I've never been more terrified...
Not about Voiceovers?
This Blog doesn't always have to be about voiceovers. Voiceovers are only one part of life.
For this blog, I’m going to bare my soul, more or less, and share about one of the most painful events I’ve ever experienced, and I wasn’t even the one experiencing the pain. This might be a messy blog. So be it. But if you’ve ever been party to childbirth – and by that, I don’t mean you yourself were given birth to, because then everyone would qualify – you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It all came down to one moment. 270 days led up to this, days filled with joy and excitement, wonder, anticipation, hopes, and fears. 6480 hours during which anything could have gone wrong. 388,800 minutes for a catastrophic failure to happen.
It didn’t. But it sort of did.
One In The Oven
It was the morning of October 25th, 2018. My son Brennan and I were in the living room, playing. Nothing too out of the ordinary, except I had neglected to check the toaster setting for my English Muffins, which would soon be blackened bricks.
I knew my wife was upstairs in the shower, and I also knew that today was a great day. She and I had both just come back from a marriage retreat two weeks prior that was much needed. Holy cow did we need that. It was a very difficult year, with lots of stress and some fighting. OK actually it was a little bit of stress, and lots of fighting. Don’t need to pinpoint the reasons why at this stage, just suffice it to say that we desperately needed the retreat. We had left Brennan with MeeMaw and Pop-Pop and headed off to a hotel in Tacoma, where we stayed for the whole weekend. We were anxious to pick him up and see him again on our way home, but we really enjoyed the retreat and were able to patch up some wounds and hit a reset button of sorts.
That was two weeks ago.
This morning, I happened to be lounging on the loveseat wearing only my boxers, because yeah. It was just a loungy morning. I was scrolling through something on my phone, when my wife emerged from the stairs in a towel and her hair all wet. I looked up and said “Hi, honey!” Without a word, she approached me, towel wrapped up to her neck and one of her hands on the inside of it, and the other on the outside. It didn’t occur to me that she was holding something.
In her eloquent way, she began, “Listen, I just wanted to tell you that I know you’ve been working hard.” I had been. “And I know you’ve been depressed about your weight lately.” Lately? More like my whole life, but yeah especially now. “And I just wanted to tell you that I love you, and I’m proud of you, and let’s gain weight together.”
She pulled it out, and I saw that glorious wand of pink and blue, with two distinct blue lines through the readout screen at the end. I instantly jumped up and shouted “NO WAY!!!!” and burst into tears as I grabbed her and hugged her. Brennan looked over and noticed something happening that didn’t equal the intensity and wonder of The Incredibles 2, and so he returned to it.
We jumped, we laughed, we cried. We couldn’t believe that we were pregnant again. We thought it would never happen. We’re a bit older and we started a bit later. When Brennan came along, he was a surprise in his own right. To know that we would now be on our way to becoming a family of four was just downright beautiful and majestic. I remember picking him up and twirling him around over and over and over and exclaiming “You’re gonna be a big brother you’re gonna be a big brother, you’re gonna be a big brother!!!” He didn’t know what brother meant yet – at least I don’t think, but he knew what big was. Either way, please put me back down so I can watch the Incredibles 2, which you’re interrupting, thank you very much.
We couldn’t believe it. We sat and talked for a while and just giggled. It was amazing. That was October 25th last year.
It’s Game Time.
Remember Aliens, directed by James Cameron in 1986? Yeah. Favorite movie of all time. The character Hicks says that to Ripley, and he means it, because it is. It’s quite literally game time. And it's applicable, because he's a warrior. And so is my wife.
We knew the day was close, but we also knew it could be today. Over the past few months my beautiful wife had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and so she had to watch her sugar intake, and actually had to puncture her beautiful fingers four times a day and test her levels. She had to drink her weight in water each day.
She had had a checkup on Monday, June 10th at Evergreen Women’s Clinic in Kirkland, and they had said that her fluid was a bit low. Moreover, if she didn’t get her levels up by that coming Wednesday – two short days later – they would have to induce.
Janine had heard horror stories of induction. Being induced is basically – from my sheep-brained man’s perspective, telling the body to be ready for pregnancy when it actually isn’t ready, and turning everything into a locomotive for delivery. A chemical called Pitocin takes care of that. She did not want that. I don’t blame her. My cousin and best friend just had his second son, and her wife had to be induced, and she went from 5 to 10 in 45 minutes, she had said that it was excruciating. I’d rather puke coat hangers based on the horror story I heard of it. Yikes.
