant. I was a terrible father. I wasn’t fit to do this.

Deep breaths, time, perspective. Alexis was able to calm me down and ease me into a productive discussion. In retrospect, I hadn’t rocked Poe very hard. Certainly no harder than she was rocked in the womb when Alexis exercised or walked down stairs. But still. The feeling behind it was dangerous and absolutely terrifying.

As any parent will, I’m sure, tell you, it’s completely mind-bending to have this tiny, barely human ball of cuteness that completely dominates your life. Poe is a twentieth the size of most humans, and yet she’s had a far more significant effect on my life than any adult (sorry, everyone) – at least in the short term. And she follows no logic, or common sense, or decency. These may sound like the most obvious things ever stated by a human, but when you are holding this human jelly of contradictions with a face in your arms, and she is bawling and making sucky face, even though you just saw her drink two full boobs worth of milk, it feels like she is ACTIVELY trying to ruin your life. Toss in a dash of stress and sleep-deprivation (even if it’s minor on my part) and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

It’s getting better (as all of this will have to, or I’ll be very seriously considering the forever nap in the Hudson). The episode of vigorous rocking scared the SHIT out of me and has made me extra vigilant. I’ve had a couple more episodes and will undoubtedly have more in the future  (why, just the other morning I said ‘fuck’ more times than a Scorsese film because I couldn’t get the moby wrap correct after five fucking tries, while Poe cried and cried on the couch.) but I’m coping. I catch it a little earlier and am able to put deep breaths to earlier, better use. I also absolutely paint the air with cursing when something is especially frustrating. But harshly whispered, not yelled (well, mostly). Verbalizing allows me to release the steam before it becomes physical.

And I’m seeking help. There are a lot feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability that can come with being a father, and American males (and certainly myself) can really struggle with that sort of thing, no matter how sensitive and theater-y they think themselves to be. So, I’m seeing a therapist for the first time in my life. An event that is touted as joyous and life-affirming is sending me to seek professional psychological help.

How’s that for a motherfucker?

Boy Meets Girl

Every holiday season, my company, Private Prep, holds a vocab video competition. The goal is to make a video defining an assigned word (this year, it was ‘accismus’). I’ve entered the last two years and use the word more as loose inspiration (I’ve always had trouble with guidelines). Also, this year there was supposed to be a 2 minute time limit and I accidentally (I promise) blew right past that.

I’ve dabbled with stop motion in the past and really enjoy it (though I have minimal technical expertise and am sure I’m going about it in the least efficient way possible). Anyway, I’m happy with the video and wanted to share it, as it feels like an accurate snapshot of my (raw, over-exposed) mind/heart recently. Happy belated holidays and new year, everyone!

The Falling Year

 

 January

Alexis wants a baby. I want a baby eventually. Alexis does not handle disappointment well. Alexis cries. I stare off into the middle distance. Rinse. Repeat.

February

Rinse. Repeat.

March

We have three options: 1) Have a baby. 2) Don’t have a baby and live out a tense, resentful period in the relationship. 3) End the relationship. 2 and 3 are undesirable, so we go with 1. A hard fought but simple conclusion. So, we try to make a baby. Alexis says it is difficult to get pregnant and will probably take several months.

April

It does not take several months. Alexis takes a pregnancy test in the middle of the night and tells me the news at dinner the next night. I have prepared a salad with medium-rare steak and bleu cheese. I get up in the middle of the room and spin around like a UFO. Or like a man being thrust into an experience for which he feels he is unprepared.

May

We settle into the routine of early pregnancy. Alexis accidentally eats all of the foods she is not supposed to eat and freaks out every time, convinced she has damaged the baby. We do a lot of googling.

June

We quickly make a rule about no googling. We will trust the doctor. We will e-mail her about everything.

July

Dad faints in a parking lot, falls, and scrambles his egg. Mom relays the particulars to me over the phone, her voice strangled with despair into a howl.

August

Alexis, Carly, and I fly out to California to be with Mom and Dad. Dad does not know where he is, cannot swallow, and cannot speak more than a slurred word or two. A tube runs up his nose and down into his stomach. He constantly gestures that he wants to leave. “You can’t leave, Dad,” we say. You can’t leave, you can’t leave, you can’t leave.

Alexis and Carly head back East and I stay on for a few more days to help Mom until reinforcements arrive. The dark times begin. Dad gains physical strength but slips deeper and deeper into a delirium that consumes him around 3 pm each day. He raves; he tries to pull out his tubes; he accuses us of imprisoning him; he kicks his old friend Pete across the room.

