Thursday, May 15, 2014

Becoming Parents: Not As Easy As It Sounds

Katja at 8 months with Jacques 

Dear George,
Even though it seemed haphazard at the time, having a child was definitely the best thing that Katja and I ever did.  We got married in August 1960, then moved the following week to Ann Arbor to begin grad school.  It turned out they’d just finished the first large-scale clinical study of the birth control pill in Puerto Rico, and Ann Arbor had been selected as one of the initial sites for the pill’s distribution on the mainland.  Many women were wary of potential side effects, but Katja had no such qualms and signed up as soon she heard about it.  It’s probably not true, but I like to imagine that Katja was the first American woman to have started taking the pill.  We went once a month to the local birth control clinic to pick up her supply.  It was located in a nondescript second-floor office down a dark alley off Liberty Street, a few blocks west of campus.  We always felt a little secretive and illicit about our visits, sort of like spies.  

Our years in Ann Arbor zoomed by, and, though we’d get occasional hints from parents, we were too busy to think about children.  In 1966 we moved to Cincinnati where I’d taken a job at the university.  We were given the option of health insurance with or without a maternity rider, and we picked the maternity option, just in case.  A year or two later we went to a big party at a friend’s house.  In the middle of the evening  Katja said she had some news she’d like to share with the group.  Then she announced: “I went to the doctor today.  I’m pregnant!”  Everybody broke into applause.  I was stunned.  Privately I asked Katja how she could possibly be pregnant since she was taking the pill.  She said that she’d stopped taking it after I’d asked about getting maternity insurance.  She’d interpreted that as a secret message from me that it was time to become pregnant.  Why, I wondered, had she never mentioned this?  Katja said it had been too embarrassing to talk about.  Despite my initial shock, we were both excited.  We bought a book and started thinking about names.  There were lots of good possibilities for girls -- Emily, Kate, Victoria, etc.  If it were a boy, Katja narrowed it down to J***.  My favorite was Barnaby. 

Natural childbirth was in vogue in the late 60’s, and we enrolled in a class at the hospital.  The instructor encouraged husbands to be fully involved throughout the entire process.  Along with our bedside presence and emotional support during labor and birth, our most important function was to help regulate our wives’ breathing.  Katja’s water finally did break, and we rushed to the hospital.  It was totally scary, and I felt myself breaking into a cold sweat.  As Katja’s labor pains grew worse, I started rhythmically saying, “Breathe…. breathe…. breathe,” as I’d been taught during our class.  Katja yelled back, “I am breathing, goddammit!”  That brought a swift halt to my efforts.  Very soon afterwards a nurse escorted me out to the waiting room.  I felt bad about failing in my natural childbirth husband role, but, frankly, being in the waiting room was a relief.     

Katja was in labor for about thirty-two hours.  It was a long, arduous, and painful process.  At one point she became aware that several women who had arrived after her had already given birth.  She shouted out, “I was here first!  It’s my turn!”  Nobody seemed to be listening.  Finally they did a C-section.  A nurse came out and got me.  She brought me in to see Katja and our tiny baby son.  Katja looked very happy.  “J*** or Barnaby?” I asked.   “J***,” Katja said.  It was the beginning of a whole new adventure.

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (5-18):  Dear Dave,  ,  wow, Katja told you at a party.  What a shock! …  See you Sunday at Linton.  Phyllis

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