In most marriages, I assume, the most eventful date is the date you make the transition from husband and wife, to husband/dad and wife/mom. For Maggie and me, that transition occurred twenty years ago next week – on 12/2/95. It actually began early in the morning on 12/1. The pregnancy had gone into overtime and the doctor decided it was time to induce. I suppose that was the right decision, although it did deprive me of the opportunity to have any zany, Lucy-Desi-type, here’s-what-happened-when-her-water-broke-and-we-had-to-rush-to-the-hospital, stories. I could have written some killer stories about that. We’re talking certain story-of-the-month nominees. But, as Maggie was quick to remind me on several occasions, this wasn’t about me. So (ho-hum), we got up early in the morning (4:30) on the morning of December 1st, and went over the checklist before departing for the hospital to have our baby.
MAGGIE: You sure you put everything in the bag.
MARK: Went over the checklist twice.
MAGGIE: You’ve got all of the phone numbers of the people we’ll need to call?
MARK: In my pocket. Let’s go. This is gonna be fun!
MAGGIE: Fun? (She looks at Mark sternly)
MARK: No, not fun. What’s the other word – joyous, that’s it! Right? They say it’s supposed to be a joyous occasion. We’ll have joy.
MAGGIE: I’ll decide when it’s OK to have joy. You remember what they taught you in Lamaze class?
MARK: Yes, the stuff about the breathing and the back rubs, and how I’m supposed to be your coach.
MARK: Sort of like Mike Ditka.
MAGGIE: NO! Not like Mike Ditka. The opposite of Mike Ditka. Look at me.
(Mark looks her in the eye)
MAGGIE: (sternly) You did this to me.
MARK: You’re welcome.
MAGGIE: I’m not finished. You did this to me and so you have to be supportive today.
MARK: Got it.
MAGGIE Do you? I’m not sure you have the correct understanding of the word “coach”. Under no circumstances should you tell me to “Suck it up”, “Tough it out”, or “Play like a champion”. Are we clear on that?
MARK: Of course. Give me a little credit for being sensitive – I’m a social worker after all.
MAGGIE: No stories about how women in Honduras squat in the fields while they're harvesting sugar cane, drop their babies, and then go back to harvesting.
MARK: Never entered my mind.
MAGGIE: OK, just making sure. Oh, and I know this goes without saying, but singing “Havin’ My Baby” while your wife is in labor is probably the worst thing a man could do.
MARK: Oh yeah, I know that. Let’s go.
(As they head for the door. Mark takes a piece of paper out of his pocket, crumples it up, and throws it in the trash)
MAGGIE: What was that?
MAGGIE: That piece of paper you just threw away.
MARK: Oh, that was nothing. Let’s go. We don’t want to be late.
MAGGIE: That was the lyrics to “Havin’ My Baby” wasn’t it?
MARK: No… Yes. C’mon - that song was written specifically for this occasion. When else am I going to get a chance to sing it?
MAGGIE: You can sing it to your next wife.
MARK: How about just the chorus?
MAGGIE: Next wife. Now c’mon. Let’s go have some joy.
We arrived at the hospital a little after five. We spent the next 45 minutes filling out paperwork. I was pretty sure that Honduran women didn’t have to fill out all those forms, but thought it might not be a good idea to mention that. They finally took us up to our room. Room 214 – Valentine’s Day. That room would be the labor, delivery, and recovery room. Katie (we knew that the baby was a girl and had picked out the name) would stay in the room with us. That arrangement is commonplace now, but it was a fairly innovative idea in 1995.
Upon arriving, they started the Pitocin (the drug they use to induce labor). Maggie wanted to make sure they would do an epidural (for pain relief) at some point – she may be a liberal feminist but she was having none this natural childbirth stuff.
MAGGIE: (to doctor) So, when do they start the epidural?
DOCTOR: When labor begins – Don’t worry, we have plenty of time.
MARK: (to doctor in a very soft voice) Is there anything you can give her for her mood? (Mouthing the next words) She’s a little cranky?
MAGGIE: I HEARD THAT!
DOCTOR: We find it sometimes helps the mood of moms if we let them watch us perform vasectomies on their husbands while they’re in labor. It’s especially helpful if we don’t use anesthesia.
MARK: Ha, ha. Very funny. You’re a real cut-up. Hey – cut-up! See what I did there? ... The pun? .... Anybody? ... No? ... Tough room.
The hours passed. Then more hours passed, followed by the passing of more hours. We watched the morning talk shows, followed by the afternoon game shows, and the Bulls game that night. They won that night to improve their record to 12-2. I remember that because our daughter’s birthday ended up being 12/2. The Bulls would go on to win a record 72 games that year on the way to their 4th championship. Jordan again was named the league’s MVP. But I digress. I didn’t focus much on the game, because, by that time, Maggie was in the throes of labor and I was in full coach mode (Back to the Bulls for just a sec - As it turned out Phil Jackson, with his zen-like approach to coaching made for a better model to emulate than did Mike Ditka. With Phil as my spirit-guide, I managed to pull off the role of coach with only minor injuries).
