The Birth of Rowan
Pt. 1, Trade for a Player Not to be Named Later
It had been my idea, before marrying Diane, to have kids close together in age. If they were a year apart, they would grow up doing approximately the same things on roughly the same schedule. The logistics looked easier that way. (If you haven't had multiple children before reading this, I'll bet logistics seems like a strange reason to plan kids.) I'd hoped to have four children, though. Diane thought two was plenty. She didn't want them close together, either.
After the birth of our daughter, Acacia, I checked to see if Diane would reconsider. We had already spaced out our two children by four years, which seemed awfully long. If she were willing to consider another, the best time would be now. I'd started a family at thirty-one, which is a bit late. Putting lots of years between our children would mean logistical problems in my older years. I'd be retiring with a child in college, maybe - or only wanting to retire, incapable of doing so. Or I'd be forced to retire or I'd die on the job at a time when the family desperately needed my income.
"Absolutely not," she told me. "I'm not ready to even think about another."
Every few months, I'd check back.
"I'm really not ready for it," she said a year later.
Sometimes I'd ask again in a few weeks. When times were hard, I'd let months pass.
"What do you think about the name Rowan?" she asked, a couple years into my campaign for more children.
"It’s another tree name. It was on your list before. What do I think of it? Well, I know you like tree names. And it has a nice sound to it."
"I'd like it for a girl."
"But it's a boy's name." The only one I could think of offhand was the comedian, Rowan Atkinson. I'd noticed a couple professional athletes named Rowan since she'd mentioned it as a choice. Rowan was a named heroic character in a work of fiction or two. And sometimes I had noticed young girls with the appellation, mostly toddlers. It seemed to be undergoing some kind of popular transition.
"It’s a girl’s name, too. I'm hoping for a girl. But I'm okay with a boy."
This was the first sign she was willing to consider a third child. By this point in our lives, I'd given up on getting all four. I'd grown more focused on the possible third, though. I'd brought up the idea of adoption. We'd discussed it for a year or two.
Almost three years after our second, Diane seemed ready to agree to a third. She was willing to have our biological child, too.
"As long as the name is Rowan," she said.
"That's the deal? I have to trade away the naming rights to have a third child?"
She tilted her head back and laughed. But then she gave me a sly, serious look and said, "Yes."
Pt. 2, Rowan's Home Stretch
For our third home birth, we contacted Gail. She had been the midwife by our side for Acacia’s delivery and she was great.
We felt better prepared, this time. By our third child together, I was comfortable delivering babies with Diane. We had the right helpers, too. In the weeks leading up to the delivery, we were busy but never panicked. We gathered better supplies than we ever had before. We bought a new, yellow infant blanket. Diane talked to the midwife on the phone more often and for shorter, more casual conversations. We drove to see the midwife twice.
At the end of the second trip, I paid half of the midwife fees up front and in cash. Gail’s Mennonite clients were paying her in eggs and milk again. The practice needed cash. She had an office to maintain.
In the womb, the baby had not settled into a perfect position. Gail gave Diane exercises to improve it.
Although the wait for Rowan was as long as for his sister, Diane seemed more relaxed or maybe more resigned to the wait. For my part, when the contraction stages ran late I didn’t try to stay awake. I announced I was headed to bed until hard labor or until the morning.
As it turned out, morning came before I woke.
At eight, after breakfast for me, Diane’s water finally broke. She didn’t seem concerned about it. She just made the announcement from the kitchen table. The midwife, her assistant, and everyone else smiled. We knew this was our call to action.
A few minutes later, midwife’s assistant first, we headed up to the master bedroom for the wait on hard labor and the final preparations.
“You’re sure it’s a boy?” Jenn teased as I moved to the foot of the bed. She already knew the answer.
“We’re sure,” Diane said.
“That ultrasound left no doubt.” I added, remembering.
“Didn’t it, though? Because lots of people say that but then there’s a surprise.”
I didn’t tell her we had seen it in ultrasounds twice and both times had been excellent images. Diane was the one to explain. But only for a while. When hard labor hit her attention went to birthing.
