The Final Exam

We were awakened by our phone ringing at 8:30 am on Friday, May 9. It was Doctor Number Four.
  ``We have a bed for you,'' he said. ``Come to the hospital, we're inducing you today.''
  So much for the sign. I guess this is how you know when you haven't been given a sign: When it turns out there was nothing for the sign to signify.
  Dawn and I jumped out of bed and went crazy. After nine months of patient waiting and planning, suddenly it was a fire drill. You get showered, I'll get showered, where's that bag? I put together the cooler of juices and things we'd prepared, because you never know how long labor will last and you might need some food; also, eating lightly will help speed labor, as well as giving the mother energy for the delivery. I discovered for the first time that everything we'd gotten to put in the cooler wouldn't fit. There's nothing like a little planning, and this was nothing like it. Who should we call? Are they at work or at home? Where is the damn phone?
  When did everything get so hectic?
  We bundled ourselves together and arrived at the hospital before 9:00, loaded for bear, moose, and woolly mammoth. Our complete inventory consisted of changes of clothes; orange juice, chocolate pudding, and applesauce in a cooler; a bag of pretzel rods; a CD player with speakers and a selection of CDs ranging from Alanis Morrissette (in case Dawn felt angry) to Bach's Brandenburg Concertos (in case Dawn felt mellow), including Billy Joel (in case Dawn felt the angst of the working class); massage lotion; a roll of quarters for vending machines, phones, or subduing overenthusiastic nurses; a plastic garbage bag for no reason I could think of; three tennis balls to aid in massage or to juggle when I got bored; washcloths, in case the hospital ran out; a cellular phone which could not be used in the hospital; Dawn's beeper; a copy of Husband-Coached Childbirth and the Bradley course workbook; a bathing suit for me, should Dawn want to shower and need me to hold her; and Yahtzee, your favorite game of luck and strategy!, because we might have nothing to do.
  In other words, we showed up ready for a picnic at the beach. We packed this bag keeping in mind my version of the Boy Scout's motto, ``Be Prepared'', which is, ``Take absolutely everything because the worst thing that will happen is you'll have to carry it home again.'' All through Boy Scouts I had the heaviest packs any time we went camping anywhere. But my patrol always had really good meals.
  I staggered into the lobby of the hospital carrying this five-hundred-pound bag and the little cooler with Dawn in tow. Now, ordinarily, one should drop the pregnant woman off at the door, park one's car, and then return to meet the pregnant woman in the lobby. But since Dawn wasn't actually in labor, she would have none of it, so we parked the car and came into the lobby together. Then we tried to sneak past the front desk. Watching six feet and 275 pounds weighed down with a five-hundred-pound bag of useless crap and his nine-and-a-half months pregnant wife trying to sneak across an open room is quite a sight, I imagine. We were sneaking because we knew that if we were caught by the guard at the desk, he would make Dawn go up to Labor and Delivery in a wheelchair, and we didn't need that. We almost made it, too.
  ``Ay, mon,'' called out the security guard, ``Where you goin'?''
  We told him we were going up to Labor and Delivery, but that we didn't need a wheelchair.
  ``It's hospeetal policy,'' he said jovially, and opened up a wheelchair for Dawn to sit in. Then he wheeled us down the hall. When we reached a small group blocking the hallway, apparently setting up for a flower sale of some sort, he began to wail like a siren. ``Whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo,'' he wailed, and it was funny for about the first second. He didn't stop until the blockage was cleared, which took about a minute. It occurred to me that those witty small parts in movies are only amusing for the few moments they're onscreen, but that often such people in real life are tiresome, especially when you're on your way to being induced into labor.
  We arrived at Labor and Delivery without incident at 9 am and bid adieu to our security guard from the Caribbean. The two nurses assigned to us--one regular nurse and one nurse from another department just starting her work in Labor and Delivery and so sort of apprenticed to the first nurse--introduced themselves and settled us in our room. The room was fairly large and open, with a nice big window and its own attached bathroom and shower. Dawn got suited up in two hospital gowns, one on forwards and one on backwards so she wouldn't be hanging out in the back. After that, not much happened for a while. We chatted goofily. The second nurse took down answers to questions which we'd answered about thirty times before on various forms, possibly checking to make sure our story was consistent. When she left, I noticed that the word ``Bradley'' had been written in large red letters across the front of our chart. We were marked.
  At 9:30 Dawn was plugged in to the external fetal monitor, which, as I described before, consists of two hockey pucks held on by velcro straps. One hockey puck measures the baby's heartbeat using ultrasound, and the other measures the electrical activity of the uterus and thereby detects uterine contractions. Twenty minutes later they had installed an IV in Dawn's left wrist. We continued to chat goofily, occasionally switching over to pre-test jitters. But we felt prepared.
  At 10 o'clock Doctor Number Four bounced into the room, dressed in a button-down shirt, sportcoat, tie and pants. Dawn and I both thought this was too jaunty. We wanted to see scrubs, those green outfits doctors are supposed to wear when they deliver babies. He looked far too casual.
  Dawn asked if he had to start the pitocin, the artificial hormone used to induce labor chemically by IV administration, as soon as he broke her water. The doctor looked annoyed with us. He got annoyed every time we tried to be independent. He agreed to let us go for an hour after breaking Dawn's water, but then he would start the pitocin.
  The doctor shrugged off his sportcoat and draped it over a nearby chair, then pulled on a pair of surgical gloves. He did a quick internal exam.
  ``Four sontimeters, eighty percent effaced,'' he declared, which was an improvement. Then the nurse handed him the crochet needle. The crochet needle is what doctors use to rupture the amniotic sac--the needle has a little hook on the end, and the doctor carefully inserts this thing vaginally, catches the sac through the opening of the cervix with the little hook, and pulls. He did this, and a gush of water poured out of Dawn and soaked the pad between her feet.
  ``Whoa,'' said Dawn.
  Doctor Number Four stood, took off the gloves, put on his coat, and said, ``I'll see you at five minutes to eleven.'' Then he left.
  Now we had a small altercation ahead of us as we tried to convince everyone that Dawn should be allowed to get up and move around. According to Bradley, walking will help speed labor, and we figured since labor hadn't started yet, the best way to get it going would be to walk around for a bit. It took half an hour of talking to the nurses and trying to find our doctor by phone before they'd let us up. It was another few minutes before the nurse could find one of those wheelie IV stands. Then the phone in our room rang.
  It was my mother. Dawn had called her before we left for the hospital, and Mom had just arrived and was outside Labor and Delivery. Since Dawn was now allowed to go for a walk, we went out to meet her and my father and sister.
  ``Mom,'' I said, ``This baby isn't coming any time soon. At minimum, he'll be here by one. More likely, he won't get here until five or six o'clock, and he may not get here today at all.''
