My life can be split into a pre- November 12th 2012 phase and a post November 12th 2012 phase. My entire perception of life, love and family shifted on the day I became a father. I used to hold value to things that are actually worthless and now I treasure things that I used to take for granted. Little moments, subtle phrases, nuanced idiosyncrasies give me the greatest joys and the biggest laughs.
The miracle began with a phone call and a quick shot of adrenaline.
Friday, March 2nd 2012
I am loading up my truck after a gig at Universal Bar and Grill. My 90's alt. rock cover band had a strong gig on a tiny stage. My phone in my pocket starts ringing as I'm getting done loading my amp into my truck. It's my wife, Monica.
Monica: In tears and choking up, "BAAABE..." more tears and weeping.
Me: "WHAT! What's wrong?!" I immediately reach into my other pocket to grab my keys. It sounds like she has been brutally beaten or has broken her leg in a bad fall. I am ready to spring into my truck and leave the rest of my gear at the venue.
Monica: "No, I'm okay..." cries "My test came out POSITIVE!" more tears.
I breathe a sigh of relief and let the cortisol drain from my head. We had been recently trying to start a family and this is the best news I could have asked for. I tell her how happy I am and that I love her. We hope that things go well for the next few months before we announce to the world, but for now we agree to call our moms and let them know. Good, this is scary but good. We say goodbye and I finish loading up my gear so I can go home and celebrate.
People are so supportive and happy for us. I am just a bit overwhelmed. I had only recently warmed up to the concept of being married and having a family. I was pretty sure that I was going to be living the life of a vagabond musician for the rest of my life. It was only when I met Monica and I started to see what a good mother she would make that I started considering what having a family would be like for me. We were both good people, so you could stand to reason that we would make good little human beings. It was worth a shot and I had faith that Monica would be the best partner I could have hoped for. She would handle all the details and I would make sure that I worked hard and did what I was told. Everything would work out fine. At least I hoped so!
We find out that it's a boy and I'm over the moon. I always wanted a J.P. When I was growing up I always liked that my cousin John Paul would go by "J.P". It always stuck with me. I wanted a "Joseph Philip" for years because my middle name is Joseph but Monica changed my mind. She thinks "Joe" is a little too common but she's on board with a "J" name. She comes up with "Julian" and although it takes me a second to warm up to it, I really start to like it. There are many "Julia's" and "Julie's" in our lives that we hold dearly and I think that "Julian" has a strong, regal tone to it.
Every doctor's appointment goes great. I make it to every appointment with Monica and drive her around. She is a wonderful pregnant woman. She's never too moody and temperamental. She would always ask kindly for a glass of water at night or some ice cream before bed. She nested like a champ and got all the necessary steps in order from the baby's room to the hospital arrangements. I stayed doting, vigilant and didn't dare complain. She was doing all the hard work here, I was only helping and I was fine with that. The only issue was dishes. Her belly started to become so big that her arms couldn't reach the sink by the third trimester so I was constantly doing dishes. I think I lost my patience once about the dishes but that was the only time.
She's fantastic through the whole process. She suffers through a summer pregnancy which is rough but as soon as the weather starts to cool there is some relief. JP's due date is November 10th. As the date fast approaches the concept of having him here still doesn't seem real to me.
Saturday, November 10 2012
I'm ready to go to the hospital at any moment. The due date comes along and one thing is clear, Monica is getting a cold. Having all that weight on your stomach and lungs is uncomfortable anyways but with the sniffles it's unbearable. Saturday night is a mess. Monica literally can't sleep. She can't even breathe when she's laying down. She constantly has to get up from the bed which is a process in and of itself. No sleep for us Saturday night. Sunday morning we make the decision to go to the hospital because on top of the rough night we had, Monica was also showing signs of labor. Away we went.
Sunday, November 11 2012
The hospital is fortunately less than a mile away down the street. We had a miserable night the night before but we were hopeful that we'd meet JP soon. Once we check in to labor and delivery they get Monica into the observation room.
The testing revealed that she had all the symptoms of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia means that there is protein in the urine and that the mother has high blood pressure, meaning that the baby could be under duress. The decision is made to admit her and induce. All of this is fine by us. We had decided in the birth plan to have a natural birth, possibly induce if needed and to go with an epidural so that Monica wouldn't experience too much pain.
All right, things weren't going as smoothly as we had hoped but so far, so good. Monica was in good hands and we had checked into a bed. As we settled into her hospital room the epidural specialist came by to give Monica the shot. An epidural shot is injected into the spine via a needle to block/reduce pain during delivery.
