It being Labor Day weekend, it occurs to me that Jen has given birth eight times in her young life (*nyuk* - 'labor day'; get it?). Recently, though, a group of us were sitting around the table telling stories, and I remembered a significant event in our lives (to say nothing of our life together), which tends not to get a lot of airplay, because, in the long run, it has been somewhat of a 'no harm, no foul' situation. But for a day or two, back in the day, it was a very big deal, indeed. . .
For many years, I have kept up a genealogy hobby (not so much in recent years as back when I only had a few kids - and more free time - but I have never never lost my fascination with my family and/or biological history). One of the very striking things you notice when you start digging into records from, say, before the Civil War, is how many women died in childbirth. Cemeteries from the mid-1800s and earlier all contain numerous women who were aged in their 20s/30s at the time of their death. Also numerous children who died in the first year of their lives, sometimes only days after their mothers, which conjures up a particularly heart-wrenching mental image. Sometimes, multiple members of a family died within days or weeks of each other, which often indicates a contagious illness sweeping through the household. But the deaths of so many women in childbirth is simply striking, and all the moreso because, in these days of modern medicine, that virtually never happens anymore. . .
4M recently celebrated his 22nd birthday, which may have prompted this particular memory. He was born barely a week after our 10th anniversary, when we were both 34 years old. He was our second son, and with two girls and two boys, we were inclined (tempted, even) to think that our family was complete, since now all of our kids had at least one brother and at least one sister (somewhere, I'm sure, God was laughing). I don't recall that much about the pregnancy itself (I do remember that he was conceived in the emotional aftermath of my reunion with my birth-mother, for what that's worth). Jen recalls that, during her pregnancy with 4M, she continued jogging through the entire pregnancy, right up to the end. She even ran a 5K at 7+ months (perhaps it is a coincidence that 4M has generally been the healthiest and most athletic of our children).
Again, I don't recall much about the labor itself. 4M was the largest of our children at birth, arriving at just over 9lb. He was also the first of our kids to be born after his due date (the first three, perhaps incredibly, had all been born precisely on their ultrasound due date). When he was born, he was covered with what appeared to be small blisters all over his body, but, while they looked kind of scary (Jen took to calling them 'cooties'), they proved to be nothing serious, and a couple days after childbirth, mother and baby went home from the hospital, and we all settled into normal life, 'new-baby' version.
Jen and 4M had only been home for a few days (perhaps it was a week, but certainly no more than that), when she had her first inkling that perhaps things were not quite entirely as they should have been. She passed several large blood clots (I'll stop short of giving a graphically detailed description of the event; partly because I was at work at the time, and partly because it was just pretty nasty), and began to feel light-headed. She called one of our neighbors, a woman from our Christian community, who came over to help her, and just generally keep an eye on her, and help her decide what, if anything, to do. At one point, Jen's light-headed-ness had progressed to the point where she was conscious, and her eyes were open, but she couldn't see, and she couldn't hear. At that point, the neighbor decided to take her to emergency. Good call. . .
I got the call at work, and left immediately to meet them at the hospital. By the time I got there, she was stabilized, but her blood pressure on intake was 60/0. You read that right: sixty-over-zero. And yeah, the 'zero' was not a good thing. Jen having given birth only recently, they collected a sample from her uterine lining, and found placental micro-fragments in it, most likely a function of his late delivery. You can believe, I'm sure, that having tiny fragments of rotting placenta inside oneself might not be the healthiest situation. They did a D&C on her, and held her overnight for observation. By the next day, she was her usual happy self, and life was good again.
There was a small bit of side-drama around what to do with 4M. Jen was very committed to breast-feeding, and she wanted to have 4M with her in the hospital, but, since he was completely healthy, he couldn't be admitted to the hospital, and if he wasn't a patient, the nurses weren't procedurally allowed to attend to him (ie, to bring him to Jen for feedings). So, as a 'compromise', I was allowed to sleep in the recliner in Jen's room, with 4M in a spare 'older-model' basinette, so I could take him to her for mid-night feedings. I could conjure up images of John Lennon sleeping on the floor next to Yoko's bed, waiting for Sean to be born, but unlike John, I neglected to have a photographer on hand to record my devotion for posterity. But you can be sure, I was very devoted. . .
As I said, the next day, we all went home, and la-la, how the life went on, through four more kids (and near-infinite drama), and 22 more years (and counting) of marital bliss. God is good. . .
It didn't occur to me immediately - I was way too caught up in the immediate circumstances and medical drama, and the whole situation came to happy resolution pretty quickly - but a few days later, the realization came crashing home to me that, in the world of a century or so earlier, I would very likely have lost Jen that day. It made my blood run cold for a minute when I thought of being a young father, suddenly and cruelly widowed, with four young children, one of them a week-old newborn. I couldn't even imagine the nightmare scenario I'd have been thrust into; my life instantly shattered, yet needing to quickly make arrangements for 4M to be fed and cared for (if such were even possible), to say nothing of looking after three other children between two and eight years of age. Could I even keep my job or my house in such a scenario? Even now, looking back, I have no idea how I'd have managed, and I wept a little in my heart to think of my ancestors who had lived through exactly such circumstances, and often with many more than the four children I had at the time. . .
As I said, it didn't occur to me in the midst of the situation, but every so often in the ensuing years, I've shuddered to realize how close we came to catastrophe in those days after 4M was born. . .