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The surprisingly messy Miracle of Birth

Podling, sleepingThe last two weeks have essentially consisted of four days.

Day 1: My ludicrously pregnant wife went into the hospital to be induced. This is a medical procedure wherein the Doctors make my wife stay in bed for a long, long time. Apparently the idea is that if the baby gets bored enough, he might decide to come out and play. According to the bizarrely objective, calendar-oriented view of Time that the doctors, nurses, and prospective grandparent ascribe to, this began on Tuesday, June 6 of 2006 at about 6 p.m.

The Tadpole wanted nothing to with this "outside world" business, so he hunkered down and refused to move. The doctor made several further attempts to encourage him to leave (including bizarre alchemical treatments, and eventually breaking my wife's water). The Podling's response, as near as I can tell, resembled... well, have you ever tried to put a cat into a pet carrier when he doesn't want to go? It looked like that, only in reverse. So...

Day 2: The Doctors perform a Caesarian Section. For the uninitiated, this basically means that they cut my wife open and took the baby out... along with a lot of other gunky stuff. Then they sewed everything back up, added a lot of tape to make sure things stayed sealed, and went off to play golf. This also means that my son is, in a Shakespearean killing-the-usurper-in-spite-of-the-prophecies sense, "not born of woman." He had a good shot at being the antichrist too, but sadly he was born a day too late: June 7th, at about 7:30 in the evening.

My participation in this was limited to holding my wife's hand and keeping her distracted from what being done to her. I managed this by the spontaneous creation of a particularly silly story. I was then conscripted to help bring the baby into the nursery for his first checkup, with a brief pause to wave him in the general direction of his grandparents along the way. (I told them not to breathe on him.)

My Spawn quickly demonstrated some difficulty breathing, and was given oxygen by a careful and considerate nurse. Strangely, this was not as terrifying as it could have been. I think that's partly because the boy was breathing, though obviously with some effort. But I'm pretty sure that it's also because I'd just watched someone cut open my wife, so my panic-capacitors were already pretty well burned out. Three possible causes for his difficulty were offered: He might have a little fluid in his lungs; his lungs might not be fully developed; or he might have picked up some sort of infection. These possibilities were presented again in varying degrees of detail, by nurses, a neonatologist, and the Tadpole's pediatrician.

To make a long story short, it turned out that his lungs weren't quite ready to work on their own yet. So, the Podling went into the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), my wife went back to her room, and I scuttled back and forth between the two locations.

Day 3: The doctors decided that the thing to do was to put some artificial surfactant into the baby's lungs. This meant, for safety, that he should be moved to another hospital where they had a neonatologist on the staff full time. This was accomplished by an ambulance team, who inserted the baby into a big clear-plastic coffin and put him on a respirator (possibly not in that order). To avoid panicking people while carting this bizarre cybernetic coffin around, they all wore matching uniforms that made them look like a luge team. The Beautiful Woman (another of the many titles borne by my lady wife) was recovering quickly, so she and I were finally able to leave the hospital.

Actually, in calendar time that might have happened on two separate days. The spawn changed hospitals on a Friday, and the Beautiful Woman went home on Saturday... but I don't care what the calendar says, it was just. one. day. Besides, who are you going to believe: me, or a dumb old calendar?

Day 4: The Tadpole didn't stay in the NICU for very long. The artificial surfactant apparently did its job. The first time we went in to check on him, he was off the respirator and back on CPAP*. Beautiful Woman was using a breast-pump to supply the NICU nurses with baby food, and the next time we went to look at him he was breathing room air. "Relief" is too tame a word for that feeling. They watched him a bit longer to make sure that he could feed and breathe at the same time (which also gave my wife a chance to talk to the Lactation Consultant), and then he came home.

Actually having the baby in the house has set off a whole new set of adjustments, but those will be the subject of future posts. For now, I'll just add baby pictures:

* Responsible doctors do not leap directly to the most expensive, complex procedures. They go through a careful sequence of trying the most likely/least invasive treatements, waiting to see if they work, and then moving on to something slightly more difficult and/or expensive. For this case, the sequence looked like this: 1) Placing an oxygen mask near the baby ("wafting" oxygen towards his face); 2) putting him an oxygen tent; 3) putting him on CPAP (which stands for Continuous Positive Airway pressure, and basically involves sticking tubes up his nose to pipe in an oxygen-rich mixture of air); and finally 4) putting him on a ventilator.

They were also doing other things, like adding the surfactant (which corresponded with the move to ventilator), checking for infections, and feeding him antibiotics.