Thirty Minutes of Lovin’
As my wife, Barbara and I sat in her obstetrician’s office he said: “I realize that allowing fathers into the delivery room is becoming quite trendy. It is a practice I don’t condone; however, I’ll make an exception this time as long as you remember that my first priority is to look after the baby and the mother and not some squeamish father”. Barbara and I thanked him, profusely, as having me, the husband and the father of our children, attend the birth of our offspring was extremely important to us.
A month later after twelve hours of intense labour pains we found ourselves in the delivery room at seven in the morning in our hospital north of Toronto. With one bone crushing grasp of my hand, a final push accompanied by an expletive yell, our son was born. He was placed on Barbara’s stomach. I had never seen a baby with such a distended belly. “We have a problem. Suction,...faster,.... call an ambulance,” the doctor barked at his nurse. Hearing those words I fainted to the floor with the doctor’s admonishment running through my head “...my first priority is to look after the baby and the mother...”, “my first priority is to look after the baby and the mother...” My fear of getting in the way, forced me to crawl and scramble on my hands and knees to open the massive delivery room door with my forehead.
As I sat on the cold terrazzo floor in the corridor, two ambulance attendants soon arrived wheeling an incubator perched on top of a stretcher. It seemed only seconds when they emerged with our infant son inside the cold looking sterile glass case.
Miraculously, a priest appeared on the scene. “Are you the baby’s father?” he asked, as we hurried to try to keep up with the paramedics.
“What names have you chosen for your son?”
The gurney came to a halt as the priest put his hand dripping with holy water through the hole on the side of the incubator. “I now baptize you Gordon Andrew in the name of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost....”. Immediately, the race to the ambulance was back on.
I was lost, not knowing whether to accompany our son or go back to be with Barbara. I chose the latter and as I approached the delivery room the doctor was coming out, taking off his surgical garments.
“I don’t know what to do” I said. “Go with the baby or stay here with Barbara.”
“Have a seat,” he said as he motioned to two chairs in the corridor. “I have to be very honest with you. Your time would be better spent if you went to a funeral home and made arrangements.” I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. I was about to vomit everything that may still be in my stomach.
I raised my bowed head and looked at him directly in the eyes and said: “No, that will never happen.”
I went to find Barbara. We sat for, what seemed like hours, quietly reassuring each other that our little Drew was going to be just fine. “They’re taking him down to Sick Kids. They perform miracles down there. He’s in the best hands in the world. We couldn’t ask for anything more.” We kept convincing ourselves all the while knowing it was going to be a struggle. We decided that I should go home and get some sleep and then drive into Toronto to see how Drew was doing at the hospital. Wiping an errant tear from her cheek with my thumb, and with a parting kiss and a loving squeeze of her hand, I left. Six hours later, I couldn’t help think how puzzled and cold little Drew would be with no one to hold him and no one to love him. “He must be so lonely and so frightened, wondering what was happening to him,” I kept saying to myself.
The drive through the horrific Toronto traffic had been a blur; however, I soon found myself in the hospital and on ward 4B. The elevator door opened and I was met with a mélange of medicinal odours waking up my nostrils: astringents, adhesives, and disinfectants until the odour of the sweet smell of clean linen softened the scents as I walked by a supply room looking for room 409. It was a noisy ward with phones ringing at the nurses’ station where doctors were checking charts. One young patient was walking her intravenous bag and stand, and two more were trying to race each other in small wheelchairs, nearly careening off a food cart. Parents and care givers were talking; a few in hushed tones. One young couple was comforting each other as they both cried quietly in a corner. And the “Play Lady”, whom I would eventually get to know and love was busy telling her charges the rules of the sandbox and how to use different tools for the crafts and games in the ward’s playroom.
I eventually found Drew’s room and was surprised to see six incubators sitting on top of six stretchers. Beside each was a wooden rocking chair with comfortable arm rests and all with colourful quilts draped over their backs. Taking note of all six stretchers, I was surprised that during this time of stress I said to myself, “I thought we were covered for semi private.” It’s odd how the mind works. Each baby’s name was hand written on a piece of masking tape and stuck on the end of the incubator. I started to read the names and look at the infant inside as I slowly walked past each one until I finally got to the last one. Sure enough, Gordon Andrew was scribbled on the tape.
Beside his stretcher, sitting in the rocking chair, and quietly humming a lullaby was a heavy black woman with a kindly face, gently rocking and holding whom I thought must be my Drew. She was dressed in a pink and white candy striped dress. He had a tube coming out of his nose, another out his mouth, an intravenous needle in his left wrist, another tube coming out of his stomach and still another stuck in one ankle. A draining catheter snaked its way out from under his tiny diaper. There were also two electrodes tacked to his chest leading to a beeping monitor with numerous, colourful undulating graphs and flashing rhythmic red numbers.
“This your boy, sir?” she asked, smiling, in a most pleasing island lilt. I looked at her and then again at the name on the masking tape just to confirm.
“Yes, I believe it is.” I replied, realizing I should have used the word “he” instead of “it” as I was not used to having a baby who was already a very important member of our family. With some hesitation I started to walk slowly towards them as she said, “Every child in this room gets fifteen minutes of feedin’ followed by fifteen minutes of lovin’, Your boy’s on d’tubes so he don’t need no fifteen minutes of feedin’; so I make sure he gets thirty minutes of lovin’.
I reached out and touched two of his tiny fingers. They moved. I fell to my knees crying and shaking beyond belief at which time his little hand wrapped itself around my finger. I was shuddering with every emotion that summoned up “Thanks” and “Joy”. I couldn’t stop. His firm little grip on my finger was giving me: his dad, hope, and yet I was the one who was supposed to be supporting him. My forehead was on the wonderful woman’s knee and she reached over to pat me on the top of my head
“Your boy’s, gonna be jus’ fine.” She continued to assure me. “But jus’ remember one thing: thirty minutes of lovin’.”
I looked up with incredible gratitude into her warm and gentle face through my tear clouded eyes. With a nod and a knowing smile she firmly added, “Regularly!”
At this point she slowly resumed her gentle rocking and humming. I recognized “Amazing Grace”. How sweet it was. Drew is now thirty seven with a family of his own and that marvelous woman was one of the many wondrous workers in that hospital of miracles.