Colin’s coming into our family on Thursday, 2 January 2014, was a watershed moment in our lives. Here’s how it happened.
On Saturday, 28 December, we were sitting around watching a movie or something, and I was having lots of contractions—every ten minutes or so. That seemed promising. It lasted for a few hours, and then stopped. So much for going into labor.
That Monday, I went to the doctor for a non-stress test. Everything was fine. The midwife, Liz, asked when we would like to schedule the induction. Our answer: ASAP. I was ready to go. So uncomfortable—size-wise, kicking-wise, mobility-wise—and so sick of having contractions all the time. Some of them were starting to get painful. Unfortunately, the hospital wasn’t scheduling inductions on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, and the next day was full, so mine was scheduled for Friday, 3 January. Sigh.
On New Year’s Day, I woke up rather early having regular, and painful, contractions every ten minutes. I thought, This could be it! So I stayed in bed to rest, figuring I would need all the rest I could get. They got a little closer together. After about two hours, I got up and started walking around, and they quit. I was so irritated.
The next morning, I woke up at 4.00, having painful contractions again, every ten minutes. Then every eight minutes. At this point, I was convinced I wasn’t going to go into labor on my own. So after a little more than an hour, I got up to walk around, certain that that would make the contractions stop so I could go back to sleep. Instead, they almost immediately started coming every four minutes. Hmmm, I thought, I’m supposed to go to the hospital after an hour of contractions every four minutes. I walked around our apartment for twenty minutes, and then the contractions were coming every two minutes. So much for a full hour. I woke Dustin up at about 5.30 in a conversation that went something like this:
Me: “Ducks. Ducks! Dustin!”
Me: “I’m having lots of contractions.”
Dustin, in that voice people use when they are not really awake, but they know they’re supposed to be: “Oh! Okay. Um. What do you want me to do?”
Me: “Um. I don’t know. Just… get out of bed and we’ll figure it out.”
Dustin: “Okay. Um, it’ll take me a minute to make sense.”
Me: “Right, okay.”
I set up the laptop in the kitchen to start timing contractions (yes, there’s an app for that, of course): every two minutes, lasting for about thirty seconds each. I was a little concerned, since babies are actually born when the contractions are two minutes apart, but they didn’t hurt that much, so I didn’t think birth was imminent. I called Liz, who was on call, and she said to come in to the hospital soon to beat rush hour, so I walked around and got stuff in bags in between deep-breathing, while Dustin got dressed and made some phone calls to find a place for Fiona and get a cab to our apartment.
When we woke up Fiona to tell her Baby Brother might be born today, she was pretty excited. Her face lit up and she did her “Whaat? That’s amazing!” gasp. She got ready to go. Her suitcase was packed with changes of clothes and some toys, and we added her string blanket, pacifier, monkey, and family picture. The taxi arrived around 6.30 and we hopped in. Our first stop was to deliver Fiona to the Shulls’ house, a family in our branch. I stayed in the car while Dustin took her inside. And then we were off to New York Methodist Hospital.
We got to the hospital around 7.00, we went up to the fourth floor. I had meant to actually check ahead of time to see what floor labor and delivery was on, but I forgot, so we showed up without having any clue where to go. Fortunately, it wasn’t hard to figure out, as I was obviously in labor, and Dustin asked someone. Once we got there, I found a lady in an office and asked if I was in the right place. She gave me a HIPAA1 form to sign and then took us to exam room 6 and gave me a gown. We sat there and sat there. Well, I would sit for about one minute, then stand up to have a contraction, then sit down again. I was too tired to stand the whole time, but the contractions hurt too much when I stayed sitting. The whole time, we could hear some other lady in another triage room moaning and wailing, which was unpleasant. Nurses would wander in to get stuff out of cupboards, and then they would leave.
Finally, after an hour and fifteen minutes, a doctor came and asked how long we had been there. Apparently the lady who put us there hadn’t told anyone. The doctor and nurse immediately apologized and went to work and said, “Wow, you’re a trooper!” They made me lie down in the bed to check everything, and it turned out that lying down hurt less than sitting up, anyway. IV, blood pressure, pulse, contraction and heart rate monitors, cervix check, and so on.
My doctor, Jill-Ann Swenson, arrived and asked if I wanted an epidural. I said yes, although I felt like a wimp anytime I wasn’t having a contraction. (When I wasn’t having a contraction, I felt pretty good, so why would I need an epidural?) But I knew I would be wanting one later. She said that once we got to our room, they would call the anesthesiologist, and then she would break my water. They asked if I could walk to the room or if I wanted a wheelchair. I’ll walk, thanks.
It was 9.20, almost two and a half hours after we had arrived.
