Just like the first time around, it’s taken several weeks to find the time to put this birth story down for posterity. I hope you’re in the mood for a long read…
The funny thing about the day of your child’s birth is that you know it’s going to be a day you’ll never forget, but when the day starts, you don’t know that this will be that memorable day.
That’s how it was on the day that Charles Xavier Paolelli was born on May 3, 2018–a rainy but warmer than average Thursday—nearly a week past his due date of April 28.
Daylight appeared through the basement window and my alarm clock roused me for another day of “bonus” work. After working from home for the first two days of the week as a precaution, I had returned to the office on Wednesday, since Charlie still showed no signs of showing up. I trudged upstairs and got ready for work. Unlike other mornings, I noticed that Theresa was sound asleep in our bed—a good sign, considering what a luxury uninterrupted sleep had been for most of the third trimester. Since she was sleeping, I didn’t wake her and left for work for the first time in weeks without saying anything to her. Turns out that would be a mistake.
I arrived at the Metra station for the 7:48 a.m. train, affectionately known as the “Seven Forty Late” to me and the other denizens of the Park Ridge train platform who know this particular train will only be on time on the day that you are running late. I was not late on May 3, however, so the train showed up even later than usual, arriving around 8 a.m.
For whatever reason, I actually managed to snag a seat on this usually Standing Room Only train and I started thinking about how I would fill my day at work. While there is always more work to be done, I had worked efficiently enough to knock out my active to-do list in time for our due date. I had spent the past several workdays doing odds and ends to help ease the load for my coworkers during my parental leave. Ludicrous as it sounds now, there was no part of my brain that was thinking we would have a baby today.
So there I was, settling into a podcast as the train rolled toward the Clybourn stop, when my phone rang. It was Theresa. It was happening.
She had been roused from her slumber shortly after I left the house by contractions that were stronger than what she had previously experienced–and happening once every 10 minutes or so! It wasn’t the painful back labor of Maddie’s birth story, but they were painful and growing in strength, so this didn’t appear to be a drill.
I decided to get off the train at Clybourn–the last stop before downtown Chicago–which seemed like perfect timing, since we pulled up just as I got the call from Theresa. Unfortunately, I forgot that the lateness of the train meant that there would be no other trains coming from downtown to Park Ridge until 9 a.m.–about 45 minutes later. This is the inconvenience of being beholden to the Metra schedule. At 8:15, I would have no way to get back to Park Ridge until 9:30.
I thought about snagging an Uber, but it wasn’t going to save me that much time in the city traffic, and it would cost about $30. Not wanting my thriftiness to be my fatherly undoing, I called Theresa back to ensure there was enough time for me to catch another train to the downtown station then grab the 9 a.m. train back to Park Ridge. She said that sounded fine, so that’s what I did.
The train to Ogilvie Transportation Center was interminable. Every car was solidly packed, so I spent the short trip pressed up against other sweaty strangers, fighting away inane thoughts of Theresa’s contractions quickening to the point where I would miss the birth of my son. At the station, I immediately boarded the 9:00 train that wouldn’t be departing for another 20 minutes. I wasn’t going to miss it!
The rest of my commute was fairly uneventful.1 I put on my “pump up” Spotify playlist, while memories of Maddie’s birth danced in my head alongside visions of what we might be about to experience with Charlie.
Once I got home, things started to move a little faster. Maddie had just gotten up, so I took over her morning preparations while Theresa took a quick shower. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s impossible to know how much Maddie really understood about her impending big sisterhood, but our excitement must have been contagious, as she was in great spirits that morning. We told her that very soon “Shar-Shee,” as she had been referring to him for months, would be joining her on the outside.
We finished packing our hospital bag and, more importantly, our bag of supplies for Maddie–who would be spending two nights away from us at my parents’ house for the first time in her life. How she would take to that was one of the bigger question marks of this entire birthing experience, but she definitely rose to the occasion.
Since Theresa had been having contractions every five minutes for more than an hour, we called the doctor and they told us to come to the office as soon as possible. We gathered up all of our baggage and left our house as a party of three for the last time.
