Here Today, Dad Tomorrow
Entering a strange new world for the first time... at the age of 20.
It’s 2:55pm and it feels like midnight. It’s been a long day. I look for something in the fridge… any leftover tacos? Nope, Leslie demolished a half dozen for dinner last night. That’s okay, but then she woke up at 4:00am for a couple of bowls of Frosted Flakes. (Ugh, I hate that sweetened stuff.) But whatever she wants to eat, she’s entitled to it. I just need some rest. Just in time for Bugs and Friends.
I couldn’t get back to sleep this morning, had too much on my mind. First year in San Francisco wasn’t what I’d expected. Film school isn’t what I’d hoped. Never realized that we’d have to jockey for position to use the equipment. Applied both semesters to get into the “core” program so that I could have access to the 16mm cameras, sound equipment, editing rooms, the works. But only ten students make the grade each semester. I was eleventh and twelfth. No time to roll the dice on another semester.
Fortunately SF State has a good animation program, run by a couple of talented instructors. Marty said it was no problem to transfer into the department, so it looks like I can still get my film degree and some practical experience with real equipment. Maybe there would be some freelance work before I graduate—we could use it. After a couple of hours staring at the ceiling in our bedroom, I got up. It’s 8:00am.
Leslie comes out of the shower. Shuffling in her robe, belly poking out under a loosely buttoned sun dress. She’s put on a lot of weight, but I’d swear it’s all on her belly. Looks like she swallowed a beach ball.
“Uh oh.” I look up from my toasted Lender’s bagel and see her standing in a puddle in front of the kitchen sink. Except that her hands are empty and the faucet isn’t running. The water is dripping steadily between her legs. I grab the pail from the closet for Les to stand over, as we try to think of any other reason this could be happening. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
No shit Sherlock. We’re having a baby.
I grab a bag, and Les waddles to the apartment elevator, still clutching the bucket between her knees. We pack into my tiny Toyota Corolla and the dashboard dial says it’s 9:30am. I start the car and back out, only to stop short—the garage is blocked by a garbage truck! Oh geez. I get out and ask the guys to move—we’re having a baby.
It’s a short drive from Grandview to UCSF, barely a mile as the crow flies. But we are taking the twistiest, hilliest, stop-signiest route possible. And yes, it’s garbage day, so when we turn left onto Hoffman, sure enough, there’s another Sunset Scavenger truck blocking our way. I’m tempted to pull a 180, but every stop and start is already causing Leslie more distress. Her current center of gravity is a force to be reckoned with. Her doctor told her back in high school that she had “breeder’s hips.” Who talks like that to a 16-year old? She’s 21 now and I guess that’s good news.
Fifteen minutes later, we’re parked in the hospital lot and still schlepping the bucket. I run back to throw it in the trunk and we wobble into the reception area. Someone has the presence of mind to put Les in a wheelchair while I navigate the paperwork. For a moment I feel like I have something to contribute to the process. By 10:00am we’re on the fourth floor, in a private room and women begin to swirl around us.
Leslie is feeling her first contractions. The nurses tape round fetal monitors to her belly and I watch as the tiny heartbeats race across the black and green screens. 115, 120 beats per minute? Can that be right? Is something wrong? Eventually, someone explains that those high rates are normal for newborns. Okay. Then a few minutes later, one of the kids flatlines. We panic—until a student nurse explains that sometimes the monitors lose contact. Now they tell us.
Oh. Did I mention we’re having twins?
11:00am. The contractions are coming steadily and Leslie is dilated to 2cm. Even though we took a Lamaze class together, I can’t say I feel like there’s anything for me to do. I get her a cup of ice cubes to help. I sit next to the bed, encouraging her to breathe like we learned in class. We get a visit from the obstetrician, Dr. Orcutt. He’s right out of central casting, middle-aged, balding, looking over his glasses with a twinkle in his eye and a confident demeanor. The very definition of good bedside manner. He expects that the kids will arrive by dinnertime.
As we wait, the room seems to be lit with an unnatural light, as if everything is glowing from within. All the colors and textures are heightened, from the scuffed aluminum rails on the bed frame to the scratchy white sheets. Neither of us feels too much like talking, but I know what’s going through my mind. What’s next? I may have a pretty good imagination, but I have no way to visualize what the next few hours will bring. Much less tomorrow and the day after that.
Les suddenly makes a throaty growl, and her hands clamp down on the bed rails. The attending nurse looks serious and says it’s time. Time? For what? Lunch? It’s 12:00 noon!
Leslie’s breathing gets heavier and she looks at me as if to say “I’m scared” before scrunching up her face and letting out another yelp. A nurse helps me into a gown and tucks my beard under a mask. Dr. O. strides in, ready to do his job. The monitors are wheeled to the side and I stand at Leslie’s shoulder, holding her hand. I try to recall the birthing lessons, but mostly I remember was how much older everyone seemed, in their late twenties and early thirties. I couldn’t relate to them or anything else we were experiencing.
Back in December, home e.p.t. tests were only just coming to market, so we went to the clinic for confirmation. Not that we’d really needed to, because Leslie had been regular as clockwork, and when she missed her period in October, and then again in November, we knew it was true. That’s when Les told me that twins run in her family, and they tend to skip a generation. Her grandmother had twins. Yikes. Multiple births were a lot less common before fertility drugs. Lucky us.
More surreal was applying for Medi-Cal and food stamps, and diving into the welfare economy. My stipend from Dad wasn’t enough for both of us, and Leslie had to quit her job after her fifth month. (Her boss was a pig). That meant I was going to have to step up. We stood out in the welfare line, a couple of clueless middle class kids trying to navigate the bureaucracy. Lots of skeptical looks from the other folks in the room, wondering “what are you doing here?” Not many suburban dropouts getting AFDC.
“We’re at 10!” The doctor’s cheery voice snaps me back to the present. “We’re ready to start pushing!” The monitors beep, the nurses mutter, and Les gulps air in between groans and growls. I can’t see, not sure I want to see, what’s happening under the gown stretched below. The doc shoots me a look and says “Here he comes!” I get a glimpse of the tiny blue and red critter and look back at Leslie. She’s gritting her teeth and gasping. I’m a father. It’s 12:30pm.
After a moment’s discussion, the doctor explains that the second twin is breeched. Nowadays, when a kid is coming into the world feet first, many obstetricians will recommend a Caesarian. Not Dr. Orcutt, who just smiles and says “We’ll just reach in there and turn him around.” Easy for him to say. But with that, I’m hustled out of the room and into the hall to wait.
I barely get my mask off when a nurse comes out to tell me that the second boy has arrived. He’s a little jaundiced, so they’re going to give him a transfusion. But I can see Leslie sleeping through the window, and baby being wheeled to the nursery.
I can’t tell you what happened for the next couple of hours, except that by 3:00pm, I’d found my way home, and was sitting in front of our apartment TV, eating a sandwich and watching KTVU. Looney Tunes have always been comfort food for my soul, and now I had my professional reasons for watching cartoons—next semester I’d be an animation major. So what’s first on the program? One of my favorites, directed by Chuck Jones at the height of his powers. Slick mid-century design, crack comic timing, and a story about a new father who discovers his baby is actually from Mars. Rocket-Bye Baby may not be perfect entertainment, but it was perfect for me.
Six minutes later, I came back to Earth, where my new sons Michael and James were waiting. So why did I feel like I was still in outer space?
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