Monica sits at the side of her bed and as the specialist is injecting the needle, Monica gets startled and gives a little jolt. She can be squeamish. The specialist looks a little concerned as she looks at the point of injection. "Okay, I think it went in." Not too reassuring. In any case, we don't know yet if she's numb but the injection seemed to go in at the right spot. Trusting that the specialist knew what she was doing and thinking that Monica's jolt hadn't messed up the injection, we thought nothing else of it. We settled into the evening and talked to each other. I reassured her that she was in good hands and we would be just fine.
We made the decision that she would stay in the hospital and I would go home for the evening. Neither of us had slept the night before and Monica was fine with me getting some sleep for the big day. She had already been induced and so now was just a waiting game. I told her to call me as soon as she was dilated about five centimeters. I kissed her goodnight and drove back home exhausted. Tomorrow everything was going to change.
Monday, November 12 2016
5AM- The phone rings, it's Monica "8 centimeters, come now."
I had showered the night before and was good to go after a brief changing of clothes. I had not expected the induction to be so effective. We were ready to rock. I show up, park, then rush up to Monica's room. Nurses are coming in and out routinely to check on her progress. I make a call to Monica's mom who was going to be in the room with us.
Monica still had a cold. She was up all night with contractions which makes it two days in a row and to make it worse, it seems the epidural didn't work. She was feeling everything. Monica is a trooper through all this and I grip her hand. She's weak but I tell her to grasp my hand anyways. With every contraction she tightens for a quick moment and then her grip becomes weak again.
It's time to begin the delivery process. By now, there are two nurses helping her out and monitoring her progress. They attach a heart rate monitor to Julian's head, which is crowning, and one to Monica. Time to push.
"1, 2, 3, PUSH!"
JP comes out just a little, but then slips back in. Uh oh. The nurse informs me about what I kind of feared. JP is trying to come out "sunny side up"
Babies are normally born facing downward towards the mother's backside. This makes it easier to slip out. Being turned around during childbirth is possible, but it makes things a little rougher and can be complicated.
"1, 2, 3, PUSH!"
He comes out a little more, but between pushes he slips back just enough to make progress achingly slow. Monica is a mess, she's sick, scared, worried and has no energy. Yet, she is here trying to push this baby out. I tell her to dig deep, stay tough. I tell her that she can do this. By now Monica's mother is here and she helps Monica to calm her nerves. After a while, Lucy takes a seat. She's worried too, I can tell.
Okay Phil, you have to remain calm. Be strong. We're going to get through this.
"1, 2, 3, PUSH!"
The baby's heart rate starts dropping from a steady 135 bpm to an alarming 50.
The room is silent. The nurses stare at the monitor and we're all thinking the same thing.
"Get back up."
After a few seconds that seem like an eternity, it does.
I've never breathed a sigh of relief like that ever before and I hope to never again.
Okay, this plan needs course correction. The doctor stops in and we all give him the rundown of the situation. The doctor says what everyone is thinking. "I recommend doing a Cesarean section." He looks at me, "Is this alright with you?"
Inside I am screaming.
I slump into my seat.
Dammit, dammit, dammit. I did NOT want Monica cut open. Things weren't going very smoothly at first, that's all fine. I never expected the delivery to go this far off the rails. For the first time, I feel like crying. My inner dialog is a series of expletives and anger. I lose hope for the first time, but then I get a grip.
This is the only way to go to save the baby and Monica. Have faith that the doctors and the nurses know what they're doing. This was not in your plan, but you must be adaptable.
I let the feeling pass over me and then come to grips. I stand up and the nurses escort me out into the hallway outside the operating room. I put on my scrubs and sit patiently while they prep for the emergency C-section.
"You need to be strong" I tell myself. "Monica needs you to be strong."
So I will be.
Inside the Operating Room
The nurse takes me into the operating room. Inside the gleaming white room is Monica on the operating table, a blue curtain covering her lower half, bisecting the room. The doctor and the nurses are on the other side of the blue curtain operating on her lower half. There is a chair to Monica's left for me and to her right is the anaesthesiologist. Monica's eyes are wide and alarmed. I ask her how she feels. She replies, "I don't feel ANYTHING." Not what I meant, but understandable. It must be very weird to be splayed open and not to feel the lower half of your body.
I don't remember the name of her anaesthesiologist but I am so grateful he was there. He kept us feeling positive and really reassured us, "You're doing great Monica!" "You guys are going to be great parents, I can tell." He knew that we were in dire straits and his bedside manner was exactly what we needed at the moment. I am very thankful for him being there.
I am told that I can come around the curtain and see the operation. As I take a glimpse from my seat a quick, crimson splatter of blood draws a line on the floor.