MAGGIE: This hurts.
My inner Phil was telling me that relating my heroic story of how I once played 54 holes of golf with a broken finger was probably not an appropriate motivational tool at this point. Nor should I say “If I could go through this for you, I would”. So, I simply said,
MARK: I know. I’m sorry.
MAGGIE: Sing to me.
MARK: But you told me not to. Is this a trap?
MAGGIE: I told you not to sing “Havin’ My Baby”. You know what I want.
MARK: (singing) The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves…
MAGGIE: That’s the one.
MARK: …Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays. Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely... (Another contraction comes – Maggie winces as she squeezes Mark’s hand) OW, You’ve got quite the strong grip there. Long slow breath in – and short blows out. I’m here – you can do this.
MAGGIE: How about a back rub?
MARK: That’s sweet of you to offer, but I’m OK.
MAGGIE: I meant ME.
MARK: I know – kidding. What – not time for joy yet? (continues the song as he begins rubbing her back) … Hey that’s me and I want you only. Don’t turn me home again. I just can’t face myself alone again. Don’t run back inside darlin’, you know just what I’m here for. So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore. Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night. You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright…
In spite of the increasingly intense contractions, Katie did not seem to be making her way down the red carpet. Maggie was getting a bit frustrated because every time the doctor would enter the room to check, he would announce that she was dilated 2 cm. Progress was not being made and she was not a happy camper.
MAGGIE: Next time he comes in, if he tells me I’m still at 2 cm, you have to kill him.
MARK: Can’t I just give him a disapproving look?
MAGGIE: No. You have to kill him.
MARK: OK, I promise I’ll kill him.
I was feeling a little uneasy about the possibility of having to make good on my promise until I thought back to his wise-cracking about the vasectomy.
MARK: (in a sinister voice) Oh, yeah. I’ll kill him real good.
It was just after midnight now. Maggie had been in labor for about 18 hours. The doctor entered.
DOCTOR: Let’s see what we have here.
The doctor assumed his usual position at the foot of the bed, staring at my wife’s lady parts. Meanwhile I slowly circled around behind him. I raised a bedpan (the only weapon I could find) above his head, ready to strike. I winked at Maggie – finally eliciting a small smile from her.
DOCTOR: 10 centimeters. It’s go time!
The next 30 minutes were a blur. Though, for the most part, I kept my focus on my wife’s northern hemisphere, at some point, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do a little recon mission to see what all the commotion was about. Big mistake. Huge mistake. They were doing an episiotomy. Martin Sheen’s words from Apocalypse Now came to mind: “Never get out of the boat “
The doctor was telling Maggie to push, in a tone that, to me at least, sounded very Ditka-esque. Why does he get to do it?, I wondered (to myself, I’m not that stupid). Maggie pushed once, twice, the third time was the charm. Three and out – just like the Bears offense (another sports pun I resisted making at the time).
I did the usual father things. Cut the cord, held the baby, gazed lovingly at Maggie (no acting was needed there – more on that in a minute). The movie, The Lion King had come out earlier that year, so of course I had to do the Rafiki thing and hold my baby up in the hospital window so that the people down below could behold the newborn. It struck me as odd that people outside were going about their business as if it were just another day. Didn’t they know that everything had changed? That we now lived in a post 12-2 world?
At some point, the nurse came to get the information for the birth certificate. I told her the her name was Katherine, and that we were going to call her “Katie” for short. That’s what we had agreed upon shortly after learning that Maggie was pregnant. Maggie informed me that she was now thinking that she liked “Casey” better. She had just gone through 19 hours of labor, so, Casey it was.
A few hours later they were both asleep; my daughter on a warming table on my right and my wife in her hospital bed on my left. I was in awe of both of them – the tiny (although, as Maggie would later point out, 8 pounds, 10 ounces, is not so tiny) new being that we had created, and my wife, whom I thought I knew, but never imagined the depths of courage and devotion of which she was capable. Prior to witnessing this birth, I had been on the fence in the battle of the sexes; my gender’s pride and insensitivity weighing more or less equally against the fairer sex’s nagging and vanity. But after this it was game, set, match - females.
I remember holding my daughter during one of her awake spells and singing the Beatles song “I Will” to her. A few years back, when the Beatles catalogue was released on iTunes, that was the first song she downloaded – Coincidence? Maybe.
I sang to Maggie too. She was asleep. I kissed her forehead and, in a very soft voice, so as not to wake her, sang…
MARK: You’re havin’ my baby. What a lovely way of sayin’ how much you love me…