Nine months passed during which time we did our best to prepare ourselves for the arrival of our spawn, which is to say that we scoffed at strollers and cribs and other implements of the White Devil, and we imagined possible names.
“What should we call him?” Sheena would ask at all hours of day and night.
“How about Shark? Or Talon?”
At this she would reprimand me for always suggesting nouns, and I would remind her that while I was admittedly a dastardly boy namer, I could produce a plethora of great girl names.
We also attended “baby making classes,” wherein we discussed all manner of unpleasantries such as uteral cramping, perineal tearing, and mustard-colored poop, and I added words like “swaddle” and “tummy time” to my vernacular.
And then, thirty-six-and a-half-weeks into what we were assured by science and sound statistics would be a forty-week pregnancy, I came home from Target—where I was buying a blanket for my sister—to a worried-looking Sheena pacing back and forth, crying and holding her distended belly.
She was crying! Distended belly! But first, the blanket, which is significant to my story.
Our offspring, as it turned out, was growing to gargantuan proportions—we’re talking 98th percentile, broad-shouldered, as if reared on genetically modified corn and Gatorade—and as a result of the terrifying descriptions from baby making class we were rather worried about Sheena’s wellbeing. As such we had scheduled an ultrasound for that morning so that we could double check whether perhaps someone had made a measurement error.
Furthermore, Sheena had been experiencing repeated 10-minute periods of discomfort for the last couple of days, and I had booked a flight for the following morning to attend my sister’s wedding. Was that advisable, we wondered? The fruit of our loins (please excuse me) wasn’t due to arrive for nearly a month, but something seemed fishy and I was about to skip town without Sheena.
“You’re fine,” the nurse assured us after a cursory checkup. “Go to Arizona. There’s no way this baby is coming any time soon.”
And so I went back to work, and then I went to Target to find a gift for the wedding. I considered going to the shoe store too, but my laziness didn’t permit it so I went home. And when I got there I found sweet Sheena pacing back and forth, her distended belly bulging all over the place, crying. She explained that she had timed her periods of discomfort, and found them to be seven minutes apart. So then she took a bath and they changed to every five minutes. She held up a wrinkly paper with times scrawled all over it.
“We’re having a baby!” I whisper-yelled, and she burst into tears.
“We haven’t even packed a hospital bag yet,” she said, between sobs, “and we (sniffle) don’t have any snacks!”
At this I lost my mind, started speaking quickly, and went into autopilot. I zoomed around the apartment throwing random items into a small duffel bag. The camera. A pair of sandals. A new change of clothes (baby making class had warned me that I might be sprayed with water-like fluid), some stickers, and a baby uniform.
With each contraction Sheena slunk to her knees and breathed heavily for a few minutes.
“Snacks! We need snacks!” she wailed. “Go to QFC!”
She assured me we had time, so I ran out the door and down the block to the QFC. I speed-walked to the granola bar section and grabbed several. Red bull, frappuccinos, chocolate milk, and then to the checkout stand. It was Yoya, our favorite checker. He looks like an NFL running back, long dreadlocks and a big smile. Mellowest guy you’ll ever meet. He’d been following the progress of our reproduction through our shopping appearances.
“How’s the wife feeling?” he asked, totally smoothly.
“She’s in labor right now,” I said. His mellow was contagious.
“Yep. I’m buying snacks.”
“Right on, man. That’s pretty great.”
“Sure is. You have yourself a good night, Yoya.”
I hurried home to pack the snacks into the hospital bag, where I found Sheena still holding strong at five minutes between contractions. We called the hospital and got a midwife on the phone (as instructed in baby making class), and asked if we should come in. They kept Sheena on the phone for a few minutes to listen to a contraction.
“Oh yes, this is a contraction now. Yep. Ooh…” She winced hard. “Yes, I can still talk. It doesn’t feel good!”
The midwife assessed that since she could still talk through her contractions, she should stay home a little longer.