We drove to my Mom’s house, where she stood at the ready to distract Maddie with the tantalizing trappings–Yogurt! Music! New toys! Adoring uncles!–that Maddie had grown accustomed to experiencing at “Gi”‘s house.2 My Mom also provided us with a sack full of her signature peanut butter and jelly sandwiches3, which we devoured on the two-minute trip to the hospital and in the doctor’s office waiting room. Before parting from us, Maddie gave Theresa a very sweet prolonged hug, as if she sensed the import of the moment.
By this point, it was nearly noon and we were finally off to the hospital. At the doctor’s office, they checked Theresa and found that she was at 4 centimeters, which meant once and for all that we were not going home without a baby in tow! We made our way gingerly–the contractions were getting much stronger and more painful now–to Labor and Delivery, and completed a check-in process that still felt incredibly familiar and oddly recent from our experience with Maddie about 21 months ago–almost to the day!
This might be a good time to mention that Charlie’s tardiness beyond his due date had one very significant financial incentive. He held out until May 3, which was a promotional date for Fifth Third Bank. Any child born on this day at one of several participating Chicago hospitals–including ours!–would receive $1,053 in an account toward college savings. This kid wasn’t even born yet and he was already making moves to become the favorite child. Your turn, Maddie.
Once Theresa was settled into her flattering hospital gown and hooked up to the various machines measuring her blood pressure and contractions, she was at the point where she needed me to push firmly on her lower back to help lessen the impact of the ever-increasing contractions. It was time for an epidural.
The anesthesiologist soon arrived, and went to work doing things with needles that I’d rather not think about. Unfortunately, he failed to do the thing properly with the first needle, so he needed to start all over again a few minutes later. Theresa is such a trooper.
Shortly after the epidural was in place, Theresa started getting extremely tired, which seemed normal, because she had fallen asleep for a couple hours after getting the epidural with Maddie. She also started to feel a bit nauseous, and something in the room started beeping. The nurse came in and realized that her blood pressure was falling significantly because of the epidural, so she had her shift positions and all was well. The nausea and exhaustion passed immediately…it was very strange to watch, and I’m sure even stranger to experience! Theresa is such a trooper.
Once the epidural saga was concluded, the nurse told us that the doctor’s plan was to have a resident come in and break Theresa’s water, give her something to increase contractions a bit, and get the party started. This is where our knowledge of the birthing process came in handy, as our doctor had clearly forgotten that Theresa was GBS positive, which meant she needed a couple doses of antibiotics administered four hours before our baby showed up. We reminded the nurse of this fact, she reminded the doctor, and the plan changed accordingly.
The first dose was immediately set up in Theresa’s IV around 1:00, so we knew there shouldn’t be any fireworks until roughly 5:00. While four hours sounds like a long time to wait, it honestly went pretty quickly, and I can’t even tell you how we passed most of the time. We had a very friendly attending nurse, who came in frequently to check on us and make small talk, as well as adjust the various belts strapped around Theresa’s belly, as Charlie loved to kick them off and set off alarms at the nurse’s station.
Nothing too crazy happened after that, so I ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich, posted social media updates and sent texts to keep friends and family updated.4 Eventually we put on that week’s episode of Survivor.5
As the remaining castaways were about to cast their votes in Tribal Council, one of the monitors in the room started beeping annoyingly again, so we rang for the nurse. Just before she arrived, I heard a barely audible “pop” sound and Theresa visibly shook in her bed and let out a yelp. Suddenly, water was cascading down the side of her bed on to the floor! Her water had broken on its own…and it had broken with a vengeance. Even the nurse remarked on how much fluid there was, which probably explains why Theresa’s belly was so large, even though the rest of her barely looked pregnant.6
This happened around 4:30. By 5:50, Theresa and I were placing bets on whether or not Charlie would make his grand entrance within an hour. Theresa said no. I said yes. One of us would be right. We quickly finished Survivor while the nurses began to set things up for Charlie’s arrival.
