Enter The Deuce, Part I

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No arc could describe the trajectory of the day. We arrived at the hospital awash in emotions bright as a teenager’s. We smiled through the apprehension of “there’s no going back now.” Of course, that sense was entirely illusory; there’d been no going back since even before the pregnancy test announced “YES” on an August-hot afternoon. There was the kid-on-Christmas-morning excitement as we wondered whether we’d soon meet our son or daughter. But there was the occasional nag, that hangnail of the soul of knowing that doctors had discovered a problem in our child’s chest—fluid surrounding his right lung.

That fluid, some unknown liquid, drove the doctors to decide to induce labor a bit more than a week before our child’s due date. Were it not for that fluid, I’d have been in Denver, my wife relaxing at home. On the ultrasound it appeared as a black L-shaped space in the chest, innocuous to all but the trained eye. To me, it seemed an absence, like something missing, the place on the car where the wheel used to be. How much trouble could it cause? Even the briefest survey was the stuff of nightmares and whole bottles of wine: mal-formed lungs, abnormalities in the heart, Down’s Syndrome.

But if cycling has taught me anything, it’s that life is about playing the odds. Train hard enough, race enough, and soon enough you’ll throw your arms up in victory. More applicable is how we all know that playing in traffic can mean getting hit by a car but in a year of riding you’re more likely to stay upright than not. The odds, as they say, run in our favor.

Human beings are the same way. Our biology is as resilient as rubber and as remarkable as Bach. In 100 clones of our baby, we might only get one with the unmistakable eye spacing of Down’s. One might have a heart like a broken watch and another might possess the lungs of a popped balloon. Nearly all would be fine, normal as sunshine.

All our hopes for the natural path of a labor disappeared with that first dose of misoprostal. Because our first son delivery was induced, we’d hoped this time to experience mother nature’s version of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Giveaway, that knock at the door that tells you the big day has arrived. The reality is that a seven-syllable condition trumps every parent’s birth plan. So we waited.

And waited.

We reminisced about our son Philip’s birth, something that was easy to do because we were in the very same delivery room. We slept in fitful naps that did little to refresh us. Later, defenses down, with our nurse we counted off the different ways a night with alcohol can go wrong; there were at least four different kinds of spins based on what we could remember of nights that are, to tell the truth, better left forgotten.

Initially, the idea that we knew what day our baby would be delivered was a comfort. It cut down on some of the variables we faced. Shopping for a car seems a good deal less daunting if you’re certain you’re going to buy another Honda Accord. The actual circumstance proved much less decisive; my wife’s labor lasted more than 24 hours. After about 18 hours we couldn’t help but acknowledge that we felt as if we were in a Twilight Zone of labor where we might spend eternity with contractions continuing to come every three minutes but a baby’s emergence staying tantalizingly out of reach.

To break the boredom and remind ourselves of the lives our friends were still living, we checked Facebook between contractions, read encouraging words for momma and scoped all the bragging about who swung the wood at the day’s training rides.

Ah yes, the bike. Wouldn’t that be fun? But who could think of the bike at a time like this? I didn’t have a hard effort in me, but there was no denying I had missed riding for the last three days. Thinking about the bike and knowing what a central role it plays in my life served as a barometer for my emotions, my fierce allegiance to my wife and my unborn child. There was no other place to be. Not to be there would require a coma or death. My bike wouldn’t miss me and the group rides that I missed this week would happen next week, right on schedule.

But those rides were in the future. The future. What might it hold? Between my imagination and that next group ride was the birth of a child. That would change everything, but how big is everything? Would this be a routine birth with a normal baby? Would this be a challenging birth with some hangups? Would this have complications and go Caesarian? Would our child have some sort of profound disability, one that would require so much effort cycling’s position in my priorities would shift, knocked rungs down the ladder of importance into a once-loved hobby?

In a day full of interventions, what brought our child to us was a decisive finger, the Little Dutch Boy in reverse. With less than an hour to go—if my memory is correct—we met the neonatologist who informed us our child was to be whisked away on birth and cared for in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU.

