May 1, 2013

53 of 65

A Happy Birthday, As It Is Meant To Be

There are people who were absolutely meant to be born into this world. Our son Michael is certainly one of them.

He came into the world on October 12, 1983. My wife Cathy had suffered a miscarriage in the summer of 1982. The pregnancy had been progressing well, but then there had been the bleeding and cramping and contractions; the drive to the hospital late at night. There was nothing the doctor could do. I felt like crying when I saw the lifeless fetus. I didn’t, though. My anguish was emotional, but Cathy was going through physical and mental hell. I tried to put up a good front and support her the best I could.

She slept through most of the next day. The day after that, we needed to get out of town, get away for a few hours. We started driving West on Interstate 70 toward the mountains. We passed Idaho Springs. When we reached Fall River Road, I turned off the highway, suggesting we drive up to St. Mary’s Glacier. It had been years since we had been that way, and I don’t know why I chose that route on that day. About 5 ½ miles from the Interstate, we passed the driveway to the house we would buy several years later – the house where our children would grow to be adults.  It meant nothing to us then.

We were sad for what seemed a long time. I thought losing the baby was a terrible thing. It was, but I see now that it was meant to be. If that pregnancy had continued, Michael would not have been born when and where he was.

Cathy was very careful in all she did and ate and drank during the months just before his birth. Everything was going well and we did not want anything to happen to endanger this baby. However, only a couple of weeks before the due date, Cathy was diagnosed with a viral infection that could affect the birth canal and be life-threatening to the newborn. The alternative was delivery by Caesarean Section. We had been practicing Lamaze breathing, looking forward to as natural a birth as possible, but were glad to change our plans and welcomed the surgery since it could well save our baby’s life. The procedure was scheduled for October 14.

Michael, though, did not want to wait. Cathy went into labor in the early morning hours of October 12. Our house was designed so you could walk in a circle from the living room to the hall to the kitchen and back to the living room. Cathy awoke about 1:00 am and walked that circle with our dogs for some four hours. She didn’t wake me until about 5:00 when she knew it was time to go to the hospital.

My advice to new fathers-to-be at a time like this is DO NOT stop at your office on the way to the hospital. I did that just for a minute. Since the birth had been scheduled for two days later, I had a court appearance that morning and was supposed to meet with a client later. I stopped long enough to grab those files so I could call the necessary parties from the hospital to re-schedule. Cathy was neither amused nor impressed by my sense of professional responsibility.

When we reached the hospital, we learned that Cathy was right – of course she was; she was a nurse with years of experience in mother-baby, neonatal matters. It was time for the delivery. The C-Section was performed, Michael was born, he was healthy; I was happy and relieved.

Cathy had been cut open and was under epidural sedation. I believed she was doing ok, but I couldn’t tell for sure. A nurse took Michael to the nursery as Cathy was taken back to her room. I went with her, but only stayed for a few minutes. The nurse assured me that she would be well taken care of, so I went to the nursery to make sure everything was going well with Michael. For the next hour or so it was back and forth. I would tell Cathy how our baby was doing and then tell Michael about his mother. She quickly recovered sufficiently that the baby could be brought to her. After that, they were both happy, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world. It was just as it is supposed to be when someone is meant to be born.

The months leading up to our daughter Suzanne’s birth, nearly 2 ½ years later, were more sedate. Although there was no infection to threaten her well-being at birth, the delivery was again to be by C-Section because that is the safest procedure when there has been a prior C-Section that could have scarred the birth canal. The surgery was scheduled for February 14, 1986 – Valentine’s Day. Suzanne seemed to like that date, so she waited until the scheduled time to show her face, exactly as I believe she was meant to do.

That morning I took Michael to my parents’ house and told him it was time for him to have the baby sister we had told him about. Cathy and I then drove to the hospital on a beautiful late winter day. The temperature had been in the teens that morning, but it was warming into the 50s for the afternoon.

The surgery itself would have gone smoothly, if there had been a different anesthesiologist. One of the things I do not like about the medical system is that a patient’s life is regularly put into the hands of a physician the patient has never met, and about whose qualifications the patient knows nothing. It is simply, “Hi, Stranger. I am going to administer your epidural anesthesia.”

The anesthesiologist on duty initially gave too low a dose of the anesthetic, so Cathy experienced a lot of pain when the obstetrician began to cut her. The dosage was increased, but more than necessary, so that her blood pressure plummeted and her breathing nearly ceased as her body became numb all the way into her upper thoracic region and chest.