Shortly after 6:00, the doctor made his grand reappearance—though the nurse told us that he can check in on the developing situation from his office, so I guess all those pesky belly belts and monitors are delivering real-time info to him as well. The doctor had Theresa do some practice pushes, and since she had gotten the requisite four hours of GBS positive medication and her water was broken, he decided that it was time to have a baby!
Our comfortable hospital room where I had moments earlier been watching Survivor and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was quickly transformed into a baby birthing set straight out of a movie. The extra lights were turned on and medical blue tarps were placed on the floor. The doctors and nurses suited up.
From there, everything went much more smoothly than in the Hollywood versions. The doctor talked Theresa through one set of regular pushes and Charlie’s head was already almost completely emerged. Doc had her slow down for the second set to ease him into the world a bit more gently, and Theresa pushed that boy out in no time—setting a new personal record of just two rounds of pushing and earning the full admiration of her husband and all medical personnel in the room. Charles Xavier Paolelli entered the world at 6:29 p.m.
The doctor—have I mentioned that he sounds exactly like the late, great Phil Hartman?—grabbed Charlie in a swooping motion as he came into the world and suddenly turned him to face us. “Hi, Mommy!” he said, waving Charlie’s hand in our direction.7
Charlie was then placed on Mommy’s chest, where he was already testing out his lungs to emit the first of what have since become his signature 0-60 mph intense wails. This differed from Maddie’s birth, as she had some excess fluid in her airway that prevented her from fully wailing until they took her back to the oven-table and extracted the goop with a baby turkey baster.
After a few moments, Charlie was brought over to the oven-table to be cleaned up, measured and weighed. He clocked in at The first thing I noticed about Charlie was his hair—which seemed to perfectly mirror his father’s rapidly receding widow’s peak. His head was also noticeably smaller than Maddie’s giant noggin, which was cone-shaped upon entry and remained in the 99th percentile for the first year of her life.
But he made up for it in other ways. I quickly noticed his enormous hands and feet, with impossibly long fingers and toes for a newborn. These hands and feet were also alarmingly purple in hue, even for a purple-bleeding Northwestern alum like me. His head and face even seemed a little purple! The nurse confirmed that this is fairly common, and that the blood would continue to flow better as he spent more time in the real world. Within an hour, his coloring improved, though his feet and hands would remain purplish for another day or so.
Charlie’s vitals clocked in at 19.5 inches and 8 pounds 5 ounces. This made him shorter and heavier than Maddie, though he really didn’t look like it. Maybe it was just his smaller head or the fact that we hadn’t seen a newborn in a while, but Charlie definitely seemed smaller than Maddie. His face was tiny—wide eyes that had already seen enough in his short time in this strange new place, a nose that reminded me of my own baby pictures, and a prominent forehead frequently wrinkled in disapproval of his current situation. I might be biased, but he was so cute.
The next part of Charlie’s odyssey is one of the most remarkable parts of the birth process to me. The nurse brought him over to Theresa to get him to breastfeed for the first time—and he just does it. It’s astounding to me that all of the sudden Theresa’s body is prepared to do that and the baby—who previously indulged in an all-you-can-eat buffet of nutrients from the umbilical cord—knows exactly what to do! I know this transition can be a challenge for some women and babies, but we have been blessed with two kids who instantly took to it without complications, and the miracle of that never ceases to amaze.
Speaking of miracles, I have now experienced the entire baby development/birth process twice, and I am still without words to properly express my honor at being called to play a part in it. Holding Charlie for the first time and every time since, I am blown away by the fact that the events of the last five years of my life have brought me to this moment—married to the woman of my dreams and blessed with two new people created through our love and trust in God. We have been entrusted to steward these souls to adulthood—a demanding, life-altering and purpose-defining duty.
Let’s get started, Charlie.
- Who knew I could spend so many paragraphs writing about a morning train ride?
- “Gi” is how she says “Grammy”
- They’re categorically better than the ones your mom makes. Trust me.
- and myself amused
- Even in the throes of labor, Theresa is a super fan.
- Please note: These are my own scientific thoughts. Feel free to quote me in a medical journal.
- Theresa has no memory of this weirdness.