The Birth Story of My Second Son

As my youngest son recently celebrated half a year of life, I have set a new low bar for writing timely accounts of my children’s birth stories. As if foreseeing all that would come to pass between his birth and the actual writing of this tale, I took notes on my phone while going through the experience, so that’s been helpful in getting some of the details to come flooding back. So without further ado…

Samuel Peregrine was born at 2:52 a.m. on February 27, 2020, weighing 8 pounds, 6 ounces and measuring 20 inches. His middle-of-the-night birth—a first among our children—should have been a harbinger of the fact that our experience with Sam would be different, but what did we know then?

Sam was born into the last gasps of America’s pre-pandemic normalcy. I vividly remember seeing a report on the recovery room TV about COVID-19 as we enjoyed the post-birth afterglow and musing to Theresa about how this seemed to be getting pretty serious. We had no idea at the time that our self-imposed newborn quarantine would soon be imitated and enforced around the country, and that Sammy would spend his early months in the company of no one else besides his immediate family. We just knew that we had a new baby, and that for our third time around we were a lot more confident in what we were doing.

So let’s back up a bit, all the while marveling at what a different world we all lived in when Sam arrived.

The adventure began on Wednesday, February 26 with a renewed excitement that it could actually be the day we would get to meet our new son face-to-face. We were now three days past his due date of February 23, and the lack of contractions on previous days was beginning to frustrate impatiently nesting parents1.

The night before, Theresa had insisted that we remove our mattress and vacuum under our bed. We had exhausted all other avenues and already massacred every other dust bunny in the house. It was truly the last place we could clean. You know how newborns are always looking under beds to make sure their new homes are completely spotless…

I awoke around 7 a.m. and quickly dispatched the light dusting of snow that had accumulated overnight. It was Wednesday, which meant that—even though Theresa was having some pretty regular contractions and felt like this would be the day—Maddie had to get to preschool by 8:15 a.m. To make things more interesting, it was actually Ash Wednesday. Not only would this be a cool birthday fun fact for our soon-to-be-Catholic son, but it also meant that Maddie had to be dropped off at an alternate door of her Catholic preschool, since the church parking lot would be crowded with morning ash-receivers.

We followed our usual routine to get to school: Maddie gets dressed, brushes her teeth, and eats either a yogurt or a breakfast sausage wrapped in a pancake2 in the car on our way. We also frequently listened to the favor CD mixtape from my wedding during our commute, and I would have to explain for the 11th time why we picked a particular song or what it meant to us as a couple.

We arrived at her school and we went in the alternate door for our usual custom of me helping her to take off her coat and backpack, load up her locker and then bring her folder, snack and water bottle into the classroom. Various teachers and parents who passed us would stop to ask the inevitable: “Is today the day?” “I think it finally might be!” I would reply.

One interaction of particular note was Mrs. B, who had the distinction of not only being my favorite grade school teacher3, but also is one of about three teachers in the world who taught me and all three of my brothers over a span of 14 years and two different schools. Our paths reconnected when we found out she was a teacher at Maddie’s school4, and it has been surreal to run into her on many mornings as I drop Maddie off. Her excitement at hearing that today was the day—“It’s happening! And I’m a part of it!”—helped to drive home the momentous occasion and definitely increased my excitement as I left Maddie to her preschool studies and returned home.

Back at home, Theresa was preparing to leave for Ash Wednesday Mass at our parish with Charlie, since I had one last work-related call to take before I would be peace-ing out on 12 weeks of parental leave.5 After my call, I joined them for the tail end of Mass and we stood around chatting with a few friends who happened to also be at Mass. Everyone commented on how calm we seemed, considering that Theresa was potentially in the earliest stages of labor, and I must agree that the experience of pregnancy number three was vastly different from number one. When we mentioned our news to the priest who said Mass, he immediately offered to say a blessing over us, which we eagerly accepted. Since I had been too late to receive ashes during Mass, I noticed that the preschool class had arrived and was forming a line to receive ashes from their teachers just inside the doors of the church. I hopped in line behind the last kid and received my annual reminder of my mortality. Not sure what the preschool teacher thought when a late-30s adult crashed their ash party.

We returned home and the contractions were still not hospital trip-worthy, so we finished packing up our hospital bag8, and Theresa wrote up directions for my family on the elaborate bedtime routine for putting our older kids to sleep in our absence. I also contacted my Mom about joining us for brunch at a cafe across the street from the hospital and a few blocks from my Mom’s house. If we were going to the hospital, we were going to be full of delicious pancakes when we did.

We picked Maddie up from preschool and met up with my Mom for brunch. The contractions had been steady and strong at about 10 minutes apart for quite some time, but were also frustratingly beginning to slow down. We had a previously scheduled appointment with Theresa’s doctor anyway, so we dropped the kids off at my Mom’s house, said our goodbyes and good lucks, and headed off to the hospital to meet our destiny…or our third child, at least. We were certain that we would be admitted. This was our third rodeo after all.