What the what?

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Between contractions I was on the phone with friends to find someone who could pick up my mother-in-law and deliver her to the hospital so that Shana wouldn’t be alone when I followed the child to the NICU.

With a final push our child emerged. I stood on tip-toes to get a look at the slimy purple squirm and cried out to my wife, “It’s a boy!” Last time I cut the umbilical cord but this time there was an urgency to everyone present. Even as he made his initial cry, the doctor cut his umbilical and handed him to the neonatologist.

We had yet to touch him. Why was everyone working so quickly? The began to clean him on the warmer and what I didn’t notice immediately was he had stopped crying. Above him, I watched the screen with his vital signs. I didn’t need anyone to explain which was heart rate, which was blood pressure. I watched 160 drop to 140, then 120. Instinctively, I found a spot between my wife and the screen of the warmer so she couldn’t see it. The numbers kept dropping. It was dropping faster than I could comprehend, so by the time I was nervous that his heart rate was less than 100, he was dropping below 80. My resting heart rate has always been low, but this occasion subverted all the joy I see in recognizing a low heart rate. Babies run high, but our son’s rate continued to plummet. The neonatologist was working feverishly to intubate him, that is, add a breathing tube. The fluid volume in his chest, I would find out later, was too great to allow his right lung to inflate properly. And because he couldn’t catch his breath, his body was shutting down less than 180 seconds after being born.

Without intervention, our son would code. I was watching what the death of a newborn looks like. I was watching our son die.

But they got the tube down him and began breathing for him with a bag valve mask. And with that they transferred him to a neonatal incubator and rolled him from the delivery room and down the hall to the NICU. Mayflower movers wish they were so efficient.

I still had yet to touch him. Ditto for my wife.

Did I touch him while he was in the NICU at the delivery hospital or did I have to wait until he was moved to another hospital with a more elaborate and robust NICU? I can no longer recall.

All parents know that touch is crucial in bonding with a newborn in those first moments of life. It’s a fundamental part of the experience, beer to pizza. Every hour that passed that neither my wife nor I touched our son left me feeling anxious and guilty. The experience alone was disorienting, but the feeling that there was something I was supposed to be doing and wasn’t—through no fault of my own—had the confounding effect of frustrating me even as an inner voice chastised me for inaction. But what action could I take?

In honor of his birthday, 2/22, we nicknamed him The Deuce. It also fit given that he’s our second born, and because I felt like his was already getting a second shot at life.

But the nickname was only a placeholder. When our first son was born we realized that none of the names we picked out ahead of time seemed to fit. We had to go through an elaborate bit of paperwork and pinky swears before the hospital would discharge us without having yet named him. We promised we’d come up with a name for him in the next 72 hours and would be back with paperwork filled out.

Having glimpsed the Deuce’s mortality so vividly, I felt a keen responsibility to get him named. It struck me that were something to happen, the clichéd “turn for the worse,” burying a child that never had a name in life would be a tragedy of monumental proportion, a true parenting fail. My wife wondered why the hospital administrators hadn’t started hounding us about the name. I had to point out the obvious: He hadn’t been released.

In fairly short order we arrived at Matthew. There have been a number of men in both our families that were given names beginning with the letter “M.” Choosing Matthew was a way to honor each of them without favoring one over another.

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37 comments

  1. Jim Tolar

    As the father of three, 2 girls and a boy, and grandfather of 6 boys and having been present at the birth of all nine of them, your description of Matthew’s (although I think I’ll always think of him as ‘the Deuce’) first moments had me almost crying.

    Good luck to you and the rest of your family.

    Welcome to the World, Deuce.

    jt

  2. Steele DuBrul

    Congrats! Our first son was induced 6 weeks early due to an infection, and was also wisked off to the NICU; he spent 6 days there before we could really spend any time with him. It was the hardest 6 days of my life. Hang in there…

  3. Sal Ruibal

    Even though we were already aware of the medical situation with our daughter, Sallee Ann, the tension and anxiety when she was born was palpable. She went quickly to the NICU, as expected. Fast forward 18 years and four summers of advanced orthopedic surgery and more physical therapy than in an NFL player’s career, and she’s beautiful, smart, kind and funny and getting ready to go to college in the fall. Your kids are your kids and you accept them for who they are: a little bit of both of you and lot of wonderful stuff in-between. Our prayers are with all of you. Let go and let God do the rest. Love each other.

