The first day of Nyan Thomas’s life started with a mad dash up Manhattan’s West Side Highway just after dawn.
We’d had an official due date of Aug. 8, but we weren’t expecting to make it quite that long –but we certainly weren’t expecting Nyan to arrive two weeks early. Somehow we knew though: we’d placed a bunch of online orders for the final bits and pieces over the weekend, and on Monday evening, I had started to put together the ‘hospital bag’ – cameras, toothbrush, clothes, you know; everything I’d need to spend a couple days at the hospital. Beatrice had had hers together, and fairly complete, for a few weeks; I’d gone thru the list in my head and knew pretty much what to take, but on Monday evening I quit the procrastinating and threw some stuff in a bag.
Beatrice climbed into bed around 11pm and I finished up my nightly routine. By midnight, though, she was awake and having pains. Contractions? Braxton Hicks contractions? We were pretty sure it was the latter, but I whipped out the stopwatch function on my Blackberry and started timing.
We’d done the readings, we’d been through the intense birthing classes, and we knew what to look for: 5-1-1 or 4-1-1. That is, contractions coming five (or four) minutes apart, lasting a full one minute and continuing for one hour. At 4-1-1, it was time to head to the hospital.
Beatrice’s contractions, though, weren’t that regular – they’d last 30 seconds, then a minute, then a minute and a half. And they’d come after two minutes. Then after six minutes. Then after two. Then four. There was no pattern that we could see – certainly no 5-1-1 or 4-1-1. If anything, they were coming more often than that. In retrospect, yes, the foreshadowing was clear. But not at the time.
We tried to sleep, starting around 2am. I slept soundly, as I usually do once I get to sleep, but woke up around 4:30 when I noticed Beatrice wasn’t in bed. She was in the shower, in pain, and hadn’t slept much. I’ll spare you the medical details but suffice it to say that by 6am we’d had a conversation with our doctor’s emergency line and they suggested – nay, urged – us to get our asses to the hospital pretty much right away.
So we grabbed the bags, skipped breakfast and even my coffee, and called the car service. (Legends Car Service, on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. Highly recommended – they always treat us right, and did so this time, too!) Seven minutes a minivan pulled up outside our building; we climbed in, strapped on the seatbelts, and were on our way to New York-Presbyterian Hospital, at pretty much the northern tip of Manhattan, and a good haul from our place in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.
Maybe it was Beatrice’s constant moans of pain coming from the back seat that spurred the driver on. Maybe it was the fact that nobody calls a car service at 6 a.m., needing a car right then to go to the hospital, without it being an emergency. Maybe it was the bags we were carrying. Maybe he simply didn’t want to be on the news as one of those taxi drivers who helps deliver a baby. Whatever; he did not waste any time. Down Atlantic Avenue and through sleepy downtown Brooklyn. Over the Brooklyn Bridge, the summer sun rising hazily over the East River and the smokestacks and mid-rise apartment towers of Brooklyn and Queens off to our right. Across lower Manhattan via Chambers Street, then a hard right onto the West Side Highway. Rush hour traffic was already building, but we hardly noticed as our driver swerved and sped, hazard lights flashing.
(I thought, much later, that maybe there’s some sort of code among car service and taxi drivers: if you see one driving like a madman with his hazards on, cut him some slack ‘cause he’s hospital-bound. Seems like a system that would quickly break down in the reality that is Manhattan traffic – what would stop any and every taxi driver from flipping on his hazards and driving like even more of a madman than they already do? – but it seems almost plausible.)
I would later tell friends and family that we hit speeds of 85 mph. A slight exaggeration; but I think it’s entirely accurate to say we were well over 65 mph – this on a crowded highway with multiple traffic lights and a speed limit of probably 40. I suppose it doesn’t sound all that dramatic, but it sure felt so at the time, especially as I had to constantly brace one arm against the seat in front of me, while throwing the other across Beatrice to try to keep her safe.
Regardless, we made it to the hospital – the Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, to be precise – around 7:20, I’d estimate. Wasn’t paying much attention to the clock. The security desk in the lobby knew the routine; they didn’t ask us for ID or even make us stop to check in but instantly directed us to the express elevators to the 10th floor. The nurses there first asked us if we were scheduled. No, we quickly explained; we’d called a bit ago, and they told us to come in… After that, things moved quickly. The nurses had me fill out some papers – blessedly very simple, pretty much just name and address and name of physician – and we led Beatrice into the triage room. It was 7:30.
