Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Day Zero As Near As I Can Remember

Nikki woke up Thursday morning. "I don't feel so good."
"Whassa matter, babe?", I mumbled as I rolled over.
"I'm hurting."
Nikki got out of the bed and stood next to it.
"What kinda hurting?"
"Like crampy hurting. I just don't feel good."
"Braxton-Hicks stuff maybe?", I offered sheepishly as I swung my legs out.
"I don't know. I just wanted to go for a walk. It's such a nice day."
I shrugged my shoulders and tried to be empathetic to my dear, sweet, tough cookie of a 38 weeks pregnant wife. She started to cry.
"I don't feel good. I don't like it."
I put my arms around her, leaning over her portruding midsection, and tried to console her as she cried quietly.

I have to admit, I was not all that sorry that our exercise routine had slowed to the point where we could actually forgo it altogether and sleep in an extra hour. I mean, Nikki wasn't even bothering to set her alarm to 5:20am anymore in the hopes that she would feel up to going for a light shuffle in the park before work, only to roll over in exhaustion and feel guilty about it. Now we just slept in until 6:40am. Not that we were totally done with exercise. Nikki discovered a few weeks ago that Lasker Pool in Central Park was open for lap swimming in the evenings. It's a five minute walk from our apartment, and free. I enjoy a good swim. So what if the pool is only three feet deep and you can't see much more than that ahead of you? Everybody loves free.

We went to work. It really was a nice day. I insisted we walk through the southwest corner of the park on our way from Columbus Circle station, even if it meant Nikki would be a few minutes late.
"Not too many more chances to do this together, babe." I told her.
"Don't say that. I don't like it."

When I asked Nikki how she was feeling around lunchtime when she called, I was really just trying to be sympathetic again. Not that I was trying to hide any callousness, I just wasn't really worried about her. She's a tough cookie. I told her she should call our doula to see if she had some answers. And I had enough to worry about with trying to maneuver in our office with all the furniture crammed to one side so the other side could be carpeted, and get a hold of Tage Wright so I could borrow his car again on one more run to the lumber place to get what I needed to finish the shelves that Nate Bowen was coming over that night to help me put together before The Nairn rolled into town.
"You feeling any better?"
"Nah. The same. I just don't want to be here."
"I'm sorry, babe. Do you want to go for a swim tonight, maybe?"
"Mmm... okay."
"Do you want to meet us for lunch? Me and Brent are taking Sara Borg to the Burger Joint for lunch."

We went to the Burger Joint and feasted. Nikki told Brent and Sara she wasn't feeling well. When we left Brent was saying goodbye and mentioned that after tonight, nothing would be the same, but it was only because they were going to see the midnight showing of Dark Knight.

Turns out Nate called around 4:30 in the afternoon and said that Sarah Jane's contractions were at the point where they were going to the hospital. I was so excited for them! I couldn't believe how early Sarah Jane was. Holy smokes. That's crazy.
"So I'm not going to be able to come help with the shelves tonight."
"What?! Just kidding. That's awesome, my friend. Good luck!"

I told Nikki when we were on our way home that Nate and Sarah Jane weren't coming over. She wasn't surprised. She had an email from SJ earlier that day that said she had been having some contractions, but that they were still hoping to make it over to our place.
She said, "When I saw that I thought, 'You're not going to make it over to our place'."

We went for a swim. We kinda made our own fast lane since all the people in the designated fast lane all belong in the remedial lane, but no one has informed them, or those who have informed them cannot enforce the speed limit in the fast lane, or something. Come on, man. I'm not a swimmer. I should not be passing you. Why are you even doing a side crawl in the fast lane? My wife is eight and a half months pregnant and she's passing you!
Everybody just loves free.

Nikki felt better after the swim, but she was still feeling a bit off. We came home and I made an ad hoc African/Mediterranean dinner out of our CSA veggies and some Trader Joe's couscous.
Nikki called, Anna, our doula around 9:00pm when she was still having trouble with the Braxton-Hicks stuff. I was washing dishes and only half listening to the conversation.
"Yeah, they're not really going away... Uh huh... Hmmm... Okay, well... Yeah, alright... Thanks, Anna."

Nikki got off the phone. She stood in the living room by the piano. I think I was drying a bowl.
"Anna says that if they're not going away it means I'm probably in early labor."
Suddenly I was not going to be finishing the shelves before The Nairn rolled into town.
That thought only lasted a moment. It was very quickly replaced by a warm comfort that washed over me, a connection with my wife across the expanse of time, space, and our smallish brownstone apartment, and a little kick of adrenaline. Sha-zay-am.
Nikki stood there looking slightly deflated, but she was smiling. Smiling a knowing smile.
It was time. Wow. It was time.
Nikki walked over to me and I gave her a hug. I could see tears welling up in her eyes.
"What's wrong, babe?"
"I'm not ready."
"What do you mean?"
"I wanted to make some more granola first."

