To round out the prenatal part of this story, Brooke’s sister and her husband threw us a lovely baby shower. Since Brooke has many friends in the clergy, this led to us using a large space, gratis, in the church of one of her best friends. That church being Episcopalian, the space we used reminded me of an Oxford University Junior Common Room. It had huge vaulted ceilings, dark woodwork, some stained glass, a fireplace and just an overall British aura.
Since it was a couples shower, though it was a cold, snowy, blustery and icy day, lots of people came. Since Brooke used to be the pastor of a Lutheran church, many of her former parishioners came, and since they are Lutheran, they were either early or immediately on time. Friends and family members from all around the region came. We ate many snacks, I had a few beers, we played some trivia games (I nailed the one about King Lear’s daughters’ names – though I was a bit frustrated by the question, as it forced us to reveal our backup girl name – “Goneril” – prematurely), and we got a bunch of gifts, almost all of which we use on a regular basis today.
After the shower, though, we brought all those gifts home and put them in the baby’s room-to-be. I sort of bristled at calling it a “nursery” – there are some Victorian connotations there I think, some unpalatable kind of infantilism, I’m not sure, maybe just a hangup. Whatever it was called, we piled up all the gifts and thought – foolishly in retrospect – that we would have plenty of time to open them all up, organize them, finish decorating the room, and probably 20 other things.
Brooke’s father is a photographer, so as a gift to us, he paid for a colleague of his to do a maternity shoot. We took the train up to Holland, stayed a few nights, borrowed Brooke’s parents’ car and did a little West Michigan whirlwind tour. The photographer found a state park with a very rustically appealing barn on it, some melting snow, and just a cold, shivery, coatless hour later, we drove into Grand Rapids and had an Italian meal at a restaurant in a converted mansion.
As Brooke reached the finals stages of her pregnancy, she developed a slightly elevated blood pressure. This is fairly common. The midwives started to worry a bit about it, and had her come in for more frequent appointments, but they never got to the point of labelling this as pre-eclampsia, which means we never started talking about inducing the birth, bedrest or other more serious interventions. Something I learned at this stage of the game is that there’s basically just a huge range that’s a judgment call. If someone looked at her blood pressure wanted to call it pre-eclampsia, they very well could have. Bed rest could have been ordered, the birth could have been induced… and we would have accepted their advice.
A broader conclusion I started to draw: the entire momentum of the medical industrial establishment is leveraged, propped on a fulcrum just waiting to tip over and flatten you. “When in doubt, intervene,” though it is in direct opposition to “first, do no harm,” is very much the order of the day in a contemporary hospital. But the thing is, there is ALWAYS doubt. And there are always interventions that might (or might not) work. The risks behind those interventions are largely seem as result of bad practice or bad luck; the idea that there is risk inherent in, say, slicing a woman open and removing the baby from her body, is somehow tucked up neatly into the Orwellian phrase “Caesarian section.” Because of that fulcrum and the giant ball propped on top of it, you really need to be ready at a moment’s notice to ask any question, express whatever hesitation or skepticism is necessary, because doctors and nurses will move quickly once you say “yes” or even just don’t say “no.” The midwife’s office and ultrasound facility are not in the hospital – the former is in a squat three-story building to its north and the latter is in a professional building annex to its east – and so to that extent, the fulcrum was just far enough that the ball couldn’t quite fall on us just yet. And the midwives always asked very clearly, calmly and deliberately what we wanted. There was never a rush to judgment by any of them.
As we moved along towards the due date (May 2), in fact, things improved. The midwives along with a consulting doctor continued some closer monitoring, including non-stress tests and extra ultrasounds, but everything always checked out.
But – Brooke being Brooke, 8 months pregnant or not – she did one time decide to chase down a Pace bus, running along the side of the road for just a short stretch of time, and causing a bit of a panic on both of our parts, and a ton of pain to boot. But the midwives just scolded her and said everything was fine. It hurt her much more than it hurt the baby (whom it hurt not at all).
At about 2:30am, on the morning of April 15 – tax day – Brooke woke me up, walking around the bedroom, the bathroom light already having been switched on.
In other words, our story had entered its decisive final chapters. Little did I know just how much we were all in for. I did not know that one week from then, I would have spent the night in two different hospitals, met with four kinds of specialists I’d only previously contemplated the existence of… none of it.
As I look over the document from which I’m pulling these blogs, I realize I’m less than halfway through them. In many ways, as a storyteller, I see that I haven’t gotten to the good part. As a parent, I didn’t then know that I hadn’t yet gotten to the most terrifying and joyful moments of my life.
To be continued, obviously.