by Jonathan Lyons on April 18, 2012

So Karline went into labor on a Saturday night and, 36 hours later, after back labor (which by all accounts is torturous) ending in an emergency C-section (which by all accounts is surgery), our little boy, Curran, was untangled from his umbilical cord, and pulled through his mother’s abdominal wall and into the world. The world of the Maternity/Delivery Ward’s surgical suite, anyway.

A friend whose little boy was due on the same day, but whose boy decided to take another two weeks to come out, asked me later if I’d looked past the screen that the doctors set up for the cesarean. That screen is meant to keep the mother from seeing the process that opens her abdomen, then cuts and/or relocates everything that must be gotten out of the way to reach the baby. He looked when his wife went through nearly the same drawn-out labor, followed by an emergency C-section herself. He jokes that he has seen more of her than she has seen of herself.

I must tell you that I had absolutely no urge, none whatsoever, to give Karline’s innards a closer inspection. She was alive, and Curran was alive, and I had no desire to tempt fate into leaving my bone-weary self unconscious on the floor of an operating room with my head cracked open.

I also thought I would write that, after going through 36 hours of labor with her, only to have the umbilical complication force us into an emergency C-section, I could find no such thing in the real world as the “miracle of childbirth.” But I realized that that wouldn’t be true; we had read that the baby would recognize our voices from all of our time together before labor set its claws into us, and as the surgical team inspected and cleaned up Curran, I could see that each time either Karline or I spoke, he turned to face us, trying to find us. He couldn’t see us yet, but he certainly heard and recognized us. That — even after the hell of K getting the best of both natural and surgical childbirth — caught my words in my throat.


Mother-in-law Nancy had joined us at the hospital and remained throughout, and after the 9 am surgery, we retreated to the hospital room, introduced her to our boy, took a few photos, and crashed, all of us, and hard. What followed is a messy, discordant blur.

Karline and I had both cancelled classes for Monday and Tuesday, and I’m sure we must have continued to do so in a responsible manner, but I don’t remember doing it. I know that I took Nancy back to our Lewisburg home from the hospital in Danville Monday night, after we’d all slept away most of the day. Curran had been with us in the hospital room for most of the day, as well, with nurses and doctors stopping in for various checks throughout. I know that I showered and shaved (and that I needed both), and that I got a clean change of clothes, showed Nancy where we kept the wine and how to work our remotes, and drove back to spend the night with Karline and Curran.

We got varying ground rulings on when it would be all right for Karline and Curran to leave for home, but consensus more or less settled on Wednesday, and that’s when we packed and did so. We arrived to show Curran his home sometime in the afternoon. I recall that early on, he slept in 15- to 20-minute snatches, with an occasional somnolence marathon of 25 minutes. I do not, in my entire life, not even when I was stricken with mono, ever recall being so exhausted.

The C-section was something we hadn’t counted on, and it meant that K wasn’t going to be lifting much of anything anytime soon. Standing up, or sitting or laying down? Each was now a serious undertaking.

I have no recollection of how many diapers he was blowing through on those first days, but after a few weeks I recall counting a couple of days in a row and finding that it was around 18-20. We’d decided to avoid disposables as much as we could, as we wanted to be as green about the whole thing as we could manage. My new morning echelon began in the laundry room downstairs. Before starting the coffee, before anything else, my new-papa, first-thing-in-the-AM dharma was a load of diapers.

The experience just kept on teaching me all of the things I hadn’t thought. Because Nancy was staying with us for the first couple of weeks to help us keep up and get settled in, we slept in sweats. We needed lighting in the bathroom so Karline and Curran could see a bit for nursing, but it needed to be subdued lighting, so we could all sleep. I hadn’t thought of that. Our kludge was to move her bedside lamp into the attached half-bath, giving us full-strength light that I then toned down by closing the door most of the way. It worked, but the effect of rolling over into a beam of lamplight as we caught our 20-minute snippets of sleep was disorienting. That Friday, I knew that I had to run to the Target store 15 miles south of our home, and to the grocery there; in trying to keep up with our newborn, I managed, finally, to leave the house at 2:30 that afternoon, and I swear, that was the best and earliest I could pull it off. After those two stops, standing in the grocery store parking lot, it was nearly 4:30 and, in early December, getting dark out.

At home, I brought Curran to Karline to feed, or to fall asleep on her breast. I tried to keep up with running the house; I wondered how I would ever even return to the four classes I was teaching, let alone how we’d finish our semester or our grading.

But we did come out the other end of that tunnel, eventually. Nancy helped with laundry and other work to keep the house from falling into entropy and madness and despair. And we had our friends.

One wonderful thing about the experience was having those truly amazing friends we could count on. We’d been part of dinner deliveries for friends who’d just had a child in the past; usually one or two friends of the parents-to-be would set up a schedule and share it among the friends of said parents, and people would choose a day or days on which to prepare and deliver dinner for the family. With Curran’s arrival, it was our turn to be on the receiving end. Our friends really came through (and being vegans, I fear we challenged their culinary prowess some), and thank whichever gods may be listening to / reading this for that. A newborn is a profoundly labor-intensive presence in one’s life. Our friends, mostly colleagues and spouses from the university, organized themselves into a team and kept us in food, brief visits to check in on us and meet Curran, and sanity for the week that followed our return home. Dinner may not sound like much, but believe me when I tell you: It is a most welcome thing not to add to one’s to-do list in that first week.

So: We had prepared for a natural delivery. In a genuine burst of nesting instinct, Karline had laid in and frozen as many entrees as the freezer would hold. We’d prepared for cloth diapers and a diaper pail and a crib, a dresser and a changing table and little sleep. We’d prepared for co-sleeping with Curran.

But we had not prepared for a C-section. We had not prepared for her needing to recover from such surgery after delivery, hadn’t counted on labor and delivery taking that kind of sleepless time, and hadn’t counted on just how little sleep we would actually be getting. We hadn’t thought about what sort of light we’d need in our bedroom.

But we were getting the feel of being parents. We were learning. And as our second week after Curran’s arrival came, we were more or less ready to see Nancy off and make do without her help.

But I wondered, seriously, what the next step meant: What would finding out what family life — our family life; our suddenly different life together as a family — mean?

What did I know about all this?


Jonathan Lyons’ novel, Signal to Noise: A Novel Infused With Music, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and cool indie bookstores everywhere. Set in Iowa City in the mid-to-late ’80s, the story immerses the reader in alternative and industrial music, with a playlist that includes Minneapolis’ The Replacements and Skunk; Joy Division, The Dead Kennedys; Iowa City’s Horny Genius and Swingin’ Teens; Skinny Puppy, and more. Give it a spin!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Natalie McLain April 18, 2012 at 10:22 pm

I look forward to reading more, and I’m happy I caught this in my feed today. I’m less verbose, but, I enjoy reading your take on things. Loving, witty, awkward, occasionally uncertain–an honest baby/new family story, for once. Thanks!


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