One of the biggest things our birthing class emphasized was the need for women to get as much rest as possible before the intense physical, emotional, and psychological workout that is giving birth to a human being. So we tried to get to bed. But Nikki had to pack her hospital bag first, and I was semi-frantically going through my notes from said birthing class to figure out how long and far apart contractions needed to be to justify going to the hospital, all the while trying to get Nikki to tell me when one started and one ended, and timing it on my watch.

We got into bed, but there was never any rest. After 11:00pm Nikki was having contractions that were coming close and intense enough that she could not sleep. The longest break between contractions was just over five minutes, the second longest being just under five minutes, and the rest of them being about three and a half minutes apart.

Now I really was trying to be the supportive husband. For reals. This was it, man. My girl was hurtin'. I massaged her back and pressed down on her tailbone to try and ease the pain. But it just kept coming. Nikki tried all kinds of positions to deal with it, but it was impossible for her to find one where she could manage the contraction, and then immediately rest. For a while she would lay down between contractions, and then when another would come she would pop up on all fours and tough it out. I was trying to do what Nate was doing when he called and get an accurate count on the contractions, how long they were and far apart, but I still didn't really know at what point all the numbers would mean something, or even what that something was. I was growing increasingly delirious, with moments of clarity coming fewer and farther between.
I was glad that the Spirit had whispered to give Nikki a blessing before we tried going to bed, but was having a hard time understanding how I could have blessed her that she would be able to get the sleep she needed tonight.

Around midnight I thought about Brent and his movie, and Sara Borg and her surprise karaoke birthday party. They had no idea what was going on right now. No one had any idea what was going on right now. The entire world was oblivious to the most important thing that was happening at this very minute.

Around 3:15 we called Anna again. We felt bad waking her up, but because we had talked to her earlier, I knew we wouldn't be coming out of left field with our predicament. I was very proud of the numbers I had gathered and was able to report to Anna that Nikki was definitely progressing, but really I just wanted somebody involved who knew what they were doing, cuz I felt clueless and helpless. Nikki was in a world of hurt that I was just a visitor on her planet. I didn't know what to do anymore, and Nikki was starting to break down.
"I don't know how much longer I can do this," she said tearfully.

Anna came over. Nikki's spirits seemed to rally a bit, or she was putting on a braver face. Anna told her to breathe as deeply as she could when the contractions came, which seemed to help. Anna was so calm. I was almost offended by it. Didn't she realize that we had been up all night with this? But her serenity was contagious, and I was really glad she was there to offer some practical advice, rather than having to guess our way through the rest of the night. We talked about going to the hospital. Anna said we could beat Roosevelt Hospital's morning rush if we went now.

I walked down our street to Marcus Bowers place where my brother Chas was staying while Marcus was gone. I tried to call Chas but he wasn't answering his phone. Come on, Chas. It's only 4:00am! Luckily, Marcus had left us with an extra set of keys as well, and I let myself in to find a squinting and curious brother looking up out of the darkness.
"Chas, can you help me with something? Nikki is going into labor."
"Oh! Uh... Yeah, sure!"
Chas jumped out of bed and started throwing his clothes on.

We walked up Lenox Avenue to 118th Street where the Wrights had parked their car in preparation for me to borrow it for a run to the lumber store. We could still use the car even if the shelves had to be shelved for a while, right Wrights? I was grateful for such generous friends. I don't think we passed a single cab on our walk up there, but I wasn't really looking because I didn't have to. I was also grateful that Chas happened to be staying close by. More than just needing someone to walk up with me to safely get the car and then drive it back, I needed someone to be my doula for a few minutes. Everything was becoming extremely meaningful very quickly. I couldn't stop thanking Chas for his help.

When we got back to the apartment Nikki was still in the kitchen with Anna. We grabbed our stuff and headed out. I felt like we were forgetting something but couldn't tell what. On our way down the stairs, our neighbor, Claudette opened her door to wish us well. She gave me a big hug and said, "Call me if you need anything." She seemed about as nervous as Anna was calm.

Driving down Columbus Avenue to the hospital I could hear Nikki behind me breathing heavily and had to suppress the urge to time the contraction. Doctor Clark called us back and Anna told her the contractions were two to three minutes apart. She said she would meet us at the hospital once Nikki had been examined to determine when she needed to be there. No sense in waking everyone in Manhattan up if Nikki wasn't ready to push.