Gail had coached me even more for delivering Rowan than for Acacia. She reminded me of our sessions.
“Remember, his body is at an angle," she said. "He was going to be born face down but we’ve partly rotated him.”
“Right, right.” I knew all that.
“You’ll have to turn him a little as he comes out. Don’t use force. Let it happen naturally.”
We had gone over a long list of contingencies. I had even rehearsed the motions for them. I had mimicked how to support the head and body, practiced like I was going to lift and untangle an umbilical cord, prepared for a shoulder to present itself first and move it to let the head come through.
Mostly, though, I was determined. As before, I was ready to respond and do whatever was necessary.
“Here he comes!” The midwife assistant shouted. I didn’t move. The crowning had started fast and strong but the baby got stuck partway. We could see his head. It wasn’t getting closer.
Something had blocked the child in the process of birth. I thought the angle didn’t look far off from what we had hoped for. Nevertheless, we had a problem.
I couldn’t figure out what it was, at first. I may have been looking at a clear sign in the presentation but maybe I wasn’t educated enough to read it. Somehow, this was different from the others. He was the biggest. His body position hadn’t corrected itself until recently. It could be something from those aspects of our situation but there was no evidence I could see.
“Push harder,” Gail told Diane.
Diane pushed. The head moved forward a little but stopped in the same place of the birth canal. I could almost sense how something was different. There really was an obstruction. Something unseen was stopping the head.
“In time with the contractions,” Gail said. “Harder!”
Diane yelled. She pushed even harder.
For a moment, the head crowned farther than before. I could see the obstruction, whatever it was. On the left side of my view, I spotted a pinkish bump on the skull. Then, suddenly, the entire head popped through.
With it came the child’s right hand. It lay smoothly on top of the head. I could see the boy’s shoulder was coming through with the head and that was why it was so difficult.
“Move him,” Gail ordered.
I gave a gentle, tentative push. It shifted his position hardly at all. Still, something about it seemed to make things easier on Diane. I could feel an independent movement. Diane yelled. She pushed again, in time with a contraction.
“He’s out!” the assistant yelled.
“Stop pushing!” said Gail.
The shoulder came through. That was the important thing. Beyond it, though, I noticed the sudden but distinct introduction on the scene of the umbilical cord, a blue-green strand of tough flesh like a tentacle. The cord had wrapped itself around Rowan’s neck. It may always have been around him. It may have fallen into this position when Diane did exercises to fix the birth presentation. Regardless, it was there.
“The cord’s on his neck,” said the assistant.
“What now?” someone added.
I thought about what to do. Gail had prepared me for this. I had to lift the umbilical off his neck and over his head. As I reached for the umbilical, though, Gail swept in from my right. With a clamp in each hand, she snapped down on the cord in two places. She pulled back, reached in a second time and, with a special pair of scissors, she cut the cord.
“That was fast,” I commented.
“Sorry,” said Gail. “I figured it would be better than what we discussed.”
Diane pushed again.
The boy’s body slipped through the birth canal. His arm came out entirely, even the elbow. He lifted his hand off his head.
“Wow, look at that,” said Jenn
“Look at those long fingers.” Gail seemed to think it was humorous.
“That’s Don's hand,” I said as I realized it. It wasn’t just the fingers. The shape of the whole hand was the same, maybe the entire limb. It felt like I was seeing Don again.
Diane pushed once, twice more. The baby came out. Gail and her assistant swooped in, not quite taking him out of my arms but cleaning him, dabbing him with a special towel. Gail followed up by making adjustments to her work on the umbilical.
“Let me hold him,” said Diane. She reached out. With a glance to Gail, who nodded in approval, I placed Rowan in his mother’s arms. “Oh wow, look at his hands.”
“They’re so cute.”
“They’re my father’s hands." She smiled. I laughed at her reaction, with joy and with relief. Finally, I had delivered Rowan. He was healthy, strong, and he was immediately and obviously connected to our families. "I thought you were kidding. They are Don’s hands.”
A few minutes later, Gail took Rowan for a full health check. "He might be the first baby who gets a full ten on the scale," she told me. "Everything's perfect."