  ``I have to be here,'' she said. My mother had become hysterical in her own lovable way, which is to have a big smile on her face with tears streaming down her cheeks while having difficulty speaking or thinking. I looked at my dad, who just shrugged.
  ``I hope you're happy,'' said my sister, ``I stayed up for this.'' She works the overnight shift at a diner and is rarely seen before six at night.
  We each took turns walking down the hallway and back with Dawn while her womb had not the slightest contraction. Sometimes, just breaking the water is enough to induce labor; it looked like this was not one of those times.
  We stole an extra five minutes and just after eleven we went back to the LDR room and re-installed Dawn in her bed. The fetal monitor was re-attached and the nurse came in and added the pitocin drip to Dawn's IV.
  Just about everything was going very well at this point, except for the small war I waged with the nurse. She insisted on leaving the door to our room open. Every time she'd leave she'd leave the door open, and I'd go and close it. Then she'd come back in and leave again and the door would be open and I'd go and close it again. This went on the entire time this nurse was there.
  It wasn't long before Dawn began to feel contractions. We spent the next couple of hours watching television and calling a number of people and chatting with them about what was going on. Dawn was in a great mood and eager to talk with people--which I recognized from my Bradley training as early first stage labor. By nearly two o'clock we had watched The Price Is Right, Jenny Jones--which was about fifteen-year-old girls who dress in sexually provocative ways--Ricki Lake--all about people who had had an embarrassing moment videotaped--and General Hospital, an old episode of which was playing on A Daytime to Remember. I figured a good dose of Bob Barker, bad talk shows and Luke and Laura would cause this baby to pop right out.
  Dawn asked the nurse at this time to perform an internal exam to see how her cervix was dilating. The nurse refused to do one at first.
  ``There's no way you're any farther along than you were before,'' she said. ``No one smiles through labor.''
  Dawn pleaded with her to check. Finally, the nurse gave in.
  ``Seventeen years I've been here,'' she said, ``And I've never seen anyone happy about labor.'' She got a glove on and did the exam. ``Well,'' she said finally, ``make a liar out of me. You're at eight centimeters. I've never seen anyone smile up to eight centimeters before. I'll get the doctor.''
  I wanted to yell, ``Go Bradley!'' But I restrained myself.
  At around 2:30 Doctor Number Two came in, since Doctor Number Four was due back in the office at one. We had turned off Montel Williams because Dawn was entering late first stage, which is characterized by the need for quiet and concentration as the pregnant woman gets down to the hard work of labor. The doctor put on another glove and checked the state of Dawn's cervix.
  ``You're at nine centimeters,'' she said. ``But you've got a slight lip of cervix. I'm going to try to smooth it out.'' Before I could protest--everything had been going perfectly up until now--the doctor commenced pressing on Dawn's cervix. Dawn stifled a scream and burst into tears, her hands tearing at the bedsheets. This was the first time she'd been in real pain, and it was because the doctor was poking at her. The doctor sighed. ``Nope,'' she said, and pulled her hand out of Dawn covered in blood. ``All right, I'll be back later,'' she said, and left the room.
  As soon as the doctor stopped, so did the pain, so Dawn was left in late first stage. She lay there quietly, relaxing through contractions as we'd been taught to do, breathing easily through her mouth. Dawn spent most of this time with the back of the bed cranked up so she was almost sitting. Every so often she asked for some water, which I gave her. I watched as the contractions were picked up by the Contract-O-Meter.
  The apprentice nurse took this time to wheel in a cart and start opening packages to prepare for the delivery. She pulled out all sorts of weird instruments and readied papers and tubes of goop, and also started up the warming table so it would be warm by the time they were ready to put the baby on it.
  Shortly after the cart was all set up, the nurses switched shifts, and we got a new nurse. She came in and introduced herself, checked everything, and left us alone. She closed the door on her way out, too.
  Now, in the Bradley course they talk about emotional signposts so you can tell how far along your labor is. What I wondered was, How obvious are these going to be? How can I be sure at any given point that we are where we think we are? It turned out, for us at least, that the emotional signposts were more like emotional billboards festooned with blinking lights and loudspeakers. I've already talked about how I knew Dawn was in early first stage and late first stage. The stage following late first stage is the dreaded transition. Strong women wilt at the thought of transition. The most mentally solid of men will crumble when you mention transition. Even Superman has two weaknesses: Kryptonite and transition.
  The emotional signpost for transition is despair. That's not what the Bradley class calls it, but that's what it is: despair. The woman becomes confused, unsure of herself. She doesn't think she can make it any more--the pain is too great. She feels it's too hard, that she can't have this baby, that she's too tired. It is during this stage that most women ask for drugs and get them, even though it is in general too late for them to do much good.
  The good news about transition is that it doesn't last long. It generally lasts about half an hour. And right after transition comes second stage, which is the pushing stage, which means the baby is almost out. As coach, it was my job to keep reminding Dawn that transition wouldn't last long and that we wanted to have a natural childbirth and that it was too late for medication and that it wouldn't last long. At least half of this was probably for my benefit as well.
  By the end of late first stage, I was having trouble recognizing my wife. The contractions were coming much closer together and were much stronger; Dawn appeared to have fallen into a trance. She was rocking back and forth gently, her eyes closed, her mouth moving silently. I expected her to levitate off of the bed at any moment.
  Then we were in transition. The change was immediate. Dawn began to moan in a way I'd never heard her moan before. She began to complain about pain in her legs, of all places. She said she couldn't take the pain any more. She rolled her eyes and shook her head back and forth.
  ``Take the pain away,'' she told me. ``Make it stop.''
  Meanwhile I was struggling with a terrible problem: I had run out of things to say. This is something for which nothing had prepared me. All I could think to say was the same thing I'd been saying for all of transition: ``It's okay, you can do this, this is transition, we learned about this, it doesn't last long, it'll be over soon, it's okay, you can do this....'' I was like a tape on loop. I rummaged through my brain in search of another way to say what I'd been saying, but couldn't come up with anything. So I said it again and again.
  After I said ``It'll be over soon,'' for maybe the twentieth time, Dawn perked up.
  ``How soon?'' she asked.
  ``Um, soon,'' I replied.
  ``How soon?!'' she demanded.
  ``I don't know,'' I said weakly.
  ``Fifteen minutes?'' she growled.
  ``I really don't know,'' I answered. ``Not long.''
  ``Fifteen minutes?'' she growled again.
  ``Sure,'' I lied, ``Fifteen minutes.'' She sank back into the bed.
  Transition actually lasted a total of half an hour. In the middle of transition, the doctor performed another internal exam, which had to be the most horrible experience through which anyone has ever suffered. She found that Dawn was still at about nine centimeters and suggested we change positions, with Dawn lying on her side. Dawn protested as we worked her over to her side, at which point she began to wail in pain. But, within seconds, she settled down as the pain subsided. The doctor left again.