We got to the hospital and I pulled in the wrong way down the one way drop off side street. I didn't care anymore. There was no one around to tell me off or give me a ticket. It was 5:15am and quiet. It looked like night. It felt even more like night to me. It felt like we were in the deepest and longest night that ever existed. A night that we had watched nearly every minute of tick by.

After instructing Chas how to get back to Harlem to drop the car off, I looked around and had a little panic when I didn't see Nikki and Anna. We had to enter through the ER so they were waiting for me at the corner, Nikki leaned over onto the bricks to get through another contraction.

We got upstairs into the waiting area, and although Nikki was breathing heavily and bending over chairs to work through each minute long contraction, I was surprised by the disregard the hospital workers seemed to have for us. Nikki was there in her running shorts and my Harlem 5 Mile t-shirt, obviously in labor, and the woman at the desk handed us a clipboard and a pen like we were there to take out a loan.
"We pre-registered."
"Yeah, you still have to fill this out."
Nikki had been very diligent in making sure we had all this info submitted when we went on a tour of the hospital a few weeks back.
"We pre-registered like a month ago.", we insisted.
"They never get us the information in time. You still have to fill this out."
I wanted to launch the clipboard through the cross-hatched window. But greater sense and exhaustion helped me to mutter a weak, "Okay."
I got Nikki to remind me of her social security number between contractions which were now coming one on top of the other.

Nikki went into triage and Anna and I waited outside. I asked Anna to tell me what was going on and what was going to happen next. She said they needed to take some blood and stuff. To be honest it was all becoming such a blur. I do remember that she said she thought the baby might be posterior, which would explain all of Nikki's back labor pain. If that was the case, then we needed to try and get the baby turned around and facing forward, otherwise delivery could be very painful. Again, Anna was so calm about it that I didn't worry a whole lot, and by that point the nurse called me in to triage.

The tall, matronly nurse had short blonde hair and big gold earrings, and seemed to come from somewhere in the Caribbean, going by her accent. I also took a second to ask her what was going on and what was going to happen next. She looked at me and smiled at my pathetic little question. She said my wife was just in the bathroom and that after they got an IV in her, someone would come and examine her. I thanked her and stumbled back to where Nikki was in the bathroom, not knowing whether to knock or just wait. I just waited. The triage area was quiet, but I could hear there were other women behind the curtains, and nurses and attendants in blue scrubs were moving around and hollering tiredly to each other.

Nikki came out of the bathroom and soon another contraction started. She put her arms around my neck and leaned into me for support.
"Babe," she said,"I think... I might want some drugs."
The words were barely out of her mouth when I said, "That's fine, honey. Whatever you want."
It was getting so difficult to watch her go through this and not be able to do anything about it.

The nurse came over and instructed Nikki to lay on the bed. She looked at me and made a face like, "Okay, but I'm not gonna like it." and got onto the bed. Her contractions continued and Nikki was doing the deep breathing Anna instructed her to do back a million years ago in our kitchen, all the while the Nurse seemed to be doing her best to ignore the fact that we were there as she was putting in the IV, hooking Nikki up to the fetal monitor, and taking her temperature and her blood pressure. It was as though she had left her bedside manor in her other scrubs. Nikki held my hand as tight as she ever had in her life. I thought it was to console herself at first, and then saw by the intense look of concentration on her face, that she was trying to ignore the fact that we were there, too.

The resident came in and introduced herself. She was an Asian woman who seemed to be around our age. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail and seemed a little more upbeat than the rest of the tired hospital staff. I think she asked Nikki a question in the middle of one of her contractions, which remained unanswered until the contraction was over. The resident put on some gloves. She couldn't get them on fast enough for me. Nikki was in the worst possible position for managing the pain of her contractions, and no one seemed to care.

As the resident began to examine Nikki she said, "You're dilated alright... Wow... You're at like... a nine."
Nikki and I looked at each other. Cue the Hallelujah Chorus. Turns out the light at the end of the tunnel was hurtling towards us like we were on the express train.
"We've gotta get you into a room." the resident added as she took off her gloves and walked out.
I don't remember what we said to each other at that point, but I remember feeling so proud of Nikki. Who shows up at the hospital at nine centimeters? The rosy fingers of dawn were beginning to banish the never ending night. The Caribbean nurse came back in and said to Nikki, "You're a very clever girl," as she nodded her head, "That's the way to do it. I told 'em to come and check you. 'She is active,' I said, 'She is active.'" I thanked the nurse. I had been wrong about her trying to ignore us. Who knows how long we would have been sitting in triage if she hadn't gotten the resident to come check Nikki.