I flee back East to be with Alexis. Soon after my departure, the tide turns a little. Dad is admitted to the IRU, a fancy rehab facility within the hospital, and his nerves begin to calm. He is swallowing better and better and is allowed to eat pureed foods. I get manic texts from Mom about his improvement. I remind myself and her that we cannot get too attached to perceived short term gains. We have to be in for the long haul. We have to put our heads down and go.

September

Dad is released home. A rail is installed along our walkway, grab bars in the bathrooms. The nurses cry upon his release, Mom says. He is so kind, so accommodating to the staff. He does what is asked of him every time (stick out your tongue, clear your throat, look over here, wear this catheter, relax while we shove this tube up your nose) even when he has no idea where he is or why this is happening.

I am a million miles away, buried in work as the school year begins. I act in a sketch show in a one man piece I wrote. My first time on stage in years. It feels good. Just me and the audience and my pain and my jokes.

October

Alexis is getting very pregnant. From the back she looks nearly normal, but from the side she is secreting a basketball under her sweater.

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We start a birth class. It turns out to be a Lamaze class. Neither of us knew this and were not aware that Lamaze was still a thing. The class consists of Alexis and I and one other couple and is led by an 84 year old nut job, who is unfortunately named Harriet (the middle name we want to give our daughter). Harriet fancies herself a guru and holds forth on all aspects of the birthing process. She has (what she considers to be) great little theatrical moments rehearsed into the class. At one point, I utter the phrase C-section in response to one of her questions and she holds up a finger to silence me.

“It is not a C-section; women are not grapefruits. It is called a Caesarean birth.” She smiles out at the four of us as if she has just blown all our minds. I want to stand up and applaud sarcastically or leave and not come back, but instead I sit there in my white, inoffensive, middle-brow shame and smile a thin smile.

Harriet asks open-ended questions and then gets upset or near-abusive when we don’t give her the answer she wants. She will demonstrate a breathing technique and then ask us what we saw.

“You hunched your shoulders.”
NO. Watch again.”

“You tucked your chin down?”
NO. You’re not watching! Watch one more time.”

By the third week of the class we are all bludgeoned into silence and completely unwilling to answer her questions. When she asks, we respond with evasive smiles or (on my part) cold glares. Harriet does not seem to notice that we hate her and goes on acting as if she is our erratic but lovable grandmother. She is not.

I head out to California for one last visit before the baby is born. Dad is eating solid food but is woozy and fixated and even tougher to understand than when I left in August. Mom tells me that he doesn’t do any of the vocal exercises that the speech pathologist has instructed him to do on a daily basis. This is not like Dad. He’s a “fighter”. Or maybe at least the less cliche “overachiever”.

He has developed obsessions. He gets up early – sometimes at 4 am – and plugs away at chores around the house, eyes wide, until he is exhausted. He will not be deterred.

We go for a walk at Point Lobos, my hand on the small of Dad’s back, guiding him away from rocks in the path. He has developed double vision after the fall, which, when paired with his motor impairment, leads to difficult walking. We make our way over to a bench and sit in the narcotic California sunlight.

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I broach the subject of Dad’s vocal exercises. It takes a little prodding, but he opens up and speaks of feelings of embarrassment, of despair. People can’t understand him, or they finish his sentences for him, so what’s the point? He thinks that his friends don’t want to be around him anymore, that if they come over to spend time with him it is to babysit him. Dad has been more demonstrably emotional since the fall (a common result of head trauma), so his admonitions are punctuated with sobs. It’s hard to watch but, I must admit, gratifying. Our family has a difficult time being honest about hardship, vulnerability. Dad didn’t tell Carly and I about his Parkinson’s diagnosis until years after it became painfully obvious. A Dahl doesn’t want to be a burden.

So it is nice, in a way. No, not even “in a way”; it’s just nice to see Dad in touch with some deeper emotions. I tell him a story from the dark times. Dad’s friend Chris was invaluable to us, spending time with Dad in the hospital even when Dad was at his worst, giving Mom and I two hour breaks to eat and stare off dead-eyed or rationalize about minor perceived setbacks or advances. I helped Chris set up some risers for a choir concert at his church one day to free him up earlier to go be with Dad during one of his deeper bouts of mania. As we wrapped up, I thanked Chris awkwardly for all he was doing for Dad and for us. He looked me in the eyes and said very simply, very plainly, “Your father means a lot to me.”

I relay this story to Dad on the bench and his face contorts into a mask of agony and he buries his head in Mom’s hair.

November

One morning, I wake up to an e-mail from a friend stating that she has metastatic breast cancer. She is 33.

Alexis and I agree that a long walk is in order. We wind down the path to the Hudson River. The George Washington Bridge towers above us, maternal and resplendent in the cold morning air. I walked this stretch of the Hudson (from 181st to 145th) obsessively when Dad had his fall – walked it until my worthless achilles tendons ached and stung, until my brain was at least partially calmed. Alexis and I walk it now, hand in hand, death sitting heavy on the backs of our necks.

