The Daddy Diary: Labour with help from Jack Bauer
An expecting first-time father channels the spirit of a super agent as he faces the unknown, an earful of Portuguese expletives and the beautiful face of a brand new baby girl
By Chris Lackner
A gentle voice. “Wake up, babe. My water just broke. She’s coming.”
Two minutes of unintelligible, groggy mumbling, and then: “Are you sure it isn’t one of those fake things? You know, Higgs boson… or whatever its called?”
Sigh. “Higgs boson is a particle (my wife is a scientist). Braxton Hicks are fake contractions… (again gently) there’s no such thing as fake water breaking.”
“Oh.” The panic sets in, and I immediately forget everything I learned in our prenatal class. I silently (for fear of being slapped) ask myself one thing: “How would Jack Bauer handle this?”
We’re desperately gathering everything on our hospital checklist at the front door. From clothes to food, and Gatorade to diapers. The baby is two weeks early and is already proving to be a night owl (must be her Brazilian blood). Mom and dad have only had two hours of sleep, and made the ill-advised decision of eating a light soup for dinner. At one point, I pack a box of granola bars in our freezer instead of the hospital bag. (At first blush, I don’t appear to be Counter Terrorist Unit material).
“Hee-hee hooo.” (The sound of dad’s panicked breathing driving to hospital.) Mom patiently reminds me which roads to take, which lanes to stay in and which planet we live on.
My wife’s pain really starts to set in, and so does the swearing in two languages (note: profanity sounds more fun in Portuguese). The pre-admission nurse says to “walk around the hospital” and come back in two hours to see if her cervix is near 4 cm dilation (the bar for admission). I scan the floor for a villainous hospital official — one with obvious ties to North Korea, or ex KGB — who I can torture (by singing Broadway tunes) to get us early access to an epidural. I am sadly out of luck; everyone on staff seems above board and friendly.
We’re wandering the halls, and making it about 10 feet between every contraction (birth is the slowest of all marathons). I no longer feel my wife’s vice-like grip on my arm because I no longer feel my arm at all. I am hoping that feeling returns by the time I try and teach my daughter to throw a ball.
On our way back to the nurse admission station when, from six corridors and one floor away, we hear the high-pitched wail of a prospective mother that sounds like a Scottish banshee. (I comb through all 24 episodes internally; nope, Bauer never fought a banshee. We’re on our own.)
Bad news. We’ve only dilated 1.5 cm over two hours. We are still well off our mark for admission. We’re told to kill two more hours, and to try a birthing bath tub.
My association of bath tubs with relaxation is gone forever.
My wife is stoically dealing with the pain; the hospital walls are stoically dealing with her punching. For the first of many times today, I hear some combination of “I can’t do this”, “we are never having another kid” and “filho da puta!” I’m so exhausted already that I can’t tell if these phrases are coming from my wife or the voices in my head.
We officially abandon our or plan for a natural birth (FYI: birth plans rarely play out as written on paper) with my wife’s shout of, “Give me anything! Anything!” Not for the last time, I wish narcotics were also given to expectant fathers.
The narcotic hit gets us through a couple hours, but contractions intensify, and I am locked in robotic support mode: “Serve as a contraction stand. Serve water. Try and serve snacks. Try even harder to serve encouragement. Repeat.”
My seemingly 25th trip to the nurse station to ask a stupid or meaningless question is met with polite disdain. I am trying to trick them into early admission, but they’ve seen my kind before. This must be why Bauer always solves problems with weapons, or violent threats, instead of pestering.
“Just shoot me in the &%@$ing face.”
This is my wife’s response to my question of, “Is there anything I can do for you?” Her line is met with a chorus of laughter at the nurse station. We are waiting for admission now and have signed up for an immediate epidural. My wife’s animated combination of swearing slapstick has truly impressed the staff. One of them even calls into the delivery ward to tell a colleague about us. “You have to take this one,” I hear her say over the phone. “She’s fiery and hilarious… but nice.” We’re too strung out to feel honoured.
We finally have a room but the epidural team is taking forever to arrive, and contractions are getting “muito intensivo.”
At this point in the average 24 TV season, one of Bauer’s friends or family members typically gets kidnapped, providing him with renewed focus and a determined plan of action. I keep looking at my cell phone hoping to get similar news. A concrete threat would be far easier to address; it’s incredibly tough to feel so helpless when your partner is is in such pain.
By this point in the day, I am almost bilingual, in that I can officially speak “Brazilian truck driver” or “Brazilian sailor.”
The epidural hits! Yay! A two-hour nap time for mom and dad. (Come to think of it, Bauer never slept on 24, which must be why he always looked so miserable).
Dilation is at 7 cm, but the contractions have slowed down. A new drug is administered to speed them up. (I’m glad we never won the “War on Drugs”).
We learn my already-starving wife can’t eat solid foods while on an epidural. I come back from the cafeteria with five JELLOs, and then quietly, subtly eat a BLT out in the hallway.
We’ve hit the magic number of 10 cm! (In 24, the equivalent plot point would be when Bauer’s dubious torture tactics reveal the details of the enemy’s mastermind scheme).
It was anticlimactic. We wait two hours for the baby to drop further on its own. Finally, after what has felt like living through all nine 24 TV seasons in one day, its time for mom to push.
My wife learns the epidural only helps with contraction pain. The pressure associated with the baby dropping is impossible to dull. (My arm and hand soon learn this, too.)
A nurse and I work in unison to hold one of my wife’s legs up in the air at different angles during each contraction. For the first time in a long while, I feel mildly useful. (I pass the time by plotting zombie exit strategies from the hospital; these places are always ground zero for an outbreak and I have a family to take care of now!)
My wife’s refrain of “I can’t do this” gets more vocal and frequent. I keep hoping Chloe from 24 will show up with all the right answers and tactics. But our doctor’s main strategy seems to be “the waiting game.” (I decide this is the worst game ever.)
I turn on music from mom’s delivery playlist on our tiny set of speakers. It’s likely the first time one of the hospital’s delivery rooms has been serenaded by classic jazz – from Louis Armstrong to Ella and Etta – and Portuguese swear words simultaneously.
My wife says the pressure is worse when we put her legs down so I just stay standing like a mannequin holding one leg in the air for the rest of the delivery, giving me a front-seat view for…
…the crowning of the baby’s head, which begins after a brave and determined battle from mom. It turns out, she’s the real hero I should be looking to for inspiration — not Bauer. (BTW: Our birth is now officially longer than a season of 24.)
Seeing that tiny head begin to emerge is like witnessing two miracles at once! For starters, our daughter is beautiful (and has a full set of hair). Secondly, I have a giant head, and I’m relieved to learn our little one is blessed with her mother’s normal-sized noggin!
Our daughter, Coraline, officially enters the world. A this point, our whole family is too tired to save the world (I guess that’s all up to you, Jack), but we’re confident our small addition will make the world a better place.
THE EX-PRESS, September 6, 2016
(The Ex-Press congratulates Chris on fatherhood… and filing a story about it. Like you don’t have enough to do, already.)
Logo and illustrations by Victor Bonderoff