We got into a delivery room and another woman got Nikki hooked back up to the monitors and then started asking us a barrage of questions about everything from our medical history to the birthing classes we had taken. I think she even asked us how many bedrooms we had in our apartment. Again, that's a bit of a blur. This is one of those areas where I should have asked if we could just take care of all of this later.

Anna joined us and started making everything better again. Her reassuring presence took the edge off. She was excited Nikki was as far along as she was, and praised her for handling everything so well.
"I thought you were at a five or six maybe," she said to Nikki, "Most women are coming unglued when they hit an eight, but you were talking to me between contractions like you were fine."

It wasn't long before Nikki actually was starting to come unglued.
"I want to push!" she announced.
They didn't want to let her push because the doctor wasn't there yet.
"Just hang on a little bit longer. The doctor will be here soon."
I was wondering where the heck this person was. Didn't we talk to her like four hours ago?

Nikki was standing next to the bed that we had adjusted so she could continue to lean over it as the contractions came. She was starting to drip a little so they put a towel under her. Not a minute later Nikki was in the midst of a contraction and there was a large ker-splat! I had forgotten all about her water until it broke over the towel. It was comical that Nikki was wondering earlier if she would be able to tell when her water broke, because it was like someone had dropped a water balloon all over the floor.

"I'm gonna throw up!", Nikki called out.
"She's gonna throw up!" I shouted as if I was the only one who heard it, and grabbed the trash can and pulled it over to her as the nurse scrambled out of the room. Nikki quickly recovered without any other liquid projectiles, and it seemed that everything got cleaned up just as the Doctor arrived.

Doctor Clark is a tall African-American woman with a bright, clear complexion. She walked in smiling and greeted everyone. She asked Nikki how she was doing.
"I want to push." she said.
"She wants to push." I followed up with, continuing to interpret for the hard-of-hearing medical professionals in the room who may not have caught what she said.
"Well, let's get you started then. How do you want to do this? What kind of position do you want to be in?"
Hmmm... That was a tough one. In reflecting on it, we might have had an answer prepared without much forethought, but it's always difficult to ask someone how they want to be when going through the most painful process they've yet to experience. I imagine that explains the blank expression that Nikki had when she looked at me, and the one I gave right back to her.

Doctor Clark suggested to Nikki that she get up on the bed in a kind of lounging squat, and that Anna and I get on either side of her and help her hold her legs up. And all of the sudden Nikki was pushing. She yelled in a way I've never heard her yell. The doctor told her she didn't have to be afraid, and to go ahead and push. Nikki would take a deep breath and strain until she turned red and then holler again at the end of the push.
"You're doing fine, Nicole," Dr. Clark said.
"You're doing great, Nikki," Anna said.
I was speechless. I might have said something. It was like I was in some kind of altered state, standing there and holding up Nikki's foot, able to touch her sweet face and try to console her, and then look down and see everything that was happening to her. It was terrifyingly fascinating. My heart was pounding. I didn't know whether to be nervous or excited or both.
Nikki was screaming, but she remained in total control. Her eyes and face stayed connected to everything that was happening.
"Go ahead and scream it out if you need to," Dr. Clark said. "You're doing great, Nicole. Oh, look I can see his head!"
The nurse asked if Nikki wanted a mirror to see the top of the baby's head.
"NO!" came the emphatic response.
I just stood there thinking, "That's the top of the baby's head? That looks crazy! This has got to get better soon."

Nikki was really working hard now. She was practically panting. She turned to Anna on a big push and said, "Help me!"
I instantly felt terrible. I was so busy watching the progress that I wasn't helping my wife. Anna told her she was doing great or that she was almost there or something, then turned to look back down at the progress.
I looked at Nikki and she looked at me. She was about to start pushing again.
"I believe in you," I said. Nikki pushed, turned red, and hollered.
I looked down. There was a little head and a little fist down there.
"You did it, babe!", I told Nikki, "You did it!"
"One more push and he's out, Nicole."
I thought things were getting surreal before. All of the sudden I was holding a wet, multicolored little human with dark curly hair up to my wife's chest. The nurse who had been asking all the questions started toweling him off.
Somebody said, "6:43!" We hadn't been at the hospital for more than 90 minutes.

We were parents. I couldn't take my eyes of the kid. I cut a chord. They put some goo in his eyes and sucked some stuff out of his nose. I told Nikki how proud I was of her. Everyone was congratulating us, her mostly.
"Wow, Nicole, you are amazing!" said Dr. Clark.
"Yep," I said, "She sure is."