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Death has visited us all, or course. But this feels like a particularly pointed message: “You’re 32. Alexis is 34. What makes you so fucking special?” I had a close friend die in college at the age of 22 in a snowboarding accident, which, grisly as it was, now seems a valid way for a young person to die. Cancer fucking does not. I reject it. I send it back for internal fucking review.

And anyway, she’s not even dead. But the e-mail does not sound optimistic. Alexis and I reminisce up and down the river and wonder aloud if the explosion of technology our generation has witnessed, of wireless signals and devices we press up against our heads, will turn out to be as deadly as secretly feared. Whoops. A whole generation dead from tumors by the age of 50.

We get drinks with some mutual friends, but no one really knows what to say. We catch up, joke, but I keep forcing the conversation back to our friend. I want us to grieve, to emote. I want to force some sort of catharsis, but that’s not how it works. None of us knows how it works.

Carly falls from her bike. I get a halting voicemail from Mom. Not distressed, but serious, and with poorly placed pauses. “Carly fell off her bike last night, and…” GET TO THE END OF THE FUCKING SENTENCE, MOM. When I call Alexis at school to give her the news, I rectify this by describing each sentence before I say it. “Ok, so the first part of this sentence is going to sound bad but the second part is going to make the first part OK.”

A bump on the head and a broken clavicle. She is shaken up, sore, embarrassed, but she is “all right”. No concussion; no head trauma. The family could not handle another.

It seems almost inevitable. If you bike long enough in the city, you will fall. If you live long enough, you will fall. The question is simply how hard.

After visiting Carly and dropping off food, I treat myself to some Shake Shack. Mid-burger/beer I get a call from Alexis. She has fallen in the subway station (it is rainy and slick) and doesn’t know if she landed on the baby or not. NOT FUCKING NOW, I scream internally. We rush to meet at the hospital to get checked out. I run into Alexis’s OBGYN in the lobby and I plug her with questions, my body in the slightly hunched posture of supplication, my hands inexplicably in prayer position. The doctor thinks she is probably fine but that it’s a great idea to get checked out. Minutes later, Alexis arrives, her face crazed with worry. We hold each other in the lobby and then head up to the 12th floor for examination.

The nurses are kind and knowledgeable. I rate them based on their physical attractiveness in an attempt to lighten the mood, which Alexis finds hilarious instead of maddening. We are made for each other.

I flirt with each medical professional that enters the room, male or female, as I always do, as I have always done, because I am terrified of illness, of the medical establishment. I need someone on my side, someone to save me, so I lavish them with jokes and good behavior. An especially attractive, sardonic resident asks me to plug in the mobile ultrasound unit for her, and I crack some joke about whether that means I’m now officially employed by the hospital. Later, when a nurse bursts in and apologizes for intruding, the resident says, “Don’t worry; they’re cool.” Alexis and I look at each other: we are cool. We are ecstatic. Even later, I make suggestive eyebrows at Alexis while the attractive resident does a cervical exam. We have fun.

The upshot: the baby is fine. Alexis is fine, minus a bruised butt and ego. We are all fine. We all fall.

December

Alexis feels a tiny little gush of something on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 9th – 10 days in advance of her due date. The gush is not nothing but also not significant enough to seem like something. It happens again the morning of the 10th. Alexis emails her embabied friend, Lauren, who says “Go to the hospital”. I say, “Let’s call the doctor”. The doctor says, “Go to the hospital.”

I ask Alexis if we should pack our go-bags just in case. Alexis says no. She is convinced it is nothing, convinced that we will get to the hospital and they will look at us like idiots and send us home. “Anyway,” says Alexis, even if my water did break, I’m not feeling any contractions, so we’ll be able to come home first.” We leave the bags.

On the subway, I joke that if Alexis’s water has broken and they keep us at the hospital, then at least we’ll get to fulfill my secret wish that we take the A train to the birth. On the train ride down, I show Alexis on my phone how you can just stomp anyone to death on the street in Grand Theft Auto. I think this is hilarious; Alexis does not.

At the hospital, a nurse (a 6.5 – pretty but too skinny) and a physician’s assistant (7.5 – very solid) run three different tests to check if Alexis’s water has broken. The first two tests are inconclusive. Alexis is convinced the staff will roll their eyes, tell her that she is imagining things, and send us home. The second that I hit ‘send’ on a text to Alexis’s mother, telling her that it looks like it was a false alarm, the nurse and PA walk back into the room.

“You broke your water!”

