How could I ever forget the details of #1 son’s arrival?
We had been living in Germany since 1978 and only moved to St. Louis in the USA, in early 1980, about a month before the events I am going to describe.
Early morning February 8th (middle of the night February 7th), the first snow of the winter had just started falling. I was fast asleep, or at least I was, until I got one almighty poke in the ribs.
Shirley’s waters had broken, about two months prematurely!
Two childbirth noobs in a strange country, the frantic anxiety which ensued, each trying to hold it altogether, followed by me nearly passing out in St Joseph’s Hospital Emergency Ward when it all became too real. Then feeling like a total wimp.
Next, the break-neck dash for the neonatal ward forty miles down town, careening through the snow, chasing an ambulance at full tilt, that had my wife and unborn baby on-board — not knowing the address of their planned destination — in a borrowed American car that, I suspect, couldn’t grip the road even if it was bone dry.
They told me to be sure to “lock the car up good, and take care” if I parked it up for the night, or it wouldn’t be there in the morning. Apparently, around Children’s Hospital, St. Louis is a happy hunting ground for car thieves and muggers.
Welcome to St. Louis, kiddo!
Then meeting those clever, clever doctors and neonatal nurses at St. Louis Children’s Hospital who brought our little “mankin” into the world. All shrivelled and tiny, too tiny. Swaddled in a blanket, then straight into his little bed with a dome over it, to keep in the oxygen he needed to survive, and held there by only the tiniest of safety pins.
To give you some idea of how small he was, he easily fitted into my cupped hands.
Oh, no. Now he has tubes coming out of his nose, mouth and every other orifice, I imagine.
This is torture to witness. Torture for him, and for me too.
Speaking of torture — they then started a big invisible clock running, when they told us “IF” he survives for two months, he might live.
That was all we had to hang on to.
That first few weeks of Eliot’s life will not be promised to us by doctors, or nurses — not by anyone.
Oh yes, we had named him by then. If we were going to lose our little guy, he had to have his own name.
There then followed the longest two month wait in the history of waiting.
Suddenly, Shirley started experiencing pain, swelling, and tenderness in one leg. It turned out to be a deep vein thrombosis, which is a serious condition where a blood clot forms in a deep vein.
Apparently, a woman’s risk of developing one of these clots is more than 10 times higher than normal in the 6 weeks after giving birth. And Shirley got one, unfortunately, so that was her stuck in St Joseph’s Hospital in St. Charles.
Meanwhile, young Eliot is still hanging on to life down in St Louis Children’s Hospital neonatal ward, about 40 miles away.
So, every day after I finished work, I would drive 20 miles to St Joseph’s Hospital, collect the breast milk Shirley had expressed with a hand pump, drive 40 miles down town to Children’s Hospital, in St. Louis, to make the delivery, check out the little guy and ask the nurse the same questions I asked yesterday, then drive 40 miles back to St. Joseph’s so I could reassure Shirley about how he was doing. And, finally, I would return home, in the wee small hours.
Including the 20-mile round trip to and from work, that’s a 140-mile drive at the end of every day.
Why didn’t I just call her from the hospital and tell her the news about Eliot — this was back in the day, remember, before everyone had cell-phones and sat-navs.
Those two months went very slowly, but finally, they told us — “he seems to have turned the corner. He should be a normal baby now. Although he might have been affected by all the oxygen and ultraviolet light. It can affect their development and make them a little slow“.
43 years on from these traumatic events, I can tell you the terms “underdeveloped” or “slow” don’t apply to Eliot, not then, nor at any time.
Eliot has always shone brightly. Very brightly.
After working in post-production in London, New York and LA, he became Chief Colorist for Disney Animation, working on all their major releases like “Frozen”, “Wreck-it Ralf”, “Zootopia”, etc, and helping to win several Oscars along the way.