"No thanks, I'll stay here."
Monica, the anaesthesiologist and I are a trio behind the blanket making conversation and seeing our way through this situation. The squishing and scraping behind the curtain is in the background and all I can do is focus on Monica and tell her I love her and that's we'll be okay.
Suddenly I hear, "Aw, he has a dimple."
My heart jumps. He's here! I look at Monica and out of the corner of my eye I see the little baby being carried to the corner of the room onto a tray. The first thing I see is a full head of dark hair.
I break down in tears.
"Monica, he's perfect."
I am weeping.
The nurses invite me over to see him. He's not crying, his limbs are a light blue. His eyes are closed and he's wiggling his torso, but something's not right. The two nurses on either side of him have stone cold faces. They are at work getting JP up and running. One nurse is suctioning fluid from his mouth with a device. After a long slurping sound I hear his cry.
Now he's giving it a good yell and stretching out his lungs. The nurses are roughing him up and getting the blood circulating to the rest of his body.
I cut the cord. It's rough, tenuous and takes some effort to snip. So far, things are looking up. JP is gurgling a lot in his throat, but he seems stable. More work needed to be done to clear out his lungs. There's no time for Monica to hold him. I follow the baby on the tray into the NICU.
In the NICU the nurse is working patiently and diligently to suck the liquid out of JP's lungs. When babies are under duress they often poop inside the womb and the baby can swallow the feces. The liquid is called meconium, which is a dark green fluid. It needed to be removed immediately or the baby could choke. The nurse filled a small cup more than halfway full of the liquid. I was feeling so many things at once. Relief, worry, joy, fear, and a little peeved that the nurse was being so rough with inserting the tube into this little baby infant's throat. After it was all said and done, I was impressed with how professionally and stoically the nurse had basically saved my son's life. The nurse gently cleaned him up and finished making sure he was okay. JP was angry, bewildered, but alive and strong.
He was swaddled and calmed down. It seemed like he settled back into the womb. We almost lost him. Thanks to the doctors and the nurses he made it, but let's not forget to give the baby his due. This eight pound baby boy was tough.
As I held him for the first time his dark, almond eyes opened up and stared at the direction of my voice. This was the voice that talked to him and sang him songs in the womb. This was that voice.
The hospital rolled Monica into the NICU where she was finally able to hold him. She needed to be supported due to the surgery. Monica went through complete hell. There are benefits to natural birth and benefits to C-section and Monica experienced neither. We went through the ringer and came out the other side.
The Maternity Ward
The next few days were a whirlwind. Phone calls, visits, family, grabbing food, making sure Monica was okay, check ups for JP. Monica couldn't do much due to the operation so it was mostly JP and I bonding. I stayed with him, held him and practiced swaddling him. Monica needed help getting up and moving and needed lots of sleep. The outpouring of messages and congratulations were amazing. The three days in the maternity ward felt like a dream.
JP was very strong and healthy. Thank God. On Thursday Monica had recovered enough to make the trip home. We came to the hospital with two people and left with three. That was a heavy concept for me to grasp. JP wasn't real to me during the nine months leading to his delivery. Yes, he was there growing inside of Monica but he was just a concept. A notion of a little human being but not an actual person on this plane of existence. Now that he was here it was almost like magic. On Sunday there was an idea of a baby and on Monday he appears. It's just wild to me.
Four Years Later
From day one, JP showed me how to be strong. Years later, Monica and I still marvel at what we went through. It was really uncertain that we would be okay. We had a dream of a pregnancy and a nightmare of a delivery and we were very lucky. JP is tough and he always has been. I know this and whenever I see him scrape his knee or get a little hurt, first I comfort him and then I ask him:
"Are you tough?"
the answer he gives me without fail is,
And then he walks it off and gets over it.
JP is resilient, noble and strong and I get the PRIVILEGE to be his father. I work hard and test myself because I am living up to HIS example. He inspires me to see how tough I really am.
I am only trying to catch up.
To Julian Philip Romo
Son, you are my superhero. I see it everyday in how you treat others and how you express yourself. How you stand up for your mother and how you love so fiercely. I sometimes can't wrap my head around how I helped deliver you into this world.
I will do my best to provide you with a father that you deserve. I will try everyday to live up to the task that is in front of me. I used to think that I was the center of my world and all the things surrounding me all work to serve my purpose. When you came into my world the focus shifted to you and now everything in my world including myself exist around you. I am not the end of the branch that started at the dawn of humanity but only a segment, part of something greater than me and my day to day wants and desires. You will go forth into the world with your noble heart and your strength and be a gift to the world you inhabit.
Happy Birthday, son.