They have big, encouraging smiles on their faces, but Alexis and I look at each other with concern. This is not how it was supposed to go. We were supposed to have more time. We were supposed to have all of the baby paraphernalia set up. We were supposed to wait until the contractions were a minute long and three minutes apart. We were supposed to have all our stuff. We were supposed to be older, on firmer ground. We were supposed to travel, to delight in our beautiful, worthless bodies for longer. We were supposed to sleep luxuriously for a couple more nights. I was supposed to be famous, or at least artistically successful, or prouder of myself, happier with what I had done…I don’t know. Supposed to, supposed to, supposed to. I remind myself that this is a beginning, not necessarily an ending. But it is a year of beginnings that feel like endings. A year of falling endlessly forward and down. We lurch, we swing our heads, trying to fall up, ever up. Straining against all seeming hope to defy gravity.

The nurses want Alexis to stay at the hospital for monitoring. If the labor isn’t progressing significantly 24 hours after her water breaks (which we’re nearly at) then the baby and mother are at an increased risk of infection, and the doctor will likely induce. The monitor tells us that Alexis is having contractions, but she isn’t feeling them yet. The birth plan is disintegrating before Alexis’s eyes. I ask to speak to the doctor, expecting them to get her on the phone. Instead, she is there with us in our curtained off cubicle ten minutes later. The doctor is kind but firm. Alexis will need to stay in the hospital for the duration. I am glad. At least the doctor is clear, adamant. The worst thing at this point would be equivocation.

Very few people handle it well when they don’t get what they want, but Alexis (I love you) is the fucking worst. So, as Alexis’s plans (our plans? I don’t know. What were my plans? To pack a small bag?) for the birth fall apart before our eyes, she spirals, envisioning the possible negative outcomes.

If there’s one thing the past year has taught me, it’s that, baby, you need to be able to roll with it. Maybe this is a coward’s approach to life, but it’s what I’ve learned. Take what life has given you on its terms and just roll. The circumstances are the circumstances; energy spent on trying to change them is so often energy wasted. The quicker you can accept the givens, the quicker you can get about productive action. Alexis hears me, I think.

Alexis is allowed to walk around until they induce (4 pm). If the contractions have progressed sufficiently by then, Alexis can avoid being hooked up to a Pitocin drip (which the nurses call ‘pit’ – gross). I can’t remember why Alexis is so afraid of being induced (Pitocin increases the chance of Rosemary’s Baby?) but I don’t want to make her spiral further, so I don’t ask.

We pace the halls, hand in hand, trying to walk the baby loose – Alexis in her hospital robe, me in my hipster sweatpants. Well – hall. There is one hall that we’re allowed to walk up and down, so we ping pong back and forth, lingering at the east and west windows for a brief view of the city, which bustles on, casually unaware of Alexis and my irrevocably changing lives.

Alexis’s mother kindly drives to our neighborhood and picks up everything we’d intended to bring to the hospital: snacks, speakers, comfy clothes, phone chargers, cyanide pills. She comes up to the 12th floor to drop them off and ping pongs with us for a bit. She and Alexis debate what the rest of the family will do. Alexis’s sister is already on her way down from Boston, and Alexis’s mom is dead set on staying at the hospital. First labors, and especially induced ones, can be incredibly long, so we try to dissuade her from staying. But the issue turns out to be non-negotiable. The McGuinnesses will stay.

At 3 pm, Alexis’s contractions are not significantly more intense, so the doctor breaks the rest of her water [apparently there was a ‘fore-sac’ (gross) that hadn’t yet broken] with a creepy little hook thing that we had fortunately already seen in our terrible birth class. It’s decidedly less exciting than if Alexis’s water had broken all at once at dinner or at some other dramatic moment (a la rom-coms), but Alexis and I still marvel at the wildness of the body and of the whole thing and of life itself.

The contractions intensify a bit, but it is not enough. They will hook her up to the ‘pit’ (gross) to move things along. Alexis is visibly upset but resigned. I begin to wonder if a ‘natural’ birth would have been better after all. Did I bully Alexis into my version of a sterile, medical birth, in which interventions are quickly and casually implemented? I don’t think so…but I can be stubborn. I can be pushy. I can make it seem like my way is the only way.

The doctor tells us that she is unfortunately not on call overnight on Thursdays. Alexis and my hearts drop. Yet another downside to a hospital birth. But then the doctor tells us that Dr. Cummings is on call. Alexis and I breathe a collective sigh of relief. We met Dr. Cummings when Alexis came in after her fall and she is LOVELY. This will be ok. Not ideal but ok.

Alexis’s father and sister arrive and come up to visit individually. I think we’re past the point where Alexis wants any visitors, but I’m unsure and don’t feel confident making dramatic gestures like barring family members from the room. This is something we should have talked about and would have talked about in the nine days leading up to the actual due date. We thought we would have more time. I always think there will be more time.

