Twenty-eight years and 9 months ago, my wife and I decided that it was time to have a baby. After all, we were 23 and 24 years old, had been married for 3 years, and were gainfully employed at minimum wage in a tile shop and slightly more than minimum wage in a saddle shop. The only “savings” we had was money that had been set aside for my college education, most of which I spent during a year as an apprentice saddle maker.
Actually, we (i.e. Katherine) had been wanting to have kids ever since we got married. We just didn’t feel ready until Edna the “candy store lady” convinced us that we should do it. Edna was a grandmotherly woman who ran a small candy shop a few stores down from the tile store where Katherine worked. Edna was hispanic, Catholic, and really into large families. She didn’t understand why we would wait for so long to start our family, and when we told her that we didn’t feel ready or financially secure, her response was that we would never feel ready or financially secure, so we should just start now. It made sense to us!
We did have a “house”. We made it ourselves with no power, water, etc. In fact, we never got power, water, or a bathroom. We cooked on a wood cookstove, heated with wood, used kerosene lanterns, hauled our water, and listened to public radio on a portable boom box connected to our car battery.
This was where we lived when Emily was conceived 28 years and 9 months ago.
It really was lovely, but when Katherine got pregnant, we began to wonder how it would be to have our baby in a home with no water, heat, phone, etc. We figured that we had a few months to figure something out…
Then an amazing thing happened. I got a fancy new job as the caretaker of a ranch about a mile away from our little cabin. It was wonderful! We had a caretaker’s cabin, complete with running water, electricity, and toilets. And I got a regular paycheck and use of the work pickup truck. Life didn’t get much better than that. That was Emily’s first house, overlooking Apache Canyon outside of Cañada de Los Alamos, New Mexico.
As was the style of the day, we had planned a natural birth. Originally we had wanted a midwife at home until my dad told us that we were crazy, living over 10 miles from a hospital on a dirt road. We compromised by planning on using the natural birthing room at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe. We took lamaze classes together and had an doctor who was very happy doing a natural birth.
When Katherine started having contractions on Oct 21, we checked into the hospital, settled into our fancy room, and waited. And waited. And waited. They didn’t progress into labor, so the doctor suggested that we leave for a day and take some walks and relax. The next day, they started again, and we returned.
After a few relaxed hours, things started to get weird. First, Katherine’s blood pressure was higher than normal. Then a urine test showed protein. Then a blood test showed dangerously low platelet levels. We were moved to a real hospital room and told that Katherine had pre-eclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition that we knew nothing about.
The only choice was to get the baby out by C-section, but with her low platelet levels, the bleeding from surgery would not clot. The longer we waited, the risk of a stroke for Katherine increased. But we could not do surgery, because St. Vincent’s didn’t have platelets that matched her blood type. They needed to be delivered by highway patrol from Albuquerque at about midnight. The doctor sat with us on Katherine’s bed for nearly 2 straight hours, regularly monitoring her blood pressure and looking at her pupils to make certain that she wasn’t having a stroke.
I was completely freaked out and by this time had not gotten any real sleep for nearly a day.
When the platelets arrived, I asked if I could go into the operating room to watch. The doctor told me that this would be fast and messy and not something that I should watch. I kissed Katherine and told her that I loved her as I watched her get wheeled into the operating room, not knowing if I would see her or our baby again.
Then it became almost dream like for me. The hospital was dark, and they brought me to an empty room with a rocking chair. It was quiet and very calm, with only faint sounds in the distance. I didn’t wait long before a nurse brought me my beautiful little daughter, Emily. The nurse told me that Katherine was fine. I’m sure that I started to cry, and I held my first child in that strange dark and quiet room. Emily looked up at me and smiled, and her eyes were completely alert. I realized at that point that I had not even imagined what it meant to be a father. I had no idea what to do, but it didn’t seem to matter. We just rocked together for 20-30 minutes until it was time to go visit mom, who was still so zonked from surgery that she didn’t get to hold Emily for several hours.
Sometime a few hours after Emily was born, I remember talking to my dad on the phone. The only description that I was able to give him after well over a day with no sleep was that she had 10 fingers and 10 toes. I’m sure that I also told him that she was beautiful.
Happy birthday, Emily. I love you!