Let me tell you a little story about the greatest gift I ever received. The birth of my son.
My kid has the best mom in the world.
She taught me to, "sleep when the baby sleeps," and, "kids bring their own luck." Those are the ONLY useful pieces of advice I took. They worked for me. And now they're yours.
Seriously. "Sleep when the baby sleeps." And. "All kids bring their own luck."
Anyone who's ever had or looked after newborns can tell you. Sleep is rare that first year or three.
The second one takes the pressure off. If you think about it for less than a second, you realize it's true. The Universe has never created anything it didn't need and couldn't provide for. So why should my kid be different? The second one, well...
The second one takes the pressure off. If you think about it for less than a second, you realize it's true. The Universe has never created anything it didn't need and couldn't provide for. So why should my kid be different? The second one, well...
Holly and I raise our son from our own homes. EVERY day she demonstrates some level of care for him that we (almost) notice. And every day I do my best, as well.
I study with him on week days. She makes sure he's with friends or at the skate park on weekends. Tonight he's visiting with Holly's mother Gwen, easily the greatest Grandma in the world.
But since we're talking about child birth, and I've never publicly acknowledged this woman for what she did and who she's been, I figure, why not now?
I will say, before I get too far into this, Holly had a very specific plan and desire going in to carrying and delivering a child.
This is a woman who would begrudgingly cave in at the fast food counter and just accept that catchup is a vegetable (oh, Reagan), certain she could coax a carrot or ten into our son on the arrival home.
But when it came to giving birth to our son, she never backed down, never caved, never questioned the value of her belief. In truth, I love every decision she made about it, and would have loved to have arrived at the same decisions with her, but, she was determined. And she didn't need me to make great choices. She made great choices all on her own.
Before I go further, I think it is important for me to say the following bits:
- Women. We are in awe of you. We may not say it every day. But we mean it. What you can do is absolutely amazing. You can give birth to actual human life. So to all of you, from all of us, just know that even when we're not saying it, we mean it. You're awesome.
- My kid's mom, Holly, made a choice to go natural. To all the Mom's considering an epidural, I say go for it. My kid's mom chose not to because she was concerned about the quality of his initial consciousness on Earth. So commendable. I've met him (our son) and think he was 50/50 on that choice. But for her, that was important. And I stood by it.
- Having the privilege of being a "birthing coach" was amazing for me. Because of the classes I took and the training I got, I learned how to be essential to something I have nothing to do with in reality. Guys, let's face it. For many centuries (I could even say all of them with people in them), women have been wandering into the woods and bearing down on their own, successfully delivering children and returning home with the bathed and swaddled love-nuggets in their arms as though "kids" were a special at the grocery store that week. How do they make it look so easy?
Well, when you're in there with them, you see. You get to brush their hair out of their eyes a thousand times. You get to wipe the sweat off their lips and lie that it was just ice chips. You get to hold your gasping, gorgeous, gooey child before anyone else.
But probably most importantly, you get to be next to humankind at its absolute, grittiest, authenticest best.
Yes. I mean that.
If you know me, you might know that I rarely engage in gossip or the belittling of others. While I think all of that is hilarious, I also know it is harmful, and so I leave it alone. HOWEVER. Being human, I might have said one or two or twenty less than supportive things about my son's mother over the years.
But here's the absolute truth. And this will never change.
This woman blew my mind when she gave birth to our son.
The moment Holly knew she was pregnant, she changed everything about her life. She went to bed early. (Before she was pregnant, early was 4 a.m. After, about 9 to 11 p.m.) She focused on her food, eating mostly fresh fruit and vegetables and a lot of lean protein. She focused on exercise and even let me do some "partner" stretches with her that were clearly more for her than me. Prior to that I was lucky to get her to jog -- our only mutual exercise was dancing (since she was already pregnant).
As the pregnancy went along, her intelligence waned. She'll tell you the very same thing. She's sharp. Always has been. I think she got a 4.0 in High School or something. Holly's not a dullard. Unless you get her pregnant, and then, Oh My God, just agree with her. For starters, she's right. For seconders, she spent waaaaaaaay more time thinking about this than you or I did. And nowhere near lastly, her research is solid. It truly does not need any analysis from a dodo like me.
So, one day Holly told me one day that she was pregnant.
I sorted myself out.
And got behind it.