Janine obeyed. She drank even more water, she walked regularly, she ate well, and her levels were always good. But be that as it may, when we went into the ultrasound room on Wednesday June 12th and the technician said her fluid was looking kinda low, we knew what that meant. Janine’s mouth creased into a frown and her eyes closed. She wanted so badly to have this baby naturally. Brennan was born naturally, but she wanted our second son to be born naturally, and on time, too. Not early. Not by someone else’s medicine, but by her own body saying it was time.
We verified it with the doctor, and she said that yes, Janine would have to be induced today. We were prepared, sure enough, as we had brought the diaper bag, Brennan’s little bag of clothes and food and snacks and toys, and Janine’s hospital bag. We had sent out warning texts out to friends and family who were going to take care of our dog and who might need to be called upon, but still, it was begrudgingly so. That baby was coming today, and not by our own will.
I dropped Janine off at Evergreen Women’s Clinic and then brought Brennan home to be watched by a longtime family friend who dearly loves Brennan, and she was elated to watch him until relief arrived in the form of my brother-in-law who would stay the night, and I would pick him back up from school the following morning. I scatterbrainedly (it’s a word, sure) explained everything in detail about dog food, cat food, Brennan food, her food, the pool rules, changing, where diapers are, where the remote is, where the phone numbers are, where the toys are, where we’ll be, where we wanted to be, etc.. Then, yours truly was screaming back down the highway in the “good to go” lane. I didn’t care about the fee; I needed to be with my wife.
When I found her in room 2141, she was doing well and in good spirits. She was fine. It was a bummer, but it would be fine. She had already been administered some penicillin and Pitocin, and so we were underway. A little unprepared and incredulous, but willing and ready.
A Veritable Nightmare
What I’m about to describe can only be described as indescribable. I still shake my head how anyone – ANYONE – can go through what I witnessed my wife go through. Even as I write this, the PTSD in me is kicking in, and I am tearing up remembering the utter pain and trauma we both experienced.
Janine began the slow labor climb at 3:30pm, and things were fine, she walked, she stretched, she talked with our doula, she rested, she ate. At 8:41pm, after some stretching by the doula’s boss (she was more experienced and it was wonderful having her there!) I was behind Janine steadying her standing legs when I saw some droplets hit the floor. I was just reaching for a rag to mop them up, when I heard a splash, and then there was, um, more water. Lots more. Janine’s water broke. No turning back now. Here we go.
Her contractions had slowly escalated, as that’s what Pitocin does: it tells the body that it’s in labor and essentially forces it into labor. The contractions were 2-4 minutes apart, then 2-3, then 2, and they were getting stronger. By 9pm, she was starting to hurt, and was moaning. I was behind her, praying for her, thinking in my sheep-brain that it would be just like last time.
It was nothing like last time.
By 9:45 she was in the tub, and she was hurting, really hurting. The last time we were in this room (the very room, as it turns out, that Brennan was born in), it was a slow climb, but it was manageable, and she moaned very little, and pushed very controlled and she owned it. Now, her body was taking off without her, and it was like she had a coat stuck in the door as it was rolling down the tracks.
I use the hashtag because that’s what I use in social media when I talk about her. She is a warrior, a freaking warrior made out of stern stuff. She’s been through a lot in her life, as we all have, but ultimately, she’s been through some other things that lots of people have not, and she’s weathered them. I love my wife. She is made of untearable fibers, and unbeatable metal that has been forged in the fiery lava of volcanos. If the One Ring was in fact unbreakable, then she was what it was made out of. She is unbreakable, unbeatable, unmeltable. (Just please don’t throw her in a volcano to test my theory.) I’ll say it again: she is a freaking warrior. I’m so proud of her.
By 10pm, she was really, really hurting. As a husband of a wife in labor, there is absolutely nothing I can do. There are in fact things I should NOT do under any circumstances. I knew what those were. My job was to hold her hand, let her clutch me, cry against me, pull me, bite me. She needed someone of equally stern material to weather this storm with her, and up until that time, I was that person.
Have you ever been disassembled? I have. It happened on June 12th, 2019.
Janine started screaming and convulsing. She was being ripped apart from the inside. Her body was forcing her to relinquish control, and she had to simply tag along and weather the pain. She screamed. She screamed more. And then she kept screaming. We got her out of the tub, and put her in bed, and I asked, confusedly, in hope of helping her, “Where’s the epidural? When can she get that? The doula boss looked at me and said, “You don’t understand; she’s having a baby in the next five minutes.”