  Then, as suddenly as we entered transition, we were out of it and into the second stage. Dawn felt the urge to push and said so. My wife was back. The nurse rushed off to get the doctor, who came in scrubs. She doffed her hairnet on the floor and put on gloves.
  ``Did you just deliver another baby?'' Dawn asked the doctor.
  ``Yes I did,'' she answered, and checked Dawn internally once more. ``You're fully dilated!'' she announced. ``When you're ready to push, push!''
  Our nurse and doctor cranked the bed up to a fully sitting position. Then they lowered the foot of the bed so it was like a step. Dawn sat, her butt half on the little ledge formed by the edge of the bed and her feet on the lower part of the bed. The nurse adjusted the fetal monitor to pick up the baby's heartbeat better as he dropped a little lower and Dawn began to push. It was about four o'clock.
  At first, Dawn pushed on her own while I supported her back. With every push, the nurse held the fetal monitor against Dawn's lower belly, sliding it down as the baby moved. We were making progress, and it felt good.
  ``It feels great to push,'' Dawn declared, happy to be doing something, as we knew she would be.
  It wasn't long before the nurse and I were helping Dawn to push, each of us holding one of her legs back as she bore down with each contraction. The doctor checked on us and told us the baby was just about at station zero, which means the baby's head was beginning to pass through the pelvis. We were thrilled.
  ``Not much more, honey,'' I said. I found myself using the word ``honey'' a lot, which isn't normal for me. Usually I call Dawn ``slim''.
  The nurse and I watched Dawn's pushing on the Contract-O-Meter, where we could see peaks when Dawn was pushing. I kept trying to bolster her spirits by telling her how well she was pushing. A couple of times she blew right off the top of the scale.
  ``You're going to break to Contract-O-Meter!'' I told her.
  ``Shut up,'' she told me. I did.
  At about fifteen minutes after five, after over an hour of pushing, Doctor Number Four returned, with Doctor Number Two presumably going back to the office. He did a quick vaginal exam.
  ``You've got a lip of cervix!'' he cried. ``What are you doing pushing?''
  All three of us looked dumbfounded. The nurse spoke. ``The other doctor told us it was time to push,'' she said.
  ``I'm going to try to clear it,'' he said.
  ``Oh no,'' said Dawn.
  He reached into Dawn and began to fool around. ``Push against my fingers!'' he commanded, and Dawn yelled as she pushed down. The doctor looked unhappy and took his hand away. ``All right,'' he said, sounding discouraged. ``Keep pushing. I'll be back.'' He left once more.
  Now the nurse and I were galvanized. We wanted to support Dawn and counteract the effects of the doctor's obvious disappointment. The nurse began to count for Dawn, shouting, ``One! Two! Three! Four! Five! Hold it! Six! Push! Seven! Hold that breath!'' I encouraged her as best I could: ``You're doing great! One more push! Just one more push!'' Dawn would signal that another contraction was coming and we'd each grab a leg and the nurse would count loudly.
  After another half hour of this, Dawn's pushes were weakening. The doctor came in to check Dawn again. He frowned deeply this time.
  ``The baby isn't coming out this way,'' he intoned.
  ``Why not?'' I wanted to know.
  ``For one thing,'' he told me, ``The baby is ROP.''
  The Bradley class had taught me many acronyms, but that wasn't one of them.
  ``ROP?'' I asked.
  ``Right occipital posterior,'' the doctor explained, and now I knew what he meant. But he went on: ``It means the baby is facing the window.'' He pointed helpfully up and to Dawn's left. ``You can't deliver a baby that way.''
  If the mother is lying down, most babies come out face down--that is to say, in most births, the baby's face is pointed towards their mother's back. This is, naturally, the easiest way to deliver a baby. If the baby is face-up, this is called posterior--as opposed to anterior, and having nothing to do with anyone's derriere--and this is a difficult way to deliver a baby, because they don't fit as well through the birth canal face-up. Now, I was pretty sure posterior babies are born all the time, but this right occipital thing had thrown me. Apparently the baby was not just upside-down but also a little sideways.
  ``Can we try a different position?'' I asked. I had checked the Bradley workbook between contractions, and it suggested an all-fours position for posterior babies.
  ``You can do what you want,'' the doctor said, clearly exasperated. ``But this baby is going to have to come out cesarean. She's fully dilated, but she's been pushing for two hours and the baby is at minus one. He's not coming out this way.''
  Minus one put us one station higher--one station back, one station farther away from birth--than we had previously thought. We were losing control and quickly. I was getting angry. Very angry. And when I get angry, I turn green and veins pop out of my forehead and I get bigger and meaner. Lou Ferrigno doesn't show up, but it still isn't pretty.
  The doctor left to prepare and Dawn and the nurse and I continued pushing. But it was clear that Dawn's heart wasn't in it. The Contract-O-Meter showed little activity. Dawn didn't want to try another position. She was beat. I was getting angrier and angrier. I kept looking at all the blood and mucous that Dawn had pushed out with her contractions and thinking that it all couldn't have been a waste of effort.
  At six o'clock, after hours of pushing, they took Dawn away to give her a spinal anesthetic. They wouldn't let me go with her, but they did give me a handsome parting gift: Scrubs to change into so I could be in the operating room with her. Another nurse came and told me to go see my parents because they were going crazy out there.
  I changed into my scrubs so I could look just like Dr. Carter on ER. Except his scrubs usually match, while I had a blue shirt and green pants. Very small green pants. Then I went out to see the parents.
  Dawn's mother and sister had arrived while we were pushing and my mother and sister were outside also. My dad had vanished, as he often does, and was probably making hospital security personnel insecure by his unauthorized and yet unremovable presence. I was still getting more and more angry.
  ``They're going to do a cesarean,'' I said in defeat. ``And I'm very angry about it.''
  ``Why?'' my mother asked.
  ``Because,'' I explained, ``The baby is in the wrong position and he's probably in the wrong position because they induced Dawn too early and if they had just let this take its course he probably would come out fine, dammit.''
  ``That's not how it works,'' both mothers began to protest, when I cut them off.
  ``Look!'' I snapped. ``The two of you don't know anything. All through this pregnancy the two of you have tried to tell us things, but you don't know a goddamn thing. Neither of you. I took the course, I read the books, I know what I'm talking about. So shut up, the both of you.''
  To their credit, they saw how incredibly angry I was--perhaps the steam coming from my ears alerted them--and they dropped the matter.
  ``Is the baby in distress?'' my mother-in-law wanted to know. She probably heard the phrase ``in distress'' on Marcus Welby, M.D. two thousand years ago, I thought.
  ``The baby is fine,'' I answered. ``Dawn, however, is in some distress, as I'm sure you understand.'' They both nodded. ``Now that I know you know,'' I said, still willing to give credit where credit was due. Both of them had, after all, experienced some amount of labor.
