4 February 2003
He was almost born on the freeway.
By the time you're ready to give birth to #5, you pretty much expect that you know how
things will go. He was late, like all the rest. The doctor had even tacked on an extra
week to the formula due date, given that all of his siblings had been late--and he was
even later than that.
It was about 6 a.m. the morning of February 4, 1972 when the first contraction hit.
Things seemed to be progressing a lot faster than other times. In fact, within half an
hour, I told Walt we needed to go to the hospital now.
Of course there was the little issue of four children under the age of 6 and nobody to
take care of them. Walt put in a frantic call to Char. "come NOW," he told her.
He was rushing around the house while I sat in a chair and concentrated on breathing. I
was actually a little annoyed with him. I had things well in hand--why was he panicking?
It never occurred to me that he was worried we wouldn't get to the hospital in time and
he'd have to deliver the baby himself.
This was going to be our first father-in-the-delivery-room birth. The kids were all
born at Kaiser in Oakland. In the previous year, Kaiser had begun allowing fathers to be in the
delivery room, but only on the condition that the couple complete a LaMaze course.
It was pretty silly. I had given birth four times using the LaMaze method (without
attending a class). There was a mix-up about dates and we missed the first class. I had
been working at helping mothers breastfeed for several years and knew more about it than
the LaMaze instructor, so I taught that class. And then the baby arrived before the
last class, so the whole thing was pretty much a donation to the LaMaze teacher for the
privilege of having our name on a certificate.
I was panting and blowing and Char hadn't arrived yet. The contractions were coming
much closer together and it was obvious we just couldn't wait any longer. Char only lived
a few blocks away (but had to get dressed before she could race to our house), and we
knew she'd be there within minutes--but minutes were becoming precious commodities.
We put six year old Jeri in charge and we went out to the car. A contraction hit as
Walt was backing out over the dip in the driveway, and as Char was driving up. "I'll
never forget the look on your face as you hit that bump," she has told me for the
past 30 years.
The hospital was only 10 minutes away and we probably made it in 8.
Nowadays you go to the hospital and sign all your papers well in advance of a baby's
birth, but we didn't do that in the 60's and 70's, at least not at Kaiser, so our first
stop was in the office to fill out endless paperwork.
"I think I'd better get upstairs now," I said and they fetched a
wheelchair for me. Walt couldn't leave until all the paperwork was filled out.
"I'm in transition," I said to the nurses as they wheeled me into the
"yeah, yeah, lady," they said. "We'll tell you when you're in
transition. Just go get into a bed so we can check you."
It was probably 5 minutes before they arrived to check me, and then all hell broke
'GET HER TO DELIVERY NOW!"
(Later, when it was over, I told the nurses "When a mother who is giving birth to
her fifth child tells you she's in transition, believe her!)
They stuck me on the flat gurney (oh I'd love to give birth today--it's so
much more civilized!) and wheeled me into the delivery room. Walt made it up just barely in time, and
rushed into the delivery room, camera in hand as I was beginning to push. "That camera can't be here," said
the delivering physician, whom I'd never met before that moment and who didn't realize
that we'd cleared the whole camera thing with my own doctor. Walt went back to the gowning
room to drop off the camera and in that minute, out popped the baby. Dad missed the whole
thing, but he was there to scratch my nose while they were stitching up the episiotomy
(because my hands were tied down and your nose ALWAYS itches when they tie your hands down).
He was huge. 10 lbs. They didn't let babies stay in the rooms with the mothers in those
days, and there was no "viewing room" so you had to present a card and they'd
wheel out the babies to show you. There seemed to have been a lot of preemies at that time
and he was easily twice the size of most of his nursery mates.
In 2 days ('cause you had to stay at least 2 days), we brought him home to meet all his
24 years later, we buried him.
Happy birthday, Dave--we miss you.