read various chapters of this autobiography by going to the Individual Stories menu to the right.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The birth of North

Below is the entire first chapter of my book Athena Techne

On January 24, 2008 my wife began her first day on leave from work. She was nine months pregnant, and wanted the last days or weeks of pregnancy to be at home, gathering up her strength and thoughts before the big moment of labor began. A bookish, geeky introvert -she was looking forward to a few days alone reading, journaling, knitting and napping.

This loner's paradise was interrupted around 2 PM that day, when she called me and said her water had broke. We were employees at Streambox -a tech company with less than twenty employees, unknown locally, but an Emmy winning technology used by news organizations worldwide. I came downstairs from my hot, loud R&D laboratory and told the CEO and CTO the news. They told me to go, immediately, and someone offered to rush me home.

We live in the inner city, half hour walk from work, and don't need a car. So our drama of the going-into-labor car race to the hospital was different from Hollywood's standard script. We called a taxi. Actually, we packed up our supplies (snacks, clothes, more snacks, and the kitchen sink), went outside, dialed for a taxi from our cell phone, and waited. Patiently.

The stories of a rushed affair during this phase of giving birth are pure fiction, statistically. I enjoyed seeing our neighborhood environs in a new light of meaning; standing there waiting with my life partner and knowing we would return with a new life partner.

The taxicab driver was surprised he was driving a woman in early stages of labor to the hospital. He was supportive in every way. He drove at the legal speed limit, and told his stories about childbirth. It was a great way to get to the hospital in this situation.
Swedish Medical Center. Main Campus. Seattle. 

Upon arrival at the hospital, we were first sent to maternity triage, where they determine whether or not it was a false start, and whether or not to send you home or to a birthing suite. They found there was a rupture of the protective sack around the baby, meaning germs could now travel from the outside world to him. He had to be born before the bad germs caused infection.

Natural processes don't receive orders to do something at a specific point in time, but they can be encouraged to move along. We didn't get sent to a room where a doctor induced labor and out popped a baby. We were instructed our best option was to walk the hallways of the hospital, for about an hour and half, to enlist gravity and working torso muscles to push the baby into a better position for birth.
Us walking the halls of Swedish 

For me, this was another one of those great moments in our lives together. It was kind of surreal romantic -the quiet, sterilized, well decorated hallways with a view of the city; us holding hands and being very much a couple. We walked around an area of the hospital full of offices and seminar rooms, and it was after 5PM, so almost no one was there. At this stage there was little discomfort for my wife, so the walk was truly enjoyable; a walk that had an added dimension to "recreational". We have photos of us on those walks, and it looks like the most romantic date, the kind of date where the couple only knows about each other.

2 PM, January 25th. My wife had been in labor seventeen hours. The doctors have figured out there is an urgent problem: the umbilical cord is wrapped around our son's neck, and he is slowly choking. Another complication: he is very large and not fitting through the passageway. My wife and son were both in dire trouble.

At this point I remember a room full of mostly women. Maybe this was a continuum of an ancient pattern, a pattern repeated across the full spectrum of races and cultures. Women clustered around and in charge of baby having. Maybe so, but these women had something more they bought to the room -professional and intellectual empowerment. They had years of hard science and practical, physical experience delivering babies to inform this moment.

We were at the top hospital for having babies in the Northwest section of the United States. Seven hundred babies a month. World-renowned physicians, teams and programs. I'm not writing a promotional brochure, these things matter in the speeding calculus of the moment when your wife and son might live or die. So it mattered, it registered as important, when they said a doctor renowned for her special ability at surgically altering the birth passageway was on her way to the room. When she entered, the entire room gave her a privileged deference. In hindsight I'd say it was because she's smarter than most and gets it done.

The doctors did the surgical work, and told us we only had the next wave of contractions to get the baby out, and if that didn't work we'd have no choice but try a C-section. The waves came in three pushes. My wife pushed so hard on the first push, then the second, when that failed I felt we were up against a wall of last chance. She began the third push. I looked down and saw the baby's head totally outside her body. He was out and on the clean up table shortly. I still recall almost every second of the next fifteen minutes, especially the first time he ever opened an eye, and looked at his mom. Months after all this my wife and I talked a lot about what happened during North's birth. I came to a realization, and my wife agrees, that if we had done this birth at home, or even been at a less advanced hospital, North would not be alive. Maybe even my wife wouldn't be alive.

At the hospital we had two friends lending their presence and support through a lot of that eighteen hours. They are women with a strong identification with natural childbirth, and "nature is best" in general. I appreciate their friendship, care and support towards my wife. Blunt statement: I am so thankful their values were not in control, I'm so glad our (female) medical science doctors were in control. That childbirth suite had a hierarchy of values, knowledge, wisdom, and practical application far superior, in any respect, to the folkways world of natural childbirth. How can I make such a grand and sweeping assessment of such a complex cross-cultural domain that involves women more than it involves men?

Because my son, and maybe my wife, would be dead -if natural childbirth had been our choice. And in places where natural childbirth is the only choice, there are a lot of men who do not hold their child or wife, because they are dead.

Across a lot of time and cultures (from the white Protestant American Old West, to Muslim Turkey, to Confucian China) there are large swaths of family mores where the men are aloof -taking themselves seriously as businessmen, political leaders or warriors; and offering no deep peer connection with their wives and children. We may never figure out all the causes for this kind of society. But I do think I've figured out one cause for men's aloofness and detachment from their mates: the high death rate for mothers and their babies during childbirth. I am not putting up a stopgap to Feminist's perennial critique of these male-dominant societies; I think Feminists are right in their negative appraisal of many societies. But it makes sense on a certain level: to not become too attached to someone very likely to die through the course of what you both will be doing a lot of; having sex and having kids. Lots of wives and lots of attempts at childbirth are a way to leap over the statistical wall of death that faces those without the aid of medical science.

I'm glad I don't face that stark and cruel world without science, where my deepest and most meaningful bonds to my wife and son would not be encouraged. I like being in love with them.

Love -it's what our modern civilized life affords.
Jenni's first time holding and seeing North

North's first night with us. 

The author of this blog also has two books available on Amazon. Athena Techne uses some of the autobiographical content of this blog and adds a philosophical perspective utilizing the ancient Greek god Athena.

Athena Techne :: Page

Autistic Crow Computer is a fiction set in Seattle, about an autistic boy and two crows. The book was written for young autistic readers, although reviews by non-autistics have been positive.

Autistic Crow Computer :: Page