I dropped Theresa at the hospital entrance, and by the time I had parked the car, they already had her hooked up and juiced up for the stress test to make the baby jump around like a member of the Funky Bunch. We then jumped over for an ultrasound and all looked well. They sent us back out to the waiting room where we waited forever. I mean, you always have to wait forever, but this was forever plus one. We finally got in to see the midwife9, and she did a quick exam. She then nonchalantly told us that Theresa was only 3cm and we would be going home to wait some more.

This is not what we wanted to hear. We kind of pushed her on it a bit, but she was unrelenting. She even scheduled an induction for the following Monday. MONDAY?! As if we would wait that long!

We retreated from the hospital—I was sure to grab a sucker on the way out, both for my trouble and to illustrate how I felt—and returned to my Mom’s house to explain to the kids that they would not be spending the night there and that we did not yet have a new sibling for them.

Once we got back to our house, Theresa took a nap and I played with the kids in our newly refinished basement. We also turned on the immortal classic 1970s Disney Robin Hood, which is notable for the fact that this movie would later become an obsession for my kids during the darkest days of the pandemic. We currently own three different children’s novelization books about different parts of this movie. Ask me anything.

Meanwhile, Theresa felt good enough to make a home-cooked meal amidst her 10-minutes-apart contractions, so we enjoyed an Ash Wednesday meatless feast of veggie lasagna. We put the kids to bed around 8 p.m. and there finally started to be a little more action in the contraction department. We went to bed around 10 p.m., but attempts to sleep were interrupted every 8 minutes by intense contractions requiring a lower back rub10. When this jumped to every three minutes, we called the doctor and were told to return to the hospital. I called my brother Ben to come spend the night at our house and we made some notes on the wakeup routine. Theresa showered, Ben arrived and we got to the hospital around midnight. They immediately ushered us into labor and delivery.

This is the point where we truly started to feel like we were old pros back on familiar terrain. The nurse—why are all delivery room nurses the absolute best?—checked Theresa and reported that she was at 5 cm, so it was time to put in an epidural and begin the honest-to-goodness baby countdown.

The anesthesiologist—why are all delivery room anesthesiologists kind of wacky?—made his entrance and did his vital work. As Theresa relaxed into the bed afterward, we talked and mindlessly watched the TV that was already on when we arrived and set to a random show that could only be called American Ninja Dog Warrior.

The doctor introduced himself and said that he would be down the hall sleeping until it was showtime—a necessary reminder that it was closing in on 1 a.m. for everybody else, even though we were embarking on one of the most momentous nights of our lives.

A med student came in as they always do, but the interaction was a little more priceless this time. He ran through his standard issue list of questions:

Med student: So what brought you in today?
Theresa: Contractions.
Med student: Was there pain with that?

Stay in school, kid.

By 1 a.m., Theresa was measuring at 7 centimeters and the nurse said her water bag was probably going to break soon. At 1:30 a.m., it finally did. The nurses brought in all the usual accoutrements for the delivery of a baby that were now familiar from the last two times. I got out my fancier camera and tried adjusting it to the lighting of the room and took some artsy shots of Sam’s eventual hospital security bracelet sitting at the ready on the baby warming machine. Knowing that we were still just waiting at this point and that everything would be a lot better if I squeezed in a nap, I decided to try to get some shut-eye, and was able to sleep for a bit until 2:30a.m. This is when things got…interesting.

I was roused from a light sleep on the standard issue couch-turned-husband-bed by a sound from one of the monitors Theresa was wearing. Then the sound of a nurse coming in. Then the sound of three more nurses coming in. OK, I’m awake!

It turned out that Sammy’s heart rate had dropped several times while I napped. The first time, they came in and changed Theresa’s position on the bed. The next time, they started giving her oxygen. It continued to drop, so things were escalating quickly.

At 2:41, the head nurse checked Theresa one more time and found her to be fully dilated. She also said that the heart rate was dipping even more and that it was time to have this baby and called for the doctor.

This is the part where the head nurse–gosh, I wish I had written down her name—took charge in an incredible way that definitely saved us from further complications and possibly even saved our son’s life. Since the doctor was oddly not responding, she put a clip on Sam’s head to better monitor his heart rate. She asked for the resident to come back, which he eventually did, but he stood around staring at the commotion of the nurses and she had to command him to get dressed and scrubbed twice before he finally sprang into action.11 At this point, there was an intern and three other nurses all monitoring the situation, but still no sign of the doctor. The head nurse ordered NICU to come in because Sam’s heart rate had been registering too low for longer than they wanted it to be.

At this point, the nervous chill I felt when this began was quickly turning into a low-grade panic. I kept thinking about how we had come so far in this pregnancy without a hitch and now we were nearly at the finish line and something catastrophic could be unfolding before my eyes. I imagined our son suddenly being betrayed by the peaceful utero he had enjoyed as his home for nine months. I thought of other friends and family members who had gone through harrowing pregnancy experiences and was beginning to get a taste of their anxiety and fear.

