The Birth of Dylan Kyle
On the twenty-seventh of July, 1994, I drove home from the office to have lunch with my wife. Our townhouse was close to work, so I could occasionally enjoy breaks there. Although it was obvious I’d never get rich working at Hood College, I did get my graduate education and the commute time was twelve minutes.
My body hadn't yet grown unfit from the long hours at a desk. I had started to work out at the college gym before or after the job to maintain myself when I could, so I got hungry on schedule.
"You don't want to eat?" I asked as I tossed together a sandwich.
"Not really." The sun shone through the back window behind Diane. She put her hand on the back of her chair and lowered herself into the seat. Our baby was nearly at nine months. Although we had two weeks until the due date, technically, Diane felt impatient to get the birthing over with and have her body back.
"You got me crackers," she added. "That's plenty. Besides, I'll throw it up."
"So what? I'll clean it up."
Diane sighed and looked at her cup of grape juice. She took a sip. In a moment, I finished wolfing down my food. She rose and grabbed my arm.
"How much time do you have?" she asked.
"Depends on how late I want to work this afternoon." I'd finished most of my tasks. I was pretty fast with the programming and sysadmin parts of my job and I knew my schedule.
"You don't have a meeting or anything?"
"I'm having contractions again. I could use you here. Be a distraction."
At half past noon, when it was time for me to leave, I reached for my car keys. I paused to give Diane a look, though, in case she hadn't changed her mind. She asked me to call into the office, so I did. Fortunately, one of my co-workers, Doug, had left for the day while his wife went to the hospital to have their child. Everyone in my office had been waiting for me to do the same. They seemed pretty understanding.
"You really want me at home?" I asked as I made another call. "Today?"
She decided to pull me upstairs with her. As she lay in bed a while later, both of us reading, she threw up. It wasn't much, mostly juice. After I cleaned the bucket, I set it next to the bed again. She might need it, I thought.
"Is everything ready?" she asked.
I knew what she meant. Diane felt strongly opposed to giving birth at the hospital. We had made a plan to have a home birth. It wasn't a perfect plan because we meant to have a midwife for it. The midwife we had held our discussions with hadn't returned our calls lately. Clearly, we'd lost touch with her.
"I'll get it," I said. Working with Diane, I had put together a birthing kit of sorts.
The kit was only a first-aid box, a few extras, and a list of things to grab on the fly. I started gathering the final items: a stack of clean towels, lye soap, baby clothes, blankets, and scissors. We hadn't gone out for plastic bed protectors, unfortunately. It was on our list. Diane had thought we would have time to shop for new shower curtains or something similar to lay under the clean blankets and towels. Maybe we were out of time, though.
I walked into the bathroom and unhooked our plastic curtain. I gave it a quick rub-down with soap and water, then alcohol.
When I returned to the bedroom, Diane was breathing hard. Her gaze was a bit glassy. When she noticed me, though, her faraway look returned to the present and she started telling me her preferences.
"Let me get up," she said. "There's no way we're ruining this mattress."
While I stripped the bed and put on the plastic protector, she arranged the other supplies. She stopped to pull the plastic curtain flat underneath the sheets.
"Go get the older sheets," she said. "These are still pretty good. Let's not stain them."
We switched sheets. I picked up the free, weekly newspaper and used it to protect the floor around the bed. Step by step, we went through our procedures. Although I had already asked Diane repeatedly for months if she might consider going to the hospital, I felt I had to suggest it again anyway. She dismissed the idea so fast - after all, she'd heard it a hundred times - she moved onto the next choice in the same breath.
"Do you still have the number for the midwife?"
"Yes," I admitted. "But there was no answer last time. Or the time before."
The only woman we had really considered for the job gave me the impression of being new to it. Nevertheless, she was the best midwife responding to us at the time. She had warned us she would go on vacation before our due date. That might have been the reason for her lack of replies recently. We hadn't followed up as much as we should have, either. We’d been busy with the other details of our lives.
We had read books on natural childbirth and the midwifery process. That was pretty much our level of experience.
After I called the midwife and got, as expected, no answer, Diane asked me to put a movie into the VCR. She chose a comedy to distract her from the pain. She watched and waited. I spent a lot of my time walking around the house. I did some writing. That’s the way I was. The wait before birth was an opportunity to write.
