Violet Skye, Chapter 5: Deliverance

Danielle and I had arrived at the moment before the moment of truth. The calm before the eye of the storm. The penultimate moment leading up to the ultimate moment.

When we arrived in our hospital room and Danielle was initially examined, the nurse determined that she was only 3 centimeters dilated. For the uninitiated among you (I’m barely initiated myself), that measurement meant that we had some time to kill. So while Danielle and I waited for something to happen — for life to happen — we wandered the hallways of the labor and delivery unit. We did this for two reasons: To continue our weeks-long, largely futile quest to jar the baby loose through sheer kinetic motion. And marginally less important, to check the kitchen for snacks.

We held hands. We walked as slowly as Danielle’s encumbered state required. We shared hushed words of excitement. We lined our pockets with graham crackers and frozen fruit bars.

As we left the kitchen we stumbled upon Monique, the mom of an old kindergarten friend of mine, who works in the adjacent NICU. It felt serendipitous to see her in this moment because we had also encountered her 2 years prior, during the most terrifying night of our lives. Greyson, at just 1 day old, had to be rushed by ambulance to the ER at Holy Spirit Hospital, and later by helicopter to Hershey Med. That is an epic saga for another day, one which I have still not fully documented, but during that anguished night of intense anxiety we saw Monique, who had been dispatched from the NICU to the ER to help with our infant son, who was coughing up blood.

It was a comfort — admittedly cold comfort at the time — to see a friendly face from my childhood in our moment of 2016 anguish, and it was a decidedly warmer comfort to see that face again in our moment of 2018 anticipation. We chatted jovially with Monique, and she shared some heartwarming news with us about her own family that evoked clear eyes and full hearts all around. Our convergence felt faintly fated, as these things often so wonderfully do.

As we settled back into our room at just after midnight, we wondered how long we might have to wait for the newest member of our family to arrive. Our only point of reference for a time frame was Greyson’s grindingly protracted entrance into the world. Danielle’s labor, including all noteworthy contractions, had stretched from roughly this same time of night throughout the course of a whole day and an entire additional night, plus a few hours the following morning. No less than 32 hours of increasingly brutal labor.

While I felt reasonably certain the doctors wouldn’t allow a traditional hospital birth to go on nearly that long, I wondered if our bundle of joy would be delivered to us by the dawn’s early light, under midday sunshine, or not until the world grew dark again on Saturday night. But in any event, I assumed we were — or let’s be fair, Danielle was — in for a very long night at the very least.

Shortly after midnight, Dr. Bucher (which is thankfully pronounced “bew-ker” rather than the alternative) arrived at the hospital and greeted us warmly. He examined Danielle and determined to our shock and delight that she was a full 6 centimeters dilated, which was no less than twice what the nurse had measured just one hour earlier. Dr. Bucher had told me on the phone that Danielle would only be admitted if she was close to active labor, since delivery rooms were in high demand that night. But this sealed the deal. Our reservation at the exclusive Chateau de Holy Spirit was confirmed. Danielle was a VIP guest and would be tended to like royalty.

While Danielle’s contractions gradually intensified, in the background nurses prepared the various accoutrements of labor. I remember being a bit miffed that they were making idle chitchat with each other in un-hushed voices, all while my lovely wife was solemnly preparing for one of the two most grueling moments of her life. I also overheard them talking about several accoutrements that they either couldn’t locate, or had but weren’t sure what to do with. That didn’t exactly calm my nerves, but I told myself that as long as Dr. Bucher was competent, which he was, all would be well.

(I should add that the reason we knew Dr. Bucher to be competent was because Danielle had worked in his OB/GYN office for over a year. Free advice, ladies: It’s not a bad way to get to know the doctor who may eventually deliver your baby!)

What followed was a blur, and I assure you I won’t be able to do justice to the moment of truth. Everything happened exponentially more quickly than it did two years earlier with Greyson. Once we informed the nurses that Danielle was ready to push and needed Dr. Bucher, who was somewhere in the bowels of the hospital scrubbing up for his sacred duties, waiting for him to finally return felt like an agonizing eternity. It was probably 10 minutes, but for me it felt like 40. So you can imagine what it felt like for Danielle at the height of her contractions, trying to resist the urge to push.

