My mother has never been one of those "beautiful miracle of birth" people, and so no one was taking video while she was giving birth.
Her only regret on this front is that people are forced to take her at her word regarding my sister's birth and generally they don't. My sister, you see, was airborne.
This was back in a time when they had you in stirrups and it was in a place where a) there were a lot of medical students and b) most of the patients had something going wrong.
The first part of the story is a dream, prophetic in nature. She dreamt that my sister was born, took a look around, and said, "I don't like it." Like I said, prophetic.
In the dream my mother was amazed, the doctor was unimpressed saying something like, "Most of them can speak when they first come out, they just forget how afterward."
Part two of the story was when my mother was clearly on the way to giving birth and a call went out over the intercom, "Natural birth in room [whatever room she was in.]" And so, she had an audience of every medical student in a position to come. (Remember, most people there were having problems, so there weren't a lot of opportunities for the med students to see a natural birth.)
Part the next is when the birth didn't go according to plan, taking longer than expected the doctor decided to do a procedure to make the whole thing more quick and smooth. My mother asked if she should still push, the doctor said whatever (that's not a lack of knowledge, he told her to do whatever she wanted), and then comes the part people don't believe.
My mother pushed and my sister popped out in one go, and was airborne long enough to miss the doctor's hands, waiting to catch her, and instead hit him in the shoulder. From there she fell to his leg, and at that point the doctor's quick reflexes kicked in to catch her before she could fall to the ground.
He turned to the audience of medical students and said, "Normally I don't like to deliver them that fast."
They laughed the laugh that means, "I don't find that funny but I know I'm supposed to laugh and this is awkward enough as it is without the dead silence that would come if I didn't laugh."
She was born with a circular mark between her eyes, where the nose meets the forehead. (This we do have photographic proof of.) Originally the medical people said it would be gone in days, then weeks, then months. If you know where to look and you look hard enough in good lighting, you can see that it remains to this day. (It's much faded now, but still there. Also, it didn't grow with her so it has gotten smaller relative to her face as her face got objectively larger with age.)
It was her reset button. It served a useful purpose when it came to her because when something went wrong and she was upset and crying she'd be told to push her reset button and then everything would be all right. What's more impressive to me than using psychological trickery to improve how she felt is that other people would go along with it. If something went wrong (even not with her) and she pushed the red spot and said, "Reset," the adults involved would go along with the fantasy and act like whatever went wrong hadn't gone wrong. They would return to (at least the outward appearance of) how they were feeling and acting before the problem.
Anyway, moving on.
When my mother was pregnant with me she kept on telling her doctor, "This feels like it's a month early," and the doctor would respond by explaining that she'd been through one birth, he'd overseen many, he knew what he was talking about.
This is how I almost ended up Canadian: my mother was told there was a month to go, and so traveled, and a few days before I was born she was in Canada.
Anyway, then I was born. (In Albany, New York. God knows what generation of Mainer I am, I possibly even have tribal roots in the state, and I was born in the capital of New York. Something fucked up there.)
My dad begged the doctor not to go home that night; doctor didn't listen. But my dad was able to get some nurses in the room. Or at least one. I'm hazy on numbers here.
Part of my dad's reasoning was my sister's birth, the dilation wasn't linear. Instead of, "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, here comes the baby," it was, if I remember his description right, "One, two, four, baby." So once dilation started it was quick.
This might be a good time to point out that my mother is one of those for whom pregnancy was not excruciating. It was effort, not pain. My sister, unfortunately, did not take after that. We'll get to that.
Ok, so, doctor could not be convinced to stay, nurse could. Nurse knew enough to know when to call in a doctor. Not my mother's doctor; whoever was in the hospital. The pattern repeated in terms of dilation but unlike my sister's, my birth was not almost unbelievably energetic. I slept through it.
Because I was asleep I was limp. My father thought I was dead when he saw the nurses carrying me. It was only when they jabbed me in the foot (not sure if it was an injection or to take blood) that I made a response. According to my dad it was a relatively laid back, "'ey," accompanied by a turn of my head toward the offending stabbiness. And then I returned to the important business of sleeping.