The doctor finally showed up, but the head nurse started commanding Theresa to push before he was even fully scrubbed in and dressed. She had me grab Theresa’s thigh to help brace her, and the doctor handed me scissors for the ceremonial umbilical cord cutting.

Theresa—ever the birthing professional—had Sam’s head fully emerge after two or three pushes, though things got confusing as the doctor and the head nurse offered sometimes contradictory commands on when to push. Theresa went with the head nurse…

Once Sammy’s head was seeing the hospital for the first time, the doctor noticed that the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and quickly cut it. Then he pulled Sam out a bit more and saw that it was actually wrapped around twice.

At this point, I was starting to see stars and it wasn’t from anything visual that was making me squeamish. It was a fiendish cocktail of physical exhaustion, adrenaline and the intensity of the situation that was getting to me. Nevertheless, I was determined to see my boy fully emerge and know that he was OK before sitting down or passing out. I am fully aware of the seeming absurdity of all this, as I was not the one actually giving birth, but I also thankfully don’t think Theresa was fully aware in that moment of the gravity and seriousness the doctors and nurses were exhibiting as they worked to healthily bring our child into the world. I was hanging on every moment and can’t believe that all of this happened in a span of about 11 minutes from clipping his head to wrapping him in swaddling clothes and lying him on a heat bed.

After the doctor snipped the confounding cord for a second time, Theresa gave one more push—that’s four total, for those of you scoring or marveling at home—and Sammy had made his dramatic escape.

It’s a little foggy at this point, but I watched them carry Sammy over to the heat cart for NICU to check him out, and that is when I told the nurse that I was feeling light-headed. She took one look at me, grabbed me and sat me back down on my makeshift bed with my head between my knees. Suddenly I had an ice pack in one hand and an apple juice packet12 in the other. I nervously looked over at the cart and saw a few members of the NICU team examining Sam, while another one had grabbed my fancy camera and was trying to take some photos. That seemed like a good sign to me.

My head started emerging from the clouds, so I hurried over to check on Sam, who miraculously was doing just fine! Meanwhile, the doctor was finishing up with Theresa, who later told me that she was involuntarily shaking uncontrollably at this point, which she described as the scariest moment of having any of our kids—being unable to stop shaking and not knowing what was going on with the NICU doctors.

Once they had Sam all examined and measured and accounted for, he finally got some of that quality skin-to-skin time with Mommy. Theresa was so relieved to finally get to meet him after the lengthier-than-usual post-delivery checkup process. He calmly laid on her chest and we were able to relax a bit and soak in the joy of our new reality. We kicked off our party of five with a bang.

Well, so much for this being a run-of-the-mill, rerun of our previous birth stories! The happy ending, however, extends to this day, as Sam has won trophy for calmest and smiliest of our babies. It’s a real shame that the majority of our family and friends would be mostly prevented from enjoying that in person for at least the first half year of his life!

There’s so much more to say about how Sammy has changed the dynamic of our family, and how the pandemic has given us so much more quality time together. It has been a joy to watch the two older kids fall in love with him instantly and grow to love him in more specific ways as he has matured even in these first six months. The possibilities of what this trio will look like when they are all old enough to talk and play together is an infinite source of excitement and wonder.

I am finishing this post late in the evening on my sixth wedding anniversary. It’s incredible to think of the journey that Theresa and I have undertaken together in just six years, and the fact that there are now three new human beings on this trail alongside us. I am so thankful to God for the immeasurable gift of these wonderful, healthy children and the ways they are forcing me to grow as a human being, a husband and a father. The love I feel for each of them comes flooding into my heart every time Sam unleashes one of his sun-shamingly bright smiles in my direction. What a gift it is to be a part of the creation of new life. Welcome to our family, Sam. You had quite a grand entrance, and I can’t wait to see what adventures await us.

  1. even if part of me wanted him to just keep holding out until Leap Day on February 29
  2. breakfast of champions!
  3. I was kind of teacher’s pet in her class
  4. which is actually housed in the same building where my Catholic grade school existed before its closure
  5. Have I mentioned lately how blessed I am to have worked for employers with this generous policy for the births of all three of my children? Well, I am.
  6. another major difference from the first pregnancy!6, I vacuumed the kitchen and living room one more time7there’s no such thing as too much nesting, apparently
  7. Theresa’s regular OBGYN was in Hawaii for two weeks…nice work if you can get it! And wouldn’t be around to catch Sammy like he was for Maddie and Charlie
  8. and by “rub,” I mean “pushing my fist as hard as I can into her back” until the contraction ebbs
  9. ”Get dressed,” I remember her saying. “Now!”
  10. I think it was actually meant for Theresa as a post-delivery pick-me-up

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