Leo - how he got here

"Don't go to work today." My wife, Elle, looked up at me. "Stay home today. We'll shut the ringer off the phone, change the answering message - and get this baby born!"

Elle and I have had an exciting last year. In February 99, we get engaged. That summer, my father, Leo, became very ill and died in July. We got married in September and found out that we were pregnant shortly after. My sister - who had started a rumor that Elle was pregnant at the wedding, and was teasing us for having the first grandchild, discovered that she too was pregnant. In April we bought a house and moved in May. Finally, here on the last day of May - Elle is tired of being pregnant and just wants everything DONE.

So, I called work and they wished us luck. Elle had already had a false start on Sunday (today being Tuesday) and Bun was a few days past due. Since we decided not to know the sex of the baby, it was simply Bun. We walked down to the Full House Cafe and had a spicy breakfast. We walked home and made a loaf of bread. Elle came across a recipe in "The ChildBearing Year" for starting labor - 2oz orange juice, 2oz vodka, and 2oz castor oil to be taken three times, once each hour. The book said that 3-5 hours after this, labor would begin. Well, we didn't have vodka, so we substituted gin. Elle drank this vile concoction at noon, then again at one - but was drunk and sick of it to have the last dose.

We called our midwife - Danu - to confirm that she was coming over for a checkup that evening. Danu had just gotten back from a four-day labor and wanted to get some sleep, so we re-scheduled for Friday, and warned her that we were trying to get things moving. We weren't concerned because Danu worked with another midwife, Mason. Both Danu and Mason are highly skilled and wonderful people.

Elle and I both napped for a bit, then 6 a-clock rolled around and Elle began having "stomach cramps". "It's just gas." I wasn't buying THAT line. So we timed the "stomach cramps" and found that they were four minutes apart and lasting thirty seconds. I called Mason and told her the scoop. Mason felt that we would probably be having Bun within the next day, and call her back if the water breaks, or Elle can't talk through contractions - and not to worry about calling Danu.

Elle and I settled in to riding through the contractions. We lit tiki torches in the back yard and howled at the moon-less night together. It was about nine when Elle said she felt the weight of Bun on her cervix and the contractions were getting really strong. I called Danu, who thought we were still a long way off, until she heard Elle howling in the background. She said she be right over. I called my mom, Elle's mom and Elle's sister Alessandra - The birthing party - and they were all on their way.

Elle's water broke around 10:20. We were on the floor in the living room still riding the contractions. Everyone showed up within the next few minutes. We moved back and forth between the bedroom, bathroom and living room having contractions. Danu checked Elle and found that we were already dilated five centimeters - more than halfway done with labor. More contractions, it seemed like an hour passed. Elle asked Danu if she wanted to check the dilation again, but Danu told us it had only been ten minutes.

At this point, I was not simply offering Elle a comforting hand to squeeze, I was physically holding her up to keep the contractions from throwing her to the floor. Danu told us that the contractions weren't going to get any worse. Both Elle and I were relieved. Elle's bladder let go during one of the contraction, and soaked both our feet.

"Don't worry about it."

The midwives suggested we climb into the shower. Quickly undressing between contractions, I started the water and we climbed in. Elle couldn't say much of anything at this point, it took all her concentration to cope. We stood there for a few minutes and let the water flow over us. Someone lit a candle and shut off the light. The water soothed both of us - even though I was now struggling to keep a wet and slippery Elle from hitting the shower floor. A few minutes later Elle shouted "No Water!" and I shut it off. The midwives helped her out of the shower and get dried off while I quickly dried most of me and grabbed Elle again.

Something we had discussed months before - Elle had been looking through a book on active child birth and came to a picture of a woman, naked, in the middle of a bed giving birth while several people, clothed, stood around watching and helping. Elle asked that she not be the only naked one in the room when giving birth. I'm quite comfortable nude, and I wanted to be part of the birth process, so I agreed. We had told Danu of this, but I guess we had forgotten to tell Mason, as she asked three times if I wanted to get dressed. I was thinking of undressing earlier, but before everyone showed up, I was running back and forth trying to get everything situated. Being clothed was useful - I had pockets! But now that everyone was here taking care of things, I was comfortable enough to forgo clothes.

The midwives escorted us to the bedroom, where the scene was set. The birthing stool we had rented was next to the bed facing the door. The lights were low and several candles had been lit. Danu and Mason had set up their supplies by our bedroom door. There was room for me to squat behind the stool as Elle sat in it. After riding a few contractions this way, Mason found a small crate for me to sit on, sparing my legs. Danu and Mason situated themselves in front of Elle, the grandmothers-to-be watched from the hallway, and Alessandra - who wanted to be there, but didn't really want to watch - darted around the house getting miscellaneous things.