  I went back in to Labor and Delivery and, at a nurse's direction, removed all of our stuff from the LDR room to the recovery room. The recovery room was a small room, almost a corridor, in which up to four patients could be put to recover from their operations. In the corner one woman was already doing so. I was left in this room, alone, with no chairs, for over forty-five minutes.
  ``Can I be with my wife?'' I asked a nurse.
  ``We'll call you when we need you,'' she snapped.
  A little while later I asked, ``Why can't I be with my wife?''
  ``She's being prepped,'' the nurse said nastily, ``And the room is sterile. You can't go in until they're ready.''
  I didn't understand this, since I wasn't going to be any more sterile when I got to the operating room later than I was then. But I was in no mind to frame logical arguments. Instead, I paced like a tiger in a cage, not knowing what was happening to Dawn.
  She told me about it later, though. While I was suffering alone in the recovery room, Dawn was suffering alone in a hallway outside the operating room. She'd been wheeled away and left, lying by herself, to wait for the anesthesiologist. She lay there for twenty minutes or so before he arrived. All this time she was feeling pushing contractions, so she pushed as best she could without help.
  The anesthesiologist arrived and really brightened Dawn's outlook at that point. Dawn was in bad shape now, feeling that she had somehow failed, that I was mad at her because she was getting a cesarean section done, that the Bradley classes were all a waste. She was also a little delirious.
  ``Can I eat when this is over?'' Dawn asked the doctor.
  ``Sure,'' he said. He was a small Asian man. ``You and I will get Chinese food and share it afterward.''
  Our doctor walked by and Dawn accosted him.
  ``Are you sure this is medically necessary?'' she asked.
  Our doctor yelped and jumped up and down rubbing his face. ``Trust me, trust me!'' he shouted, ``This is medically necessary!''
  ``If I were your daughter, would you do this?'' Dawn asked.
  ``I treat all of my patients as if they were my own family,'' our doctor said. Which I guess means he sees them once a year, eats turkey and abuses them verbally. (Of course, I know nothing about our doctor's family.)
  Finally, the operating room was ready, and they wheeled her in. The anesthesiologist directed Dawn to curl up in a ball on her side, with her knees up to her chin and her elbows down to her ankles. Then she had to wait through a contraction, after which he gave her the injection between her vertebrae. Instantly her pain was gone, as was all feeling below her breasts.
  Doctor Number Four came in, along with our nurse and several other people, including the pediatrician. The anesthesiologist hung up a blue sheet between Dawn and her belly.
  ``Why can't I watch?'' Dawn wanted to know.
  ``You are not season ticket holder,'' the anesthesiologist explained. (Later, when Dawn told me all of this, it seemed to me to be weird that an anesthesiologist, who after all is used to seeing his patients unconscious, should end up being the most personable staff member we were to meet.)
  At long last my wait was over and I was allowed into the operating room. My relief was immense as I came in--I saw Dawn, strapped down crucifix-style, which wasn't great; but what was great was she was awake and totally there. She was herself again, and I couldn't think of any sight I wanted to see more.
  I stood slightly to Dawn's left and looked over the sheet where I saw doctors bustling. The anesthesiologist pulled over a chair.
  ``Sit here,'' he offered.
  ``I'm okay,'' I said.
  ``Sit here,'' he said. I gathered this was not an offer, but a command of sorts.
  ``Can't I watch?'' I asked. I had seen this on the Discovery Channel. Hell, I could probably do this operation.
  The doctor pointed to a particular patch of tiled floor. ``We have husband pass out there,'' he indicated. ``Sit here.'' I sat.
  Listening to the doctors work worried me. At one point I heard Doctor Number Four say, ``Suction.''
  There was a small sucking noise, then a choking noise, then nothing.
  ``Um,'' said another voice, ``this vacuum is broken.''
  ``Well, I need suction,'' said our doctor.
  ``I'll see if I can find one that works,'' the voice said.
  I wanted to shout: Didn't you people plan this? Like, okay, we're going to need suction, does this one work? No? Let's get one that does--before we start. Do you do this often or are you making it up as you go along? But I didn't want to distract anyone, so I kept quiet.
  Then I heard our doctor say, ``This baby definitely wasn't coming out.''
  I stood and looked over the sheet and watched as the doctors pulled out the baby's head. It was covered with curly blond hair. I was entranced by the baby, but Dawn tells me at this point the anesthesiologist told her, ``You're going to feel a tug now--that's the baby's feet coming out.'' And she says she felt a huge release of pressure, almost a pop, as I saw our son lifted from my wife's womb.
  I could see immediately that he was enormous. He was the color of grape Bubble Yum. His testicles were huge. He squeaked slightly and I watched as our doctor cut his umbilical cord and he was whisked away to the warmer and the pediatrician.
  I looked down and saw that the anesthesiologist had written a time in pencil on Dawn's pillowcase: 6:38.
  ``What time do you have?'' asked someone, and there was a chorus of voices, most centering around 6:38.
  ``I have 6:38,'' said the anesthesiologist, and that was chosen as the baby's time of birth. The precision of modern instrumentation amazes me.
  Now I was torn--I had two babies to take care of. I wasn't sure where to go. Finally, I decided the new baby needed me more, and I went over to see him.
  William Alan Rywalt lay under the lamps while the pediatrician and his assistant worked on him. At long last, I learned something I'd wondered for a long time but that no course, book, television show or movie had told me: How does the doctor know where to cut the umbilical cord, and how does the cord know what part should fall off and what part should stay and become the navel? Now I could see: The umbilical cord is actually made of different material than the baby, a sort of translucent tissue, and there's a seam between the cord and the skin of the baby. I watched as the pediatrician cut the cord a little too short and then had to spend a few minutes trying to put a clip on the stump without catching the baby's skin in the clip. Then he had to remove the old clip, which was apparently hard to get off, so he ended up using pointy scissors to try and cut it off. He looked dangerously close to punching a hole in my baby, and I wanted to remind him that this wasn't one of those plastic babies he'd practiced on, but I valiantly kept silent. I laid my hand across the baby's chest so he wouldn't feel lonely.
  After a little bit I went back to see Dawn. I remembered that I had brought her glasses, so I put them on her so she could see the baby from where she was lying. As I moved back to her, I saw that the doctors had her uterus out and were sewing it up. It was a little freaky seeing my wife's innards laid out like a deflated kickball.
  A few moments later and the pediatrician had wrapped the baby up and given him to me, and I brought him over to show to Dawn. She was understandably moved.
  At this point Dawn and I were given matching bracelets with a number on them. This number matched the number on the bracelets attached to William--one on his wrist and one on his ankle--and also the number on the clip on his umbilical cord stump. I thought this was great because, should our baby accidentally fall into three pieces, we would know to whom they all belonged. And also, if he should split like an amoeba and leave us with multiple babies, we would be able to identify all of them.