(I wish I could get to sleep or back to sleep that easily today.)
The doctor instructed a nurse, "Call her doctor. Tell him that he missed it," short pause, "and that he can't count."
For you see I was born a month ahead of my due date, but full term, perhaps even a bit late. My mother had been right about everything being a month earlier than the doctor's due date implied because the doctor's due date was a month later than it should have been.
Another thing about my birth that gets told a lot is the amount of fluid that came out with me. The description of people moving around the room post-birth is always, "Sloshing."
We have photographic evidence to back up neither of those stories. And, in fairness, we have photographic evidence of Jensen's birth neither. But what we do have is evidence of what happened surrounding Jensen's birth and, frankly, there's no way anyone would believe it without it.
My sister had a bad cold, on the way out, when she came to the maternity ward. They ran some checks and said, basically, "You're staying."
So my mom and I showed up when we could, and then were held hostage until her friends brought her laptop and equipment to hook it up to the TV. It later turned out that hooking up to the TV was impossible, somehow the ability to change input sources was disabled, probably because most people hitting that button would have done it accidentally and then been stuck without TV.
One of the things that was on TV in this time was a show about what's picked up on cops dashcams. One of the things was someone delivering a baby in what looked like the back of an SUV.
Anyway, I didn't learn until later but this was actually her due date.
She didn't tell us till, I think, the day after she gave birth that she had been due the day before. By then they'd refined things and guestimated 5 PM
At this point they were all in a backpack my father had brought for my sister which also included poker chips, cribbage, and dominoes. Presumably playing cards too.
Later they would form a stack, so here you can see the movies brought for my sister:
For those who don't want to read an image:
Star Wars (The original Trilogy but in Chinese packaging for reasons I know not, I'd just go here.)
Big Trouble in Little China
The Gods Must Be Crazy
Firefly the complete series.
Pirates of the Caribbean (the only one that matters)
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (movie, not TV Series)
The American President
[2015 writing] So here's one of the first pictures at this point:
What you can see there is my sister, uncomfortable, with her sidekick. He sidekick is a purple unicorn named "Sidekick".
We gave support and comfort as possible, but mostly we were being held hostage while the laptop was enroute.
At one point my sister disappeared and only sidekick remained.
If you're having difficulty making out the head on the body in that bed, here's a close up from a slightly different angle.
That's the end of Sunday.
On to Monday:
When we got there, were with her for a little while, but she wasn't well. The new age optimist in the room was wrong. So were the doctors. She shouldn't have listened to her body. Remember way back when I said that non-painful childbirth is apparently not hereditary?
I was there to hold her hand, hug her, or do whatever I could to help, but only when I was actually in the room. A lot of the day was spent waiting.
Lots of waiting.
I took up a new art form, the self portrait in a curved mirror:
That one's next to an exit sign, if you were wondering what the red thing is.
We made strange revelations:
We naturally felt somewhat perturbed at learning that we could have been wearing improper attire (we never passed that point, we never wanted to) if anyone had bothered to let us know that was ok.
This is apparently the universal wordless symbol indicating that a baby has been delivered in the room:
I think the mothers would probably argue that it's somewhat more difficult than that.
Two and a half hours later we were allowed back in the room. I'm not going to show a picture of my sister at this point because she was the most photogenic, and she had good cause to not be.
So look at some lights:
Now is when we start to talk about my sister's friends.
Though first you have to understand my sister a bit. My sister wanted a natural childbirth, she didn't get it, and to be wearing a cape or other superhero adornment while giving birth. All her friends were to be heroes too.
So, enter friends:
Yes, he is flying. No, I do not know how I managed to capture this exact moment.
The four heroes
These are the heroes who aren't wearing an (actual) gas mask AND a colander with antlers attached
Some people are too big to be gotten in a single shot.
Click either for larger image.
