“Wake up! Ben! Ben! Wake uhhh . . .”
Horrific pain shot through my midsection, abruptly silencing my frantic cries. It radiated to the extremities of my thirty-nine-week-pregnant body as I tried to breathe. It was two a.m., and Ben, coming off another rough week, was sleeping deeply and not responding to my desperate pleas. Prior to this particular night, I had found it amusing that he could wake from a sound sleep at a single ring of the telephone or beep of a beeper, but with any other sound, even when our first baby son would cry, Ben would be the one sleeping like a baby! He called it “selective hearing for medical survival.” I’m not sure I believed him, but it sounded good
Only it didn’t sound so good as the pain started up again. The contractions were unexpected because I still had one more week to go and the first baby had taken a full forty weeks. Yet here I was in the midst of what I knew had to be labor, and because the contractions were just under two minutes apart, I was thinking this was, to put it mildly, not good!
On the next break from the pain, I managed to make my way to the bathroom, getting there just before another contraction hit. Calling out from the well-lit bathroom to the still- darkened bedroom, the message finally reached Ben’s subconscious.
Once awake, Ben went into doctor mode, though he didn’t yet realize how advanced my labor was. “Are you sure the baby’s coming? How close are the contractions? When did they start?” he called from the bedroom. Still trying to catch my breath, I couldn’t answer right away, but thank God for Lamaze! The breathing rehearsals from those classes kicked in and did their job! When I had breath enough to answer, I realized that not only was the baby coming, he was actually here!
“Honey, I think you better check,” I replied. And sure enough, little BJ was there. Ben dashed into the bathroom just in time to catch BJ before he fully emerged, holding the baby in one hand while he caught the afterbirth in the other. The emergency was not over yet, though, because the umbilical card needed to be clamped. Ben literally had his hands full, so he told me to find something to clip off the placenta.
Considering I had just given birth, this might be considered a bit much to ask, but it had to be done, because the placenta contained the baby’s wastes, and it would be unhealthy for that to flow back to the baby. Fortunately, since the labor had taken less than an hour I was able to move around without too much difficulty. I ran up and down stairs looking for anything that might work, peering into drawers, checking on shelves, using my imagination to conjure up an answer to the problem as I searched the entire house, along with Ben’s mother, who was staying with us to help. Ben was calling out potential solutions, suggesting clothespins and other items— but I knew there weren’t any clothespins in the house, because we had a clothes dryer even back then.
Suddenly, rummaging through a drawer, I found a roller clip, the kind that is shaped like a bobby pin, only with straight shafts. I ran back up the stairs to where Ben had the baby, and he clipped off the umbilical, gave a sigh of relief, and must have cleaned the baby up. I don’t know exactly what happened next, because by that time the fire department had come and I had to answer the door. The startled firemen instructed me to take my place on the stretcher. I politely told them I’d been up and down the stairs several times and really didn’t need one. “I can walk just fine,” I said. They countered with “This is ‘procedure,’ ma’am,” but they finally offered an alternative: a seated stretcher, much like a sedan chair that carries royalty in the old films. It was great fun being carried around like a movie star!
In one sense, BJ’s birth is the story of our life in a nutshell. From the day I met Ben, he has come through for me in difficult situations. The life of a neurosurgeon isn’t an easy one, and like others he has been called to go above and beyond the call of duty almost constantly. The life of a neurosurgeon’s wife isn’t much easier, and I’ve had to put up with challenges that most wives don’t face. But it’s all been worth it. Together, we’ve been through poverty, tragedy, disappointments, joy, successes, and wealth. Even when things have been hard, we’ve had each other’s backs