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When Chase Was Born

Dad's Turn

His side We're at the hospital the night before Melina, a week late, is to be induced. She thinks she's in labor, and she's terrified that our baby will decide to come on Doogie Howser's watch. "Doogie" is the name she has granted the fresh-face right out of medical school -- the young pup Melina is convinced couldn't deliver a newspaper without trauma. I think she's overreacting. Doogie must know her stuff, I reason, or she wouldn't be working at the pediatrics clinic.

Doogie breezes in from a room down the hall. "You're not in labor," she says curtly. I wince. Great bedside manner.

"How are your other patients doing?" Melina asks politely.

"The patient down the hall is in such pain," Doogie answers. "I just don't know what to do."

Melina freezes.

I stare in disbelief. Don't know what to do?

Our nurse shifts uneasily and immediately changes the subject. "So how was the meal?" she asks Melina. It's clear she wants to get Doogie out of the room. As quickly as possible.

Finally the doctor leaves, and Melina tells me to go home and get some sleep.

When I arrive back at the hospital at 6:30 the next morning, Melina is in pain. They've just induced her with Pitocin, and she looks stricken. "I was in labor last night," she says, sleeplessness giving an edge to her voice. "Doogie was wrong."

A more seasoned doctor is now on duty. At 11:30 a.m. Melina is fully dilated. Showtime. She hunkers down. I grab her legs and coach her through the contractions. The doctor and nurse shout encouragement. The head breaches. Melina looks worried. I wonder why.

I think things are going swimmingly. But Melina is my rock, so I'm concerned to see her unmoored. I check out the medical team. Everyone seems fine. No Code Red. But Melina still seems panicked. I remind myself this is normal. But is there, I wonder, really something wrong?

The doctor says that the baby's heart rate is dropping. My heart skips. Oh, no. My worst nightmare. But everything is going so fast that I decide not to overreact. I'm certain nothing is wrong. And the last thing I want to do is further alarm Melina.

Then the doctor brandishes some scissors and snips. Ouch! Melina winces. Out come the forceps. The doctor tugs. At 11:34, Chase McPherson Bellows slides into the world with all 21 digits intact. It's been 34 minutes since Melina went into full-blown labor. The doctor pronounces the delivery routine. That was easy street, I think. My 17-year-old son Adam from a previous marriage took 24 hours from early labor flutters to delivery -- I remember spending the night on the linoleum floor.

For two days, the Bellows family endures living in a hospital that tries (but fails) to be a hotel. There are trays of compromised food. Trips to the vending machines. Bad TV. Endless phone calls to tell everybody that Chase has arrived. In the end, I have nothing to do but rearrange the flowers. I am sooooo bored.

At least Melina has the rhythms of breastfeeding to distract her, but whenever Chase latches on, Melina flinches.

She presses on, but her milk just won't come in. I'm upset -- this is one aspect of child rearing I took for granted. I know how much Melina wants to nurse Chase. And I was prepared for all its inconveniences, which would largely fall to her.

We are soon hosting a legion of nurses who gently try to guide Chase to mother's milk.

"Hold the nipple this way," says one nurse.

"Try the football hold," says another.

"Pull his chin forward," says still another.

In the middle of all this we check out, pay bills, and wheelchair down to the car. We are back in the real world, with a newborn, alone. I've been here before, but I'm plenty scared. How long, I think, until I screw up?

At home, the breastfeeding continues to be troublesome. Even with a lactation specialist, Melina barely ekes out a meal for young Chase. She pumps. And pumps. And pumps. She becomes ever more frustrated.

Chase just can't get enough.

Melina has had enough.