The sound of my phone ringing in the kitchen awakens me out of a dead sleep. I crawl over my wife and make my way to the kitchen. As I pick up the phone, I mumble to myself, “This better not be my mom calling me at 2 in the morning.”
It just so happened that the day before I had accidentally set my alarm clock for the wrong time, instead of 2 p.m. I hit a.m. I turned it off and made my way back to bed.
I crawled back into bed, pulled the covers over my head and was just heading back into sleep world when the lights came on. My wife threw the covers back and said, “My water just broke.” I sprung up like a target on a range and replied, “Are you kidding me?” My wife got out of bed and made her way to the bathroom; I looked at the bed and sure enough. As my wife moved around getting ready, I made my way to the room where our hospital bags were ready to go. I called labor and deliver and told them that we were en route to Madigan. After a short time, Alicia calmly completed what she needed to, and we made our way to the car. The weather had dramatically changed overnight, making for lightning and a little thunder. Besides that, the only condition to face was my wife possibly having a baby in the car. As I drove to the hospital, I was paying close attention to Alicia. As I was doing that I managed to hit a short yellow light that I thought I had made, but the big flash from the camera told me otherwise, so I should be getting a nice bill from the city for going through a short yellow. I laughed and mumbled, “Go figure, don’t have to pay for the baby to be born, but somehow I found a way to give my money away.”
We arrived at the hospital in what felt like five minutes. We made our way around to the emergency room. Since there were medical personnel at the door, I dropped her off at the front, and they immediately put Alicia in a wheelchair and rolled her up to labor and delivery. Meanwhile I parked the car and got her bags. As the doors opened to the emergency room, I noticed a male and female in the lobby; both were wearing scrubs. I walked over to them and asked, “Did they transport her upstairs already?” They nicely pointed in the direction of the doors. As I was just about to turn around, I happened to notice what the two were standing by. There two feet from me was a stretcher with something that signaled to me a memory. I asked the male in scrubs, “Is that a … ?” But before I could finish, he quietly said, “Yes, it is.” The blue blankets covered the outline of a body. For a moment there I found myself back in the experiences of deployment. I remember often conducting operations where we would go out and pick up a dead Iraqi, usually an IP, shop owner or a high value target’s family member. I always volunteered to take pictures of the bodies and help put the bodies in the black body bags; it was my way of making the experience more personal. Later on in the tour I found myself digging dead bodies out of holes as well as facing many scenes that were undesirable. Some men are affected by what they see in battle; others, like me, process it and scramble it so that when that memory comes up it is just fuzzy. However, on this night the fuzziness was completely clear. The one thing that made it even more mind-numbing was that the ever so familiar smell of death returned to my nostrils. I made my way up to labor and delivery. As I made my way up, I think one of the doctors in the emergency room said something as I was walking by, but I had my head down and wasn’t paying attention. I just wasn’t there at the moment. As soon as I made it up to labor and delivery, all of those thoughts disappeared. I was now finding myself getting excited about the little girl who was going to be coming into this world.
As we settled in the room, I started getting my camera and video camera set up. After some time, I noticed that Alicia was already having terrible contractions. Some of the contractions were so terrible that they made me sick to my stomach. The one thing any man hates is to see the person he loves suffering. You want to do something to rescue her, but in reality the only thing I could do in this situation was hold her hand, wipe the sweat off her face and forehead, and tell her she was doing great. I ended up having war wounds from the delivery — scratches and even a bite.