“Bradley!” She said suddenly. “You haven’t had your whooping shot!”
“Oh jeez! Whooping shot! What should we do?!” I said, clasping my head.
You see, here in Washington the whooping cough has become some kind of big problem, and the authorities on such matters say that nobody should friendly up to babies unless they’ve been vaccinated.
“Go GET IT!”
“Do I have time?”
“Yes, just go!”
I ran out the door again, grabbed my bike, and rode in the direction of Bartell Drugs. When I arrived it was nearly ten at night and the man in the pharmacy took his sweet time moseying to the counter before looking up at me with bored eyes.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes. I would like one whooping shot, please.”
“Is your wife in labor right now?” he asked.
“Yes, how did you know that?”
“That’s the only reason a man would come to the pharmacy alone at ten o’clock at night to get a whooping cough vaccine. I see this all the time.”
I played footsy with myself in a chair while he prepared the vaccine and I noticed they had a blood pressure testing machine. Yes! I sat down on the chair, put my arm through the hole, and pressed the green button. Grrrrrrrrrr-psh-psh-psh-psh-pshhhhhhhhh. My numbers flashed on the screen and I looked on the chart above the hole to see what they meant. Upper yellow zone: pre-hypertension. Dammit, what is taking so long?!
“Your vaccine is ready, sir,” the bored man said. He brought me into a room and jabbed the needle in my arm, then put a band-aid on it.
“Now side effects are rare,” he began slowly, “but they can happen. I’m talking about anaphylactic shock, throat swelling, suffocation. If it’s going to happen, it will happen in the first fifteen minutes. I’m going to ask you to stay within my sight for fifteen minutes just in case, mmkay?”
I walked past the eye-care aisle, peering at my watch. I rounded the candy aisle and thumbed a magazine. Then suddenly it hit me. What in the hell am I doing? My wife is having a baby right now! I checked to be sure that the pharmacist wasn’t watching and then I ran away, jumped on my bike, and pedaled home as fast as I could.
“What took you so long?!” Sheena exclaimed as I burst through the door, and then she started making sounds like a bike pump. She explained that her contractions had dropped to three minutes apart, but she didn’t consider this to be all that painful—not compared to what the baby making class had her expecting—so she was reluctant to go to the hospital yet for fear of being sent home. We sat together on the couch and soon her contractions were two minutes apart.
“Okay that’s it, we’re going!” I said. I grabbed the bag and our pillows and I stood by the front door. At this point—contractions two minutes apart—Sheena decided it would be a good time to clean the house.
Pick up a sock—“pshhhhh…shhh…shhh…shhh”—move a pillow, place a cup in the sink—“pshhhhh…shhh…shhh…shhh…”
“Stop it woman, let’s go!”
“But I don’t want to come home to a dirty house! Pshhhhh…shhh…shhh…shhh!”
When we reached the street it was decision time. The hospital was four blocks from our house—you can walk there in five, ten minutes. You can see it from our couch.
“We’re driving.” Sheena said.
“But are you sure? We’ll have to find parking and everything. Up to you, but really, you know, I think we should walk.”
Clearly taken by my persuasiveness, she agreed that indeed, walking would be better. We took no more than ten steps and then—“Eek! Pshhh…shhh…”
By the time we reached 20th and 56th—the half way point—we realized that it was taking far longer than it should have. Sheena’s contractions were by now coming every minute, lasting thirty seconds. We would hobble slowly in the dark for thirty seconds and then Sheena would press her face into my chest and breathe heavily for thirty seconds, and then repeat.
While Sheena pressed her face into my shirt in front of the Greek gyro shop, I leaned down and made an attempt at support. Just as instructed by the baby making class, I began making guided breathing sounds, which Sheena was supposed to calmly repeat so as to fall into a nice rhythm.
“Stop that RIGHT now! I don’t want to hear another ‘hee-hee-paw’ for the rest of the night, got it? PSHHHH…SHHH…SHHH…SHHH!” and then she buried her face in my shirt again.
