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November 2, 2012 | Nonfiction

From the Heavens

Andrew Bomback

From the Heavens photo

Nicholson Baker: “[I]n repairing the object you really ended up loving it more, because you now knew its eagerness to be reassembled, and in running a fingertip over its surface you alone could feel its many cracks – a bond stronger than mere possession.”

 

The night before you were born, your mother and I watched Knocked Up downstairs in the family room. This is important for two reasons. First, I suggested the movie. You weren’t due for 6 more days, but I must have had the feeling that you were coming sooner than that and, perhaps, that you would be a girl. Second, the couch in the family room (or, more specifically, the way your mother sat on that couch) had a habit of triggering contractions. The next morning, when your mother awoke with contractions, we attributed them, in part, to that couch. Your mother said, “I think it might happen today,” but she had had at least two other false alarms, and one of them we blamed solely on that couch (the other to the couch and a spicy meal).

 

I went to work that morning. I cleared this with your mother. I had a biopsy scheduled at 8:30 AM, a few patients scattered throughout the morning, nephrology division rounds at 1:00 PM, and then a research meeting at 2:30 PM. When I left for work, the plan I made with your mother was for me to come home early, after the research meeting. At her suggestion, I drove to work instead of taking the train, in case I needed to come home sooner.

 

I called your mother a little after 10:00 AM, to see how she was doing, and she had nothing new to report. Contractions were about every 20 to 30 minutes. At work, I told people that today might be the day you were born, but I wasn’t totally convinced. I checked in again with your mother at 11:00 AM, and nothing had changed.

 

An hour later, your mother called me. She had gotten up to use the bathroom and fix herself something to eat, and the contractions had picked up significantly. She asked how quickly I could get home. I was about to see my last patient of the morning, so I told her I’d leave right after seeing him. He was an elderly man with uncontrolled hypertension and worsening kidney failure. I’d seen him four or five times before, and he’d never looked worse. Under different circumstances, I might have spent an hour with him, trying to clear up why he was doing so poorly. Instead, I zoomed through the appointment, stopped a blood thinner that seemed to be causing an allergic reaction (I changed him over to full dose aspirin as a substitute), and asked him to see his primary care physician the following Monday.

 

On my way to the car, your mother called me again. “Come home now,” she said. She was uncomfortable. I thought about that patient, briefly – he was going to do well or do poorly regardless of what I did, and my actions could only hasten that outcome (this is one of my basic beliefs in medicine, which is why I often question whether I should have become a doctor). I saw him exactly four weeks after you were born, and he looked great.

 

I raced home thinking, “We’re going to have a baby today.” I said it aloud to myself in the car, such strange words.

 

We began trying for a pregnancy in October 2007. You were born four years later. Between January 2008, when it became clear to me that we were having problems conceiving, and January 2011, when the home pregnancy kit turned positive, I felt like an utter failure. There were times when I felt that I wanted a baby more than your mother, and that made me feel even more like a failure.

 

Over those two years, I looked for signs that promised a pregnancy anywhere I could find them. Your mother and I had discussed naming a boy Jasper, and one day I rounded on a dialysis patient named Jasper. I thought for sure that would be our month to get pregnant. We stayed up late to watch Obama’s acceptance speech the night he won the presidency, and we made love afterwards before going to sleep. We said that if we got pregnant that month, we’d use Obama for a middle name. Every time your mother felt sick, regardless of the time of month or the type of sickness, I suggested that maybe she was pregnant.

 

I was obsessed with the calendar and your mother’s menstrual cycle. I kept a chart on my nightstand. The best days were 20 through 26. We’d planted our seeds. They might be growing. We had not yet failed.

 

Joan Didion: “We were on her terrace by the sea, and we were finishing the wine left from lunch, trying to get what sun there was, a California winter sun. The woman whose husband was born the night the Titanic went down wanted to rent her house, wanted to go back to her children in Paris. I remember wishing that I could afford the house, which cost $1,000 a month. ‘Someday you will,’ she said lazily. ‘Someday it all comes.’ There in the sun on her terrace it seemed easy to believe in someday, but later I had a low-grade afternoon hangover and ran over a black snake on the way to the supermarket and was flooded with inexplicable fear when I heard the checkout clerk explaining to the man ahead of me why she was finally divorcing her husband. ‘He left me no choice,’ she said over and over as she punched the register. ‘He has a little seven-month-old baby by her, he left me no choice.’ I would like to believe that my dread then was for the human condition, but of course it was for me, because I wanted a baby and did not then have one and because I wanted to own the house that cost $1,000 a month to rent and because I had a hangover.”

 

Your mother was in the tub when I got home. This is similar to the way Seth Rogen finds Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up when she goes into labor.

 

You were born 9 days after Rosh Hashanah. While your mother finished in the tub, I ate leftover brisket that your grandma had sent home with us on Rosh Hashanah. I wasn’t hungry. I viewed the brisket simply as fuel.

