Matilda Carol Teravainen. It’s taking some getting used to when writing her name. Tilly arrived today, the 27th of January, at 12:44 p.m. 7 pounds, 6 ounces. 19½ inches long.
During the last few weeks leading up to today, there was so much I intended to accomplish. Thank you notes from Christmas. Finish preparing our taxes. Complete our mortgage refinance application. Open a twitter account to tweet updates throughout the day today. Finally wrap up a play I’ve been writing. Post a blog.
Unfortunately, the job has been really busy lately so I’ve been putting in a lot of hours there. Over the last few weeks in particular, by the time I made the commute, ate dinner with the fam, finished baths, dressed the kids in PJs, read books, sang our songs, said goodnight, cleaned the kitchen, took care of our fourth child [See Sidebar] and tidied up the rest of the house, it would be 9 o’clock. By then I didn’t want to do anything except sit on the couch and watch something awful on television (hence the new interest in The Bachelor.) I’d go to bed and wake up early the next day, and the whole routine would start over again. Meanwhile, all of the “to do’s” remained unfinished.
At the same time I was procrastinating with these minimally important side projects, I was putting off serious thought about the much more significant event of Tilly’s impending birth. Anytime I pictured the big day, I basically just tried to forget about it as soon as possible. There was too much to stress about, which was totally beyond any control. So why think about it?
Of course, adding a third kid to the mix and the big picture considerations (another mouth to feed, another who will plead for outfits that all the other cool kids have, another college tuition, another wedding, etc) were cause for nominal concern. But lurking below the superficial layer of “concern” was a deeper more genuine fear that haunted me. My inner psychiatrist-slash-Jillian Michaels offered the following psychoanalysis: my efforts to ignore January 27 was a simple coping technique to protect myself from the triggers of emotional trauma following Gus’ birth that I had otherwise buried and locked away in a place I don’t like to revisit. (Damn, I should’ve gone to med school.)
To be clear, I wasn’t scarred emotionally because of the potential for Tilly to have Down syndrome. (The odds are only about 1 percent higher for an expecting couple who has one child with DS already.) If anything unforeseen during pregnancy was to be discovered upon birth, I figured it would be more like a hermaphrodite situation, a missing hand, or maybe even blindness.
The real fear that scared me was simply a repeat of expecting everything to be typical and conventional instead of life altering and traumatic. Specifically, I think of the pediatrician’s face when she entered the room to deliver the news about Gus. Me knowing what she was already going to say in my heart of hearts. Gus turning blue in my arms 30 seconds after we learned of his diagnosis. Going to Children’s. Waiting for heart surgery any hour. You get my drift.
But of course, as THE READERS know, Gus’ story has been a happy one. We have come a long way over the last 18 months. Knowing that Gus and we as a family were able to handle all that chaos reaffirmed that we were capable of adapting to whatever adversity comes from the accompanying medical baggage of a new child. But I still hoped and prayed that Tilly’s arrival would be less tumultuous. Specifically, no drama.
As today’s date approached, a few signs of encouragement manifested unexpectedly. In an audiobook about Dante’s Divine Comedy, the narrator talked about how Dante was greeted in the first layer of Paradise by a beautiful woman named Matilda. “Hmmm,” I thought, that’s encouraging. A few weeks later in a different audio book about the history of Ancient Greece, the narrator talked about a poet who declared that the 27th day of the month is the best day of the month to untap a cask of wine. “Uh-huh, I like where this is going.” (Apparently, today’s date is a holiday for a Greek saint involving feasts and celebration.) Then, this morning, the clock radio woke us up with “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” How do any of these signs and Cyndi Lauper relate to the birth of our third child? I have no idea. But I decided to interpret them self-servingly as positive reinforcement that all would be well.
Fast forward to our arrival at the hospital. Taxes, thank you notes, and the other side projects remained incomplete. It was finally time to power through two situations that I had been privately dreading.
Moment of Dread 1: when they take THE WIFE away to do her spinal before the operation begins. The “delivery partner” has about twenty minutes of solitude to put on scrubs and reflect silently until someone comes to get him or her. It’s a lonely calm before the storm. Fortunately today, instead of pacing and imagining every worst case scenario that could occur, I decided to sit calmly in a chair with my leg crossed. Cool. As a cucumber. Like the Fonze. When a nurse came for me, I snapped to attention. Bring it on.
Moment of Dread 2: the operating room experience as a bystander. I think I’m okay with seeing blood and guts. Just not THE WIFE’s blood and guts. I steered my head clear of any view of her internal organs and took my seat in the chair next to her head. The sheet was up and I couldn’t see anything. THE WIFE and I held hands and chit chat to pass the time.
“Hi.” “Hi.” (a few moments pass) “Did you set the DVR for Top Chef?” “Yeah.” “Cool.” (a few more moments pass) “How you feeling?” “Good.” “Want to have a baby?” “Okay.”
Meanwhile, my inner monologue was almost chanting to no one but my cranial auditorium “Please just be healthy. Please just be healthy. Please just be healthy. Don’t freak out. THE WIFE will see it on your face. Oh wait, there’s a mask over your face. Nevermind. Please just be healthy.” And so on.
Finally, the last part that I hate came. The tugging, pulling, tweaking, and moving that the doctors are doing to tug the baby out. The sheet was still in the way but I could tell that this was the yank part. THE WIFE squeezed my hand.
At last! Our powerful battler was here. And she was letting everyone in the room know that she’s not that psyched about it. A newborn cry never sounded so great. I realized that Led Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love” has been playing on the radio. Another great sign.
When I finally got to see Matilda up close for the first time, my untrained eye scans her for any unusual signs. No penis. (Phew.) Ten fingers, ten toes. (Sweet.) Greta wanted to call her sister Purpleicious after she was born (apparently Boya was only an in utero name) and at this moment, Matilda really is purple. But the color looks like normal-because-she-was-born-two-minutes-ago purple. The pediatrician from NICU arrived. Clean bill of health. I could finally exhale. I needed a sandwich.
It’s been several hours since Tilly was born. Other than the obvious excitement and relief of her arrival, the day progressed in relative peace and quiet. THE WIFE and I have basically just taken turns cuddling with our little lady, in between the occasional phone call. This is what we used to assume happened for everyone. But now we realize this is what you appreciate and hope for everyone to experience.
Thanks to everybody for all the good thoughts and vibes. And to all of you who asked if we needed anything, I just thought of something: are you free to babysit three kids under three years old next week? I’ve got taxes to do…