Now you might, at this point, be asking yourself why flying man in deer skins with a colander hat that has antlers on it happens to have a banjo that's got cardboard on it to make it look like an electric guitar. Perfectly reasonable question.
When my sister the hero gave birth she wanted her hero friends, in costume of course, to break into song. Two songs, actually. (Consecutive, not concurrent.)
One was "I would walk 500 miles"
They flubbed the words. Nobody's perfect. Next song:
That's the problem with being overly decked out is that it can mess things up when your antlers fall off. They didn't even get to singing it. It's been so long that I don't remember if they managed to pull together and sing it later or not. I suspect not because I would have tried to videotape it even if I missed the start.
Now, you're probably also wondering why I haven't shown our four heroes standing together in a single shot. Here you go:
Originally I was going to use a different shot (I have three nearly identical versions of this one) but I wanted to emphasise the fake sword that Antler Man has. Why?
I remember it being hard as hell to get a picture of her sword. It is a real sword. It is not a sharp sword. It's also not quite as long as the scabbard would lead you to believe. You see, she happens to be a sword swallower.
That's not all she does.
I didn't remember us talking about her doing stuff with fire. That's ... strangely appropriate in retrospect. I guess all that you need to know right now is that being a fire juggler doesn't mean that you are adept in all areas of fire safety.
Trouble would come to the maternity ward in the form of people doing very stupid things with devices that were not meant for them.
Enter this guy who I can't for the life of me remember who he is:
It's entirely possible that he had legitimate cause to use that wheelchair. I don't remember. What I do remember is this, which is initially out of focus because my camera wanted to be dramatic:
The wheelchairs have been deployed by people who definitely don't need them. Still, not a big problem. At the moment no one is using them, and it's not like they would--
JESUS FUCK! They're doing wheelchair races in the halls. What kinds of superheroes are these people?
My sister, in her wisdom, offers a solution (which I only caught on tape because I thought we were going for a musical interlude):
That is definitely my family.
We had to leave again.
Talking about the goings on sort of leaves out something important, my sister had really suffered. In the morning her body wanted to push, but it wasn't ready to push. There were times when she desperately needed a hand to hold on to. Most of the time it was my mother's hand, but sometimes it was mine.
I was ... morally unsure of whether or not I should go to a class I had that day.
Also, there was no telling when the birth might happen. The pushing before ready had caused things to slow down, but that was ending and the expected hour was drawing near.
This was the view of my school from the ward. It's the white thing sticking up on the left side at the back (that's actually the law building and administrative offices):
I took a couple pictures before going:
I don't even remember what class it was.
Two hours later I was back. If you want to understand the kinds of friends my sister has, realize that this is how I responded to the question of what route I took:
I went through the hole in the chain link fence by the railroad tracks, took them to the intersection where where the people are looking to buy pot --no; buy not sell-- then followed the disused road that goes by the prison until it meets up with the other railroad tracks, then took those over the abandoned bridge, behind the ball field, and into the school.
And their response was complete and utter understanding of exactly what I was talking about.
The chain-link fence has since been replaced with a new one. That's like begging people with wire cutters to show up.
Anyway, when I got back they still hadn't been let in the room. Everyone was waiting anxiously for any news. Well, almost everyone. The father had wandered off for a smoke.
So, more waiting.
How much waiting? I hope you don't have a slow connection.
The annoying thing is that I feel sure that at some point I used this useless time to snag a picture or two of the sword swallower's sword. Can't find anything.
[/ added in 2015]
At some point in all of this reality itself got sick of the waiting and began to warp. You may think I'm joking but this is an undoctored picture through an unwarped window taken with no special features. And no, I didn't twist the camera or anything when taking it. So, again, reality warp:
I seriously have no idea whatsoever what was responsible for that effect.
[Added in 2015] I was going to talk more about waiting here. About the disinterest of the father, about how when he was the only one allowed in (so he could be present for the birth) someone had to go off to find him because he couldn't be bothered to stick around. You might notice I have a low opinion of him. That opinion has lowered since I wrote the following sentence, days after Jensen's birth [/added in 2015]
The father may have been generally useless, but the friends were not. He was swaddled in deerskin's by one, for example:
[Added in 2015]
Oh, I don't think I mentioned the name thing. Jen (my sister) wouldn't tell any of us his name until he was born. That name: Jensen. Jensen the son of Jen.