I genuinely feared that the doctor wouldn’t make it back in time to deliver the baby. You might simply want to chalk this up to the neurotic nerves of an expectant dad. I wouldn’t blame you, knowing my nerves as well as I do. But when Dr. Bucher did finally make his grand re-entrance on the scene, he barely managed to get his gloves on in time. That’s how lightning-fast the contractions were progressing at this point. In fact, he told Danielle several times while he clad himself with latex, “Hold on! Don’t push yet.” My lovely wife would enjoy regaling people with this detail in the days to come — the comic absurdity of being instructed to hold in a baby who is bound and determined to come out.

Once Dr. Bucher gave Danielle the go-ahead to commence full-throttle pushing, it was only a matter of minutes. Unlike with Greyson, whose delivery took hours, I could see this baby noticeably emerge, centimeter by centimeter, with each grueling push. I remember locking wide eyes with Danielle and telling her, “It’s really happening! Every push is making a difference! I can see our baby!” I wanted her to know that her painstaking efforts were not in vain, since that’s precisely how they had felt during Greyson’s agonizingly slow-motion delivery.

The rest was a dizzying jumble of sights and sounds. I remember seeing that first thick shock of wet, dark hair. I remember watching in awe as a pink head emerged sideways. I remember the euphoric moment when I could clearly see that we had been given a tiny girl. And I remember the pure joy of breathlessly telling Danielle that our sweet little boy now had a sweet little sister. When Greyson was born, I saw that he was a boy but I was so delirious from anxiety and lack of sleep that I didn’t trust the evidence of my own bleary, bloodshot eyes. So the midwife had made the official announcement: “It’s a boy!” But this time around, I got to do the honors.

There is nothing quite like the thrill of keeping your baby’s identity a secret for months and months (even from yourselves) and then, after a gender reveal to end all gender reveals, having the wide-eyed honor of conveying the intimate and intoxicating news to your also-wide-eyed wife, who is already ensconced in a lucid and otherworldly rapture, one moment before she sees the baby for herself. That is a profound experience that can neither be replicated nor forgotten.

And so, at 1:55am on September 15th, 2018, we held in our arms the second jaw-dropping, mind-blowing, heart-clutching miracle of our lives: Violet Skye Marie Wingert. A gift sent from above, in defiance of all the stomach-sinking fertility numbers we had been shown by doctors just 3 years earlier.

Violet Skye, who along with Greyson Francis will forever be our own personal evidence — indisputable for us — that there is more to the universe than numbers, and odds, and cold hard data.

Sometimes there is transcendence.



Labor Intensive

Here’s what I think about pregnant women. (Famous last words, I know.)

Every woman should be given absolute latitude regarding her own pregnancy and the way she wants to deliver her child. Unless there is a medical necessity to opt for one thing over another — induction versus no induction, pain medication versus no pain medication, C-section versus natural birth, hospital versus home birth — these choices should be entirely in the hands of the laboring mother. Her preferences should be honored and her needs should be met without any impediment.

Here’s what I think about one formerly pregnant woman in particular.

Danielle deserves a tremendous amount of credit — and frankly, awe — for the choices she made surrounding her two pregnancies, and the added level of precipitous physical difficulty that resulted from those choices.

First, she boldly opted for a home birth with Greyson. This resulted in a birth experience that was both extraordinarily difficult (32 hours of labor including 5 solid hours of pushing) and extraordinarily rewarding. Danielle has said repeatedly that she would not trade the beauty and profound intimacy of that home birth for anything.

Second, she opted to gut it out and wait for both of our babies (those stubbornly poky little puppies) to emerge in their own time rather than induce labor with pitocin. This led to a 10-day-late and an 8-day-late birth, which adds up to multiple weeks spent in the unenviable position of being 40 and 41+ weeks pregnant. Multiple weeks that were medically avoidable, but which my tenacious wife opted not to medically avoid.

Third and last, Danielle opted against pain medication during both of our children’s births, wanting (both for herself and for our babies) to experience every profound scrap of birth consciousness in all its grueling glory. This is the part that really blows my mind. To know that you’re about to endure a tremendous amount of pain and to calmly accept it, and even embrace it, for the sake of what you perceive to be a greater good.