At three in the afternoon, the pushing contractions began. Diane sensed the difference immediately. She scooted into position. So did I.
I suppose I should mention the obvious, that childbirth is a messy, bloody process. Less obviously It’s also beautiful, magical, and I felt totally in love with my wife and child the whole time. The reading I’d done, the checking on the position of the baby, the feeling that I’d do whatever Diane wanted was complete. I was ready to do what was best. It made me incredibly sure of myself. The only confusion I felt was for one detail that had gone wrong in the birthing process. I could see the baby’s head. The amniotic sac hadn’t broken. In the birth canal, a dark, bluish skull had risen into my view.
I told Diane, “Something’s wrong. It’s all blue.”
“I don’t think my water has broken.” She huffed. She sweated. Her brain had drugged her with endorphins but clearly she was still thinking well.
“Oh, yeah. That must be the amniotic sac. I don’t think that’s normal.” I had time to get paranoid, which is probably a decent trait in someone who’s always determined to act. “What happens if the child is born and the sac doesn’t break?”
“I don’t know.”
“I guess I could cut it.” That seemed a bit too strange for me. There was going to be no easy, by-the-instructions way to slice open that sac when the head was pressed up against it. The last thing you want to do in that situation is cut the baby’s head. (Years later, our midwife broke Diane’s water for her and did, in fact, give Rowan a scratch on the top of his head. It was nothing harmful, actually.) We had agreed that if anything unusual came up, I should call 911 and get an ambulance crew over to help. So I asked Diane if she wanted me to call.
"Call the doctor first," she replied. She recited the number.
When I called the number, I realized I had reached the dentist's office. And I didn't remember the seven digits for our family practice.
"Wrong place," I sighed.
“Call 911 if you have to. But do you have to?”
“I don’t know. The head looks like it’s about to come out but your water hasn’t broken yet. It’s weird.”
She didn’t reply right away but after a little while, she agreed it was right to call even if it meant she’d have to leave in an ambulance.
“I really don’t want the ambulance,” she said. “But I have to go to the hospital anyway. We need to get him a birth certificate.” That was something a midwife would have done for us. Apparently, it was hard for us to do it for ourselves.
Naturally, the 911 operator assumed the labor was an accident of timing, not a deliberate act. I didn’t try to tell her otherwise. I just gave her the information. After the verbal paperwork had been completed in triplicate, I managed to get some help with the diagnosis. The woman on the other end didn’t quite believe what I was telling her.
“Are you sure her water hasn’t broken?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“But she’s giving birth?”
“Yes. I can see the head. It’s covered in blue stuff. There’s water in there and I can see stuff floating in it.”
“You can see the head?”
“Can you lean closer and describe it, please?”
I’m pretty sure she only asked the question to buy more time. But I did what she asked. I was doing it anyway. I put my finger in the birth canal and put my face in position to see the head during the next contraction, which came in a second or two.
That’s when the amniotic sac broke a couple inches from my face. It was like a water balloon explosion. I got wet from shoulder to shoulder and, of course, everywhere in between. Blink with me as you imagine it. The burst made me laugh. Diane, sweating and feeling some pain, laughed, too. Maybe it was the only thing that would have gotten her to do that.
When I finished wiping my face, I had to explain to the operator what happened. Then I told her I was going to catch the baby but I wouldn’t hang up on her. I put down the phone, put out my hands, and caught Dylan Kyle's head, gently, with support under the neck. Diane smiled. Then she yelled. During the next contraction, her hardest, the shoulders came through. Our son slipped into the world, mouth open, and took his first breath.
I placed him on his mother's stomach. She gave me a dreamy smile and turned it downward to her boy.
"Tie off the cord and cut it," said the operator in a distant but distinct voice.
"Do you have string? A shoe lace?"
I leaned down and untied my shoe. I swung around and, with the overworn lace, clamped the umbilical cord. After two tie-downs, I cut the umbilical between son and mother using a pair of kitchen scissors.
The following day, we cleaned and reused the scissors, the ones with beige finger holes, because we were poor and practical. A good pair of scissors cost money we didn’t have to spare. We were buying groceries off of my credit cards every week, going further and further into debt. We wondered how we could support ourselves through college.
We had no idea if we could raise a son while working and going to school.