Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Today is Leif's Birth Day - He was born 34 years ago

We like to think we can plan to have a child. **A** child, yes, but not a particular child. Each of us is a biological accident, the product of a myriad small decisions we make and a million coincidences of life and biology, such that a particular genetic combination happened and a unique individual is born.

Leif was a planned child, a very much wanted child, but there was no way to predict the child we would have. In the days when I was pregnant with Leif, ultrasound was not a standard procedure. We didn't know whether our baby would be a girl or a boy, and of course, we didn't know what kind of personality he would have, how bright he would be, or anything else. Deciding to have a child is one of the ultimate acts of faith, both faith in life itself and in ourselves, in our ability to be parents and provide what that child needs to thrive and live.

All of us who are alive are lucky that that cosmic roll of the dice brought us into being. Had one factor been different, some other person, not us, would be here. On February 27, 2008 I sent this quote from page 361 the book “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, to Leif. I sent it because I thought he would identify with it and appreciate it, but he didn't answer the email. That in itself wasn't unusual. He often didn't answer email, but I think this paragraph is one he would have answered under most circumstances.

Leif variously described himself as an atheist or an agnostic, and he was a brilliant biology student. I wanted him to appreciate his life. I was concerned about his depression, and I thought perhaps this would give him a new perspective. I'll never know what he thought about it.

"I tried to convey how lucky we are to be alive, given that the vast majority of people who could potentially be thrown up by the combinatorial lottery of DNA will in fact never be born. For those of us lucky enough to be here, I pictured the relative brevity of life by imagining a laser-thin spotlight creeping along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything before or after the spotlight is shrouded in the darkness of the dead past, or the darkness of the unknown future. We are staggeringly lucky to find ourselves in the spotlight. However brief our time in the sun, if we waste a second of it, or complain that it is dull or barren or (like a child) boring, couldn't this be seen as a callous insult to those unborn trillions who will never even be offered life in the first place? As many atheists have said better than me, the knowledge that we have only one life should make it all the more precious. The atheist view is correspondingly life-affirming and life-enhancing, while at the same time never being tainted with self-delusion, wishful thinking, or the whingeing self pity of those who feel that life owes them something."

The brief spotlight shone all too briefly on Leif. He didn't even live half a normal lifespan, and yet he lived 12,152 days, each day a day of experiences, feelings, potential. Each day he was alive was a day we loved him, and we always will.

Darren, a friend, said we should look at Leif's 33 years of life as a gift. It was a gift, a beautiful and important one, but that doesn't mean that the loss of that gift hurts any less.

Leif was our second child and he was six years younger than his brother, Peter Anthony. We were living in Manhattan, Kansas, in our old stone house when we decided it was time to have another baby. They were so far apart because Peter A. had often been sick with ear infections and other things as a baby and toddler, and hadn't ever slept through the night until he was three-and-a-half years old, and I had been too worn out to think I was ready for another baby. Then we moved from Germany back to Kansas, where Peter W. initially thought he would get out of the army and open his own office. We bought the old house and worked to fix it up and make it livable.

During the first year we were there, we realized that Manhattan had too many lawyers, that it would likely take at last five years to make a reasonable living from a newly opened legal office, meaning it would probably be that long before we could afford another child, and by then Peter Anthony would be eleven. Peter wasn't thrilled with civilian law and said if he was going to join a firm, he might was well stay with the one he was with, the U.S. Army, where he already had some seniority and wouldn't be relegated to less interesting work the way he would be in a new firm, for a long time. That decision, to stay in the army, opened up the possibility that we could afford to have Leif.

My pregnancy was uneventful except that I got some kind of nasty virus when I was three months pregnant, ran a very high fever and was so lethargic I could hardly keep my eyes open and stagger off the couch during the day. I worried about what that fever and virus were doing to my baby, but there was nothing I could do about it except what my doctors ordered and that was primarily to drink a lot of fluids and take aspirin. I just prayed he would be all right. I still wonder whether that illness affected Leif in some way. He claimed he had no sense of smell, for instance. There are effects of maternal illnesses in early pregnancy. I will never know.

They must have calculated my due date wrong, because they thought Leif was due in late December. They said he was full term size at that point, and they started having me come in for weekly appointments, getting concerned about the placenta deteriorating. I was going to the OB-GYN Clinic at the Irwin Army Community Hospital at Fort Riley. They had given me a choice of going there or to a civilian doctor in Manhattan, and I chose Fort Riley, even though it meant an 11 mile drive, because they didn't allow fathers in the delivery room. The doctors in Manhattan did. Peter W. didn't think he wanted to be there and I didn't want him to feel like he had to do it.

Sometime in January, they tried to induce labor, but it didn't work. I guess even then Leif was stubborn. :) They started having me come in twice a week and said that if he wasn't there in a week, they would do a Caesarian. He was getting too big, and they felt the placenta was getting too old.

I as driving myself to and from these appointments, and on January 28, 1975, I drove myself out to Fort Riley for my appointment, planning to go to the commissary (military grocery store) afterward before going back home, where Peter A. was staying with Peter W.'s mother, Ellen, who had come from California to be with us for Leif's birth. My plans were not going to work.

When I got to my appointment at 11:30 a.m., the doctor told me I was already 10 centimeters dilated and I was “going upstairs.” I told him I wasn't feeling anything or having strong contractions, and I needed to go to the commissary and I'd come back later that afternoon. Nothing doing. He was not letting me out of the hospital. I couldn't believe it.

I called Peter W. at work and told him. He was about to head to the gym for a game of raquetball and figured that labor would take many hours, so said he would come by after his game. His boss overheard the conversation and said, “Pete, you wife is having a baby. Get over there.” So, Peter stopped by the library to pick up a book to read to me, and showed up shortly thereafter.

I was in the labor suite with one other woman. Peter started reading to us from Erma Bombeck's hilarious book, “I Lost Everything in the Postnatal Depression.” It hurt to laugh, but laugh we did. It wasn't long though, before I told Peter he'd better go get the nurse. Leif had decided to put in an appearance FAST.

They came in and discovered I'd better be moved to the delivery room quickly. I said goodbye to Peter and off I went. A few minutes later, I was surprised when I heard his voice in the delivery room and saw him. I said, “What are you doing in here?” He said the nurse had asked him whether he wanted to come in. I was surprised he had, but he did great and I was glad he was there to welcome Leif into the world.

It's a good thing the doctor hadn't allowed me to leave the hospital, because Leif was born at 1:25 p.m., all 9 pounds, 15 ounces of him! I had that big baby boy in less than two hours!

Leif was tall even then, over 24 inches long. The average newborn is about 20-21 inches and usually 7-8 pounds. He dwarfed all the other babies in the hospital nursery. They teased me that I was supposed to raise him after I had him and asked what college he was going to.

Leif was a fairly easy newborn, very curious and alert from the beginning. We were so happy to have him!

His birthday was a very special day for us. It will always be special, for that was the day we met him and he came into our arms.

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