 

Your mother called your Nana on the way to the hospital. She told her to book a flight to New York. She had to stop speaking to Nana every time a contraction came, which was roughly every four minutes at this point.

 

We valet parked the car and were ushered into a triage area, where the staff was used to women coming in too early for their deliveries. We were told by a secretary to sit down and fill out paperwork. Your mother was contracting more frequently and needed to squat on the floor to control her pain. The staff spoke about her in Spanish, mocking what they considered to be unnecessary melodrama. Your mother understands Spanish, of course.

 

Eventually we were taken into triage, where a nurse named Neeta helped your mother get onto a stretcher. Neeta acted as if (a) she had all the time in the world, and (b) with all that time, the last place she wanted to be was in triage with an expectant mother. She left us alone in the triage room for over thirty minutes before returning with an obstetrics resident. By this point, your mother was nearly fully dilated and had also realized that she’d left her cell phone in the car.

 

Sometimes I process moments, particularly heavily emotional moments (happy and sad), by picturing them on a movie screen. My dash to the parking lot and my frantic attempt to locate our car and your mother’s cell phone was one such moment. I didn’t want to miss anything. I could imagine a movie cutting back and forth between me in the parking lot and your mother pushing in a triage stretcher. The hectic pace, the anxiety, the potential irony of missing your birth – it was, in some way, reminiscent of Knocked Up.

 

On the sprint back into the hospital, cell phone in hand, I remembered to call my parents. And, again, I said aloud, “We’re going to have a baby today.”

 

The comedian, Marc Maron, on his WTF podcast asked Louis C.K., a former writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, to talk about the time when Francis Ford Coppola “iced” him backstage. Louis tells a generic version of the story, with Coppola essentially brushing Louis off when they are introduced to each other. Maron: “But then the thing that he said to you was, ‘Do you have kids?’” Louis: “No, I don’t remember that. Tell me what that is. I don’t remember that.” Maron: “He asked you if you had kids, and you said you didn’t, and he said, ‘Well, you can’t be a real man, you don’t know what it’s like to work, unless you have children.’” Louis: “Oh my god, I don’t remember that. Did Coppola say that to me?” Maron: “I believe that’s my recollection, because you said it to me. He basically said, ‘You don’t know what it’s like to have responsibility.’ That what you extrapolated from it, was that if you don’t have a responsibility to other people, how do you really know what it’s like to be an adult?” Louis: “Yeah, that’s very true. I think that’s very true.” Maron: “That’s what I remember.” Louis: “I think I remember him saying something like that, yeah.” Maron: “I don’t know why I would remember it.” I do. After the encounter with Coppola, Louis went on to have two children and become, arguably, the most respected stand-up comic of his generation. Some of his best jokes, perhaps coincidentally, center on his ambivalent feelings about his children. Marc Maron, on the other hand, never had children. Some of his best jokes, also perhaps coincidentally, center on how poorly his career has gone.

 

The nicest rooms in any hospital are the labor and delivery rooms. We were finally taken to an L&D room just before 4:00 PM. While a nurse helped your mother into bed and hooked her up to a monitor, I set up a laptop computer from which we’d planned to play classical music to help with the delivery. I put in a disc of Mozart piano sonatas. The room’s large, wall-to-wall windows gave us a view, on this sunny Friday afternoon, all the way to midtown Manhattan. Your mother was sweating. She was in so much pain that she didn’t want me to touch her, even though we’d planned on my massaging her throughout the labor. I chewed on my nails.

 

We had waited too long to sign up for birthing classes, so in the two weeks before you were born, we did a crash course of private sessions with a midwife who lives nearby. She gave us videos on natural childbirth to watch in between sessions. The two most notable things about these videos were (1) the locales of delivery, ranging from a blanket laid out on someone’s backyard to a whirlpool; and (2) the duration of the birthing process, which ran from just under 4 hours to over 36 hours. Your mother, during one of the videos, whispered, “In a hospital, there’s no way they’re going to let us go more than 6 hours without either pushing me to get induced or taking us to C-section.” Thus, our strategy, developed along with the midwife, was to arrive at the hospital about 4-5 hours before delivery. In those 4-5 hours, classical music, gentle massage, and a variety of positions we’d practiced with the midwife would help your mother get through the pain of her contractions.

 

It must have been around 4:15 when your mother said she had to go to the bathroom. Her nurse went in with her to help.  I was alone in the room when Dr. Devine, your mother’s obstetrician, entered. She stopped to listen to a few notes of Mozart, smiled, and said, “I like the music choice.” She then explained that she was attending on ultrasounds that afternoon and was only stopping by to pay a social visit. Her colleague, Dr. Gattapatti, would be doing the delivery.

