Friday, January 6, 2012

On The Day That You Were Born

Dear Mackenzie,

September 11, 2001 was a dark day. The terrible events in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania shocked and saddened your mom and me, and most of the world.  It was an abject lesson on the horrible things people can do. Yet for your mom and me, 9/11 also was and remains one of the happiest days of our lives. 

Since you have two older sisters, you know that your mom was no novice when it came to being pregnant.  She’s also very considerate and never wants to inconvenience people. Both facts are relevant to this story.

Because the physical act of childbirth can be very painful for the mother, a birthing technique was developed in the 1940’s by a French obstetrician named Fernand Lamaze to help moms cope with the pain. The Lamaze method focuses on proper breathing, soothing massages (your mom’s personal favorite) and so on.

At our Lamaze class your mom told me she wanted to experience your birth without the help of pain medication, as she had done with your sisters Heather and Jamie. I didn’t want your mom to suffer any more pain than necessary, but I took comfort that she knew what she was doing.

Big city life being what it is, Mom’s obstetrician Stephen Rabin was called as an expert witness at a trial in Palm Springs.  He was scheduled to testify on September 12th, which was right around your mom’s due date.  Your mom and I wanted Dr. Rabin to deliver you, so we agreed that sometime on the afternoon of September 11th, Dr. Rabin would induce labor (don’t ask me how) and deliver you that evening before leaving town.  I would come home at lunch and off we’d go.  So much for best-laid plans.

I woke up about 2 AM on the morning of the 11th.  Mom was awake and having severe Braxton Hicks contractions.  Braxton Hicks is like false labor.  For lack of a better explanation, it’s the body rehearsing how it will get the baby out. I immediately went into full battle mode, asking your mom how far apart her contractions were, how long each was lasting, and whatever else I’d been taught to ask. I also insisted we call Dr. Rabin immediately.

Your mom would have none of it and didn’t want to bother Dr. Rabin in the middle of the night.  She chuckled at my naiveté and gently suggested I go back to sleep.  At 2:45 AM I woke up again to find Laura still wrestling with her Braxton Hicks contractions. Again I urged that we call the doctor and again she demurred.  “Honey,” she said, “there’s no reason to wake him. I’m fine”.  Then she had another contraction, which seemed to last forever, following which she said that with this pregnancy she might take drugs after all.

That was it for me.  If Laura of all people was talking about taking drugs, she was in full-blown labor whether she knew it or not. Over her objection I woke Dr. Rabin and filled him in.  He told me to get your mom to the hospital “as soon as humanly possible” and that he would meet us there.

Yikes.  I woke Jamie (we had driven Heather to San Diego to start college a week or so earlier), rushed everyone into the car, and started driving to the hospital like a madman. By the way, your mom would probably say I always drive like a madman and her labor only gave me an excuse in case the police stopped us. She’s wrong, of course.  I’m an excellent driver.  Sometimes I’m just inattentive. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

In any event, we arrived at Cedars-Sinai emergency at 3:45 AM.  An OB nurse examined your mom, pronounced that she was fully effaced and ten millimeters dilated (wide open and ready to go for those of us who are not doctors) and sent us immediately to a delivery room. She said the baby – you – was about to come and it was too late for an epidural. Then Dr. Rabin arrived, and chastised me (!!) for waiting so long to call him.

Dr. Rabin got Mom settled and hooked her up to a machine designed to monitor the baby’s heartbeat.  He was a bit concerned that you weren’t “coming down the chute” quickly enough given the full dilation, so he decided to manually “break Mom’s water” (no, I don’t know what that means either).  Dr. Rabin also instructed me to watch the fetal monitor and let him know if it went under 100 heartbeats per minute. Then he left the room, probably to ingest some caffeine.

As you know Mackenzie, your grandpa is an obstetrician, and a really good one. During your mom’s pregnancy, I had asked him a million questions and he always took the time to calm my nerves.  Sometime after you were born, your grandpa told me with great amusement that an obstetrician will often ask the dad to keep an eye on the fetal heart monitor if the dad seems overly nervous.  The assignment gives nervous dad something specific to do while basically keeping him out harm’s way.  I also tried to do all the things I had learned in Lamaze class.  In hindsight I was probably a great nuisance, but your mom was kind enough not to call me on it.

Then suddenly it happened. Without warning, the fetal monitor fell from 120 to 110 to 100, and then to 60 in a matter of a few seconds.  I couldn’t believe my eyes. Trying not to sound as alarmed as I felt, I called the nurse and asked her to look at the monitor. The nurse’s reaction to the precipitous drop in your heart rate confirmed to me what I couldn’t bear to think.  Both you and Mom were in trouble.

The doctor exploded into the room, which suddenly resembled a M.A.S.H. unit.  Dr. Rabin was barking orders and nurses were running around. Out of nowhere two other doctors, who I subsequently learned were neo-natal crisis specialists, stood at the door like a SWAT team, game faces on and in full surgical gear.  Dr. Rabin didn’t acknowledge them, but I suspect he was the one who got them there.

Instead, Dr. Rabin locked eyes with your mom.  “Laura”, he said, calm yet in charge. “Look at me. The cord is wrapped around the baby’s neck. That’s why the heart rate keeps dropping.” “We have to get the baby out NOW! PUSH! PUSH! PUSH!”

My heart was stuck in my throat. “Dear Lord,” I silently prayed with fervor I didn’t know I possessed.  “Please don’t take my wife and daughter from me”.  Dr. Rabin continued to coach.  Your mom continued to push.  I continued to pray.

When I was in college, my sweet daughter, sometimes I would donate blood at the Red Cross to make a little cash. One day while giving blood I panicked and started to hyperventilate. The doctor had me breathe into a paper bag and within seconds my breathing stabilized. I was unhooked and given some orange juice. A few minutes later the doctor came over to see how I was doing and I told him I was fine. “That’s why I make the big bucks,” he chuckled. “For giving me a paper bag?” I smiled. “For knowing to have you breathe into it” he smiled back.

And so it was with Dr. Rabin.  Somehow, between his focus with Mom and some weird cone-like gizmo he used, at 4:36 AM PST on the morning of September 11, 2001, you hurtled into this world.  Dr. Rabin confirmed that everything was normal, and I took my first breath in forever.  Once Dr. Rabin did his so-called Apgar evaluation (you scored a nine if you want to know) he gave the two SWAT doctors the slightest of nods and they were gone. Just another day at the office.

The relief, the exultation, and the unbridled love we felt as we held you in our arms are difficult to put into words even now. I took dozens of pictures, only to find out later that in the craziness of the moment I had forgotten to put film in the camera! Yet nothing could dampen our bliss.

And then about an hour later the planes hit the towers and the world turned upside down. But even in the context of that tragedy you reminded us on that day, as you do every day, that no matter how dark things get there is always light. You also reminded us that sometimes you have to fight for that light, and pray for it, and push for it as if your very life depended on it.  You, along with Heather and Jamie, are our eternal light.

All my everlasting love,


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