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A couple gets ready to meet their boy

My friend A. (not her real name) is due to have a baby next Thursday. I do not believe in this date. Eight months ago doctors told her, "March 10," like it was an equinox or something. I think doctors are under so much pressure from the rest of us to produce certainty that they just make up a date, which reassures us better than the truth: "Oh, sometime next spring."

Not having experienced this whole process firsthand _ well, that isn't right. I guess I mean secondhand, the way all men experience it. What I am trying to say is that I have not been an actual participant on either adult end of the bargain. So watching A. almost daily over the past nine months is the closest I have come to experiencing it. This has been quite educational.

She was exceptionally prone to morning sickness, which, according to one theory I learned, is nature's way of making sure the baby isn't hurt by something the mother eats. Nature was particularly protective in this case. I would drop the "morning" from the name of the ailment.

Several times a day poor A., right in the middle of conversation about, say, municipal debt, would bolt away without warning, then reappear a few minutes later and pick up in mid-sentence. A new code of office right-of-way developed. Even the most coarse and vile of her colleagues began to edit even the mildly distasteful from conversation, so as not to provoke another vesuvial episode.

I am being accurate, not cruel. Nature at work is not always pretty. Yet it seemed to produce the desired effect. One day she turned around and said, "You know, I could really go for some green, leafy vegetables." You have to admit that is not something you hear every day.

I know that they say pregnant women "glow," but I did not notice any particular change in luminescence. In fact, she looked pretty much like the same old A. for a while longer until one day, whoomp, there it was, and she became Visible. After that, she was all sneakers and maternity clothes.

The father-husband, whose name is C., has been a model of duty and study. When the time comes I hope to emulate him. C. is full of interesting facts such as, "Did you know the uterus is the most powerful muscle known to man?" Known to woman, too.

He is fully prepared for his role on Thursday. He has a list of criteria for when it will be time to go to the hospital:

1) If the contractions are so strong she can no longer walk or talk.

2) If the water breaks.

3) If A. looks at him calmly, as she most certainly will, being a model of level-headedness, and says, "Excuse me, but it is time to go to the hospital." She should know.

C. is also quite good at describing what happens next, but there is no need to go into all that here. The word "centimeter" comes up a lot, making this one of the few places we have gone metric without complaint, except maybe when it comes to 2-liter bottles of Coke.

The baby is doing his part of the job just fine. A. will be sitting there when all of a sudden there's a poke and her shirt poofs out. C. says the last couple of days you could hear the kid thumping around. One day the baby was doing the watusi in there and she let me feel. "That's his knee," she said. "That's his elbow." She said you can feel his individual fingers when he runs his hand past. Wow. Wow. I jumped back and shouted, with great insight: "Hey! You've got a little guy in there!"

They claimed at first they didn't want to know the sex, but the first time they got him on TV, C. couldn't stand that a stranger knew and he didn't. So he knew. The baby, as is the science these days, has been filmed, poked, tested, monitored and eavesdropped upon.

He has no secrets except one: For all of our smarts, his parents tell me they have learned, we still don't know why the body chooses one particular moment to begin labor. For weeks or even months beforehand, the uterus has practice contractions _ "Ha!" it says. "Just kidding that time!" _ but what kicks off the real thing remains a mystery.

I have no space left for philosophizing about the awesome meaning of creating a new life, etc., etc. I asked C. about that stuff one day but I think he was past the philosophy part. You just do it, that's all, and then hold on for the ride.

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