While I was sorting myself out, she was making final choices about things like, "Natural," or, "Epidural."
When I got completely open to the whole concept of being a dad, I learned we were going, "Natural," and I was thrilled.... Until I learned that the method Holly chose actually demanded that I participate.
Now, as a guy, it was easy for me to think, "I already participated." I am at least half of the reason why this child exists. Nope. I may have provided half of his DNA. But I definitely did not do half of the work of getting him here. I did about 10%. And that's because Holly let me. In fact, looking back, while I did all the dishes that year, and made all the rent/car/cell phone payments that year, and signed an artist to a major record label, and scored a $75k license for another client with a major Auto Manufacturer -- SHE DID ALL OF THE HARD WORK THAT YEAR!
Just so we're clear.
She survived postpartum depression. I just shopped for it.
She gave birth to an angel. I just burped it.
She breastfed him until his smile was contagious and his curiosity infectious. I bottle fed him, sang to him, and read to him when I could.
She reminded me when it was trash day. I never would have remembered otherwise.
Okay, so, we're at the beginning. She learns that we're pregnant and she makes a plan.
Now, Holly's never been shy about wanting kids. I even remember thinking to myself at one point while we were dating, "Am I ready for this chick?" Turns out I was wondering if I was ready for kids, which I was, not if I was ready for this chick, which I really wasn't.
Here's the thing. The entire world has benefitted from us having a son. If Holly had a daughter, she was going to name her Trixie.
Trixie. A human. My child. A person who is supposed to believe from day one throughout their entire life that their parents, above and beyond any and everyone else, are behind them, believe in them, support them, and want them to succeed.
How can someone be named Trixie? By their parents? And not feel immediately betrayed?
You know what?
I don't know.
But I finally believe, that had our child been born a daughter, Holly would have made Absolutely Certain that Trixie knew she was loved.
Our son is named Romeo. I thought I was past the fighting and bickering when we learned the name "Trixie" was out of the running.
Turns out, Mom's have names for boys, too. Which is tough. Because my family comes with plans for the first born. My first name is a family name. (Really? MacEwen is a family name. I know, right? Who could have guessed?)
Yes. The MacEwen's were a proud Scottish clan. In our line, we lost it as a surname, so we've kept it in the family through the first born.
Women get it as a middle name. Men as a first name.
So, yes. Technically our son's first name is, MacEwen.
But, while Holly was pregnant with our son, she was occupying the futon in the living room on a regular basis, only rising to give the "kicking" report, and place outlandish (uneaten) orders for Jack in the Box with the undernourished and under-rested me.
Until one day she sat bolt upright without provocation and declared, "If this is a boy, his name is Romeo."
Now, I had learned the hard way through several failed attempts: "Never argue with a pregnant woman."
But this was the clincher.
I had a real dilemma in front of me. Centuries of tradition and legacy riding on my shoulders. And this crazy pregnant woman in my living room wants to name my progeny after a suicidal teen? WHAT?
Why would you do that to a child?
Again. Life is hard enough without growing up certain your parents hate you.
But here's the thing.
She was right.
Holly has fought me on two things. His name. And where he went to grade school. And you know what? She was right. Both times.
She's the perfect mom for Romeo, obviously, she got his name right. He wears it very well.
When he was five I took him to an outdoor performance of Romeo and Juliet in Palos Verdes. Through the first act he whispered repeatedly, "Why does he have my name?"
Then, just as Romeo and Juliet kiss for the first time, my son says, loud enough for everyone to hear, "This is boring!" So, we left, as the audience laughed at this suddenly awkward romantic moment.
But I digress.
So there I was, learning of my impending fatherhood, and lurchingly embracing it.
Holly asked me to find her a doctor. I did. I accidentally made the perfect choice. Don't tell her it was an accident. Please.
Holly found a Bradley class. We went. I learned a fuckton.
We made some friends in the class. Couples who stayed friends through grade school.
We also made friends with our Doula. Who would prove to be a life saver later.
But I did not know that when we first met and she would start class by sitting on the floor and spreading her legs and saying words like "vagina" and "afterbirth" a lot.
I just learned how to keep track of Holly's food, and stretching, and weeks.
And then the day came.
Back then, Holly and I were DJing nightclubs together. So the night before the day came, we were at The Pink (on Main Street in Santa Monica) doing our weekly club, "Bump!"
