Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fourteen Years of Children

I was 34 years old in 1997. Eileen was 30. We both thought we had seen quite a bit of the world in those days, but nothing had prepared us for the adventure we were plunging into.

I had friends my age who already had six or seven kids. But this was our first. This was supposed to be a "May baby." Eileen was very big and certainly looked ready, but we waited for the mystery to happen, waited eight days. We sat up late at night on the couch, watching videos and eating chips. Labor? No, just gas.

We went to my parents (who still had plenty of spring in their step back then), which was nearer to the hospital. Nothing. We went into Washington, DC for a day of art museums and Ethiopian food. Spicy Ethiopian food. Nothing. We watched Jurassic Park II in a movie theater. Nothing. The kid just wasn't going anywhere.

Finally they told us to come to the hospital for Eileen to be induced. So much for our ideas about natural childbirth. The usual things were done. Labor brought nothing but pain. The head was not dropping down. One thing was clear: this kid had a big head.

So they were going to cut my wife's body open! My precious wife--married less than two years! While they prepped, I paced back and forth and prayed the Rosary. At 34 years old, I didn't think there were any "new experiences" left. This was really new.

I was suited up and ushered into the O.R. where Eileen was, numbed where she needed to be by the epidural but fully awake, with a screen at her chest so she couldn't see what was being done. I held onto her and the doctor and nurses went to work.

I should note that this was supposed to be a girl. We were sure. I owed a debt of gratitude to St. Agnes of Rome, at whose tomb I had prayed for a wife a couple of years before. I promised St. Agnes that I would name my first daughter after her. Eileen and I returned to the tomb on our honeymoon and renewed the promise together. So we just felt sure this was baby Agnes (at this point, we had not thought of the Italian form of the name, "Agnese"). While Eileen was pregnant we called the baby "Agnes." We had no sonogram, but still, we felt sure. And then, the baby had moved for the first time on the Feast of St. Agnes. A Heavenly Sign (NOT!).

The doctor called me to look over the screen to see my baby brought forth. The cord was wrapped twice around the baby's neck. The head was unusually large. This baby never would have made it alive through the birth canal. But modern medicine was finding a way to make everything go smoothly. And I saw the baby emerge from the swabs covering the incision, the head and neck and shoulders and chest and OH MY GOSH IT'S A BOY!

It's a boy! It's a boy!

He was a 9 pound, 4 ounces, a compact little man, screaming his head off and shaking his fists, well formed like a lightweight boxer. We were crying with joy.

And we had a backup name, just in case. John Paul, of course.

It was 3:00 in the morning on June 1, 1997.

I felt as though I had become some strange new being, as if I had been born into a new life. Later that morning, in the nearby church, I kept thinking during the Mass with a mixture of wonder and dread, "I'm a father, I'm a father." I knew he had been with us for nine months, but birth is a great epiphany. A whole new world was set before my eyes, drawing forth the most elemental instincts of tenderness and protectiveness and all the emotions that bolster a new sense of responsibility.

Much has happened in these past 14 years. His head keeps growing, along with the rest of him. John Paul was the only c-section; the girls came naturally. And after 14 years and five children, I expect new experiences every day.