I sang him Beatles songs. The planned music might not have been preformed, but there was a fair share of music. My sister coped with the pain of the birth by demanding that my mother sing "Circle Game" in an endless loop.
Eventually we went home.
[/added in 2015]
When we arrived on Tuesday she wasn't quite ready for us yet so there was waiting involved. I took a series of self portraits with the camera. This is the first:
This is probably the best:
(Cropped to remove extraneous detail and hide the fact that it's not at all centered)
Pretty blotchy I know.
On this day I remembered to bring the gift I got for Jensen on Buy Lots of Cadbury Eggs Monday. I'd been rather pissed off at myself given that I'd taken the time to make sure that I knew where it was and could grab it and go and then forgot to bring it the day before.
I thought the next picture was the first appearance it made in the photographic record, but then it occurred to me that the self portraits above all include it, just not very clearly. Anyway, my gift to Jensen with Jensen's mother:
It was around this time that I remembered to take a picture of my sister's pendant. See it was a three thing (there's a name for them, I don't know it) like a yin-yang but with three parts, made out of three types of metal, in three different styles. Three three three. All about the three is the point. But then, sometime before Jensen was born, it broke. And the interesting thing is that if you take a three thing and break off a part of it that separates two of the parts, what you're left with is a two thing, one much bigger than the other. Like mother and child.
Thus my sister took it as a sign. A sign of what I do not know, but a sign.
Well, too bad, here's me and Jensen:
[Added 2015] My therapist has suggested that, in order to be free of the fear of ending up looking like the bearded lady if I'm too long without a razor, I could beg for money for laser hair removal (which I would definitely like) from my loyal blogging audience. This picture kind of shows why that fear exists. Unfortunately I need money for other things first. Like the taxes due next month. [/added in 2015]
Jensen with his bunny and my mother (his grandmother):
You know what only just occurred to me? It's his bunny. He gets to name it. It's not like he was born with the power of speech. It's gonna be a while before we know what that bunny is called.
My mother made him a hat, there's some debate over whether he's meant to grow into it, whether he was expected to be huge, or whether my mother just didn't pull tight enough when making it. I'm sure this can be cleared up with a question, but I have not asked at this point. Here is the hat as it appears on him today:
It may be apparent at this point that I shy away from using flash. Sometimes that's situational (can't take a self portrait in a mirror if you use flash, can't take a picture out a window, don't want to assault a baby's eyes with a bright light) other times it's just because I take so many pictures that having a flash going off all the time would be annoying.
The point is, a lot of the pictures I took would have come out better with flash, but it would have made me "THAT GUY WHO KEEPS BLINDING US!"
Anyway, in spite of the poor quality of the above you should be able to tell that the hat is nearly as big as Jensen is.
This is his mother in the hat with his matching socks on her hands because... I don't know:
This Jensen and bunny, shot is just for scale:
[/ added in 2015]
Jensen and I holding hands:
Then we come to the ukulele concert but since that involved children not of my family, the video and pictures will not be stuck on the internet by me.
I will say that the player was very good, and the song she composed herself was very good as well. The era of singer songwriter ukulele player can be expected to begin the moment she grows up.
My dad came by:
He noted that Side Kick the purple unicorn had been significantly downgraded during the birthing process. (I think the story is somewhat more complex than he makes it out to be. His photographs and mine are obviously both accurate as neither of us doctored them, but each, taken alone, tell a different story. Mine show Side Kick being downgraded to a more advisory position with the arrival of a baby, his show Side Kick being discarded. The truth is probably somewhere in between. Or rather, the truth probably includes both: Side Kick was discarded and then ... um ... recarded.)