In labor and delivery room 10, I settled back into bed and they reapplied all those monitors. It was starting to hurt quite a bit, but still not like it hurt with Fiona. When I was in labor with her, my entire abdomen felt like a red-hot citrus juicer covered with dull razor blades was being jammed into it. This time, it was just the lower part, below my huge belly, and I don’t have an analogy. It just hurt a lot. At this point, I have no idea what Dustin was doing, since I quit paying attention to him. Some of the time he would pat my knee while I was in pain. After what seemed to be a very long time, the anesthesiologist and the intern showed up, and the intern gave me an epidural with the guidance of the doctor. I tried not to think too hard about what was happening, especially the part where it seemed like they were scraping my vertebrae. Dustin stood in front of me and talked about stuff to distract me. I will say, the scratchy sponge-thing they used to clean my back ahead of time felt great. And then they covered my back with some sticky-backed plastic, which they peeled off after putting in the catheter, and I said I was glad my back was nice and exfoliated.
The epidural worked well. I could still feel the contractions, but they weren’t terribly painful at first. And it was a walking epidural, so I could move my feet (although I didn’t attempt to walk). After it had kicked in pretty well, Dr. Swenson came back and broke my water, then calmly told us that he had passed some meconium, which (she said) is pretty common when babies are late, so they would call the pediatrician to suction him off really well immediately after he was born. I always thought that passing meconium in utero was pretty dangerous, but she seemed to think it was not that big a deal. I suppose you have to practice being calm about things like that when you’re a doctor.
After a while, it started to hurt a lot. A lot. Still not like it was with Fiona, but a lot. The nurse told me to call her when I started feeling pressure. I was amazed at how suddenly it happened. I would have thought that would develop over a few contractions, but no, it was just there all of a sudden, so Dustin pushed the call button, the nurse came, and all I could get out was, “Pressure!” She said she had already called Dr. Swenson. I told Dustin to get ready, and then I started shaking uncontrollably, just like I did with Fiona. The doctor said that, indeed, it was time to push, so they got the bed all set up and we got started. After two pushes, I asked Dustin what time it was: 13.43. I’m glad I asked, because the whole thing didn’t take long, and I’m pretty pleased with myself for being so quick about it.
It was very different to be able to feel what was happening. Once I started pushing, it didn’t hurt anymore, just like with Fiona (I think with her, they dialed down the epidural when I started pushing, but as long as I pushed through the contractions, they didn’t hurt; it was when I had to stop pushing that it started to hurt again).
I could feel my belly deflate—a very weird feeling. I didn’t see him at first, probably because I had my eyes closed while pushing, and also because they were suctioning his mouth and nose out. He didn’t cry until they flopped him on my stomach and I sort of awkwardly draped my arms around him. The first thoughts that went through my head were:
Wow, he’s slimy. (He was covered in goo. Mucus? Thinned-out meconium? I have no idea.)
He has hair just like Fiona’s.
Oh yeah, he just started crying.
What does that mean? (The doctor said, “Wow, I think he beat his sister!” Which apparently referred to his size, but I couldn’t tell how big he was.)
It’s a good thing I wasn’t really thinking about the crying, because I think it took long enough for him to start crying that I would have been worried if I had noticed. Dustin immediately grabbed the camera to take a picture of the clock, which read 2.00pm, the time he was born. I suppose we didn’t really need a picture of all the slime.
After what seemed like just a few seconds, they whisked him away for cleanup, weighing, and I think some more suctioning. Dustin went along and took some pictures, and they announced the weight—9 pounds, 8.6 ounces (4.325 kilograms)—at which point I figured out what the doctor was talking about. Yes, that’s pretty big. He didn’t feel that big. That was a pretty good epidural, I must say—in the end, probably better than the one I had with Fiona, since I could tell what was going on and I could probably push better. It occurs to me now that I only pushed through about eight or ten contractions at most. So efficient!
I was pretty with-it and aware of what was going on, I think. Baby Brother got cleaned up and diapered and wrapped while I got stitched up. While the doctor was stitching, I asked about the placenta: “So, am I done? Is the placenta out?” I hadn’t noticed if it was. No, it was still in there, so we took care of that. And then the nurse came and started “massaging” (a.k.a. squashing) my belly. And then they brought him over to me. Super chubby cheeks and tons of dark hair. Dustin took a turn holding him while I took a few pictures. Then, I believe, he had a bath.