I remember taking requests and having no idea what people were saying, just smiling until they would go away.
I remember Holly dancing like there was no tomorrow. "It's good for the baby."
There was a crew in from Calgary who wanted us to DJ after-hours at their hotel, and we respectfully declined.
We slept on the futon near the front door that night and Holly was miserable. She couldn't settle anywhere. No amount of whispering in her ear or talking to the baby could calm her. But, she was informed, and prepared, so she knew what to do.
The following day, I remember one moment so vividly.
I was at the door.
A friend was stopping by to drop off some tapes. He's a close friend, so we'd been talking for a bit.
Holly came to the door to find me.
"These aren't Braxton-Hick's (false-alarm contractions), this shit is real!" she told me. She interlaced her fingers behind my neck and rested her weight on me which relieves the tension of actual contractions on the lower back, slightly. Our friend, Don May, (not the basketball player, this guy) smiled while UPS arrived and got a signature, and the Postal Lady came by with ten or more boxes of records, put them inside, and wished us luck. All the while, Holly was hanging off my clavicle like it would save her life.
What I remember most about that moment wasn't the chaos, but the clarity.
Somehow, a moment that would have certainly tested me had it just been multiple package deliveries during a friend's visit became this very peaceful thing when I had a pregnant woman hanging around my neck and people running in and out the door.
Not sure why. Don't care. I just remember seeing everything so clearly, and having this sensation of having enough time and space for everything.
So, Don helped us take our stuff to the car. And most mom's would head straight to the Delivery Room.
Holly had a Birth Plan. So we printed that out. And double checked everything in the car to make sure every single possible option and contingency was covered.
See. I should back up here for a second.
Holly hadn't spoken to her mom in about six weeks.
I don't remember what came between them. I know it wasn't the kid. It was some other thing. Even though they're both Capricorns, they're very different as people.
So, even while Holly had all of her plans made, and guys like me on board, she was still going through some shit.
We left her mom a voice mail.
And then, Holly took over.
She wanted to go to Trader Joe's. So, we went to Trader Joe's. We picked up a few things from the list we hadn't already gotten. And, we picked up a ton of other stuff.
She wanted to get some tostadas. So, we got tostadas. They were very good. And relaxing.
Even though Holly was having contractions every ten minutes, she knew that until the contractions were five minutes apart, she wasn't dilated enough to head to the hospital.
See, if you go to the hospital too soon, they recommend an epidural. And she was set against that. So her game was to get to the hospital at the last possible (necessary) second, and do it natural.
So when we were done with the tostadas, I asked her, "Ready to go to the hospital?"
She looked at me. Had a contraction. Waited for the next one. Which is not a common experience for most men. And said, "No. Let's go to a movie."
The contractions were more than 7 minutes apart. So, to her, she had ages in front of her before she was taking a squeegee to her squishy love-nugget's forehead.
So, we went to a movie.
When the movie was done, the contractions had lessened, moving farther apart by a minute and a half. Which is the same as a month to the expectant father.
So, we went home to make sure we had packed everything on the Birth Plan list.
I asked her, "Are you ready to go to the hospital, now?"
She looked at me. Had a contraction. And another one. And said, "No, let's go get the car washed."
So, we took the car for a wash. While we were there we worked on a crossword puzzle. Every few minutes Holly would cry out from a contraction.
Another patron even said, "Why don't you go to the hospital already?"
Holly timed her contractions again. I could tell she was enjoying the wisdom she'd picked up about her body and this life form emerging from it. She was more comfortable with it than people nearby.
Finally, she replied, "Sure." It was time to hop in the car and head to UCLA.
Our Doctor and Doula had worked closely with one another to get us a gorgeous suite in the UCLA Delivery Unit.
I highly recommend them.
We never actually got into one. So, I recommend them because anything would be better than what Holly put up with.
But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
We got in the car and headed to UCLA. And Wilshire was mud. Nothing moving. At all.
In fact, I'm usually pretty good at choosing Not Traffic as a lifestyle here in LA. However, on that day, that direction, there was nothing to do but patiently make our way to the hospital and try our best to remain calm. And not have the baby in the front seat.
And a little over an hour (and five miles) later I wheeled Holly into the hospital.
Where she was summarily placed on a gurney behind a translucent curtain in the nurses station, never to be moved all night.