I was worried. As soon as Suzanne was born, she was taken away and the medical team worked to restore Cathy’s vital signs. I asked her if she wanted me to stay with her or go with the nurse and the baby. She said, “Go! They’ve already tried to kill me. Make sure they don’t do anything to my baby!”

I caught up with the nurse as she was recording Suzanne’s Apgar Score, which was a 9. Ten is perfect, but due to the altitude, no baby ever gets higher than a 9 in Colorado. It was counted as perfect. Suzanne was then taken to the nursery, where she was the cutest baby – and certainly had more hair on her head than all the other babies combined. All of that should be expected when someone is meant to be born.

I then went back to stay with Cathy until she was out of danger. Whew!

Cathy and Suzanne stayed for three more nights at the hospital, and I brought Michael to see them each evening. He seemed to adapt very well to the whole situation.

Cathy’s employer only allowed her to take 8 weeks’ leave after Suzanne’s birth. The first day she went back to work, my parents watched both Michael and Suzanne. I picked them up that afternoon, getting them home before Cathy returned from work. Michael asked, “Where’s Mommy?” I said, “She had to go to work. She’s still at the hospital.”

Michael began crying and said, “No, I don’t want Mommy to go to the hospitable any more!” He had adapted to that once, and that was enough for him.


  1. You and Cathy are blessed with each other and two fine children. The loss of a child during pregnancy is a sad and traumatic experience. We all go on, as we must, yet such times of grief stay in the heart forever.

    Acceptance of things as they are enables us to go forward, as you and Cathy have done. My wife Lenore and I know the strength acceptance gives at such times, too.

    Our daughter Harmony was born over two months early and weighed 2# 2-1/2 ounces at birth. She dropped to 1# 10 ounces before she began to gain weight. We, too had anticipated a normal delivery, were taking Lamaze classes, and expected a normal delivery. We were seeing a great naturopathic doctor who had a well-integrated education in both standard medical and alternative holistic practices. When Lenore began having some pain we went directly to his office and after a quick exam he excused himself and told us he needed to do something. When he came back in he quietly explained the situation. He’d called an ambulance. He gently informed us that our plans for a natural childbirth had ended, and Lenore and the baby required medical intervention immediately. The ambulance arrived while he was still speaking to us and we found ourselves in an ambulance speeding through Vancouver to Portland and the Oregon Health Sciences University.

    OHSU is a remarkable place. It’s one of the best medical centers on the west coast, and in those days, as now, the knowledge taught and practiced there was state of the art. OHSU was on the leading edge of premature birth protocols, and the knowledge and expertise there saved our daughter’s life.

    Harmony was born at 27 weeks after Lenore spent 11 days in complete bed rest at OHSU. During that time Lenore received steroid injections to accelerate Harmony’s lung development. The 11 days in utero and the steroids made the difference. If Harmony had been delivered the day Lenore arrived, we would have lost our child. As it was, she was born at a stage of development that was just barely on the threshold of survivability.

    I was with Lenore constantly. In the surgery and afterward. I slept in chairs and on the floor next to her bed and refused to leave. The staff understood and over time I was able to go home for short periods of time knowing I could get back to her the moment I returned. When Harmony was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (the NICU, pronounced “nick-you”) and before Lenore came home the staff there arranged a berth for me at the Ronald McDonald house, a place compassionately provided by that franchise for parents of children being treated at the university hospital.

    Three days after Harmony was born I wheeled Lenore across a skyway to the NICU. Harmony was in an incubator, swathed in tubes and sensors, pitifully small and vulnerable, and all the procedures necessary to save her life were evident. We cried together there.

    Thirteen days after she was born, on my birthday – another happy birthday, as it was meant to be – Lenore and I held Harmony in our arms for a brief moment. When it was my turn and I was handed the blanket she was wrapped in it was hard to believe there was a whole human being there. The blanket seemed to weigh no more than the blanket itself. I unfolded the flap over her face, and there she was. I have a picture taken by a nurse of Harmony’s tiny hand wrapped around the tip of my little finger. Her hand doesn’t even cover the fingernail.