Earlier in the day, we had found out that Fiona had been taken to the Larsens’ house to stay with Amanda and Theo for the day. Dustin needed to leave to go pick her up, especially since a blizzard was coming. We called Amanda so that Fiona would be the first to hear the news about Baby Brother. She did her excited gasp, but wasn’t really interested in chatting. Dustin was ready to leave to go get her, but we kept waiting for me to be moved. Finally the room was ready, but the anesthesiologist still hadn’t taken the catheter out of my back. So Dustin went to Barnes and Noble to buy some newspapers for the day and a book for me to read, and the intern came back to remove the catheter, and Colin and I rode up to the fifth floor in a wheelchair. On the way there, we went through a crowd of people in pink t-shirts—some kind of fan club for some twins that were being born—and they cheered for us. Baby Brother didn’t seem to care for that. We also went through a group that was on a hospital tour, and all of them said, “Awww!” It was all sort of strange. At some point, I called my parents, and maybe also Karen, although I don’t remember exactly when that was.
But then we arrived in my room and, much to my pleasant surprise, I discovered that not only was it far larger than the shared rooms at Sibley,  I would have the bed on the window side, AND there was no one in the other bed! Deluxe! Plus, Baby Brother’s bassinet cart was this awesome retro solid-wood number with drawers. Super cool. Dustin came back a little while later and quickly headed out. Since it was our second baby, I felt totally fine just being left in a room alone with him. I’m not sure I would have felt that way with Fiona. Well, I know I wouldn’t have felt that way; I was clueless. But this time, it was no problem. He just slept in his bassinet, and I tried to feed him, and I read some of the hospital stuff they left for me. No problem.
That night, I sent him to the nursery once and had them bring him back to me to feed him. He has the same suck as Fiona, which is more of a chew than a suck. Pretty awful. I was amazed at how not-“baby-friendly” Methodist was—the nurses brought up the subject of formula on their own, unprompted, before I even mentioned his suck. I had them put one bottle in the drawer of his wagon, just in case. By 7.00 the next day, I realized I just needed to give up on breastfeeding for a while or I was going to end up in the same situation as with Fiona—so formula it was.
That day, he ate and slept, ate and slept, ate and slept, and his sleeping lasted a good long while, so I slept too. It was great. My recovery this time around seemed like it took about fifteen minutes, as opposed to the weeks it took for me to stop hurting after Fiona was born. I took one ibuprofen pill in the hospital, but mostly just because I thought I should, not because I needed it. And, less than twelve hours after he was born, I ventured out to find a place to refill my own water pitcher.
Dustin and Fiona arrived around dinner time with donuts in hand, a treat inspired by my own family’s trip to the donut shop when I was born. I was so happy to see my little girl. I had really missed her. I had been thinking to myself, Why did we do this? How am I going to take care of another baby? Wasn’t Fiona enough? I was feeling a little bit overwhelmed at first. And I was also missing Fiona because I was so used to being around a little kid who knows how to talk and carry on a conversation and has good ideas, and suddenly I was sitting with a newborn who looked at me cross-eyed half the time (if he was even awake). They got there just as Baby Brother was about to return from the nursery, where he had gone for some tests. I gave Fiona a big hug and asked if she wanted to sit in my newly spacious lap, which I had been looking forward to for months. She wasn’t really interested. But she did tell me about her new snowpants, which had been Zoe Larsen’s when she was little. And then Baby Brother returned from the nursery, and Fiona sort of giggled, then clammed up when the nurse tried to talk to her.
Fiona was delighted to meet her new little brother. She had brought along her own baby, which she proceeded to swaddle in one of the hospital blankets. But she was very anxious to hold Baby Brother, so we made space on my bed next to me for her to sit while I helped her hold him in her lap. She carefully inspected his face and his hair and his fingers, while he mostly remained unaware that someone new was holding him (or of anything else, for that matter). But it was calm and peaceful, and our little family was all together for the first time.
Then it was time for some donuts. While celebrating Baby Brother’s arrival with little rings of fried dough with icing on top—the best way to fete such watershed moments, really—we discussed what his name should be. Up to this point, we had discussed dozens of names, and a few had risen to the top, but nothing seemed to be quite what we were looking for. We had sort of narrowed it down to Noah or Lachlan, and Fiona had decided on Lachlan. In fact, she had been calling him that for months. Fiona once told someone at the bus stop, “I will call him Lachlan, but my mama and daddy will call him Noah.” We couldn’t really imagine calling him anything else, even if that name didn’t seem quite right.
We called Grammy and Papa, because I had discovered that my mom had been calling Baby Brother by some name. She just didn’t want to refer to him as “the baby.” As expected, she refused to tell us: “Oh, Susan, you do not need my help.” Oh, yes, we do! But she wasn’t going for it. All she would tell me was that it was a name she considers Irish. I admitted defeat on trying to get my mom to tell us the name and hung up.
Then I said, “What about Colin?” Hmm. Colin, it seemed, might be just right for this little fella. We asked Fiona if it would be okay if we gave Baby Brother the name Colin. After months of hearing the name Lachlan from her, we felt we needed her permission to call him something else. She said yes, and our jaws dropped. Up to that point, she had said she liked other names, “but not for Baby Brother.” I wanted to make sure she really felt okay about it.