Forget the beautiful finished wood cabinets with enough room to put away ALL of the critical things we packed and brought with us from the Birth Plan. Forget the endless supply of shaved ice. Forget the CD's of peaceful music. Or the giant flat screen with unlimited channels. Forget all of it.
Us? We were there on a full moon. With lots of moms. All dilating identically. All shoved onto afterthoughts of beds. All trying to get the attention they needed.
None of them with Birthing Coaches...
So there we are. In the nurses station. It's gettin' real.
The contractions are coming every few minutes.
Holly's doing everything she learned in the class. The Doula's there. We've got tote bags and shopping bags full of Birth Plan items, none of which made it out of the bags. The Doctor pops by so we know he's there. An Intern pops in to put a shunt in Holly's arm.
And she stops him.
Now, this can work in many situations, so pay attention.
This woman has a ten pound alien crawling out of her pelvis and she has the composure to carry out the following conversation.
A shunt is a medical device that is basically a wide needle which gets taped to your arm with a valve that connects to bags of intravenous medicine. You've seen them on all the medical shows. Promise.
So this Intern walks in expecting to have the same conversation he's had, perhaps hundreds of times. In fact, he's so used to people's compliance that he doesn't even speak to Holly at first.
He walks in, gently lifts her hand, and starts taking a cotton swab covered in rubbing alcohol to her inner forearm.
Holly had been focusing on her breathing, and steering enormous amounts of pain through the crown of her head. I was proud of her.
And then, this guy.
"What are you doing?" Holly asked.
Realizing there was a person on the other end of that arm, the Intern said, "I'm putting in a shunt."
"Why?" Holly asked.
Now, Holly's "why," was more about her Birth Plan, which clearly stated No Medication or Medical Devices unless absolutely necessary. But the Intern, who hadn't read the Birth Plan, veered to the Wikipedia answer.
"It's in case of an emergency. We can treat you if we need to."
Sounds reasonable enough. I was ready to let him.
Not Holly. She was so committed. See, she had read all this research that said, if you have an epidural, it drugs the kid in a very serious way, and dulls their experience of life. Forever.
So Holly was committed. And even in all the pain and insane environment, nurses coming and going, other moms screaming in pain, a freaked out coach (me) who's supposed to be helping keep it together, Holly had the poise to do this. Pay close attention. I don't think I would have been this sensible or lucid on my best day.
She asked, "How long does it take to put a shunt in?"
The Intern, doing his best to complete his task and make the choice attractive to her, said, "Oh, it only takes a second."
And without skipping a beat, she said, "Well, if it's for emergencies, and it only takes a second, then we don't need to put it in unless there's an emergency."
The Intern was stunned.
"Right?" She followed up.
He nodded, hung on to the shunt, and headed for the door.
The Doula smiled.
This is my kid's mom. Sharp as a tack. Even in childbirth.
Then the contractions really started kicking in. Holly wrung my hands like tired sponges. She breathed hard and deep. She kept it together. Until the next contraction, and then she squeezed, and cried out, and pushed a little.
And the whole time, I felt like everything was under control. Not because I'd ever done this before, because I hadn't. Or because I knew what was next, because I didn't. Or because the Doula was there. Although that definitely helped.
I felt like it was under control because Holly was all over it. As the baby moved lower she was able to name and describe the stage of labor she was in. Her confidence quelled my fears.
Until, one moment, when one contraction was so severe and painful I couldn't keep it together.
Holly reached out for me. She asked me to tell her everything was going to be okay.
But she couldn't see what I could see.
She couldn't see the sweat beaded on her knotted brow. She couldn't see the scarlet ribbon forcing its way out of her lap. She couldn't see the Nurse's concern. She couldn't even hear the screams from the single mom on the other side of the curtain.
And I froze.
For an instant, I couldn't squeeze her hand. I couldn't find words to reassure her. I couldn't believe we were going to survive this harrowing moment that historically and understandably has taken so many mother's lives. I had no access to Coaching her the way I had been trained. I just froze.
I failed her.
She was alone. She grasped. She began to panic. And I began to panic. I was afraid we weren't going to make it. The baby wasn't going to make it.
My temperature shot up. I was instantly drenched.
I started frantically brushing Holly's hair off of her forehead until she stopped me.
"Don't! Too hot!" she said.
