January 14 will no longer be just any old January 14 in my life. That is the day my wife Annie gave birth to our daughter Áine Amanita Rose McCormack. January 12 will never just be January 12 for me either as that is the day Annie went into labor. Carol Burnett once described the feeling of delivering a baby as “taking your lower lip and pulling it over your head.” I used to chuckle at that one. I won’t anymore.
The weather had been pretty cold here in Chicago, with an Arctic deep freeze of -15° F on January 6, the due date. I was praying for the weather to moderate, which it did. Almost a week later, when Annie mentioned that she was in labor, the mercury had risen to a balmy 36°. Already I was proud of how smart my daughter is.
We were about to have a baby! Inwardly I was pretty scared, although outwardly I tried to act nonchalant. The closest experience I ever had to delivering a baby was being a midwife to about thirty sheep on our farm in Woodstock. Back in the late 1980s, I would come home from my job as a marketing professional, put my union suit on over my business suit and head straight down to the barn. There, during February, the ewes would be going through labor, and I (and the odd brother or two) would be there to move the ewe out of the cold to a pen, get hay and water, set up a heat lamp and wait. Occasionally there would be a breach and I would find myself up to my wrist trying to get the little hooves to line up with the lamb’s snout in the birth canal. Sometimes it would hit me that I was perhaps at that very moment, on the whole planet, the only guy wearing a three piece suit helping a breached ewe, unless they dress up for these events in Australia, which could be possible.
So it was funny when Annie asked me, “Why are you all dressed up?” And I realized that I was wearing what I wear to a Switchback show. “Well,” I said, “I want our daughter to see her dad looking good and that means putting on a gig shirt and black jeans.” Annie gave me a look that said “You nerd” and muttered she was glad that the cowboy boots were in the van with Brian.
Julian Hagen, who is a great musician and officially “the nicest guy in the world” called at 8 a.m. and became the first one to know that fatherhood was imminent. Julian and I talked a bit about Washington Island, Wisconsin, wished us luck, and I told him that I figured the baby would arrive “soon.”
“Soon” stretched into afternoon and then to evening. Our doula Althea and Annie’s support, and shiatsu massage therapist Chandra (both very trusted friends of Annie’s) were on hand to help Annie with her contractions. It was with them that I slowly watched my wife transition into a mother. As to the trend today to have husbands be “partner support” when the real pain hits, you are pretty much helpless to do more than hold your wife’s hand. I was totally grateful for Althea’s steady guidance and Chandra’s loving touch to Annie. We kept vigil through the night, with me making pots of Irish tea to keep us all awake.
With contractions three minutes apart, we all piled into the car at 5 a.m. and drove to the hospital. We got to labor and delivery and waited in a room to meet with a midwife. I volunteered to get coffee. On the elevator down I ran into the head of the midwifery department. I told her Annie was in labor and added, “I’ve been up all night.” She gave me this look and said, “Yes, and so has she.” I felt as if a big blinking sign with the word “ASSBOY” appeared over my head.
It was a huge let down when we found out that Annie was not fully dilated. The hospital policy is that you cannot stay until you get to a certain size. And so, after a couple hours, we trundled back into the car and back to the house. It’s no fun driving a woman in labor to the hospital, and a lot less fun driving a woman in labor back from the hospital. The contractions continued and grew in intensity all though Monday.
I was worried and exhausted by 8 p.m., when I heard some cheers from upstairs. The water had broken! And so once again, we got everyone into the car, along with the luggage, pillows and baby seat to head off to the hospital.
And the labor kept going. During this time, I was starting to get a bit nervous that a natural childbirth was not going to take place. So much time had gone by and with each hour, the risk of infection was that much more possible. After one extremely difficult contraction, Annie and I had a quick discussion. And 4 a.m. on Tuesday we opted for an epidural to help ease the pain. The doctor came in and administered the needle. Pitocin was later given. Ten hours later, Annie was dilated enough to begin pushing. We all assisted her in these efforts. How she managed to have the strength to push so powerfully for three hours, after being awake, mostly unfed and in pain for over two days, was something that I could not fathom.
But the fetal monitor showed that the baby was in some distress. In addition, evidence for uterine infection was mounting. After all this work and effort, there now was a feeling of emergency. The midwife was concerned that the child was malpositioned and not progressing down the birth canal. So, sometime that evening, an emergency C-section was planned. Just before she was rolled into the OR, Annie’s temperature had risen to 100.3. By this time, I was a mess. I was given scrubs and escorted into the OR. A sheet was suspended above Annie’s chest and I sat next to her head.
The surgery was rapid. “Look, the cord is around her neck,” the surgeon said. “This baby was never going to descend.”
With every contraction and push, the baby was slowly being strangled. Meconium had been released as well, and so the team brought our child out and gave her to a pediatric doctor, who began working on her next to me. A hand respirator was used to get her to start breathing. It was at this point that I thought that a terrible mistake had been made and that our daughter was not going to make it. I leaned over to Annie and said, “no matter what happens, know that I love you.” It was all I could think of saying. The team worked on our daughter for what seemed like forever.
“She’s breathing on her own.”
Her little chest started to rise up and down.
Out of her mouth came this tiny little cry.
And at 7:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 14, in the city of Chicago where Annie herself was born and raised, a new life was born into this world -- all 7 pounds and 6 ounces and 19 inches of her.