It was a beautiful arrangement. As Elle contracted, I held her hands as I wrapped my knees and arms around her from behind and blew gently into her face. Between contractions, she leaned back on my chest, and I leaned back on the wall and told her to relax, calm and comforting. I don't think I could have been more involved with the birth. Traditionally, fathers have been relegated to the waiting room. When I was born, my father was breaking that tradition by being in the room as I was delivered and helping my mother with the contractions. Some hospitals and birthing centers now give the father the job of cutting the cord - an odd, symbolic task. But here I was giving myself to supporting my wife. Using my body to comfort her. Using my voice, my breath, my whole self to help. Trying to anticipate her needs and get them filled. I was even acting as an Elle-translator.

"(Grunt)" point.
"Hey Mason, could you hand me that ice? Thanks."

(Later I heard that at one point when the midwives asked for warm washcloths, both mothers looked at each other - neither wanting to give up their posts - and relayed that request to Alessandra.)

Now it was time to get down to business. Mason gave Elle a bit of coaching. To prevent tearing, she told us that at some point during the birth, she might tell Elle to stop pushing and just hold so the baby wouldn't come out too fast. With each contraction, we pushed and pushed and pushed.

The midwives had a small fetal monitor - sort of like a thin TV remote with a quarter sized area that pressed to Elle's belly. They used this to monitor Bun's heartbeat. They were concerned, as Bun's heart rate was racing during contractions, and falling dangerously low between. Elle hollered at them to get it off of her belly, as every little touch on her belly was almost painful. Mason quietly explained what was happening, and apologized, but it had to be kept on for awhile. (I was again thankful that we weren't in a hospital, as at the first sign of danger, the hospital will strap mom-to-be into a fetal monitor that is built into a wide belt strapped across her belly.) We heard the midwives ask for the oxygen tank, and Elle pushed even harder through the next contraction. Then Bun was fine - seems Bun was upset about his/her head molding through the birth canal.

The midwives and the Moms told us that they could see the head with short brown hair. They asked if Elle wanted to touch Bun's head, but she shook her head, no. She was concentrating and trying not to be concerned about what was happening 'down there'. They asked her if I could touch the head and she shrugged. So I reached down and felt (for the first of many times) this soft smooth hair on this yet-unborn head. Magical! A few more pushes (was that only a few minutes??) and Bun's head was born at 1:25am. An hour later at 1:26am, the rest of Bun made his appearance. They immediately placed Leo Thomas Epperson on Elle's chest and I held him there against her and we gazed down on our son for the first time. Danu cleared his mouth and nose of fluid and he took his first breath, and I started to tear up. He went from ashen-blue to pink with his second breath. With his third, he let out a slight "aaah." It was almost a year ago that my father had done the reverse, and here I was watching the beginning of a new life, all our new lives!

Elle and I held him there for a moment, then Elle tried to feed him. He wasn't quite ready though - he was still admiring the view from the outside. Danu asked if I wanted to cut the cord, I didn't want to let him go of either of them, so I asked if she would, and she did.

Elle got her voice back and asked to move onto the bed. The midwives said that we couldn't do that until Rudy (DiPlacenta!) was out - so Elle started pushing again immediately, and asked us all to sing "Volari, whoa oh oh oooh!"

"He's just got to finish parking the Caddi - c'mon Rudy, your turn next. Come on! Put on your fadora and get moving!"

Yup, Elle had her humor back too.

After we bid Rudy a fond farewell and a job well done, we moved onto the bed and everyone let us alone for a bit.

There we were. Wife and Husband now become Mother, Father and Son. We lay there with Leo between us and bid him welcome to the world. We quietly sang to him:

"Who will buy this wonderful morning?
Such a day you never will see.
Who will tie it up with a ribbon
and put it in a box for me?
You've never seen a day so sunny
it could not happen twice.
Where is the man with all the money?
its cheap at twice the price!"

"Who will buy this wonderful feeling?
I'm so high, I swear I could fly
Me oh my, I don't want to lose it.
So what am I to do,
To keep the sky so blue?
There must be someone who will buy."

The next day, we buried Rudy under a new lemon tree in the back yard and thanked him again.

As I sit here finishing this less than a week later, Leo is nestled in a sling fussing on my lap and suckling on the back of his hand when he can catch it. The start of a whole new life.