We didn’t really know what was going on. (Yes, in retrospect….) We were, honestly, a bit worried that something had gone wrong as they put Beatrice into a hospital dressing gown and started hooking up the probes and microphone so we could get a bead on our unborn son. I felt a wave of relief as his heartbeat started bumping, fast and strong, on the small speakers. A nurse gave Beatrice a quick inspection, and even before all the probes had been attached, announced simply, “You’re fully dilated. Let’s go have a baby.”
Um, what? I suppose a state of shock set in as they wheeled Beatrice into a delivery room down the hall. Fully dilated? That can’t be. Can it? That means (I was racking my memory for what I’d learned in birthing class) … that’s a good thing, right?
And yes, of course it was. We settled in to a spacious delivery room with a view to the west over the Bronx (including the arches of Yankee Stadium about a mile away) as our nurse, Angelica, and the on-duty doctor, Dr. Holden, hurriedly prepared the room. Within a few minutes they were telling Beatrice to start pushing as the contractions came faster and faster. I held her hands, stroked her hair, told her to breathe, told her to go to her happy place (the infinity pool at Hotel la Mariposa in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica) and tried to just encourage and support her as best I could. After what seemed like just a few minutes, the doctor told us everything was looking good and that we’d have our baby in “about 10 minutes.” I briefly thought he was just being extra-positive, extra optimistic to give Beatrice some encouragement. But no: about 10 minutes later I could see the head of our baby – with a full head of dark, matted hair – coming out.
And at 8:27 a.m. on Tuesday, July 26, 2011, our baby was born.
They cleaned him off a bit, but we asked that the weighing, the Apgar tests, the vaccinations, everything else be put off as long as possible so we could bond with our new son. They placed him gently on Beatrice’s chest and we stroked him, smiled at him, spoke to him. He wasn’t crying so much as squawking, sounding a bit (I thought, perhaps inappropriately?) like a baby bird. But he was beautiful, he was healthy and he was our son.
The next couple hours passed in a rush of exhaustion and elation. We called, texted and emailed family and friends. Posted the news on Facebook. Talked to the nurses and doctors as they ran tests on Beatrice and the baby. Around 11am they had to take our son – still called LG, what we called him during the pregnancy – away from us for monitoring, because of Beatrice’s gestational diabetes: they had to make sure his blood sugars were okay, and they were a touch lower than they should have been. They said I could accompany him down to the sixth floor nursery and of course I did; after we got him down there, I found it painful to leave him.
But it was alright. Before long they wheeled Beatrice, in a wheelchair, down to her recovery room, also on the sixth floor. It was small and cramped, and shared with another new mother; I inquired about upgrading to a private room (rather than the ‘semi-private’ room we had), but when we learned it would be roughly $250 a night, out of pocket, for the upgrade – for two nights – we decided semi private was fine.
And it was. The nurses were helpful and patient and friendly, the room was comfy enough. As Beatrice settled in for her 48-hour convalescence, I got take-out from a sushi restaurant up the road so she could have her first sushi – one of her favorite meals – in nearly nine months. They kept LG longer than expected, but did let me pop into the nursery to see him at one point; they rolled his plastic-and-steel bassinette into a small room off to the side so I could hang out with him and feed him a bit. I talked to him, fed him, tried to clean him off when some of the formula dribbled down his face and into the folds of his neck… then handed him back to the nurses for a better cleaning. Hey, I’m new at this!
We got him back around 4pm, and everything was good. We started getting his vital stats – weighed seven pounds exactly; Apgar scores of “9 and 9” (very good, we were assured) and his length wouldn’t be measured until the next day, so he could stretch out a bit. We cuddled with him, discussed potential names, fed him, fielded visits from doctors and nurses, continued to take and make phone calls and electronic updates. We decided on his name: Nyan Thomas L. (More on the name in a later post.)
Visiting hours for new fathers were 10am to 8pm. That meant I couldn’t stay the night, despite my haphazardly packed hospital; we decided I should head back to Brooklyn sooner rather than later so all three of us could get some sleep, and so I could try to prepare the apartment for Nyan’s arrival. I left around 6:30 or 7, taking the A express train to the B express train to Brooklyn. Home in 45 minutes – not bad.
Multiple boxes had arrived during the day, the results of our shopping spree over the previous weekend. A glider chair, a crib mattress, gifts from family members, various other boxes. All of it would need assembly or at least organization. I accomplished some of it but not all; the exhaustion was too much. As Beatrice and our new son slumbered in Upper Manhattan, I climbed into bed around 11, relatively early for me, and slept for a solid, much-needed seven and a half hours.