To me, that is a mark of superlative moral fiber. It is an act of ultimate tenacity. And it is the greatest gift of love I’ve ever witnessed.

My wife is a fierce warrior princess.

Xena’s got nothing on her.


Violet Skye, Chapter 4: A Man & A Woman

Late on a Friday night in September, while the denizens of the greater Harrisburg area descended into their post-Labor Day weekend revelries, Danielle and I ascended — with clear eyes and full hearts — into our own pre-labor day weekend reverie.

To do so, we ascended in a more literal sense to the 3rd floor of Holy Spirit Hospital, with the genial guidance of an elderly gentleman who worked as a kind of unarmed (and disarming) hospital sentry. He spotted Danielle’s baby bump as we walked hand in hand toward the front door and pleasantly offered to escort us to our destination in due haste. Or at least as much due haste as his frail limbs, and Danielle’s full womb, would allow.

The man parted ways with us at the door to the labor and delivery unit. And as we walked slowly down the long white corridor to the nurses’ station, I breathed a sigh of relief. All of my mostly irrational worries — about getting caught unaware, about not leaving for the hospital in time, about living out one of those Hollywood moments where I would need to deliver my own child over old oil-stained towels in the backseat of a minivan under dome lights on the shoulder of an interstate — were now eradicated. My fears were rendered moot in the fluorescent glow of sanitized safety and scholarly competence emanating from the placid, blandly comforting hospital walls around us.

(On a side note, it’s a testament to the vast experiential chasm between a man and a woman that I had the luxury of feeling this calm sense of relief just before the actual grueling moment of truth.)

A nurse welcomed us and checked Danielle into her room. I immediately made note of its ample size. Perhaps because Greyson had been born in the cozy confines of our own bedroom (shout-out for home births!), this hospital room seemed positively palatial by comparison. A plush suite where we could make ourselves at home. We had our own private bathroom and everything! Not to mention access to a full menu of mouth-watering hospital food. Clearly we would be living like kings and queens this weekend. This was like staying at a Marriott without a pool.

I kid, of course. We were there to welcome our kid, of course. I crack wise in order to make light of the stark divergence between the part I played and the part Danielle played in the childbirth process. Because it’s actually true: I did think to myself at one point, “Hey, we get free room service!” Ludicrous, right? Danielle was about to push a fragile, sentient, writhing, nearly-8-pound human being out of her body. A physical accomplishment that no man ever born can fathom. The Herculean task of the century (or millennium). And there I was, at least for a fleeting moment, sizing up the perks of our weekend accommodations. I would be remiss not to acknowledge the inherent comic absurdity.

But I would also be remiss not to acknowledge how deeply linked together Danielle and I were that night. And how dynamic our connection had been throughout both of her pregnancies. I am no detached sitcom dad. I can’t relate to those hapless and hackneyed men who keep themselves emotionally removed from the long and winding journey of their wife’s pregnancy. I can’t fathom the fact that just one generation ago, husbands (not even just the sitcom kind, but the real-life kind as well) often didn’t even stay in the room with their tirelessly laboring wives.

And I can’t stomach the idea that any father can’t stomach the extraordinary sights and smells and sounds of an actual, messy, real-life childbirth. His own child’s birth. What should be the most profound moment of his manly existence. A moment to eclipse all other moments. How could any man just check out emotionally and go read magazines in the waiting room? This is life itself emerging before your eyes, man! Pull yourself together. And bear witness.

From our fertility endeavors in 2014 and 2015 to our Bradley class and home birth endeavors in 2016 to our parenting endeavors thereafter, Danielle and I have shared in every aspect of the family-building journey that biology would allow. The emotional connectedness we’ve built over nearly a decade together has even further amplified the natural profundity of becoming parents. The years we spent hoping and straining to be parents — and having only each other to fall back on and cushion the blow when that dream was deferred again and again — laid the groundwork for this moment. And that foundation was bulletproof.

So as we hunkered down for the night in our hospital room, Danielle’s body contracting imminently, our eyes locked in a gaze of mutual love and trust.

In a physiological sense, at this point in the game it was all Danielle.

But on a deeper level, we were in this together.

All in.

For keeps.