Flying the Coop

ImageMy wife and I have spent a good deal of time recently preparing our son to leave the nest; for the first time he’s moving out from under our roof.

As I was explaining to my wife earlier, I see it as the end of an era. Our firstborn has lived with us for just over 20 years now. In August of 1993 he was just a tiny baby, only a few weeks into his life. I remember those days vividly. The Friday afternoon I brought my wife and him home from the hospital we were so exhausted that the three of us fell asleep on our bed. Our new little family was all together in our home for the first time. Yes, I know that’s a big no-no. Parents should never let their baby sleep in the bed with them, as the child could end up getting crushed and/or suffocated. I’m very thankful that after a much-needed nap, my wife and I woke up to find our little guy safe and sound.

Long nights of limited sleep followed his arrival, but those were times I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It was mostly I who got up with him in the night. My wife was still recovering from an emergency Caesarean section, so to help her out I slept lightly and got up when I heard our son’s cries over the baby monitor.

Our son had been three weeks past due — we always kid him about his not wanting to come out. He replies that he was content to stay where he was. My wife’s doctor finally decided it would be best to induce labor, so after we checked into the hospital bright and early on that sunny Tuesday morning, her nurse gave her Pitocin to begin the induction process.

After a long day of waiting, around 7:00 that evening our son’s heart rate dropped for the second time to an alarmingly low 40 beats per minute. The doctor promptly rushed her into the operating room before there were any further complications. He said that most likely our son had come down the birth canal so fast that his head and neck were turned at such an angle to cause his pulse rate to drop so dramatically.

In the operating room I stood just behind my wife’s head and, as she drifted off from the anesthesia, I prayed for a safe delivery. The C-section went off without a hitch and we welcomed our healthy baby boy into the world a few minutes later. Well, I did anyway — it would be several hours before his mother would be alert enough to hold him.

Pitocin, it seems, may not be a wise choice when it comes to a baby’s health. I recently read of a number of studies making a connection between autism and mothers having been given Pitocin during the delivery process. While many healthcare providers maintain that Pitocin in no way harms the baby, results of various studies would seem to indicate differently.

Pitocin, derived from the pituitary glands of cows, is a synthetic form of the natural hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in delivery by stimulating uterine contractions, as well as in facilitating social and emotional bonding. Before and during labor, Pitocin is often given to moms-to-be to make the contractions stronger, longer, and more frequent.

Because a significant number of autistic children have abnormally low levels of oxytocin, one theory put forth is that flooding the fetus with a synthetic form of the hormone may damage or reduce the number of oxytocin receptors in the brain. Several years ago Dr. Eric Hollander of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported that 60% of the autistic children he was treating in his clinic had been exposed to Pitocin in the womb.

Pitocin’s possible connection with autism aside, the contractions it produces may put undue stress on the unborn baby as he moves through the birth canal. Stephanie Marohn, author of The Natural Medicine Guide to Autism, likens the intensified contractions to “using the child’s head as a battering ram to force the pelvis to reshape to accommodate it.”

ImageOver the following weeks and months, I continued as primary caregiver during the night shift. I remember this time fondly, and feel sorry for those dads who are not able to have this wonderful experience. I was able to bond with my baby boy in a way that I never would have if my wife had been the one heeding his nocturnal calls. She, of course, was with him all day while I was at work. At night, however, it was my turn. Countless times I got out bed and stumbled into his room half asleep.

First I would check his diaper — it would almost always be wet (or worse!). I knew if I changed him first, as he fell back asleep I could gently return him to his crib and head back to bed myself. After a fresh diaper, I would prepare a bottle of formula for him and settle in on our sectional couch, cradling my pride and joy in my left arm, while holding the bottle in my right hand. It was pure joy to watch him take it in his tiny mouth and receive instant gratification; his needs were so simple then. His crying would stop almost immediately and his little face would begin to relax. Soon, his eyes would be barely open, as he would continue gently sucking on the bottle. When it was empty, or when he was asleep, I’d remove it, slipping a pacifier into its place. Most of the time he would sleep contentedly at this point. He really was a good baby.

I feel so blessed having the opportunity to spend that time with him. Yes, it was a little hard on me, having to get up for work the next morning. I’m grateful, though, that the job I had at that time allowed me the luxury of waiting until 9:00 to arrive.  I have many, many wonderful memories of those days. It was truly a golden time in our lives.  Image

Now our baby has become a man and is moving out into the world on his own. Naturally, he’s excited about the experience, but with seven guys in a five bedroom house, I’m not sure I would if I were him. He’s very responsible and mature, and my wife and I have few concerns about his leaving. He’s serious about college, plus he and the other guys are all active at the Christian fellowship on campus. For the second year in a row, he will be one of the leaders for their weekly get-togethers for food and worship. We are truly very proud of the godly man he’s become.

His new home (I hesitantly use that term, because his home will always be with us) is only across the railroad tracks and a few blocks over from my first apartment away from my parents’ home. After living in the dorm my freshman year at the same college our son attends, a friend and I moved into a third floor apartment beginning my sophomore year.

In the last 20 years, much has changed in the area around the apartment building. What was once a large grass field next to our building has been turned into a looming parking structure for the university. Old houses have been torn down, replaced by gleaming new research and office buildings. Across the tracks and nearer to my son’s house, a strip mall and a few restaurants were added several years ago, replacing a barn and another field.

I’ve taken both our kids to that old apartment building, just to show them where their mother and I lived as newlyweds. After living with my friend for two years, I moved into a one bedroom apartment on the first floor of the same building, where I lived alone for a year until we got married.

The best part of it all is that about a year later this 400 square foot apartment is where our son was conceived. Whenever we happen to drive by the old building, I always jokingly remind him of that. “Right over there is where it all began for you.” Even though he’s a little grossed out thinking about that, I think he probably gets some satisfaction in knowing some of the details of his heritage.

Today we were out looking for ideas and materials to use in customizing his new bedroom. We grabbed lunch at a little hole in the wall restaurant not far off campus. Afterward, when we were driving near our tiny old apartment, I said to him, “How does it feel…” I paused for effect, then continued, “coming full circle back to your roots?” I was referring, of course, to the fact that the old apartment and his new place are geographically quite close. He just rolled his eyes at me and kept driving.

Everyday I try to be thankful for what God has blessed us with — two vibrant kids who are healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. Even though our son’s entrance into the world was dramatic and a little frightening, he is a thriving man of God today. His younger sister is equally as amazing in her own right, making my wife and me two very proud parents. We fully expect them both to be world-changers.