  4. michael

    Having just gone through a similar event in the past months, one that ultimately brought profound emptiness and sadness to our world, I can only say – god speed to all of you and to little Matthew.

    You could shut the blog down today and rest assured that this was your finest contribution to it.

  5. Rod

    Welcome to the world, Deuce – may your stay in the hospital be very short and returned to the care of your family in good health.

  6. Chris

    My son’t first two minutes if this world sound similar to Matthew’s. I too recall the the conflicted emotions of knowing I had to go with my son to the neonatal nursery but hating the idea of leaving his mom.

    Two and a half years later, he walks, talks, jumps, runs and – yes – bikes. Wishing you, your wife, and Matthew the same.

  7. N Jardeleza

    There was nothing almost about the cry-inducing phrase: I was watching our son die.

    Our second was very fitful in the womb, and although tiny at birth, we managed to keep her at home, where we had her, and she never lost weight or heart rate or oxygen or tone. She’s always been feisty, and a fighter. Our first was a different story. She had fluid that didn’t clear fast enough. She had a fast drive to the hospital. She was touched through those holes in the incubator tank for the first week of her life. She had a feeding tube and oxygen monitor and a hard time breastfeeding. I just remember tubes, so many tubes coming out of that perfect little furry body, and loving her more than I ever thought I could love anything or anyone, including life itself.

    Now she’s sitting next to me, creating Whistler-esque impressionist works on the family iPad, perfect and beautiful and about to turn 8, missing a few teeth and nursing a few bruises. I wish you so much of the best, sir, you and your champion wife and family. It’s hard, this bit, and sometimes that makes things turn out great.

    Nick.

  8. Joan Hanscom

    Welcome to the world little guy Deuce. A lovely entry that he will no doubt read together with you in the future.

    Peace to all.

  9. Chromatic Dramatic

    Congrats on the birth of your second child…

    No doubt a harrowing, but wonderful experience. Thank god for modern medicine.

    While mine and my wifes experience with our second was nothing on what you are currently going through, I have some vague understanding giving ours ended up spending time in the special care nursery (ie not so bad that she went to Neo Natal Intensive Care).

    The hardest thing is stopping the Mum’s beating themselves up over something they have no control of.

    Good luck, and congratulations.

  10. P Poppenjay

    Padraig
    I wept reading this.
    It told me more than I have known to now.
    Your writing about Deuce is vivid, excruciating,
    and beautiful.
    Keep holding and loving each other as always.
    Deuce has been placed in the best hands his Creator
    could find.

  11. warren

    I didn’t want to cry today, not really, but the tears just started and here I am.

    Congratulations on the birth of your son.

  12. 1speed

    Padraig – Probably something you are already aware of but your son is where these hospitals perform best. I spent the first three years of my career doing outcomes research for a healthcare company and one of the studies I was involved in focused on hospital performance for different patient populations. One of our main conclusions was that in general NICUs tend to be extremely good at what they do, to the point where they differentiated from other patient care departments. Along nearly every endpoint we could measure, from experience of caregivers to resource and time efficiency, NICUs consistently delivered high scores. It’s an area where our sometimes inefficient healthcare system almost always excels. Best of luck to you and your family and congratulations!

  13. 68GT

    Hey little Deuce man, welcome to the world! Let me tell you a quick story. Went for a ride the other day and after leaving home I felt like crap. I had a dull headache, my legs were sore and weak, and the wind was blowing right in my face. I kept riding, still feeling like crap. Then, before I realized it, I started going faster, and riding stronger. By the end of the ride, I was flying.
    When I got home, my Strava even showed a few “PB” icons.

