Each of my children is unique and cherished, but it is a bit different with the first simply because he was first. Every experience during my pregnancy and as he grows is new and different, agonizing and joyful in that unique, special, “first” kind of way. I have been meaning to write the story of his birth for 19 years.
Ben, this is for you. Happy Birthday!
We were thrilled to learn we were pregnant. Suffice it to say we had given up. It wasn’t happening for us and we were happy working with other people’s children. I was almost 3 months pregnant before we figured it out. I remember your dad’s face when I told him he was going to be a father. Pure joy! We were confident that we could do this like we tackled everything else. No problem. We bought all the books, did what we were told and looked for everything to be hunky dory. My favorite book was “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” I read (memorized actually) that book from cover to cover. I was prepared, or so I thought.
Everything was going along swimmingly. May came and track season was in full swing. Your dad was coaching and I was principal at Fairfax Elementary School. Dad’s team had a great regional meet and qualified a bunch of kids for state. Some of the track folks came over to the house to celebrate. I was busy being a lovely hostess and participating in the celebration. Later that evening I found myself alone in our bedroom looking something up in that book I mentioned earlier. I went to the back deck and pulled your dad inside and said, “I think we might want to send everyone home and go to the hospital.” I thought my water had broken, but I wasn’t sure. At the time I really didn’t know what that meant. I thought we’d go to the hospital, get checked out and be home by midnight. I was only about 7 months along. I was too naïve to know better. We didn’t even pack a bag. When I left the house that night, nothing was ready for a baby. We made a quick call to Grandma and Grandpa and we were on our way. Grandma got in the car and headed our way. As an OB nurse she knew exactly what was happening, but not the events to come.
When we got to the hospital, sure enough my water had broken and you thought making an early entrance would be a good idea. The doctor disagreed and was bound and determined to keep you contained for as long as she could. Before I knew it I was in a delivery room with monitors and an IV in my arm. I should have eaten more at the party…I wasn’t going to get anything that qualified as real food for the next 5 days.
My obstetrician did tests and determined that even though you were pretty well developed for your age, your lungs weren’t even close to where they should be and so she wanted to delay your birthday as long as possible. It was May 19 and we prepared to spend days in the hospital waiting for your lungs to develop. Your dad was at the end of a very busy track season and I was in the last two weeks at my school. Our lives went on hold waiting for you.
I was alone in a room at St. Joseph’s hospital. Your dad stayed with me for as many hours as he could. He prepared sub plans, plans for track practice took care of the dog and then came and stayed with me. Except for quick trips home to take care of Moose he was with us. At night he slept in this very uncomfortable recliner. After a couple of uncomfortable, pretty sleepless nights, the nurses took pity on him and brought him a gurney to use as his bed. We were becoming permanent residents. It’s rare that maternity patients get to know every shift of nurses. They are used to in and out. We were quite an anomaly.
I was stuck in the bed trying hard to imagine the IV as ice cream, cookies, and a steak dinner! No food for me. Water and ice chips only. You can imagine how lovely we both looked after a few days. Dad had forgotten to shave and was Mr. Stubble, I was pale, hungry and tired. Even though they were doing what they could to prevent labor I was still having contractions, so sleep was nearly impossible.
We had many friends and acquaintances that were worried about us and you. Many of them stopped in for visits. One of my favorite visits was on day four. Your dad’s track team was missing him and preparing to go to the state track meet. They had a gift for you and were bound and determined to deliver it in person. That afternoon there was a knock at the door of my room and low and behold there was the entire Blue Valley North boys track team at my door. I think at that moment they all regretted their idea to deliver this gift in person. I don’t think I’ve ever seen teenaged boys so mortified. I wonder what they were thinking at that moment seeing this ragged out, very pregnant woman in the bed. I’m sure most of them were ready to turn and run. They stepped into the room gingerly, gathered around my bed and the captain of the team made his little speech and handed me their gift. I do believe they shopped for this gift on their own. The bag contained a red, white and blue track suit (which you finally were big enough to wear when you were 3 years old) and a tiny pair of red and black weebok (reebok) running shoes. They were adorable! As soon as I said thank you, dad ushered the team out of the room. I could hear their collective sigh of relief as they left the room. I do regret to tell you that you never wore the shoes.
After five long days in the hospital my doctor told us that you were starting to get stressed out staying cooped up, and she decided that it was time to get the ball rolling. Even though we were both exhausted and a bit apprehensive, we were excited to finally get to see you. Getting you into this world was a tough road for everyone, even for your dad. As we were in the middle of the delivery, dad had simply given all he could give. He turned pale, swayed a bit and keeled over right there in the delivery room. Even though I was having you, dad had all the attention. The nurses took care of dad and I kept working on trying to let you have your birthday. I’m sorry to say I couldn’t do it on my own. After 5 days in labor and no food and no sleep I needed a little help. That’s why those first pictures of you have that cute little hat. It disguised the bruises and the pointy head that were the result of the forcept-assisted delivery.