Things started getting a little fuzzy after that. The adrenaline was starting to wear off. I just wanted to look at my kid. Just stare at him and touch him and talk to him. Some guy came in and put the baby under a warmer and tried to politely shoo me away so he could do his thing, but I just pretended he wasn't there. My little boy laid there and squalked, trying to blink the goo out of his eyes, while this guy gave him shot that made him cry. I tried to console the squeaky little person that was my son. I was amazed by him. I was even more amazed by how much I just loved him. I couldn't get over just wanting to be right next to him.

It was morning. I could see the light fighting it's way around the drawn shade in the delivery room. My thoughts turned to Nate and Sarah Jane, and I wondered where in the hospital they were. They must have had their baby by now. I wanted to surprise them, so I sent Nate a text asking non-chalantly how everything was going.

Nikki started to breastfeed little John Henry, and not long after she was on her blackberry checking emails at work.
"Everyone thinks I'm coming in today."

I was about to call my mom when she called me on my cell. Chas had sent out a text when he woke up that alerted the family to be on stand-by for the news. We talked for a while about everything that had happened in the last 24 hours. I opened the shade of our window and looked at the northern facing view of the city bathed in a bright morning light. Mom was excited for us. She was surprised Nikki had already given birth, but not that everything had gone as well as it did. "She's amazing, that one." I had to agree yet again.

Then other calls started to come and never seemed to stop. It was so exciting to share the good news with everyone. Texts came in all caps congratulating us. I took a picture of John Henry Kelly the Second on my phone and sent it to everyone in my family. I was just amazed by how very real everything felt. I was so happy, just joyous. And so very tired as well. I sat in a chair and looked up at Nikki in the bed, holding our firstborn son in her arms. I was dumbfounded with admiration for her, and love for this little person who had single-handedly turned us into a family.

And that, my friends, was only the beginning.

More to come. Stay tuned.


Josh and Tyra said...

Congratulations you two. What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it! I am so excited for you both. Little John Henry is a lucky boy.

Brooke said...

Cameron, Thanks for sharing every detail so tenderly. I always knew Nikki could do anything. John is a lucky boy to have you for parents. I'm anxious to see and hear how your new little family grows together.

Mike Matthews said...

Cam -

Thank you for writing this. I think even if I didn't know/love you guys, the way you tell it is gripping. I ignored my phone ringing at work until I had finished the whole story. Way to go Daddy.

whitney williams said...

What a touching side to the story that few of us get to hear...that was beautiful and it made me cry! Congrats to all 3 of you!!

noelle regina said...

Nikki & Cam...
Technically, I'm not really in your acquaintance. However- Kevin Kelly is one of my most favorite people, I crashed on Nikki's couch one night a few years back, and Stephanie Sonksen is staying with me this weekend, and I just moved into your ward...

I wanted to let you know Cam how thoroughly I enjoyed reading this post - tender, honest and heart warming. I hear John Henry is doing well. Erica Gardner (my sister) and I are going to drop dinner off sometime soon. Look forward to meeting the whole family.


Rachel said...

Wow.. thank you so much for sharing that story, Cameron. It was beautiful. You're an amazing storyteller... it was just beautiful. Nikki, You are amazing. Absolutely incredible. Congratulations to you both. !!

Nicole Cave said...

All husbands should be required to journal this way...what a great way to remember such an amazing event!!

Marci & Daniel said...

Congratulations again. What an amazing story, and written beautifully. Nikki - you are my hero.

Sarah said...

Wow. I loved reading that. Thank you so much for taking the time to relate your experience to us. It brought tears to my eyes. Nikki is amazing! I can't believe she was dilated to 9 cm when you got to the hospital!!!!!! Super-star!!!!!!

Rashida said...

Congratulations C-dawg!!!!!!!!!!! (And Nikki too.)

This is probably the best post I've ever read. Seriously. Detailed, funny and an amazing glimpse into something magical. Thanks for sharing! said...

that was AMAZING!!! I am so so happy for all of you. I can't wait to hold the little guys in my arms. I am so proud of you sis. I just loved the story from Cameron's point of view. You are such a great writer. Love you all so much.

Rebecca said...

Beautiful story. Beautiful Beautiful story.

Rachel said...

that story makes me want to have a baby...give birth to a baby. It didn't sound fun, but so amazing. I had heard Nikki's side but I loved hearing camerons. can't wait to see you guys this week!!

teamkc said...

Absolutely incredible story! Way to go, Nikki! Tears sprang to my eyes! I love how "real" your natural childbirth experience was - you are my hero!

Margo said...

That was awesome. I am so glad that I got to read that. Thanks for sharing your touching side of the story. We love you guys. Nikki and Cameron, you are both ya.

Cannon and Kassie said...

amazing story!! you are awesome and soo strong!