And out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the Doula. She stood there like a loving rock and smiled and said, "You've got this."
And in that moment time stopped.
I remembered, women have been giving birth for years. Their bodies know exactly what to do. The mom is doing all the work. My job is to stay calm and let her break my hand if she needs too.
I took a deep breath. I bent down and whispered in Holly's ear, "You're doing great. I think he's almost here."
But she was distraught. She was in pain. She still felt alone.
"I want my Mom," she cried.
And that was one thing I couldn't give her. I couldn't be for her. I held her. I pet her hair. And her cheeks. I told her she could do it.
But another contraction came. And another one. And each time she wailed, "I WANT MY MOM!"
After the most violent and frightening contraction of all...
"I'm here," a voice said.
We all looked up instantly and there was Gwen. It was as if there had never been any distance between them. It was as if they'd spent the entire day together. The entire week together.
Gwen took Holly's other hand and Holly started to push. For real.
She was ready. And so was our son.
"You waited until I got here, huh?" Gwen asked.
"I wasn't going to do this without you," Holly agreed.
I turned on the video camera and captured those brief incredible minutes when Romeo slid at top speed into the Doula's hands.
I remember cutting the cord.
I remember the nurses weighing him. And wrapping him up. And putting him on Holly's chest.
He didn't cry much. He just wanted to suckle. And sleep.
The two of them, Holly and Romeo, fell asleep in each other's arms.
It was like Heaven had descended on our little gurney in the Nurse's Station.
Because the Hospital was so crowded, there wasn't room for me in an actual room.
Holly got a bed in a room. Romeo spent the night with her or in The Nursery. I was asked to come back in the morning.
You want me to leave?
My son was just born. An hour ago. And you want me to leave?
"We're very sorry, Sir. We're very full." It was true. All the two-bed rooms had three patients in them.
So, I got in my car and I drove. And I drove. And I drove.
If you've never driven in LA, there's this great stretch on the 110 South out of Downtown. It's a walled off carpool lane, so unless you have a cop directly behind you, it's possible to floor it and pick up some serious speed before the wall ends and the lane is exposed.
I took a pass at that four or five times.
As I drove, I cried.
I cried about not being with my son. I cried about the miracle of having a son. That a soul had chosen to crawl out of the two of us to take a stab at this life thing. So noble, and brave, and stupid. I cried because I was so incredibly moved by Holly's commitment. The pain she went through. Willingly.
It was so hard not to be next to her at that moment. Not to be holding him.
At home I cleaned and did busy work to keep from worrying. I invited a neighbor over and together we packed several hundred records for shipping.
Having someone there helped. A lot.
Finally, I slept.
The next day I went and picked up my brand new family.
When we got home, we propped Romeo up on the futon, and waited. We waited for him to cry, to burp, to smile, to blink. Anything, we were waiting, anticipating the cuteness.
And... he waited. He watched us, watching him, and waited for us to show him what to do next.
Those first few hours at home are a trip. At least with the first one.
There's no one there to show you how to wrap him in swaddling, or wash his hair and bathe him. There's no one there to make sure he's feeding properly.
It's just bachelor you without the bachelor. You can't just walk out the front door by yourself anymore.
A week or two later we were heading out the door to go somewhere and Romeo wasn't having it. He was crying and very upset.
Holly stopped what she was doing, explained to Romeo what was going to happen next, and he relaxed. The tears stopped instantly.
"You have to tell him what's going on. He likes to know," Holly told me.
At first I was all like, "Shyah, as if."
But then, I realized. He was quiet. She was right. He did like to be told what was going on.
For the next two years, until he was talking, we told him what we were up to next. And he grew up the most cooperative kid I've ever met.
My kid's mom is pretty amazing. She has this intuition about him I'll never have. She looks after him in ways I'd never dream up. I admire her care of him.
We're friendly now. She even complimented my camera work of our son being born, later.
"You can see all the good stuff and none of the gross stuff," she told me.
And I guess there's plenty of "gross stuff." When you take Bradley classes they tell you all about the afterbirth and the bits of Mom-poop that are predictable. Pictures beforehand really don't prepare you. It's quite a show.
Maybe it's just me. All that stuff. That makes kids for lucky guys like me. It's only the greatest gift I've ever received in my lifetime. None of its gross. It's just magic.