  The umbilical clip, I found out later, was actually a theft-deterrent device like you find on clothes in department stores. It had a sensor on it, and if anyone took the baby past a certain point in the hospital, all the doors would lock and alarms would go off and all of security would be summoned to keep the baby from being stolen. Of course, this made me wonder about how many babies had to be stolen before someone thought of this device. What kind of babylifting epidemic was going on in our hospital that they instituted such security measures?
  Then the shakes came over her, hard and fast. We had seen this in the films--it's a natural reaction, and can happen after either a vaginal or cesarean delivery. Dawn found herself chattering and shaking, but still strapped down with her arms out. We just had to wait for it to pass.
  Soon, Dawn was all sewn up, at which point everyone in the room--except me, Dawn, the anesthesiologist, the baby, and our nurse--vanished. Like they weren't even there. I looked around the room and surveyed the disaster: There were bloody towels and things everywhere. The anesthesiologist removed the sheet and revealed that Dawn was a mess, covered with gore. Instruments had been left all around.
  Our nurse was left to sponge Dawn down and get her cleaned up. Then it was time to transfer Dawn to a moving bed so she could be wheeled to recovery. The anesthesiologist removed the straps holding down Dawn's arms. Then he got ready to help our nurse move Dawn, except for the small problem that our nurse was herself three months pregnant and therefore not allowed to move heavy things--for example, a very anesthetized woman. To aid this, she got a little conveyer belt-type thing--the kind of thing you send your groceries down at the supermarket--but she still needed help getting the conveyer belt under Dawn. I couldn't help, since I was holding the baby.
  Finally, someone wandered by and saw our nurse struggling.
  ``You're pregnant!'' she yelled, ``You can't move her!'' This woman called a few other people together and they all came in and helped the anesthesiologist get Dawn on the conveyer belt and then on a movable bed.
  While all this was going on, I noticed a brown paper bag, like the kind you might use to bring your lunch to work, sitting rather conspicuously on Dawn's stretcher. I asked Dawn what it was, in case she knew.
  ``It's the placenta,'' she said. Yummy, a placenta sandwich for lunch.
  Then our nurse wheeled Dawn to recovery while I followed along. As we went through the hall we passed a large yellow plastic container with a note above it that read, ``Do not THROW placentas into container''. Once again, I had to wonder how much of an epidemic of placenta-throwing there was in the hospital that someone had to put up a note about it.
  Once we reached the recovery room, Dawn finally got to hold the baby--she got to hold William at last. As she did so, I opened the brown paper placenta lunch bag. Inside was a plastic ziplock baggie, just like you might use for your sandwich. I pulled it out and found it was filled with what looked like a bloody liver.
  ``Hey Dawn,'' I called, ``Wanna see your placenta?''
  Dawn gazed raptly into William's face. ``Uh, no,'' she said. I put the baggie back into the lunch bag.
  The Bradley courses teach immediate breastfeeding, so we tried to get William to feed breastally at this point. But Dawn still had the shakes, and William was looking rather sleepy--possibly from the effects of the anesthesia--so we failed. Well, we figured, there's always time later.
  A nurse came by and informed us that she had to take William away to be weighed. I asked if I could go with him, and the nurse said I could, so I did. I said good-bye to Dawn as the nurse put William into a plastic bucket on wheels and then we went to the nursery.
  At the nursery, another nurse pulled out a sheet of butcher paper over the scale and put William on it. I dutifully took a picture using the disposable camera I'd brought, and then looked to see just how huge this baby finally turned out to be. The scale started out with a meaningless number on it--kilograms or something--and then the nurse switched it to pounds. William was born at nine pounds thirteen ounces--a monster baby!
  Through the nursery window I could see the grandparents and aunts were watching. I mimed to them that everything was okay and tried to tell them the baby's weight. Then the nurse picked William up and put him on a warmer nearby and left him there. I went with him, of course, and put my hand on his belly. A few moments later, the nurse came back and fiddled with some dials on the warmer and taped a wire to William's chest. Then she went away again.
  I looked around the room. It was very crowded in the nursery, because apparently all of New Jersey had showed up to have babies that day. There were at least ten babies in plastic buckets all around the room, and over half of them were crying at the top of their lungs. Three or four nurses were bustling around, weighing babies, washing babies, feeding babies, or checking on babies in warmers. Across the room a warmer kept beeping. I sighed and waved nonchalantly to my family outside the window. I took pictures of them, and then had a nurse pass my camera out to them so they could take pictures back.
  A very short time later the nurse came back to take William's vital measurements. First, she tried to measure his length using a plastic tape measure. William did not at all like the idea of having his leg stretched out straight, so he squirmed as the nurse tried to get an accurate measurement from the sole of his foot to the top of his head. She read 21 inches. But she wasn't satisfied, so she tried a different method, where she pulled his leg out straight and quickly made a pencil mark on the sheet on which he was lying, then made a mark by his head, then measured between them. This time she read 22 inches. She seemed dissatisfied and was about to try and measure him again, to his obvious annoyance, so I told her to split the difference and say he was 21 and a half inches long. She went along with that, and then wrapped the tape around his head and got 14 inches in circumference. A little bit of math will tell you that William's head was therefore about 9.5 centimeters in diameter--which helps explain why he didn't fit so well. I noticed that his head had a groove all the way around it, presumably from Dawn's cervix; he hadn't made it very far.
  His measurements taken, the nurse took his footprints by rubbing the soles of his feet with what looked like wax paper and then pressing them against an Official Document. I guess there was some chemical on the wax paper which reacted with the Official Document to cause William's footprints to show up in blue, right next to Dawn's fingerprint which had been taken earlier. The nurse made two sets of prints--I told William that I guessed the hospital had never heard of photocopiers--and gave me one.
  ``That's a keepsake,'' the nurse said, and then went away on her business again while I tried to find someplace to put this piece of paper since my scrubs had no pockets. I settled for leaving it in the warmer next to William.
  And then I stood there. And I stood there. And I stood there. Every so often, the warmer William was in would start beeping. The first time this happened, a nurse came over and switched the warmer over from self-regulating mode to non-self-regulating mode. I watched as the temperature gauge, which was the wire taped to William's chest, registered higher and higher temperatures. Then the warmer beeped again. Left to my own devices, I pushed buttons and turned knobs until it stopped. Then I tried to get the temperature to come down out of the red zone. Then it beeped again and again and again. And babies were screaming. And the warmer across the room kept beeping. And I stood there.
  I stood there for half an hour. There was no place to sit, and even if there had been, the warmer was too high to sit and still see William. So I stood there. I made silent conversation with my family on the other side of the window. I got bored. I shifted from foot to foot. I noted that William's hands looked exactly like those of Grandpa from The Munsters--wrinkled and white with long dark fingernails. I stood there.
  Finally, I started talking to William.
