Gwendolyn Elizabeth was born quite unexpectedly
Babies are supposed to come out head first, while some ornery
come out bottom or feet first. (I was a breech baby
, btw.) But, they
just can't come out sideways.
The doctor tried coaxing Gwen head down, and she obliged. For about 10
minutes. And again, but the heart rate monitor started showing signs of
distress. So, we went to the hospital, so hands and soft words could
try and convince her while we watched under the ultrasound to stop
being quite so transverse.
After another hour, the doctor shrugged, and told us that he wanted to
perform an emergency C-section. Immediately. Babies don't come out
sideways, leastways not while they are still alive, and the experience
is none too good for the mother, either. He didn't want to send us home
and risk labor progressing too far before we got back to the hospital.
And, she was far enough along that she would not need to stay in a
Our childbirth classes had talked about C-sections, in an intellectual
sort of way. After all, according to most of the instructors, only
pregos who were failures had C-sections. Worse, a transverse lie
meant that the doctor would use the old-fashioned kind of incision -
the sort that it is very difficult to have a VBAC afterward. But,
everyone agreed that a live baby and unfulfilled principles was better
than a dead baby and stubbornly-adhered-to principles.
The actual operation was very unnerving. I wore a complete set of
blues, complete with hair net and shoe covers. There are a zillion
people in the operating theatre, and everything is brightly lit, with
glistening steel and stark white everywhere. Alana was tied down, and I
held her right hand.
Three minutes after the doctor started cutting, I had a very unhappy,
slippery baby girl in my hands. She was so small. Carl and Eileen both
weighed in at over 10lbs, but Gwen was only 5.5lbs. I wrapped her up,
and held her firmly next to my heart, until she settled down. Alana and
I were both crying, and Gwen nursed for a short bit, as the doctor
finished sewing Alana up.
Note to partners - take the doctor's advice to "not look" at what they
are doing, unless you have a strong grip on reality. I found it very
disturbing to see this great baby-sized hole cut open in Alana, where I was
used to seeing skin.
The three of us spent 4 wonderful days in the hospital. Carl and Eileen
were staying with my parents, and came to visit every day. They loved
holding their new sister.
Gwen was quite different from her older siblings. Some of it was those
extra five pounds - tiny babies sleep more, nurse more, like snuggling
more, and, in general, wiggle less. It was a great struggle to get her
to nurse after the edge was off her hunger. But both Alana and I got
the impression that something else was different - Gwen was just too
Gwen never cried, she cooed. Whenever we went to the nursery to pick
her up after lunch or a nap, one of nurses was always holding her -
which was very unusual behavior for them. "Oh, she's no trouble at
all", they would say. "We just want to hold her."
We came home Sunday night. Everything was higgly-piggly, because we
hadn't expected to go into the hospital, so none of the baby furniture
(changing table, clothes, diaper pail, swing, bouncy chair) was set up
where it was supposed to go. Fortunately, we had diapers. Ever since an
extremely messy incident 3 years before, I have been paranoid about not
having enough diapers. So, for the past 4 months, we had had a two
day's supply of newborn diapers.
Monday, we all sat around and vegged. Everyone wanted to hold Gwen, and
she slept most of the time. I took some photos. Friends and neighbors
visited. Around 8:00PM, Alana felt something was wrong. She called up
Gwen's doctor, and tried to articulate her uneasiness.
Was Gwen breathing differently? No. Running a fever? No. Was she
lethargic? No, not more than usual. Was her muscle tone off? No, not
really. Anything else you can describe? No, but something is wrong with
my baby. Well, bring her in the morning, and the doctor will take a
Tuesday morning, Gwen was dead. SIDS, the autopsy said.
A few weeks later, I was walking in the cemetery, and visiting Gwen's
grave. I kneeled down, started quietly sobbing, and leaned forward so
my forehead was on the headstone.
"Why?", I cried. "Why did my baby have to die?"
And I discovered some words inside me, deep inside where usually, I'm
the only one thinking words. I wasn't hearing them, the words were just
there, in the same way and place that I think in words. They said,
"Don't cry, Daddy. I'll be OK."
And in a place deep inside me, where I usually only have my feelings
being felt, I discovered a feeling that I should go make sure that
Alana and Carl and Eileen felt better. So I did.
About two years later, Llerendel Guinevive was born. The C-section and the
hospital stay gave both Alana and I flashbacks and nightmares. We took
turns staying awake in the night that first week home, making sure that
Llerendel kept breathing.
One night that week, I woke up with a start, and sat up in bed. Alana
had dozed off, with her hand on Llerndel's head. I could hear her
wuffling, so I didn't panic. Then, I noticed something on the end table
on the other side of the room. I wasn't exactly seeing it, because it
wasn't there. But it was there. As I gazed through the bright
moonlight, I got the concept that there was a 2yr old girl with long
brown hair sitting on the tabletop, swinging her legs through the
drawers. She looked at me, and I heard "Hello, Daddy. Go back to
sleep.", and went back to staring at Llerendel and Alana.
I lay back down, and went back to sleep.
When Llerendel was 2, her brother Francis Harrington was born. Carl was overjoyed
at having another boy, if only as reinforcements against his two
younger sisters. As with Llerendel's homecoming, the first week was a
tense time for Alana and I. Alana arranged for an apnea monitor which Francis wore fairly regularly for the first two months. After that, we
figured that our family would survive with yet another live baby.
Then, one morning, Francis was dead. SIDS, the autopsy said.
We didn't have the heart for a Irish Wake in the funeral home, with all
the friends and relatives wandering by and not knowing what to say. (I
tell my friends that 'I'm sorry your baby died.', with a handshake, or
a hug, while looking the bereaved in the eye, is about the best you can
do.) During the Funeral Mass, Gwen showed up, and took her baby brother
in tow. He was still wearing his yellow sleeper.
For the next four years, I visualized Gwen as being a four year
old. I guess it is old enough to be mobile, to travel short distances
away from your parents, but young enough that no one asks or expects
much in the way of chores from you.
One morning, while cleaning her grave of blown leaves and grass
straw, I 'saw' a 6yr old following a grasshopper through the fog. I
asked Gwen why she was growing up. She said, "Llerendel is 4! She's the
little girl, not me!"
I looked on sadly at her running after the blown leaves for a while.
They would come down out of the misty white fog, swirl around in the
air, and land on the dew. She ran after one, ran back to me, and said,
"You're still too sad. Be happy so your new baby will be happy, too."
Taran Nathaniel was born a week early, by C-section on November 26, 1995.
He was on a heart/resperation monitor for the first year of his life, and is now
(as of 2002) a bustling 6yr old boy, about to start the first grade.