Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7
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Finally, someone comes to escort me in. I can't tell you what the room looks like except that it's surprisingly cluttered, filled with carts and strange apparatuses that I wend my way through. I turn a corner and see Shannon: she looks dopey, with her eyes mostly closed and oxygen tubes in her nostrils. The doctors are talking but I don't understand anything they're saying. I fumble to find somewhere to lay my cameras amongst all the devices crowding in on me, anxious to attend to Shannon. When I sit down on the stool at Shannon's head, I hold her hand and she opens her eyes a little. She is shaking violently. I wish there were something more I could do to comfort her! She tells me how nervous she is and then falls back asleep, still shaking.
Since she is apparently no longer conscious, I stand up to peak over the curtain that separates her head and arms from her body. It really does feel separate. Her torso is mostly concealed except for an oval of exposed belly, which has been painted orange with some sort of anti-biotic and there's a spotlight on it. Somehow it all makes it easier to take.
I didn't know if I would get nauseous watching my wife get cut open and looking inside her bloody cavity. I'm not usually squeamish at gore in movies or even documentaries of surgery but I didn't know how I would fare when it was wife and unborn child under the blade. Everything is happening so fast though and the orange skin looks more like rubber than my wife.
As the surgery team pass instruments back and forth, I look down at Shannon as her heavy eyelids droop and her eyes roll back. I am torn. Do I sit on the stool where I can touch Shannon and ease her shaking? Or do I stand up and watch our baby begin its life?
I end up standing up but I keep holding her hand and talk to her whenever her eyes open.
"If you want any pictures," one of the doctors says, "you better get your camera. The baby is coming out now."
I reach for the cameras but the straps are tangled. Dr. Pfeiffer helps me and then ends up keeping the video camera to film for us, as I snap pictures whenever the closest nurse gets out of the way.
A nurse puts a giant metal shoehorn into the bloody crevasse of Shannon's stomach and pushes, stretching the skin and fat and flesh, making way for Magnolia's unceremonious red carpet entrance.
"She's got a full head of hair!"
And I see it! It looks like road-kill in the rain, but I see it, and that's my baby, and she's coming out now!
The doctor pulls surprisingly hard on the baby's neck and head, working her from side to side as far as the incision will allow. The spotlight is directly on this mangy little cone-head but I haven't seen her face yet; she's facing away from me.
My eyes are fixed on her in anticipation. I'm scarcely aware of anyone else in the room. There are just hands and my baby—Shannon's trembling hand holding mine, and the gloved hands that are working my baby into this world. The doctor starts singing, "Happy birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you…" but I'm barely aware of that either.
The only sound that exists is the positive wail that erupts from baby's tiny fluid-filled lungs. I look down at Shannon. She's awake and tears are welling in her eyes. That's her baby.
So this is the little person we have been waiting to meet. Here she is, all purple-gray, goopy and screaming, and I couldn't have imagined loving her more. My heart is thumping.
Once the head and arms are out, the rest of the body slips out and that mucousy wail gets louder. Doc lifts her by the armpits and plops her bottom down onto mom's pelvis. Her arms are spread wide, tiny fingers tensed and grasping.
She is pissed!
Newborns don't typically have wrinkles but this baby has deep anger creases on her forehead, her eyes are squinched tight, and her mouth is a screaming black hole.
In photographs she will look like a little monster. Wrenched from her bloody cocoon, she will look like she means to terrify whoever dared pry her from her warm safe reality into one that is cold, bright and—can she know it?—more than a little messed up.
It will look like that in pictures but if you only heard this cry, your heart would break. That's my daughter.
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On the next episode of Birth Story: Meeting Magnolia