  ``You know,'' I said, ``I have no idea why we're here. I don't know what bureaucratic mess they're working up now, but I wish they'd straighten it out already so we can get back to mom.''
  A nearby nurse overheard our conversation and came over.
  ``We're waiting for his temperature to reach a certain level before we bathe him,'' she explained. ``We wouldn't want him to catch cold.''
  ``Bathe him?'' I asked. As near as I could tell, William was the cleanest thing for a hundred feet around. He had come out cleaner than he ever would be again for the rest of his life. ``And anyway,'' I continued, ``wouldn't it be better to let his mother warm him up, instead of this warmer?''
  ``Oh, you want to go back?'' the nurse figured out. ``Okay, I'll find your nurse and see if you can go back to the mother.''
  I stood there for another half an hour. William began to get restless and looked like he wanted to cry, so I stuck my pinky in his mouth. He began to suck on my little finger earnestly. I stood there like that for another ice age. My legs were falling off. I had long ago given up on conversation through the window and settled for looks of exhaustion.
  At long last they had tracked down our nurse. I was told that Dawn was being moved from recovery to her room and it was suggested, since recovery had gotten so crowded--as I said, everyone in New Jersey was there having babies--that I wait until she was in her room before bringing the baby back out.
  ``How long will that be?'' I asked. I was told it would be a half an hour. I sighed. And I stood there. And I stood there.
  Since there was nothing else to do, I tagged a nurse and we bathed William after all. He did not enjoy having his head washed one little bit, and for a while his voice joined the chorus of all the other babies. When she was done, the nurse brushed his hair with a soft-bristled toothbrush.
  ``What a deep voice he has!'' a nurse exclaimed. He sounded like a baby to me.
  Around this time the nurse also smeared the goop in William's eyes which is apparently necessary to keep him from going blind from syphilis picked up during his trip through the birth canal. Despite the fact that William did not get to go through the Birth Canal Funhouse, and also despite the fact that Dawn does not have syphilis, this goop was put in his eyes, because some yahoo in government made it a legal requirement. William did not enjoy the goop. He refused to open his left eye after the nurse got the goop in his right. It took her several minutes of fooling with him to get it in.
  At long last, Dawn was in her room, and I was allowed to join the nurse as she rolled William and his plastic bucket out of the noisy nursery and into the loving arms of his mother. We were joined by our families and William was passed around from aunt to grandmother to aunt. We even got my father to hold him, which is something of a miracle since after I was born it took my mother six days to convince him that he could hold me without breaking me.
  Pictures were taken all around and everyone was impressed that we'd made such a fine baby. We took a lot of pride in our workmanship.
  Eventually, long after visiting hours were officially over, everyone left us alone--me, Dawn, William, and the woman in the next bed, who was watching television while her baby wailed their lungs out in the nursery.
  We got a little bored and curious, so we peeked into William's hospital-supplied cloth diaper and discovered a little surprise. Then and there I changed my first diaper, using William's little plastic bucket on wheels as a changing table. The baby had passed his first stool, which is not actually babyshit but is stuff called meconium--sort of human packing grease which filled his digestive tract while William was in utero. This substance is invariably described by books and childbirth educators as ``tarry,'' and also ``greenish-black.'' Let me add this: ``Tarry'' also means ``sticky,'' and this was amazingly sticky stuff. No one warned me that, should we have a baby boy, I would shortly be scrubbing his little testicles like a floor waxer trying to get meconium off them.
  Nevertheless, I was amazed at how easy this diaper-changing thing turned out to be. I figured it would be fairly simple, but I had never ever changed a diaper before, so it really was unknown territory for me. But it seems to be easy--or maybe I just have a knack. Of all the things I could have a knack for, this seems like the silliest.
  We set Dawn up for breastfeeding at this point, too. We put pillows all around her and I handed her William and she did what she could to get him ``latched on,'' which is breast-speak for ``sucking on Daddy's toys like a runaway Hoover.'' Dawn and William succeeded almost perfectly the first time, which I understand is a minor miracle, since for several months all we'd heard about breastfeeding was one horror story after another about how long it took to get one baby or another latched on. I was a little concerned about whether or not he was latched on exactly correctly, so we spoke to our nurse about the hospital's lactation consultant. Apparently, the lactation consultant wasn't around during the night--I guess no one wants to breastfeed after five o'clock--and probably wouldn't be in the next day, either, since it was a Saturday. In fact, the lactation consultant most likely wouldn't come in until Monday. So not only don't people breastfeed overnight, they don't do it on weekends, either. This breastfeeding thing was turning out to be a lot easier than I expected. Now my only question was whether Dawn would also get Jewish holidays off.
  Not all of this time was fun. Something we had never been told was just how difficult parenting would be after a cesarean. From what we can determine, the owner's manual only comes out with the baby during a vaginal delivery; with a cesarean, the manual stays in.
  Besides that, there were the aftereffects of the operation to contend with. Dawn was put on a morphine drip with one of those self-medication buttons attached. Every time Dawn felt uncomfortable, she could press the button and be administered a dose of morphine--up to a point. She was only allowed a certain number of doses before the self-medication computer wouldn't give her any more drugs. She blew out the poor self-medication computer very quickly and ended up like the dumb contestant on Jeopardy!, flailing away ineffectually at this button desperate for a hit.
  The main effect of morphine, aside from its pain relieving power, is to make the person taking it drowsy. Very drowsy. Like, comatose drowsy. So my wife was wandering in and out of consciousness. I was, too, but mainly because I had subsisted for the last twelve hours on a cup of applesauce, a pint of orange juice, some pretzel rods, and whatever fat I could metabolize from my waistline--which, if history is any judge, wasn't much.
  Further complicating matters was the actual cesarean incision. In order to get the baby out, the doctor has to cut through the woman's abdominal muscles. Now, most people don't spend a lot of time thinking about their abdominal muscles--except while watching expensive exercise machine infomercials during which they find themselves thinking about their abdominal muscles a lot, especially in comparison to those of the beautiful flat-bellied model using the expensive exercise machine. But abdominal muscles are incredibly important, as one can easily discover by having them cut. Suddenly one will find that one's abdominal muscles are used to move. All the time. Just about every movement, aside from just wriggling one's fingers or toes, makes use of the abdominal muscles. Sitting down, standing up, walking, going to the bathroom--whatever it is, one needs one's abdominals.
  So Dawn's incision made just about everything difficult. She couldn't get in and out of bed without my help, and even that was painfully difficult, as I had to lift first one of her legs and then the other, and then try and move her whole body into the most comfortable position I could. She couldn't get to the baby--his little plastic bucket on wheels was too high for her to reach from bed--so any time he cried, I had to get William and hand him to her. Then I had to take him back again when she was done feeding him. In the meantime, she had to feed him while he laid on her belly--and thus her incision. We tried the aforementioned football hold to get the baby off of her incision, but the quarterback was sacked on the first yardline and we had to give it up.