Now that Alexis has been hooked up to an IV, she needs to be constantly monitored, so the nurses don’t want her to stand. They allow her to sit up in a chair, though. Compromise.

Things begin to move along. By 7 pm the contractions are silencing Alexis and sending her into a meditative state. She closes her eyes, back straight, legs firmly planted on the ground. It is happening. The warrior prepares.

The contractions intensify and Alexis moves into a standing/leaning position. I massage her lower back and ask her needy questions about how she is feeling/what I should be doing. My questions and small talk and jokes fall on deafer and deafer ears until I feel like a desperate madman, babbling inconsequential nonsense to someone going through something deep and true and life-altering. The current nurse (at least an 8 – unless everyone is seeming more attractive to me because I am now scared) thinks the contractions are coming too quickly, so she reduces the drip a bit. The contractions slow but not much. They are coming 1.5 to 2 minutes apart, a much higher frequency than I can ever remember talking about in our birth class. At some point, Alexis’s mother and sister come back into the room. I can’t remember why they came, but I can remember that at this point I feel much more confident that visiting hours are over. They quickly get the message and communicate their love to Alexis and retreat back downstairs. We are in the thick of it now.

Alexis begins to vocalize: groan-y, actorly sighs and glides. Kristin Linklater would be proud. I am happy too. Any noise is preferable to concentrated silence punctuated by my needy, superficial commentary. The sighs morph into grunts and then yells and then quickly screams. At this point, no medical professional has been in to check on us for at least an hour and a half, but I am too focused on Alexis to notice.

The screams turn into ragged, guttural shrieks, and Alexis cries out in anguish that she feels like she has to push but that she doesn’t know if it’s time for that yet. I finally realize how alone we are and push the call button. Our nurse is apparently on break but her replacement (older and domineering – not going to rank her) comes quickly when she hears the screams over the intercom. Alexis tells the nurse that she feels the need to push but doesn’t think that it’s time. “What makes you think that?” the woman asks sternly. She asks if this is our first and when I say yes, she disappears and is replaced by a young doctor (a 7 probably, I don’t know) and two nurses, none of whom we’ve ever seen. The doctor wants to examine Alexis (her first cervical exam since 4 pm), but Alexis is in too much pain to move from her leaning position. The doctor asks her to get on the bed again, this time with a noticeable level of urgency, and we are able to get Alexis in position during a brief respite between contractions. The doctor has her hand up Alexis’s vagina for one second before saying, “She’s fully dilated and the head’s right there.”

Everything moves quickly. Scrubs are donned, tables and instruments are wheeled in, stirrups are extended from the bed. The nurse puts in a call to Dr. Cummings, and it is only now that I realize that ‘on call’ doesn’t mean ‘at the hospital’; on call means ‘at your apartment in Harlem, waiting for a call’. Oh boy.

But it is not the time for these concerns. It is happening. We are here.

I am on Alexis’s left, a nurse is on her right, and the unknown but relatively attractive doctor is between Alexis’s legs. They have Alexis pull her knees up to her shoulders and push with each contraction. Alexis makes sounds that my memory has fortunately mostly erased. Her eyes are closed. I am barely able to tolerate seeing her in so much pain and know that if it were me in her position, I would be telling the nurses to knock me out, do a C-section (Caesarean birth, women are not grapefruits), or just straight up shoot me in the fucking head.

I had told myself that I wouldn’t watch this part. That seeing a human head come out of Alexis’s vagina might significantly impact my ability to interact with said vagina in the manner that I (and Alexis) would like. But I’m here, up by Alexis’s head, and her vagina is not as far from her head as I had somehow expected, and a little voice in the back of my head says, “If you look away from this, you’ll be a coward for all time.” So, I watch.

With each push, the unknown but beautiful doctor with the gorgeous weave puts her index and middle finger from each hand inside Alexis’s vagina and pulls. She’s stretching the canal, I assume, but the way she kind of leans back into it makes it look like Alexis is flying through the air and the beautiful young doctor is holding onto Alexis’s vagina for dear life.

It only takes a couple terrifying pushes before we can see the head. Except it doesn’t look like a head. Not fucking at all. It looks like a white, floppy, translucent…sock? I don’t know, it doesn’t look human. I know that a baby’s skull bones are flexible and not yet fused to allow for easier passage, but I still don’t know really know what I’m looking at. But the doctor and nurses don’t seem concerned. And Alexis keeps flying through space, and the unknown doctor keeps hanging on for dear life.

The nurses do a great job of instructing Alexis and I where to put our limbs and what to do. They have Alexis push during contractions and relax in between. But there comes a point where Alexis is just pushing constantly. We roll with it, as I assume this means we are getting close. And we are.