    You’ve got a super long ride ahead of you little man, just keep pedaling because the best is yet to come.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Everyone: Thank you for your comments. Your generosity of spirit is truly humbling. I thought I’d been surprised by the outpouring of support last fall with the crash and ensuing beer fund, but this runs way deeper. I’ve received some emails privately that really drive this point home.

      You are all so amazing. I can’t thank you enough.

  14. Tom Petrie

    Congratulations to you and Shana! I followed the drama from a hotel at NABHS. I’m so happy for you both that it ended well. Deuce shares a a birthday with my daughter Jill. Enjoy the little guy. Spend as much time with him as you can. It goes fast!

  15. Hautacam

    We didn’t realize how difficult our first child’s birth was until we had our second. In the first one there were something like 10 people in the room, big spotlights, OB/GYN all suited up with face shield, surgical mask, etc. But since it was our first it seemed normal; we had nothing else to compare it to.

    Second one it was just us, one nurse, and the same OB/GYN, and this time she just had disposable gloves and a gown sort of covering the front side of her street clothes. No mask, no lights, no nothing else. It was, I dare say, relatively peaceful, at least compared to the first.

    Only then did we realize that the first one was medically complicated — more so than the doc let on. But it worked out.

    I hope the same is true for you and yours, Padraig. All the best to you, Shana, Matthew and his brother. Hope you’ve all had a chance to hold him by now.

  16. Steve O

    Kids are tough. Watching them rebound is traumatic yet awesome. Our latest was pre-septal cellulitis and a 106° fever. Came out of nowhere. The good news is, there’s never been a better time to get sick. Have yet to run into a doc, RN, or even an orderly who wasn’t an all-star. I’m sure they’re out there.

    Here’s to smooth roads, tailwinds, and keeping it between the ditches until the new edition is up and at ‘em.

  17. Janet D.

    Babies change the world and the story of Matthew, whose name means “Gift of God”, has touched our hearts. Thanks for sharing and wishing you peace.

  18. Randall

    My twins had a week in the NICU, until they could make enough body heat on their own and had gained a little weight.

    It’s amazing that, whether they need a lot of help or just a little, the line between “fine” and “not fine” is right there. This delicate balance is part of what makes life beautiful, both in the delicacy of the situation, and the incredible force amassed to obtain the desired outcome.

    Best wishes!

  19. Tom in albany

    WELCOME, MATTHEW!!!!

    Only YOU get to decide, much later on, if you’ll allow yourself to be called, “Deuce.”

    Congrats to you and the rest of your family, Padraig.

    I was in Brazil on business when my wife went into labor two months early for our second child. I understand your feelings of helplessness. I was on the verge of tears and well past exhaustion for an entire 24 hours as I arranged to arrive back home after receiving the middle-of-the-night call from my sister to tell me Sophie was coming. I was in the wrong place. My job wasn’t at all important. I was a terrible husband. Was my two year old son, Mason, scared to be without either of us home? I felt like the dung under the dung.

    I actually got home before Sophie was born, though I missed the actual birth because I was home with my son while my wife was supposed to recieve meds to stop the contractions. Sophie was ready though.

    Now, nearly five years later, after a crazy entry, she’s kicking @$$ and taking names. I wish for you the same success. Cheers!

  20. Adam

    Padraig- Best to you and the new addition as well as the rest of your family. When my fiancée was born, she also was rushed by helicopter to a different hospital and I have never been able and hope to never be able to truly understand the feeling that you and her parents had to go through. I do not envy those petrifying moments but I know that you are and will be a fantastic father to young Deuce. I like Deuce, it has a special ring and meaning behind it and he certainly is a special boy.

  21. Mike Dublin

    Padraig, congrats to you and Mum and big brother and of course welcome to baby Matthew! Our second daughter, Robyn, is just 5 weeks old so the nerves and the anxiety and shielding Mum from the heart rate monitor are feelings that are fresh for me. Baby number 2 has been an altogether more complicated and difficult proposition than our first but she’s home now and doing great.

