Sunday, July 24, 2011

Great Expectations

       I have always believed in being prepared. And over the years, I've found the best way to be prepared is to buy a book.
       Books tell you what to expect. What to expect when you plan a wedding. What to expect when you join a corporation. What to expect when you buy a house.
       What to expect when you become pregnant.
       From the first positive blood test, I methodically worked through chapters and checklists. I was prepared for an April 6, 1986, due date.
       My water broke on February 14, a decidedly unexpected diversion in the middle of a business meeting. Jay arrived 10 hours later and seven weeks early. The books had not prepared me for a number of things.

Special Delivery
By the Book: Check out the parking regulations for the maternity wing a month before your due date and be sure to keep your car in good working order with plenty of gas in the tank. Several weeks before expected delivery, pack your “hospital bag,” remembering to include your breathing instruction sheet, hard candies for you, and a snack for your coach
       When my water broke I was on the 37th floor of the Mellon Bank building in downtown Philadelphia. My husband, Jon, was on the 33rd floor of the same building. Our car, however, was 20 miles away, parked in the lot of a commuter train station. We rendezvoused in the express elevator and flagged down a taxi.
        As I maneuvered over the cracked vinyl seat, Jon gave directions to the doctor’s office and explained why there was some urgency. Chomping down on his cigar and stomping down on his accelerator, the cabbie sent us careering around City Hall Square so fast that the centrifugal force threw me against the door. We made record time.
       My doctor confirmed that I was in early labor and called the hospital to alert them that we were on the way. Our taxi was long gone. We walked the three blocks.
       Once in the labor room, we longed for our props. The only bags that had made the trip were our briefcases. Three files of financial reports and a supply of business cards didn't help much when the contractions were two minutes apart, my mouth felt like an ashtray, and my lower back seemed to have a bowling bowl sitting on my spine.
Blissful Bonding
By the Book: Immediately after delivery, the nurse will place your baby on your chest. Notice the deep blue of the infant’s eyes and the strength of the tiny grasp around your own fingers. Later, when you are back in your room, the nurses will wheel in your newborn. In those moments of peace, examine the minute yet perfectly proportioned fingers and toes.
       Jay’s early arrival ruled out any lingering in the delivery room. Faster than a quarterback could call the signals, Jay was hiked to the nurses, who bound him tightly in a yellow blanket, pulled a blue stocking cap down to his eyebrows, and waved him under my nose before passing him to the NICU staff. He was gone before I could see the color of his hair, let alone the color of his eyes.
       Several hours after delivery I found myself gingerly positioned on a doughnut cushion while Jon wheeled me to see our son.
Jay, at 3 days old
       There through the glass was Jay. Not snugly swaddled, but splayed on a platform with needles dangling from his tiny foot, wires snaking around his tiny chest, and tubes running into his tiny nostrils. Granted, his fingers and toes did look in proportion.

       At Home
By the Book: To avoid overstimulating the baby and exhausting yourself, limit the number of visitors during the baby’s first weeks. Eliminate trips back and forth to the nursery by setting up a pretty bassinet in the corner of the living room.
       Even if we had had visitors, they wouldn’t have found us at home. We spent the first month of Jay’s life wearing out the road to the hospital. We jockeyed for parking spots with the rest of the 7 AM shift. We learned the three different ways to get to the Pediatric Nursery while avoiding the Visitors’ Elevator. We became connoisseurs of the cheese fries in the hospital’s cafeteria.
       Receiving guests in the comfort of our living room? Jay received us, but only after we had donned geometric-print hospital gowns and scrubbed up with soap that smelled like Lysol. We did have company in the Nursery: a couple named Tony and Maria murmuring over their daughter Angela. We barely exchanged nods with them.
       Around the Nursery, machines graphing pulse rates whirred and apnea monitors went off with high-pitched beeps. In the hallway, the intercom system crackled, “Dr. Tomlinson. Dr. Tomlinson. Please report to OR.” At night, Jay slept with a flickering TV screen for a nightlight and, for a lullaby, the all-news radio station.
Determined to have Jay distinguish us from the high decibels and distraction of the hospital, we read to him every evening from one of Jon’s childhood favorites, Ozma of Oz. I would rock Jay next to his monitor while Jon would read until his throat became dry.
Jay, at 23 years old
       One evening the Nursery grew unusually quiet. The monitors seemed inattentive, and the new shift of nurses had not yet turned on the television. Even Tony and Maria had paused in their conversations with Angela. The only sound in the room was Jon’s voice: “Just then, Ozma reentered the room, leading Dorothy by the hand and followed closely by Princess Langwidere.” A bit self-conscious, Jon shut the book.
       “Hey, you can’t stop now!” Tony turned in his chair to face us. “What happens next?”
       The four of us pulled our chairs into a circle. As our tiny infants slept in peaceful defiance of lunar charts and Estimated Dates of Confinement, we listened to Jon continue with the next chapter, “Ozma to the Rescue.”
       I guess a book came in handy after all.

1 comment:

  1. Kath, How is it I missed this story?! I'm sitting here laughing with tears in my eyes and it's how many years later? Loved it.