Just then, two young men passed and shot me a look. I looked back, shaking my head as though someone had wronged my lady and I was consoling her. It would be too shameful to admit that we were having a baby on the sidewalk because we had tried to walk to the hospital.
We approached the crosswalk at Market Street and strategized at how to get across—Sheena with baby ready to fall out on the ground and me with duffel bags and pillows strapped all over my body, constricting my mobility. We would have to time the walk signal with the end of a contraction, giving us thirty seconds to hobble across the four lane street.
“We’ll never get across—pshhhh…shhh…shhh!”
“Wrap it up, Sheena, turn lane just got the yellow!”
“Pshhh…shhh—okay I’m done!”
“Okay it’s the green walking man, let’s go!”
As we walked through the front door of Ballard Swedish Hospital, the face of the young man at the front desk took on a sober panicked look.
“Oh god, is she having a baby?!”
“Okay, we need a nurse and a wheelchair!” He fumbled with the phone and voiced a request at one octave higher than normal, and before we knew it Sheena was whisked away, me following with the granola bars, frappuccinos, stickers, camera, extra clothing, and pillows.
When we reached the birthing room the nurse got Sheena set up while I put our things in the corner. I found my stash of motivational stickers, peeled one off, and stuck it to the ceiling above the bed. Nurses filed in and out and the midwife introduced herself.
Once things settled down, the midwife and her student assistant decided to check Sheena to see how much she had dilated. She rubbed her hands together and went to work, and a few seconds later her face took on a puzzled look.
“You walked here?”
“You’re eight centimeters dilated.” We looked at her, and in turn she looked back at us, one eyebrow raised.
“Do you want me to check to be sure?” the assistant asked her.
“No, I’m positive. She’s eight centimeters. Looks like you’ll be having this baby tonight!”
Sheena whimpered and then let out a squeal. I may have done the same, but it I seem to remember that I nodded gravely, set my pipe on the bedside stand and scratched my chin quizzically.
From there, Sheena dove in and out of contractions like a prize fighter, whooshing and puffing, but never yelling or screaming. The nurses came and went, giving words of encouragement. When they broke Sheena’s water she immediately went to a full ten centimeters of dilation and she was ready to push.
I took on the task of supporting Sheena’s left shoulder and right knee while she pushed. I dared not say anything at the time, but it was really painful on account of me having just received my whooping shot. She winced with each un-medicated contraction and as each one died down she pushed with all her might to free our baby from her womb. Meanwhile, just out of her peripheral vision, I winced at my sore upper arm, rocking my head back and forth on my neck in silent pain. I noticed the sticker that I had placed on the ceiling above the bed, which said “Be Positive” and I tried to imagine myself receiving an arm massage on a sunny beach.
After an hour of pushing, our midwife walked out to attend to another birth down the hall, and it was shortly thereafter that things really picked up. Our spawn began to crown, and the midwife was nowhere in sight.
“Okay, can you stop pushing for a little while so we can get a doctor in here?” Juliette, the traveling nurse asked.
“I’ll try,” Sheena said, and then an instant later, “nope, I can’t stop! Pshhhh…shhh…shhh!”
They called in a new doctor with a Code Red, but she stopped to pee on the way to our room and failed to materialize in time. Without midwife or doctor, the most beautiful baby boy I’ve ever seen was caught and delivered into the world by the loving hands of the very excited Juliette, the traveling nurse.
Four and a half years ago we started this log of our journey for a number of reasons, but first and foremost so that our children would one day be able to look back and see exactly what immediately preceded their arrival. To understand what influenced us, who we were before they came into our lives, and what experiences will have influenced the way they were raised.
On October 16th, 2015, our first son was born. He came three and a half weeks early—couldn’t wait to get started. He weighed seven and a half pounds and had dark hair, blue eyes. He had his father’s chin and jaw, his mother’s eyes and smile. He released each breath with a sigh that sounded like singing. Remy Arlon Van Orden will have a great life.