5 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
By 3 p.m. Alicia had gotten to a point where I was getting nervous. She was in terrible pain and seemingly losing the fight, often using words that indicated she wasn’t going to be able to deal with the pain. I asked her over and over if she wanted medicine, but she didn’t budge. She was completely focused on delivering Madison naturally. I walked out of the room from time to time because just hearing her made me want to go get help. I made a decision to go get a doctor and have him bring in some medicine. I kept telling her that it would be better, but she just rejected it. I requested that the epidural staff come. This was where my wife showed her resilience in doing what she had planned to do. I think she was so tired and loopy she didn’t know who was in the room or who was planning to do what. After 20 minutes of negotiations with my wife I think she snapped to it and decided that it was time to show that she was going to do it her way. She said confidently, “I am going to push.” The room went silent. I looked at the epidural folks and shrugged my shoulders, and they immediately left. The strength and focus that came across her face was unbelievable. Over the months my wife had been working with midwives, and their insights were great encouragement to go without pain medicine. Not many women have the pain tolerance, but she did. The midwife Ms. Smith was absolutely amazing. She gave my wife detailed instruction, making sure that Alicia had support every step of the way. She even used a little comedy to lighten the mood. As the clock hit 3:30 p.m., Alicia went to a place where no man will ever be, nor will ever understand.
Ms. Smith told Alicia that she could see Madison’s head and that she needed to use all of her contractions and not waste them. On the screen next to the bed was a monitor that showed the contractions and Madison’s heart rate. At first I just saw it as a screen and lines, but after three hours that screen was my daughter and my wife working together. If they had asked me to run that machine I could have. I looked at my cell phone to see what time it was. It was 3:55 p.m., and my wife was now in it and focused. I was bent over whispering in her ear, telling her that this was the time she had been waiting for and that all she had to do was dig deep and push. I requested a mirror so Alicia could see the baby coming out to give her more motivation. Then there was a moment that I will never forget. The clock read 4:05 p.m., and the look on Alicia’s face went from pain and agony to a look of utter love and motherhood. Madison came into this world head first. She was a little shy and not too excited. But after a minute, the beautiful sound of life, the sound of my daughter crying echoed in the room. To see my daughter lying in her mother’s hands, knowing that this child would be the pride of our life was amazing. The time came for me to hold Madison; it was amazing. As I held her, I looked at her and realized how great God has been to me and my wife. Being to war and facing death is something that makes holding Madison even more incredible. It didn’t slip my mind to know how lucky I was to be there for the birth and not be deployed, which unfortunately happens with so many men when they become fathers.
My wife and I agree that our life is complete. My wife faced the challenge and joined the few who have gone through delivery without pain medicine. Awhile ago Alicia told me that her pain tolerance was really low; after this, anything that she deals with will not compare.
Our stay in the recovery room lasted two days, and while there we were educated by the medical staff about everything we needed to know. The only negative thing that occurred was my wife was feeling overwhelmed and one of the ladies who was helping Alicia was not a native speaker of English, making things very difficult. At first I let it go, but after some other things occurred that were just not acceptable, I politely asked that we have someone who spoke better English. In my mind this was the time when my wife needed to leave with confidence, not confusion. The head nurse made the arrangements, and things returned to fabulous professional care.
One other thing that stuck out to me on this adventure was that while in recovery we were visited by my squad leader and his wife. They brought a gift basket. I couldn’t believe it; someone in the Army actually took time to swing by and see how everything was going. I was truly impressed. I also received a call from my old unit, but not to say congratulations. Rather, I was asked some questions about if I was in the Warrior Transition Battalion and if I was going to my appointments. I answered the questions respectfully and then ended the conversation with, “Oh, by the way, my kid was born.” Never in a million years would I have thought that I would serve with a company four plus years and do two tours with them and then be out of the loop that fast. Granted, they are training and getting ready for combat, so that is absolutely fine. I wasn’t the only one from the unit who was up there having a kid, so it balanced out.
We made our way home, starting our new life with our bundle of joy, Madison Nichole Hardt. She weighs 6.9 pounds, is 20 inches and has red hair. If there is one thing I can advise new dads about the birth process: Try not to use the words “suck it up” or some lame infantry terms. Leave that for your boys at work. Also, if you see something you don’t like with your care, step up and get it fixed. I want to say thank you to the midwives and all of the doctors who helped with the delivery. Your professionalism and knowledge were brilliant. Let the grand times begin.