  Realizing that I was beyond exhaustion, I tried to take a quick nap on the visitor's chairs. But I found that these chairs seemed to be very specifically designed to discourage sleeping in them. These were some of the most straight-backed, stiff-upholstered, unforgivingly angular chairs I have ever attempted to sleep in. I even considered curling up on the floor--except who knows where it's been? Have you ever looked under a hospital bed? It's a mess under there. No wonder there are so many sick people in the hospital.
  At around one in the morning, after I had spent several hours changing diapers, getting Dawn in and out of bed, passing William over to be nursed, and trying to swaddle myself in several hospital blankets and get a little rest, the night nurse came in and, after checking Dawn and the baby, pleasantly informed me that I couldn't stay the night. She told me I could stay a little longer, but that I would have to go home, for safety reasons, she claimed. Apparently, it's considered unsafe to have fathers wandering around loose in the hospital at night--they might scare the mothers. I reluctantly agreed to leave right after they were done taking William away for his overnight weighing and he was returned.
  A little while later another nurse came to take William away to the nursery for his midnight check-up. This nurse was much older than any other nurse we had met so far--she was so old, she still wore one of those funny nurses' hats, the kind you only see in dusty sitcoms from the Sixties.
  ``Can I go with him?'' I asked her.
  ``No,'' she told me, ``We have too many babies in the nursery for you to come with him. I'll bring him back.''
  Dawn and I talked and waited for her to bring him back. The nurse was just taking him away to be weighed, after all. We talked and waited some more. We did this for a half an hour. It was nearing two o'clock.
  ``How long does it take to weigh a baby?'' I wanted to know, and stormed off to the nursery to see what was going on.
  I found the evil nurse sitting and bottle feeding another baby while William was in his plastic bucket in the nursery crying, along with about twenty other babies.
  ``Um,'' I said, drawing up strength from reserves I didn't know I had--from fathering reserves. I don't usually like to be pushy, but I found it suddenly easy. ``How soon are you bringing my baby back?'' I asked.
  ``I have to finish feeding this one,'' she told me acidly. ``I'll bring him back later.''
  ``Yeah,'' I said, ``well, I'd like him back now.''
  ``Your wife had a cesarean,'' she snapped, ``she can't take care of the baby.''
  What I wanted to say at this point was something like, ``She'll do a better job than you, since he's in there crying and you aren't going in there to pick him up. We want someone to care for him when he cries, because then he will grow up feeling the world is safe and this will encourage his exploratory drive and independent nature. Instead, you just leave him there crying, you dried-up prune of a woman.''
  ``Sure she can,'' I told her.
  ``You can't stay overnight,'' she warned me.
  ``I know that,'' I answered, ``I just want to see my baby again.''
  ``Well, I have to finish feeding this one first. Then I'll bring him back to the room.''
  ``Since I'm here, why don't I take him back?''
  ``I have to check your number,'' she huffed, and got up and read the number from William's armband. I read my number, and they matched. The evil nurse pushed his cart to me and let us go.
  I hoped that was the last we'd see of the evil nurse, but I was wrong.
  I brought William back to Dawn's room, knowing I would have to leave shortly. Just before I left, it occurred to me that, in deference to the other person sleeping in the bed next to Dawn's, I should set Dawn's pager on vibrate, in case some idiot from her office forgot where she was and what she was doing and decided to page her. I set the pager to vibrate and put it down and it immediately began to vibrate itself across the table.
  ``That was good timing,'' I told Dawn, and checked the page. Dawn has an alphanumeric pager and the page read, ``W.A.R. has been declared!''
  ``Your brother sent a page,'' I laughed, showing the page to Dawn. I put the pager back down and it began to vibrate again. I read this one: ``W.A.R. is strapping it on!'' ``Strapping it on'' is Eric-speak for getting angry and kicking butt, usually in lacrosse.
  I laughed again and showed the new one to Dawn. As I did so, another page came in, the last one. It read, ``The NCAA has just named W.A.R. lacrosse player of the millennium!''
  It was good to know that the baby's uncle was so happy to hear that the baby arrived.
  I kissed both William and Dawn and told Dawn to call the nurse for anything at all. Then I wandered blearily out into the quiet hospital, shuffled to the car in the garage, and drove home. It's a really good thing there aren't very many cars on the road at two o'clock in the morning, because if anything had gotten in front of me I would have hit it. I had no idea whatsoever what I was doing as I slowly drove home, parked the car, walked up the three flights of stairs to our apartment, and collapsed into bed, spending my first night as a father alone.

I expected to be up bright and early the next day so I could arrive at the hospital just as fathers' visiting hours were beginning, which is eight o'clock in the morning. I was wrong. I didn't even crawl out of bed until ten. And when I did, I was still exhausted.
  I was also unaccountably depressed. Unaccountably and deeply depressed. I couldn't understand why, but I felt as if someone close to me had died and I was waiting for the funeral. I was also queasy.
  The day outside looked bleak and bright--one of those days when the sunlight is white and sharp. I tried to tell myself it was just the stress of the previous day's adventure, coupled with the lack of food and sleep, that was making the light seem so biting. I drove to the hospital after listlessly eating a few slices of bread.
  I found Dawn sitting up in bed and William asleep in his bucket. I asked her how her night went without me.
  ``Everything went okay,'' she told me. ``I fell asleep with William on top of me while I was nursing him and the nurse with the hat came in and found us that way and got angry. `You can't sleep like that!' she told me, `You'll drop him or smother him!' So she took him to the nursery for about two hours until he was hungry again.''
  ``That evil nurse!'' I cried impotently, shaking my fist.
  Dawn also told me that another nurse came in and removed the catheter she'd gotten just before the operation. Then the nurse had Dawn get up and move around for the first time. ``The stuff that came out of me when I first stood up,'' Dawn said unbelievingly, ``It was incredible. Good thing the nurse was here, or I would have really panicked.''
  The second day passed uneventfully. We put in our request to be transferred to the first available private room--we had asked for one the night before, but since everyone in the state had had their babies that day, there were none available. We took care of William, feeding him when he seemed hungry and changing his diapers as necessary. We received visitors gracefully.
  We waited for a wet diaper, too. Our day nurse told us to start looking for a wet diaper because of this simple rule: What goes in must come out. And in order to make sure that Dawn was breastfeeding William properly, and since there was no way to determine how much was going in otherwise, we had to make sure William had his first wet diaper within a certain amount of time. Enough coming out would tell us and the nurse that enough was going in. She warned us that the lack of a wet diaper meant that she would have to give William some water to make sure he didn't dehydrate.
  Well, we were a gung-ho breastfeeding couple. There was no way we wanted them to have to give William water. So we waited for that wet diaper. It didn't arrive in time, so I fed William about an ounce of water from a bottle, which he took uncomplainingly.