“Will you be sad if we name him Colin instead of Lachlan?” I asked.
I was still a little unsure, because it was such a great story, and it was hard to let go. “Do you think we should be sad if we don’t call him Lachlan?”
“No. Don’t be sad. Just be happy!” Fiona beamed, and we knew Colin was it. Probably.
We decided to rest on it and see if Colin still seemed the right name in the morning, when we had to turn in the application for his birth certificate. (Even though we could have left the name blank on the application, we didn’t feel right bringing him home from the hospital without a name.)
It was getting late, so Dustin and Fiona started to head home. Baby Brother and I accompanied them as far as we could down the corridor, to the spot beyond which the alarm on his ankle would go off. Colin (?) and I said our good-nights to Daddy and Big Sister (though Baby Brother seemed thoroughly unaware he was doing so), and off Dustin and Fiona marched through the big double doors leading out of the maternity ward.
In the middle of the night, another patient joined me in my room. But I still had tons of space, and a window. So it was acceptable.
The next day, a Saturday, dawned bright and sunny and cold—time for Colin to come home. Dustin and Fiona arrived, and we all sat down to finish off the donuts from the day before. We discussed the name a little more, and Colin it stayed. We made it official when I filled out the application for his birth certificate: Colin Everett Joyce.
Dustin dressed Colin in something other than hospital attire for the first time: fleece pajamas with white, brown, and gray stripes with a raccoon face on the belly. A nurse came in to give us some instructions for when we got home. Most were obvious—again, this was our second child, and we more or less knew what we were doing this time around. But one stuck out in our heads. “Maintain a household temperature of at least 75°F (24°C),” the nurse instructed.
“What?!” Dustin and I turned to each other after the nurse left. Dustin’s objection: “Seventy-five degrees?! And, what, die because of the heat? Not to mention go broke paying for that?” My objection: “Seventy-five degrees?! Don’t they pay any attention to the research on SIDS?” (We kept our apartment at 62°F [17°C] for most of the winter, even after Colin came home.)
Then we left. We dropped off the application for his birth certificate, and the nurse at the front desk of the maternity ward told us to have a good day. And that was that. No one had to push me to the front door in a wheelchair, and there was no confusion when we just walked out and down the street to the subway, unlike at Sibley, where the idea that someone would take their newborn home on transit left their heads spinning.
Seventy-five degrees, the nurse instructed. “Maintain a household temperature of at least 75 degrees.” Dustin and I looked at each other incredulously. Do they know how hot that is—or how much that costs? Have they seen the research on SIDS?
The day was cold but not very windy, and the sidewalks were still partially covered by snow from the blizzard two days earlier, in spite of plowing and shoveling. The warmth of the sun had turned street corners into a snowy, slushy mess. On our way down 7th Avenue, Colin’s alert system went off. In other words, he started crying. We thought he might be hungry, so we stopped by CVS on 9th Street to check into buying some bottles of formula. Then I decided to investigate his diaper. Source of alarm discovered. (The thing about babies is that it’s the same alert no matter the problem, so sometimes figuring out the solution takes some sleuthing.) Which was great, because those bottles of baby formula at CVS are pricey.
Then we continued down to 4th Avenue and the subway. There are lots of great things about the New York City Subway, but handicapped accessibility and elevators are not one of them.  Here we faced, for the first time, the challenge of how to get Colin and his stroller down to the platform from the street. Dustin decided it would be easiest if he just picked it up and carried it down, and there we were.
Colin’s first subway train arrived shortly, and we were on our way. We took the N  to Union Square-14th Street, where we switched to the L (and where the transfer, thankfully, was assisted by elevators). The L whisked us back to Brooklyn and to Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs. From there, we walked the few blocks to our house.
We brought Fiona and Colin up the stairs to our apartment, and hauled everything else inside. Fiona was anxious to show Colin the bedroom they would share, which had been furnished with Fiona’s loft bed and Colin’s crib, along with plenty of stuffed animals, toys, and clothes. It was the last time it would be clean (though, so far, that’s not Colin’s fault).
Fiona was once again anxious to hold her new little brother, so she hopped up in the chair in their room, with a pillow under her arm for extra support. We put Colin in her arms, and she fed him and admired him. And Dustin and I admired them.
Colin was home.
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 which, among other things, protects patients’ privacy.
- Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., where Fiona was born.
- In the subway’s defense, according to Wikipedia the system currently has 97 accessible stations—which is more than the total number of stations in the D.C. Metro, a fully accessible system.
- The N normally runs express through this segment and skips the 4 Av-9 St station but was running local this day.
This article appeared on pages 16–21 of Issue 13 | January 2014.