One more big push and out she comes. Out into the light and the noise. Into a room filled with the two people who love her most in the world and three well-meaning, well-trained strangers. Out into a world of conflict, and pain, and unimaginable strife. A world of unavoidable death and incomprehensible joy. A world whose future is bubbling forth with each passing moment. A world that neither Alexis nor I can guarantee will be safe or even habitable, but that both of us will strive with each breath to fill with love and possibility. Out into the light she comes, an embodiment of potential and hope, screaming and clawing against the incursions that life is already trying to make.

Epilogue

This is all just a construct, of course. Epilogue to what, exactly? And the epilogue consists of…what, the rest of our lives? Even splitting a year into months is arbitrary. Time flows and, I think, ultimately resists these sort of demarcations. People who think of years as discrete packages of time drive me crazy. “Ugh, 2015 was a terrible year. I am sooooo looking forward to moving on to 2016.” Of course, every minute of your life is a chance to turn it around, but just because the calendar flips over to January doesn’t mean your problems magically disappear or your life necessarily changes at all.

Anyway.

There was a lot of blood. Poe came out, briefly screamed, and calmed almost the moment she was put on Alexis’s chest. As she was handed to Alexis, Poe’s forearm bumped Alexis’s nose, leaving a little smudge of blood. She began sucking on her wrist so hard that her tiny hand flapped back and forth comically. We moved her up to Alexis’s breast, and she latched on almost immediately. I didn’t notice the placenta come out, but when I walked around the foot of the bed to wash my hands, I noticed it sitting in a little tub and also noticed a not insignificant amount of blood coming out of Alexis. The doctor investigated and found that there was a small laceration that needed to be sewn up. The doctor went about it with some novocaine and needle and thread. After several pieces of gauze were soaked with blood, I no longer had any regrets about a hospital birth.

In the rush of the birth itself, the doctor had cut the umbilical cord immediately. We had wanted to delay cutting and for me to do it, but the unknown and wonderful doctor did not know our birth plan. How could she? We’d never met her before and would likely never see her again. Dr. Cummings had barely been able to get out her front door in Harlem by the time Poe was in the world. She arrived 30 minutes after the birth and talked to us for a bit. She was lovely. Wish she had been there.

After some skin to skin contact with Alexis, it was time for Poe to have some skin to skin contact with Dad (Me. I’m a dad now.). Even in such an emotional moment, I felt uncomfortable taking my shirt off in a room full of strange women (and Alexis). Fortunately, I’ve been sporting a #dadbod since before it was cool.

The nurse handed Poe to me and I clutched her awkwardly to my chest. Mercifully, I would get skilled at baby handling relatively quickly, much to my surprise. Poe looked around a bit but mostly closed her eyes and sucked on her impossibly small hand. Her vernix (the white goo newborns are covered in) got smeared all over my stomach and pants. It created a warm and not unwelcome feeling.

After about 10 minutes of Dad time, Poe was given back to Mom, and I was quickly dispatched to go try and reserve a private room. The hospital puts new mothers into two person shared rooms unless you shell out an extra $900 a night for a private room. Alexis and I debated the financials a bit earlier that day but ultimately decided it was worth the privacy/security (Dads can’t sleep over in shared rooms). Additionally, an email from my boss earlier that day alerting me to a holiday bonus I had received was well timed.

The private rooms are limited and you can only reserve them after the baby is born, hence my hasty exit from the delivery room. In my first true instance of “dad brain”, I accidentally took the elevator to the top floor and then the lobby before finally hitting the button for the correct floor. The nurses and attendant on that floor were incredibly kind and warm (if they couldn’t already tell what state I was in, the vernix on my pants was probably a giveaway) and informed me that all of the private rooms were full but that we would be first on the waiting list.

In the elevator back to the delivery room, I took a photo of myself. In retrospect, it feels like a silly gesture, but at the time I was trying to capture something. Some sort of change. Some sort of transitioning from one type of man to another. I look at the photo now and I don’t see it – whatever it is I’m looking for. I don’t know. A man embarking on a vast and unknowable journey.

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The Birth Plan (Hers and His): Early Labor

Arrival at the Hospital

Her
The couple will wait as long as possible into early labor before coming to the hospital.

Him
Regardless of how the couple gets to the hospital, the father will come through the door carrying the mother, shouting, “Let’s do this!” or, “It’s GO time!” or something equally dramatic. The hospital will ensure that no less than five of the hospital’s most attractive nurses will be in the lobby when this happens. If the nurses are not there, the couple will reset and enter again.

Monitoring

Her
The mother will be hooked up to the baby monitor for as little time in excess of the required 20 minutes as possible.