    In the NICU Harmony went through a lot. She had an intraventricular cerebral hemorrhage which caused fluid to build up in her brain, resulting in hydrocephalus. The hydrocephalus resolved after a series of lumbar taps which drained the excess fluid from her brain via the spinal canal. In the early days of her treatment it seemed as though every day brought a new problem. The speculations on her outcome were given to us gently as each challenge appeared to prepare us for the possibilities we would face. Blindness, deafness, retardation, a permanent shunt for her hydrocephalus, loss of motor skills were all part of her prognosis.

    Lenore and I accepted it all. Harmony was our baby. At one time when Harmony’s prognosis was being offered to us I told the doctor if we had to take her home in a bucket we would, and love her just as she is. Our acceptance of it all was unusual, and for a time we sensed that the NICU staff were exploring the possibility that we were in shock and denial over Harmony’s circumstances.

    In response, I taped a message onto the side of Harmony’s incubator to let everyone know that we appreciated all the gifts and talents of every person caring for her, and that we understood the gravity of all the prognoses being extended. I let them know that we did not deny any possibility, and preferred to accept rather than suffer whatever might happen.

    The people who work in NICU’s are caring, intelligent and understanding professionals. They all understood us after that. The quality of care for Harmony never changed before or after I posted the note. The number of smiles and hugs and pats on the shoulder for Lenore and I seemed to increase a lot, though. We had sent the message that we knew they were doing their very best, every day, and we loved them for it.. Acceptance of things as they are serve to free people from fear and judgement and negativity. We all were able to carry on together to do our best for Harmony without those distractions

    Harmony came home the day after Valentine’s day. She weighed a bit more than five pounds, was on a heart monitor at home, and required feeding every four hours. She had vision impairment and was fitted with glasses. I have a funny, heart-rending picture of her when she was about 6 months old with her glasses on, the straps holding them on her head concealed by a great big rainbow colored engineer’s cap. A hearing aid was in the works, too. She also had cerebral palsy which physically affected the left side of her body.

    By the time Harmony was a year old her vision and hearing impairments had resolved. Lenore and I and Harmony’s doctors began calling her our miracle baby. The possibility of mental impairment seemed to vanish, too. Harmony knew the alphabet when she was 2-1/2 years old, and was a voracious learner. She wore a leg brace provided by Shriner’s Hospital for Children to correct the effects her cerebral palsy had on her left leg, and eventually she had two surgeries there to lengthen a tendon and correct her gait.

    Miracle baby, yes. Normal? No. But who is “normal” really? We’re all unique in our way. As time went on it became apparent that Harmony’s birth circumstances had affected her more than we or her doctors knew. For several years her CP was though to be mild and have only a physical aspect. Outwardly she was phenomenally “normal” given her birth circumstances. She was a bright, cheerful, sunny child whose smile made our grocery shopping trips last way too long as she magnetically attracted admirers on every aisle. When she was 8 her vision tested out at 20/10, better than “perfect”. In 5th grade she was reading at the college level. She liked singing and at her voice lessons as a teenager her instructor said she had perfect pitch. Her intelligence and musical and writing abilities qualified her for entry into Vancouver’s flagship school for gifted and talented arts students. Miracle baby? Yes. Normal? No.

    Harmony has Asperger’s syndrome. She may write the best novel of the 21st century, but she can’t manage the basic skills of living to save her life. How we slowly came to know of her condition and become reconciled to it is a long story, and I’ve gone on long enough here for now.

    Suffice it to say that acceptance is the key to many things, including Happy Birthdays as they are meant to be.

  2. As you know, there are those who believe that the soul picks its parents before it consents to be born. If that is true, Harmony picked well when she chose you and Lenore.

  3. Thank you for that lovely thought!

    Yes, we are aware of the belief in choices made by the very subtle mind in transit between incarnations. We’re spiritual mongrels here, and resonate with principles in Tibetan Buddhism as well as several other belief systems. As with every known and yet simultaneously unknowable mystery, Lenore and I accept that even as we are seemingly separated from absolute truth by the orthodox Cloud of Unknowing or the Buddhist “subtle mind” existing within the limits of our singular experience – still we know the truth.

    We “know” in our “not knowing” that spiritual mysteries are not mysteries. We know that we chose, and were chosen, to be who we are and do what we do.

    That all sounds just so “woo-woo” doesn’t it? And confusing to boot. I’ll just say Lenore and I are grateful that Harmony chose us, and we chose her, and that we all continue to do what we’re supposed to do, as you aptly observed in one of your recent posts.

    I once heard the word of greeting, namaste’, defined as “I behold God in you.” It works for me.

    Namaste’, law. Namaste’.

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