 

You were most likely conceived on a Friday morning in January 2011, in an exam room at the Center for Women’s Reproductive Care in midtown Manhattan. As instructed by our fertility doctor, your mother and I made love the night after that intrauterine insemination, to maximize our chances of conceiving. So, I suppose it’s possible that you were conceived that night, in the more appropriate setting of our home.

 

January 2011 was to be our third, and final, month of fertility treatments. This was decreed by our medical insurance, but that was a mere formality. The crushing defeat of a failed month with intrauterine insemination far surpassed any of the failure we’d experienced in the three years prior with the more conventional route of trying to become pregnant. Your mother and I could barely speak on the nights in November and December 2010 when she started her period.

 

I obsessively listened to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in those months. It was getting tons of press as 2010’s best album, so I know I wasn’t alone in obsessing over the music, his words, and the overall event of that album. The running theme, at the time, in terms of how critics dissected the album was (a) Kanye West was an asshole; (b) by finally facing up to that reputation, by admitting that he was as much of a douchebag as the ones he toasts on the album’s best track, “Runaway,” he had conquered some of his demons and produced his masterpiece; (c) he could no longer be pigeonholed as just a rapper and was now the 2010 equivalent of a rock star with mass appeal; and (d) My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was probably the only album from 2010 that would hold up ten or twenty years from now.

 

I wonder, though, if I obsessed over My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy because, to my knowledge, Kanye West has no children. To my (admittedly far more limited) knowledge, he is the only rap superstar who is childless. This made Kanye more sympathetic in my eyes, as I assumed he wanted children but hadn’t had the opportunity to have them yet. Is it possible, I wondered, that Kanye West had sent his sperm off for analysis? Is it possible that he’d sweated out a week waiting for the results? Had he looked at his friends’ babies and been consumed by jealousy and demasculinization? Kanye West, on the song “Gorgeous” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: “I don’t really give a fuck about it at all, because the same people that tried to blackball me forgot about two things – my black balls.” I hope Kanye gets to experience the joy of seeing a pregnancy test turn positive. That was the second happiest moment of my life.

 

Dr. Devine knocked on the bathroom door to say hello to your mother. Your mother answered that she was coming right out, which she did with a slow and painful waddle. She smiled at Dr. Devine and said, sheepishly, “I think I want to push.” Dr. Devine seemed surprised by this request. She offered, “Why don’t you get into bed, let me examine you, and I’ll see how close you are to being ready to push?” Your mother waddled into bed, the nurse helped her triangle up her legs, and Dr. Devine gloved up for what was an absurdly short examination. “Oh yes, you’re ready to push,” she said brightly. “Just give me one second.” She stood up from her edge of the bed, instructed the nurse to break open a delivery cart, and walked over to a phone in the room to dial the ultrasound suite. “Is the patient on the table?” she asked. She waited for an answer. “Okay, I’ll be there in ten minutes.” She returned to the bed. You would arrive within ten minutes.

 

I think at this point I did say, aloud, “Holy shit.” I know I communicated this with your mother, with my eyes, and with her nurse, again with my eyes. But I also specifically remember saying those words aloud. This whole time, by the way, we were listening to a disc of Mozart piano sonatas. To give you some idea of how quickly things were going, we were still on the disc’s second track.

 

Your head came out with the first push. Dr. Devine actually pushed you back in to avoid a tear, as she explained to your mother. “The baby wants to come out, but I’m going to have you push three more times so that you don’t tear.” How many fathers know exactly which push will bring out their new child?

 

I squeezed your mother’s hand and stared into her eyes with the second and third pushes.

 

I held my breath with the fourth push and turned away from your mother’s face so that I could watch you slide out into Dr. Devine’s arms. I breathed. You cried. Dr. Devine said, “It’s a girl,” and handed you over to your mother. You cried again.

 

The official time of birth was 4:38 PM. We saved the ticket stub from the hospital valet parking as proof that we arrived at the hospital at 2:07 PM.

 

We named you Juno Alexis. Your middle name was your uncle’s middle name. His name was Fernando Alexis. He was named after (a) Fernando Valenzuela and (b) Alexis Arguello. If you were a boy, you would have been Fernando Alexis. Someday we will show you pictures of your uncle and youtube clips of Alexis Arguello.

 

When your mother and I honeymooned in Hawaii, the hotel restaurant had a Hawaiian word of the day at the end of the breakfast menu each morning. On our last day, when we were starting to feel sad about leaving Hawaii, about returning to our real lives after such an incredible week, the word of the day was “juno,” which was translated as “from the heavens.” We discussed someday naming a child Juno. Four and half years later, you were born, and there is no trace of a Hawaiian word “juno” on the internet. Did we both, independently, dream this word? You can always say you were named after the queen of the gods.

 

I used to write short stories and novellas. I could craft long paragraphs. I made up characters, plots, and settings. I wrote for catharsis, for escape, for a channel into which I could pour my sadness. I don’t think I can do that anymore. I don’t want to do that anymore, but I want you to be a writer someday.

image: Andromeda Veach


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