    I’ll always remember the doc saying to us after the birth of our first, who also had complications after delivery, that if anyone asked how she was we should just reply that she was doing great! Hopefully the NICU will soon be a distant memory for you all too..

    All the best, Michael

  22. Petros

    Congratulations! May he live a long, healthy life!
    I have two daughters (now grown), and witnessed both of their births. The first one was whisked away from us at birth because she did not cry when she ‘came out’. I know and relate with your comments about that first touch, although I never experienced the sight of a dropping heartrate. Our second came after 6 months of bed rest for my wife, and with a somewhat depressed immune system (which we found out later, after the doctors told us that she was allergic to all medications, and that we should bring her in EVERY time she came down with an infection like the flu).
    Having children sure tops the list of ‘Hardest things to do in life’. No question.
    But in the end, as you write, we humans are very sturdy. Like a classic Italian steel road bike (corny, but couldn’t resist). Enjoy every moment you have with Matthew, your older boy, and your wife. Life is precious and full of joy and challenges. Congratulations, again!

  23. cormw

    Congratulations on the birth of your son, Matthew! I have to say the name choice is a personal favorite of mine, but I am biased as I share the same name!

    I wish you and your family the best and will be looking forward to more updates. You have yet again proven why this is the very best web-site on the planet!

    Congratulations!

  24. Michael Schlitzer

    Beautiful writing of a gut-wrenching experience. I was really happy when I came to RKP and saw his picture.

  25. matthew

    Great post, my twin daughters were born 3 months early after a gnarly pregnancy and the picture of the reassuringly pink and hence oxygenated Deuce brings it all back. Stay in touch with the other parents you meet in the unit, it’s an intense experience that people who haven’t been through it struggle to relate to.

    My eldest daughter Eleanor passed at 3 weeks but her sister Georgie survived without a scratch, she’s now a bike loving 3 year old running my life. Their baby brother Fred had a normal pregnancy with Labour induced a week early, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 7 months, he’s smilingly following his own development trajectory to who knows where.

    I guess this means you shouldn’t read too much into the early days, what you are going through right now is tough, but as the nurses told us repeatedly, the children don’t remember it and will thank you for it later.

    All the best and make as sure you steal a guilt free ride when u can, it helps.

    Cheers

    Matthew

  26. Flogger

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Rootin’ for the Deuce. Prayin’ for the Deuce. The Deuce is going to be ok.

  27. Kevin McD

    Congrats on the new member of your family, Padraig! As many have said, thank you for sharing such a personal experience with all of us. And thank you to so many of the commenters who have shared their stories – my wife and I struggled through a challenging medical time because we did not realize how many others had the same experience. There were too many hours of sorrow spent alone needlessly, and the general outpouring of experiences and compassion in all of these postings provides comfort even years later.

  28. Sue

    Hello. I am a sonographer. I am so sorry for what you are going through. I love the name Duece though! What a great name for a fighter. But, I am perplexed. What is Duece’s diagnosis? Fluid in the right lung means what? Is his heart okay? Is everything else okay? What are his odds of survival? You have left so many questions unanswered. Thank you for your blog. It is an honest portrayal of the angst and agony of new birth, precarious health and medical technology that can save a life. My husband is the cyclist. He is the one who brought your blog to my attention. Give me some data, I am so curious and baffled. Above all this, peace and love to you, your wife and children.

  29. Bob

    I never cry reading a cycling website, but this morning I cried reading of your son’s birth. With four of my own and two grandchildren and a Downs syndrome brother in law I was returned to the mystery and power of bring new life into the world. My prayers are with your family.

  30. Peter Kelley

    Best of luck Padraig – to you, your wife, and especially The Deuce. He is a beautiful baby – thank you for the updates.

    PS – my wife and daughter are thinking of him too.

  31. Wisco

    This may be the best post you have ever written.

    Congrats on the new addition to your family. My wife is an OB and she constantly tells me that the NICU folks are the “special forces” of medicine. They regularly perform miracles for babies that need their help. Trust that Duece will leave the hospital ready for a long and healthy life.

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