Him
The father will be allowed to pull hilarious jokes with medical equipment, including but not limited to…

a) Asking “Is thing on?” into the doctor’s stethoscope during routine examinations.

b) Playing a speculum like a pair of spoons or pointing and shooting it like a gun.

c) Pretending to hit himself in the crotch with a rubber hammer to “test his penis’s reflexes”.

d) Holding up the intra-vaginal ultrasound wand, making big eyes, and saying, “At least take me out to dinner first,” in a “gay” voice.

Mobility

Her
The mother will be free to move around at will when she is not being monitored.

Him
The father will be free to start games of pick-up basketball in the hall, using the mother’s birth ball.

Ambience

Her
The lights will be dimmed and the mother will be able to play soft, calming music in the birthing room.

Him
If anything doofy like The Lumineers comes on, the Father will say “NOPE” loudly and immediately switch to “Generation” by Liturgy.

Her
The mother will not be given epidural or spinal anesthesia unless medically indicated and only after discussion with her physician.

Him
Upon arrival at the hospital, the father will be given epidural anesthesia, xanax, vicodin, Wild Turkey on the rocks, and a Shake Shack hamburger.

 

A Natural Birth

CHOO-CHOO! Here comes the unsolicited advice train!

If you think babies should be born in hospitals with the help of medical professionals, then stop reading right now and go choke on a rusty pair of forceps. Births should be conducted in the wild or in your shitty home by a woman named Moon, or Laila, or Queen Sage Postulate. And if she doesn’t have a facial piercing, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG. Women have been giving birth in the wild for eons, like nature intended. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Andrew, did nature also intend us to hunt with spears and forage and have, like, a 60% infant mortality rate? And to that I say, “LALALALALALALA!” My fingers are in my ears as I’m screaming this. Can you tell? Because they are.

I once went to a hospital. Yes, I survived, thank you for asking. Now, please shut up. What I’m telling you is very important for you. You can tell by the tone and volume of my voice. Anyway, I went to a hospital once and do you know what they did? They tried to take my blood. I’m sorry, medical “professionals”, but do you know that humans need blood to live? Hello?! If that isn’t evidence that you should give birth in your own dirty bathroom or in a field with ticks (Hey! Ticks are a natural part of the birthing process. GET OVER IT.) then I don’t know what is.

Another thing that hospitals do is Caesarean births, or as I like to call them, “BASICALLY ASSAULT”. Medical “proFARTsionals” can huff and puff and say that it’s to “save the mother and the baby” but here’s the thing: if you aren’t able to have a baby the right way (head first, I think) then you have failed as a woman and mother and you and the baby deserve to die. I’m sorry, I know that sounds harsh, but I don’t make the rules. Nature makes the rules. Also, we should all poop in communal holes and get sick from very preventable diseases. That’s natural.

Here’s the thing about doctors: they just want your money. This science blog with a typo in the name that I read once said that 90% of med school is just sitting around lighting cigars with money earned from doing assault births. Whoops! I mean “caesarean” (NO I DON’T). The other 10% of med school is learning how to take your precious blood.

I’m sure you agree with me that whatever I think is the case about anything is exactly how everyone should conduct themselves, so let me give you some more advice:

DUMPNARDS.

Just follow my acronym, DUMPNARDS, and you’re guaranteed to have a safe, painless, natural birth. Listen up:

Dim the lights.
Use a doula, a midwife, a quarter wife, and a three-quarter wife. The birthing process is a competition. You need to have at least one more non-medical professional in the room than any of your friends had.
Make your husband or partner wear lipstick and a dress. This will increase the feminine energy in the room (or ideally, non-sterile wooded area).
Pelts. Drape yourself in animal pelts, preferably taken from feminist animals (cats, caribou, beavers, NOT badgers. Badgers are the mansplainers of the animal world) that have died of natural causes.
Never let them take your precious blood. Or your baby’s.
Ask Gaia, the earth mother, for a girl child. Boys are mostly perverts or doctors in training.
Rub essential oils on your perineum and on the perineum of anyone else in the room (or unsafe outdoor area) no matter how hard they resist. Rub essential oils on your baby’s perineum when it comes out and continue to do this until it is 18 years old or gains a legal emancipation from you.
Don’t let them take your goddamn blood!
Seriously, no badger pelts. Badgers are rapists.

The Up and Up

Dad was released from the hospital on September 1st. Some of the nurses cried upon his release, Mom tells me. He is so gregarious and warm and hard-working with strangers. He saves his worst for Mom. In the depths of his mania he saw her as his captor and now he fights her tooth and nail for the freedom to do things he wants (and very much shouldn’t) do. This is how we treat our lovers, our partners. You made the mistake of opening yourself up to me and I will in turn reward you with the privilege of seeing me at my cruelest. You will also get my best and I will get yours, we hope. And that will be enough or more, we hope.

