Sunday, 26 April 2009

You’ve come a long way, baby

As difficult as it may be to believe, the baby in this pic is the strapping lad below.

My son turns 19 today. Nineteen years ago today, at more or less this time, he was in an incubator, an interesting shade of blue, and a paediatrician was hovering over him, expressing fears as to the extent of the brain damage he might have suffered from lengthy hours of oxygen deprivation.

Today he is, quite evidently, alive and well, and flying through a science degree at a nearby university.

I didn’t discover I was pregnant with my son – my first child – until several months in. Then, in a belated flurry of fear that I would bear an infant with two heads, I stopped smoking, taking recreational drugs and drinking anything alcoholic I could lay my hands on, and started eating ice cream. I put on 30kg during my pregnancy (as is clear by my generous double chin in the pic) and tipped the scale at an impressive (even if I say so myself) 100kg when I arrived at the hospital to deliver.

Not that I intended delivering in a hospital. I was a good hippie, and had laid in a stock of lollipops (for ‘dry mouth syndrome’ from all that ‘candle breathing’ I’d learnt about in birthing classes) and a Scrabble set for all the hours I’d be waiting around with nothing to do while in labour.

Which I finally went into, two weeks after my due date, on the morning of the 18th of April when I was at a local publishing house, sorting out transparencies for a book I was working on. I went home, timed my contractions (hours apart), sat about reading a magazine for a while, then, a few hours later, thought, Wow, this really hurts!

I phoned my then-husband (who, by some stroke of luck, happened to be in the country at the time – his hobby then was travelling) and instructed him to come home. By the time he arrived, several more hours later, I was beginning to froth at the mouth. ‘Have a lollipop, dear,’ he said, and I snarled, ‘Take me to a hospital. Now!

I will draw a veil over the hours that followed, but will say this: when, around 9pm, 12 hours into a ‘back’ labour that had become so painful I would willingly have had my fingernails pulled out in preference, I screamed, ‘BRING! ME! DRUGS!!’, people jumped. And when that epidural pumped into my lower spine, I finally knew there was a god, and he was called The Anaesthesiologist.

So I was a bit miffed when, nearing 2am, my doctor arrived, trailing wine fumes (he’d been at a dinner party) and, on examining me, slurred, ‘Shit, I think this baby’s dead.’

Several nurses were summonsed to help transfer my gigantic bulk from the birthing table onto a trolley in order to wheel me into an operating theatre for an emergency Caesarean. I remember giggling dozily as one of them, helping to heft me, put her back out and staggered around cursing.

And then there were bright lights and quite a lot of blood and a nasty period of freezing cold (when, I learnt afterwards, I went into shock) – and then, mercifully, a big fat shot of morphine that cheered me up no end. So when the paediatrician said, ‘I’m afraid you’ve given birth to a lizard,’ I just smiled and said, ‘Okay, fine, whatever.’

Obviously he didn’t really say I’d given birth to a lizard, but my poor baby, in foetal distress (which means, basically, he was ingesting his own shit in utero) and starved of oxygen (the umbilical cord was wrapped five times, ligature-like, round his neck) for over four hours while my doctor ate, drank and made merry, wasn’t in good shape by the time he arrived in the world.

Not that I knew it. All was fabulously blurry until about 9 the next morning, when the very concerned paediatrician arrived to have a few quiet words with me. And – in the way of new mothers – all remained fabulously blurry (mainly from lack of sleep) until about three years later, when my son finally – finally! – said his first intelligible word. (It was ‘Bator’, which happened to be the name of the dog that lived next door. We broke out the champagne.)

My son has never been a voluble type although anyone who’s been trapped with him in a corner of a pub and subjected to all he knows about science-fantasy, Wicca and genetics will testify (probably somewhat exhaustedly) to the fact that he can speak when he wants to. And if indeed there was brain damage, his grey matter has done a fine job of compensating.

Happy birthday, son! You’ve come a long way, baby!

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tonypark said...

What lovely bedside manners south african doctors have.

Reminds me of the doctor telling me over the phone, when I thought I'd been bitten by a snake, to "lie down for an hour and see what happens".. He, too, was in the middle of a dinner party.

Having met the lad, I can offer a hearty congratulations to you both.

ali g said...

when my 2nd child was born many eons ago the doctor came out to me and said 'You've got a big bouncing boy and he has a tooth" the nurse with him said "A tooth yes doctor but it's a little girl not a boy"
"sorry" he said "must have got you mixed up with someone else"
I've always since wondered how many babies he delivered that day with teeth..
Congrats on the 19th.
I didn't breathe a sigh of relief untill my two got past 21.

Bec said...

I, too, worship at the God of Anaethesiology. I can still feel the way that delicious coolness spread out from my spine...

AND my first obstetrician showed up with red wine stains down his shirt from his interrupted dinner party, but I must say he was substantially more tactful than your bloke.

2nd birth, Lady OB. Heaven. Highly recommend having another chick dealing with the cutting and extracting of children, should the need ever arise over your way again!

Muriel said...

Thanks, Bec, for the sound advice altho after 2nd baby (8-hr labour, not too hectic, then calm and civilized Caesar with epidural) I had my tubes tied. Tight. 2nd baby started screaming when she was born and didn't stop for 9 months. The stuff of madness.

Amanda said...

Well ladies you all have it wrong. having been a midwife and run a labour ward for a few years - this is what happened to me. On the first visit to the Dr - whom had obviously been carefully selected after years of working with the unrelaible ones - i informed him that i was going to have a ceasar and that was that. My husband and i carefully chose the date that we would like - obviously taking the child into consideration first. The night prior to the big event we met some close friends for supper and drinks. I then checked into the hospital in a civilised way.Hed a nice long bath and proceeded to have a great sleep. First thing in the morning my husband arrived and we went downstairs to the theatre clutching cameras, great music and lots of friends who had come to be there for the event. All very quiet with no fuss and pain or preformance my son was delivered. I had a morphine or something as pleasant attached to my spine and i dosed myself frquently during the day. Nicholas lay on my stomach the entire day and we all had a great time getting to know each other. I was up and about the next day and went home the following. Moral of the story - have a ceasar as 95% of the time the delivery ends up in one.