Dad slept like a baby

Here is one way to have a baby: Go to the hospital and then get sent home because your labor seems to be in such an early stage. Encourage your husband (or boyfriend or partner) to take a nap. Then retreat to the bathroom, watch your water break, and in 10 minutes deliver a beautiful baby girl. When you have swaddled your baby in your arms, wake your husband and return to the hospital.
This is, more or less, how 20-year-old Gemma McSheffrey had her baby, Paige, last month in England. Oh, wait. I did leave out one small part of the story. After her water broke in the bathroom, she screamed bloody murder for her boyfriend, 19-year-old Antony Probets, but he had fallen into a deep slumber in the bedroom at the far end of the corridor and didn’t hear her. In all fairness to Probets, when he did wake up — and this is a quote from the new mom — “He ran around like a headless chicken ringing the ambulance.”
It was over 14 years ago that my wife gave birth to our daughter was born, but this is pretty much how my wife’s labor went, too, except that her labor lasted 22 hours instead of 10 minutes. Details, I know. But also just like McSheffrey and Probets, we went to Fletcher Allen Health Care earlier than they wanted, about 10 o’clock in the evening, and so they suggested we head home for a while. Since we live almost an hour from the hospital, and since women in my wife’s family historically have labors the length of a sitcom, we thought we should remain close by and merely retreated to a motel on Williston Road. There my wife seriously contemplated delivering the baby in the bathroom — or, since it seemed easier at the time, vomiting up every single one of her internal organs. Hoping to induce labor, we had dined on Mexican food that evening.
We returned to the hospital about 4 in the morning, and this time they said we could stick around. We figured our baby would arrive before breakfast. Instead, she emerged just after dinner.
I should note that if our daughter had been born the night before, when we first arrived at Fletcher Allen, she would not have gone through life sharing the same birthday as her grandfather. Clearly this is something she wanted, which explains why she didn’t arrive until it was not merely the next day in Vermont, but was in fact the next day on every corner of the globe.
Birth is, of course, a messy business. A messy but beautiful business. I can’t imagine sleeping through the birth of my daughter. OK, I can — but I would have missed something spectacular and I would have been in the doghouse for … well, forever. As I recall, about 5 in the morning I forgot that I was not supposed to drink coffee while my wife was in labor. Coffee breath in those hours was a capital offense. In any case, I had a little java to ensure I remained vertical.
“You find this so boring you need coffee?” my wife asked me. “My labor makes you SLEEPY?” Trust me, if I had dozed off I would not have been writing what purports to be a humor column for the last 16 years.
Still, the beauty of birth far outweighs the pain and the exhaustion and the mess. At least I think it does. I’m not the business end of the equation, so I probably shouldn’t weigh in on pain, exhaustion and mess. Moreover, I always got a little queasy when the labor and delivery room nurses would chortle happily about bloody show.
My point? My heart goes out to Probets for sleeping through the arrival of baby Paige. He missed something amazing. I’d wager his atonement is going to involve sleeping late a lot for the next decade and a half — though it will be his wife, Gemma, getting all that shut-eye this time, not him, because he will be in the kitchen making her breakfast in bed.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on Sunday, April 13, 2008.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

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