I desperately want to keep Alexis from my worst, but she will get it. No doubt she will get it. And I will most likely get hers.

Physically, Dad is so much better. He is subsisting on three pureed meals a day and is walking — slowly and unevenly, but regularly. We had a handrail installed that leads from the street all the way up to the deck and grab bars added to each of the bathrooms. The nurses cautioned Mom not to leave Dad by himself at all for the next three weeks, while he adjusts. She is transitioning from the role of wife to the role of caretaker/wife, something that I can’t suppose either of them ever wanted to happen but something that both technically did sign up for. Sickness and health and all that.

The mental side of things is a little less clear. It’s tough for me to get a whole lot out of Mom as she is now pretty much always with Dad and can’t be 100% honest over the phone. But I get the sense that things are not improving in the same consistent manner that they are in the physical department. I don’t know. I got back to New York a month ago and in some ways it might as well be the moon. I looked forward to my flight back. A whole day in which the only thing required of me was silence and existence. I was in neither Carmel nor New York and could relish the grey area in between. But instead I spent every minute wondering if Dad was sundowning and if Mom was helpless without me. When I got back to our muggy apartment at midnight, Alexis met me in the kitchen. I knelt and pressed my head against her swelling belly and cried for the third time since this whole ordeal began. The first time occurred when Mom described Dad’s fall to me over the phone and the second when Alexis and I walked into Dad’s hospital room on our third day in California and he said groggily, “Don’t you have anything better to do than take care of the old man?” Alexis had to occupy him while I cried in the hall.

“I’m lost,” I said to Alexis, my face buried in her belly. She ran her hands through my hair.

But then, only 12 hours later, I felt lighter, a little more distant from the chaos. Dad was about to be transferred from the hospital unit to the rehab unit. We had a long line of incredible family members and friends coming into town to assist Mom. She wasn’t helpless at all. I felt better. Then I felt guilty for feeling better.

It’s a balance. I am trying to stay involved. I don’t know what is needed from me, what is required of me, what is expected of me. I have always been more comfortable being told. I have always been a coward.

This year (or maybe the rest of our lives) shall be dubbed ‘The Great Re-Adjustment’. Dad is adjusting to recovery. Mom is adjusting to her new role as caretaker. Carly and I are adjusting to our new roles somewhere in between worlds. The great wheel spins.

Down Time

sunset

We take down time where we can get it. Whether it is typing up these thoughts next to Dad as he sleeps, trying to get some air/activity around lunch time, or coming home at the end of the night, it is difficult to find solace or equilibrium. The drive back from dropping Carly and Alexis off at the San Jose airport was like a drug. One and a half hours in which nothing was expected or needed of me. In which it was gloriously, physically impossible for me to be at the hospital. I stopped at a shitty strip mall Starbucks in Morgan Hill and basked in the anonymity. I didn’t know anyone; they didn’t know me. They had no clue that my father was sleeping (or raving) in a hospital bed miles away, tubes stuck up his nose and into his veins. I thought, “I could make a life here. Just live at this Starbucks til the end of my days, forget that any of this happened.”

Music has been hugely important to me during this period (and of course all periods of my life). I’ve fixated on a handful of albums in particular: “Carrie and Lowell” by Sufjan Stevens, “Currents” by Tame Impala, and “Ivywild” by Night Beds. “Carrie and Lowell” is very directly about grief and pain but a more subtle streak of terror/confusion runs through the Tame Impala album. Both albums remind me that there is something positive, possibly transcendent, that can come out of trauma. At night, exiting the hospital past the Koi pond and the cafe and out into the roiling Central California fog, I would exhale deeply, relax my shoulders, look at the sky, hop into the family’s Honda Civic, turn on the heat, roll down the windows, press play, crank the volume knob to the right until it broke off, and drive — one arm out the window, shaking hands with the wind and the unfeeling dark.

During lunch breaks, I lace up my running shoes and go down to the path along Scenic that skirts the beach. The ocean is opalescent and still and gloriously indifferent to my life and its current mania. I start out slow, rusty, creaky. My knees do not appreciate the 15 pounds I’ve put on this year. Oblivious tourists pass me on the dirt path. Thoughts race and then slow. I begin to hit a rhythm. Stretch the limbs. The joints pop and buckle. The flesh sings. My ribs expand. Hearts flutter beat fail. My face in Alexis’s hair; my hand on her belly. The sun on my face. The sky ecstatic with light. My father’s big brain fried and served up on a plate. My mother broken but unbowed. The earth spinning. Andrew, the son, Andrew, the brother, the father, spinning.