Regardless, the comment caused my sister to elevate Side Kick to the position of flying unicorn:
My sister's friends came, bearing a gift of their own:
With flash off (which, again, is my preferred style) you can see how the lighting has changed:
Now the day before my father had said she had a sword and shells, I had no idea what he was talking about. I did before the end of that night but I never got a good picture after that and looking back through the pictures I realized why I hadn't noticed before: Whenever I was taking pictures of people she was facing the other way. So I asked her if she'd let me get a shot today, to get a good picture took flash:
What you should notice is that the sword swallower here has casings of various caliber in her belt and also (at least) one on her necklace.
She's going to be important to the story when it eventually progresses.
[Added in 2015] Looking back through the pictures I spotted some pictures where my computer monitor was visible. What was I looking at? Pictures from the day before. Specifically the two of antler man, he'll be back soon, swaddling Jensen in deerskin. I remember showing those pictures, via my laptop (now, sadly, painfully difficult to use and not travel worthy), to everyone who wasn't there at the time. [/Added in 2015]
Now before antler man showed up, but after my father left, we got set up to project a movie. Not one from the stack. The night before my sister had said she wanted *batteries not included and Despicable Me. I know I recorded both of them, but I could only find *batteries not included so that was it:
Movie all set up the only question was whether or not to wait for antler guy (superhero name: Danger Deer) a call to him said not to wait. Someone, possibly sword swallower noticed something none of the rest of us did at this point. The movie was being played on the laptop, which was then routed through the projector which put it on the blinds. None of this says anything about the volume. What my sister is doing in the picture while Side Kick flies and the rest of us, Jensen included, are out of the picture is plugging the volume into an ipod speaker thinamajig.
The name on the thingamajig: Jensen. Seriously, take a look:
And this, dear readers, is where our story can begin. You see a movie calls for popcorn and there was a microwave in a sort of kitchen area in the hall (where I went for water and everyone else went for coffee) so it was only natural for someone to go out to make some popcorn.
Now, there were several factors at play here:
The sword swallower is very good at what she does which, I believe, includes juggling fire in addition to swallowing swords, what she is not good at is traditional homemaking things, especially those related to preparing food. She wants to be, she tries to be, she is epicly bad.
It's unfortunate, I think, that she wants to be. If she were satisfied with what she was good at then she could simply say, "You cook. I have a sword." But she wants to be good in areas where, at this time, it produces embarrassing stories which lead people to wonder how it is possible for things to go that wrong.
Second, no one who knew this at the time thought to say, "No, it's ok, I'll make the popcorn." Seriously, at least half the people in the room knew it (I think precisely half of the not-her people did) and no one spoke up. If I'd known at the time I would have offered to do the popcorn.
Thing the third: It was an industrial strength microwave. Things take less time in them.
Things four and five: Apparently it wasn't a brand of microwave popcorn she was used to and it was further a different size than she was used to.
So, with all this in mind, our tragic hero the sword swallower heads out to make popcorn with a pretty solid knowledge of how long a different type and size of popcorn takes in a different microwave. Specifically she knows that she should be able to put it in the microwave, pop off to the bathroom, and be back in time for the popcorn to be ready.
This does not happen.
In the room we were wondering how it could take that long to make popcorn. In fact it took that long to:
- Put the popcorn in the microwave
- Go to the bathroom
- Open the microwave to find charcoal and smoke
- Sprint to the nurses' station to tell them that the building is not on fire, she just burnt the popcorn
- Be told that it's ok, people do that sort of thing all the time
- Return to the room
What none of us thought to ask upon hearing this story was what happened to the popcorn.
A knock on the door came from a man who was wondering where the popcorn went. Sword swallower proceeds to tell him she threw it in the trash. Cue group facepalm as now there's a possibility we may have lit the building on fire.
Smoke, or at least burnt popcorn, can be smelt from the room. (I was going to say, "Yes, I know that it should be "smelled" as I am discussing neither fish nor metal. Sometimes I transliterate my accent. Deal with it," but the dictionary says "smelt" is ok in this usage. So apparently I have authority on my side where I thought I had none.)