What happened in the next five minutes I’ll never really concretely be able to grasp. I heard my wife yell screams I didn’t even know existed in her soul or her lungs. I heard terror and sadness and uncontrollable yelling. She grabbed me and bit me and pulled my hair and my clothes. I desperately tried to console her, voicing words into her ears and reminding her that I’m here.
Me, the voiceover artist. I, who get hired and paid to encourage and motivate people, was stripped of all my power and ability, as I could simply do nothing except absorb her anguish. And when I say anguish, I mean absolute utter unbearable pain.
My second son, Asher Justus, was born at 10:21pm on June 12th, 2019, at Evergreen Hospital, and for the first five minutes of his life I didn’t even know he was there. All I could hear, reverberating in my ears and my heart and my soul, was the pain of my wife, and for the first time ever in my 46 years of existence, I thought I was going to lose someone right through my fingers. I couldn’t understand why it was that painful – I mean painful? Sure. But that painful, like it-sounded-like-she-was-being-sawn-in-two painful? I had no idea my son was even there.
My son had come out, and my wife was still screaming for a bit, but I genuinely thought that I was going to leave the hospital with two sons and no wife. Images of a memorial service cascaded through my head and it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t her time to go. It wasn’t right. How could my new son do this to her? She needed to be here! I needed her desperately. For the first time in my life, I was mortally afraid – but not for my own life: for the life of another. For the love of my life. My beautiful bride, who chose me and decided to make a home with me and raise a family with me. And I was the one who got her pregnant! I did this to her! How could I have done this to her.
I nearly killed my wife.
The screams died down, and the baby was born, and we all celebrated. And it was joyful and exuberant and wonderful. But somehow, in the midst of all of that, it was devoid of the same rejoicing we had had the first time around. Whereas for the first birth my focus was 50% on my wife and 50% on my son, the second birth was 100% on my wife. I had an unshakeable feeling that she was going to suffer cardiac arrest, and I can still picture her lying on that bed, screams dying down, getting quieter now, and her fast, rapid breaths becoming white noise, blending into the steady beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep of the flatline. I have never been more afraid, and I hurt still at this typing.
It’s over – I love you
My wife is ok. She made an excellent recovery, because, again, she’s made of hardened lava. And I finally connected with my son. I took him into my arms and kissed him, but he was far behind in the race of kiss receiving. I had kissed my wife and bawled into her hair through sobbing and tear-filled gratitude that she was still alive. It never occurred to me that the hospital was monitoring her too, and that for any sign of cardiac arrest they would have acted swiftly and accordingly. But she made it. And the hashtag warrior belongs to no other.
What I breathed into her ear. The things I said. I need you. Brennan needs you. Asher needs you. Stay with me. Honey look at me. Honey listen to me. I was absolutely powerless to take any of her fear and pain away. When Asher came out, he actually ripped my wife, and they had to suture her up. I hear this is somewhat common in inductions, but whatever. I don’t care about the statistics, I cared about saving my wife, and for the first time in my life I felt utterly powerless to do anything about anything but trust that in the dim reckoning of her mind, in the screaming pounding of her ears, she could hear the voiceover out there somewhere, dim, quietly urging her on and telling her she could do it. That voice was colored through blood and pain and anguish on June 12th, 2019, and it will never be the same.
Where do I go from here?
I guess if you think about it, I can use what happened and try to channel some of the emotional energy into my performances. I guess I can try to make sense out of it. I feel an awful lot like Frodo in the end of the Return of the King movie, where he says: "How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep… that have taken hold.”
My old life is gone. A new one has begun, and we’re a family of four, and it’s good. But there are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken cold. I’m actually struggling with paternal post-pardom depression (yeah, it’s a thing) and PTSD because of what happened. I don’t ever want to hear those screams again. I don’t ever want to not be able to help my wife. I want to, need to, owe it to be by her side forever, and to love her back to health, and to allow myself to be loved to health as well. You see, I love my wife, and I can’t imagine losing her.
It’s just that unfortunately I can now actually imagine it.
Thank you, Janine Marie, for loving me enough to start a family, to carry my sons, and to bring them to childbirth and beyond. I love you, I honor you, I salute you, and I am SO grateful for you, beyond words, immeasurable, forever.
For the rest of you, I'm sorry, but this one was NOT about voiceovers. It's about life. Isn't it, Asher? Oh, he's sleeping. Shhhhhhhhhh...
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