  The second night came on. The other woman in the room with us left and was not replaced. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. At about one o'clock, we were at last transferred to our private room. No one else had joined us in our old room, but I was nonetheless not allowed to stay, so we opted to change rooms so I could spend the night.
  When we told Dawn's mother that I would be staying over and the baby would be rooming in with us, she sounded horrified.
  ``Don't you get a break?'' she asked Dawn.
  ``What does she need a break from? I think she actually likes her husband and baby,'' I replied.
  The private room came equipped with a lounge chair that I could use to sleep in, provided I didn't mind being folded up like a portable stroller. It was much better than the Chairs of Amazing Discomfort in the old room, though.
  Then we had our first Panic Hour.
  You may not know about Panic Hour. I certainly didn't. Panic Hour is when all Hell breaks loose without cause and you think that your entire existence is going to go down that elevator to the Ninth Circle and you can't do a damn thing about it except wait for the guy with the horns to show up and laugh at your feeble attempts to make your life right again.
  Panic Hour started when I was sitting comfortably cradling William against my chest, enjoying the simple pleasures of fatherhood. My chest suddenly felt very warm. Then it felt very wet. I lifted William away from me and found that he had gotten his first wet diaper--all over me. Apparently, those hospital-supplied cloth diapers are not as absorbent as one would like.
  As I carefully carried William over to his bucket to change him, he discovered that he didn't like being wet and he began to wail. At this exact moment, Dawn found that she had to go to the bathroom. Badly.
  Now, Dawn had been switched from the morphine drip to Percocet tablets every few hours. But she found that the Percocet made her drowsy also, and in addition Dawn was worried that the medicine might be getting to William and making him drowsy as well, so she had been trying to avoid taking the pills. This meant that, as she found she had to go potty, she was an hour or so past when her last dose should have been. This meant, in turn, that Dawn was now in excruciating pain.
  So here's the scene: I am trying to change a squirming little baby who is screaming like I'm pulling his toes off one by one. I am soaked in baby urine. Dawn is trying to climb down from the hospital bed with a full bladder, discovering that there's a little wolverine in her belly trying to claw its way up and out through her head. She collapses halfway out of the bed, weeping in pain and frustration. Then William, sensing the pandemonium loose around him, suddenly finds that, in addition to being wet and manhandled by this big hairy goon, he is also really hungry. He begins to wave his head around in search of a nipple. I have had next to nothing to eat in two days and have had only the slightest sliver of good sleep. Collapse is imminent.
  But somehow we managed. William got changed, Dawn got to the bathroom, I got new clothes, Dawn got back into bed, William got fed. I didn't fall down, although it did seem like a good idea at the time. A few minutes past Panic Hour, with Dawn comfortably nursing a contented baby in bed and me bundled up in a hospital blanket or two, I wondered if it had happened at all.
  I fell asleep with William on my chest, curled up and napping himself. No one had told me about Panic Hour, but no one had told me about this, either.

The night went well, with my getting up and changing William and Dawn nursing him. The next day also went well, although I was still finding it hard to shake the depression. Dawn was finding it easier to move around, although she still needed some help getting in and out of the hospital bed. The families came and visited again.
  Fittingly, it was Mother's Day, and Dawn got her first Mother's Day cards. William was passed around and held by everyone again.
  But, when at last visiting hours were over, once again it was just the three of us. And this, out of everything, was to me the most amazing thing of all: That now there were three of us. William wasn't going away. Everyone else could come and go as they pleased, but we--Dawn and I--had William, to take care of and be with, all the time. No vacations, no hiatus--William was here to stay, and he was ours.
  We went through our second Panic Hour. This one began with William waiting until I got his diaper off to spout like Old Faithful and drench me, and then he went crazy and Dawn went crazy and I went crazy and eventually everything settled down and got normal again.
  The night passed, again filled with feedings and changings. The next day, Dawn was feeling well enough to go home, and I could think of nothing I wanted more than to be in our own home with our own bed with no nurses coming around to take Dawn's blood pressure and temperature every few hours or so. Doctor Number Four came by and told Dawn she could go home any time she wanted. Our pediatrician finally made her visit and checked out William, finding all his parts intact and in order. Everything was ready.
  Except for our home itself. We had left it bereft of one important item: Food. There was nothing whatsoever to eat at home.
  My fatherly instincts were beginning to kick in, though, so I formulated a plan: I would go food shopping while Dawn was still in the hospital. That way, if she needed help, it was a call button away. Then, after I had restocked the larder like a good hunter-gatherer, I would take my wife and son home at last. Dawn agreed to this plan and we put it in motion.
  I went shopping with a great list: I bought absolutely everything I had ever seen Dawn eat. Pop Tarts? She likes those. I'll get some of each. Orange juice, grapefruit juice, apple juice. Three kinds of bread. Three boxes of cereal. All the macaroni in Italy. Eight boxes of macaroni and cheese--yuck. Chicken, beef, pork, bacon, cheese, milk, and all the fresh fruit I could carry. You name it, I bought it. Other people saw what I was buying and thought there was a hurricane coming they hadn't heard about and went on their own shopping sprees. Foodstuff prices across the world skyrocketed as I induced shortages of everything. I have never shopped with less inhibition, with less restraint, than I did then. I have also never gotten done as quickly.
  Just as I finished food shopping, there was a beep on the beeper Dawn had given me to carry around. The message read, ``CALL ME AT THE HOSPITAL IMMEDIATELY''. I did so, and found Dawn hysterical.
  ``I--I--I don't know--I--his thing--it came off--I don't know how--I pulled it off--I'm so sorry William--I--I--'' she wailed into the phone.
  ``What happened?'' I asked anxiously.
  ``I was--I was changing him,'' she sobbed, ``And--and I--I guess I pulled off his umbilical cord.''
  I remembered that his cord had been so short, it was barely visible with the clip on it. When last I had seen it, it was starting to come off.
  ``Is it bleeding?'' I asked.
  Dawn sniffled, clearly calming down. ``No,'' she answered.
  ``Then it's okay,'' I told her. ``Tell the nurse, though. I'll be there soon, honey.''
  We said our good-byes and I went home and put away the three tons of groceries I had bought. Then I returned to the hospital. There I found out what had happened: William's cord was so short that the weight of the theft-deterrent device had finally pulled it off. There was no harm at all done, and all William had to show for this was a little navel scab, which he would have had when the cord fell off on its own anyway. The only problem was that now William had no theft-deterrent device and therefore could easily be stolen without all the alarms going off. Also, someone could steal the wastebasket with William's theft-deterrent device in it and get in a lot of trouble for smuggling trash out of the maternity ward.
  Luckily, no one managed to steal him before William and his mother were discharged from the hospital and the three of us found ourselves free to go and endure our Panic Hours on our own at home.
  We left through the front doors of the hospital, a family at last.
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