Which I think we can all agree would look better as video:
[Added 2015] I think my sister was right when she said there were eight trucks and wrong when she downgraded the estimate to five. [/Added 2015]
Two things happened. Thing one: this was the exact moment that someone told the sword swallower to poke her head out the door and ask us to get cups for ice cream. Thing two: Someone overheard me saying that and asked us to come closer. I did, my mother did, sword swallower did.
The advice given to sword swallower wasn't, "If something like this happens again," but instead, "The next time this happens."
And then the firemen came, for they had to verify that it was indeed just a popcorn alarm and everything was under control. Firemen always come in pairs, thus two arrived. First question, "Who was the cook?"
I wouldn't have ratted her out, I don't think my mother would have either, but she admitted it. Fireman's words, "I am so glad I'm not you right now." Then, with a walkie-talkie so large you'd think that it came off the set of Escape from New York, one of them radioed down, "Yup, it's just popcorn."
There was levity, the firemen made a few jokes, but sword swallower had her superhero name changed to, "The Accidental Arsonist," which, on the one hand, describes every superhero ever, on the other hand it's not the name you want.
And started watching the movie:
When who should appear but this guy:
And in better lighting:
Now he wanted to get popcorn, and we tried to talk him out of it, or get him to go in disguise, or somehow not be traceable back to us because we were pretty sure that the last thing anyone wanted was someone from our party making popcorn. But he was able to make the popcorn without incident, and we watched the movie which prominently features a building burning down, and that was more or less that.
I returned to my home across the river, estuary, thing:
We are really lacking when it comes to impressive lights on the water. As my mother pointed out, Portland, being on a hill, gets to have layers where we, on flatter land, just have a strip. Still, not very impressive.
Wednesday I went to school as usual and called up when I got out to see if my sister was still there, she was. I thought, given the time of day, that that meant she was being kept over night. Not so much.
Anyway, group day 3:
My mother you should know by now, Jensen is hard to mistake for someone else, the third person is a colleague of mine and my sister's from our days on the Student Senate. She, like we... I can't maintain the rhyme and have the grammar not fall apart. She is a former senator, as are we.
The doctor had scheduled the appointment for late in the day because he figured that they wouldn't be letting my sister leave until the day after anyway. Indeed that seems to have originally been the plan, but after nearly setting the place on fire the plan seems to have changed to, "Go. Go as soon as you can. Just git."
In random other news, the design of the room does not seem to have been set up with photographers in mind. Which makes sense because it should be set up with medical care in mind. The reason that I bring this up is that if someone other than my sister is holding the baby or doing something worthy of being photographed, my sister would tend to end
[Added in 2015:]
It's been a year since I wrote that. I have no idea how that sentence was meant to end. "my sister would tend to end up in the way," perhaps?
I noticed that a couple purple flowers had fallen off their plant, and a yellow petal off another:
Jensen got ready to go out:
My mother and Jensen in the hall:
Flower combination two point oh.
Being kicked out of the maternity ward... actually the maternity building which is more than one ward, means a return home. A homecoming. A nostos.
For that we need a bard. Homer was unavailible on account of being dead some 2700 years. Why not a guy with antlers and a banjo:
The phase of the moon is clearly an important component to all of this because ... why not?
Jensen had to meet the animals, here he is out by the barn for the bull and the two pigs:
And friking Hell Nancy Reagan was small back then:
The eventual fate of the flowers:
It's interesting that when I wrote much of this, a few days after the fact, I got the days of the week wrong.
Told in person the fire story is what matters. The ability to emote makes it worth it to tell about the mistakes and the melted plastic and the fear and the shame and, above all, the humor that got us all through the fear and the shame. With just words and pictures it's not as fun.
When I started writing this some two years ago, there was going to be a tighter focus, I think. It would have been good, thematically, to end with the "Wagon Wheel" / "I would walk 500 miles" video, but, seriously, what else am I going to do with those pictures?
Also, Nancy Reagan was really fricking small back then.