You were gone before I knew it. I didn’t even get to hear the words it’s a boy, though we knew you were a boy long before that moment. They whisked you away to do your apgar test. You failed miserably. You had your first failing grade at only minutes old. Again, before I knew what was happening you, your dad, and most of the nurses were gone. You were not doing well. Your lungs were not developed and you couldn’t breathe on your own. I didn’t know that then, I only knew that you were gone.
Though it seemed forever, minutes later your dad came back and told me that they were getting ready to transfer you to Children’s Mercy Hospital. They put you in a transport incubator and wheeled you in for a brief visit. We had a minute to say I love you and goodbye and we watched you being wheeled away to the heliport. Daddy said goodbye to me there in the hallway. He headed to the car and was on his way to Children’s Mercy to be with you. He said he would call when he got there and had more information. I wouldn’t see him again until the next day when I arrived at the NICU.
Within a few minutes I was in a room in the maternity ward. It was a double room, but I was again by myself. I told myself I would wait for daddy’s call, but I was so tired I fell asleep. A few minutes later a nurse entered my room and woke me. She was standing by my bed with her hands on the back of a rolling office chair. She said sternly, “Mrs. Gering, you need to get on the chair and come with me.” I looked at her like she was crazy and said, “you know I just had a baby, right?” She knew, but she also wasn’t leaving until I got out of bed and into that chair. I was too tired to argue so I obeyed. She rolled me out of the room and down a long hall. I asked her if I was the only one who had delivered that night because all the rooms on the hall were empty. I found out later that they put me away from all the other moms because I didn’t have a baby.
After a long ride on an office chair (all the wheelchairs were in use) I saw a bunch of moms, babies, and pregnant women who all seemed to be lounging at the nurses station. I wondered what in the world was going on. The nurse told me that we were under a tornado warning and this was the safest place to be. My newborn son was in a helicopter, my husband was in a car and there was a tornado bearing down on the hospital. What next? The power went out. Thank goodness for emergency generators. We stayed at the nurses’ station for what seemed an eternity. I don’t really know how long it was, but I finally got the courage to ask if there had been a call for me. No calls coming in due to the storm. You’re thinking, why didn’t you call his cell. This was way before we had ever heard of a cell phone. No way to call out, no way he could get in touch with me. It was a long night.
I finally got back to my room and I think I fell asleep again. Daddy did finally call and tell me that you had arrived safely and you were in the neonatal intensive care unit. You should be proud of your dad. He beat the helicopter to Children’s Mercy. He stayed with you, I slept. He didn’t tell me until later that he had raced down Wornall Road like a bat of our hell. He arrived at Mercy and stopped in at information. They had no idea what he was talking about. There was no Gering baby at the hospital. His first step into fatherhood was a rocky one. Between the two hospitals he thought he’d lost his child. He kept asking himself, where in the world did they take him? With the storm and the rush to get you the care you needed, the paperwork was slow in catching up. Dad was persistent and managed to locate you in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Once he found you, he didn’t leave your side.
Early the next morning your Uncle Mike flew in from Dallas and picked me up from the hospital, took me directly to Children’s Mercy and I started my watch sitting on a stool next to your isolette.
Dad and I were together again, you were with us and for us, naïve as we were, all was well. I remember whispering to your dad that I was glad you weren’t in one of those big incubators. You were in what the nurses called a warming tray. We found out later that the most critical babies are left in warming trays so that the nurses can have quick access in case of an emergency. Even though we knew you were sick, we didn’t really understand the seriousness of the situation. We were totally convinced that you just needed time and that everything would be fine.
We had the best nurses and two great neonatologists who made smart decisions about the course of your care. We learned that life in the NICU was much like a living in a casino. Alarms bells rang at all hours of the day and night. Doctors and nurses took a gamble with every decision they made. They weighed the odds and went with their best guess. Neonatology is not an exact science, we heard the words “try this and see what happens” more than I can count. You fought so hard to breathe they had to "pavlonize" you. Essentially, they knocked you out so that the respirator could do its job and you wouldn't fight it all the time. With that and the level of antibiotics you were receiving it was a scary time. It was 10 days before I was able to hold you. I will never forget that day. Even with all the wires and tubes, it was the best feeling to finally have you in my arms. Here is dad's picture of that moment.
“What to Expect” got thrown out and replaced by the “Premature Baby Book.” The best lesson I learned from that book was to take life one day at a time. There are no guarantees, no predictable courses. Each decision we make has its consequence. We have to look at the result and move forward from there. Not bad words to live by.
The last 19 years have been much like that. It's been an adventure watching you grow and change, get to know yourself and become a man. Happy Birthday!