Why do we decide to have children? What happens to put in motion a life time commitment to bringing another human being into this world? And at what point in our lives do we start believing that we can guarantee safe passage of this human into a future we know absolutely nothing about? Some believe that children are our way to make sure the family tree adds a few more limbs or to insure there will be a family tree- and children may be a way of passing on our knowledge and experiences in the hopes that future generations will not make the mistakes we did.
Growing up, I always wondered what kind of father I would be as my childhood wasn’t exactly a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ episode. I became the middle child when my sister Eileen was born. My dear sister was twelve years younger and Adrienne, my other sister was five years older. Being in the ‘middle’ is not always the best place to be when you have two sisters - particularly in a Jewish household where females are placed on very high pedestals where they remain forever. I had to work harder and most of the time recognition was next to impossible to come by and expectations were almost always accompanied by a higher bar. I read somewhere that sons become imprinted with their father’s style of parenting, so when Debbie and I began to seriously discuss starting a family, and being in my 50’s, I had doubts if I could pull the ‘father’ thing off.
Evan Jacob Messenger, 'Jake' was born on October 9, 1999; coincidentally the same birth date as his Grandpa Mel. Debbie was in her late 30's and I was 51. When the discussion of age comes up; I jokingly say there was nothing on television that night, but in actuality Jake's journey most likely began on a trip to the 'happiest place on earth', Disney World.
Debbie’s pregnancy went pretty well. Most of the things I had read about – came about, including strong culinary urges and I say strong because when Debbie wanted to eat, it had to be right then and not a minute later. One of her primal food emergencies came during the approach of Hurricane Floyd. Our power was out and Deb wanted ‘French Toast’. One does not deny a hungry pregnant woman ‘French Toast’ just because there was a hurricane on the way; so with the rain blowing at a 45 degree angle pushed by 50+ miles an hour winds; we headed to Chapel Hill and Breadman’s for French Toast. Most of the power up and down Chapel Hill Blvd/ 15-501 was out and almost everyone was closed. With the wind and rain blowing harder Deb saw the lights of Bob Evans Restaurant and decided that we had driven far enough. Besides the staff which was seen pacing nervously and staring out the windows; we were two of six persons there to eat. We ate rather quickly, wished everyone well and left for home just as the wind and rain started moving out car sideways down the road. This was in September, 1999.
Jake’s due date was still almost six weeks away when Debbie left the house for her regularly scheduled Dr’s appointment. That morning we had taken the ‘required’ progress pictures of Deb and her stomach, Deb holding her stomach and any other pictures that included Deb and a stomach. All seemed well, that is until she called to ask if I remembered where her ‘go to the hospital’ bag was. I told her I did and she said, “Great; now listen to me carefully… and don’t panic”, the Dr. said she was starting her labor, they were going to speed up the process so she was being checked in to deliver Jake that evening. Upon hearing what Deb had said, I did what most ‘expectant’ fathers do; I panicked and promptly forgot where anything was, where I was, the month, day, year and the century we were living in. The funny thing is that our all day Lamaze Class was scheduled for the next day and Debbie’s baby shower the day after that. If you look at from a guy’s point of view; I did not want to attend the Lamaze Class and I wasn’t invited to the shower anyway. (So, not too bad)
Duke Hospital’s birthing suites are nothing short of plush, sound proof, dimly lit delivery rooms. Soundproofing is very important here as not to alert other mothers in early labor as to what was in store for them. Debbie’s labor was not easy, but with the help of a well-timed epidural it was not terribly hard. Jake was born early the next morning five and a half weeks ahead of schedule. It took me a couple of tries to cut the cord, because first of all, I couldn’t see and secondly, the room was dark.(I had planned to bring in a pair of those large ribbon cutting scissors , but the Doctor kind of ruled that out) When the Dr. patted his incredibly tiny behind, (he weighed in at 4lbs, 11oz’s) there was a momentary small cry, but as quickly as he was born, a small oxygen tent was made ready and Jake was placed inside.
I was able to watch the Doctors working on my son. In such situations when your adrenalin starts to flow, physiological changes begin to take place. Your hearing and eyesight become acute and your imagination begins to run rampant outpacing any knowledge or reasoning you have ever had. Things I knew nothing about became understandable and nuance and facial expressions (above the nose) became interpretable. A Doctor came over and explained that one aspect of Jake’s premature birth was the problem that his lungs were not fully developed and the little guy was having trouble breathing. The oxygen tent was a precaution and would help him to breathe better and easier. All I could think about was how tiny he is and just after he was born he was already fighting for his life.
I kind of remember at some point being taken to the ICN (Intensive Care Nursery) * room to see him. Already there were wires and tubes attached and the sounds of monitors beeping to his every breath. Debbie also remembers being wheeled in to see him. We both don’t remember much at this point. I guess the mind chooses what it wants to remember and what it wants to forget and if this was a trick my mind is playing on me, it is a good thing. * (The ICN has since been re-designated the NICU, Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit)
Jake’s twelve day hospital journey was just beginning. The roller coaster ride that accompanies a child’s early birth is just that, a roller coaster. There are incredible highs and stomach tightening lows that parents go through and our ride was going to be no exception.
In my future postings, I will talk about our doubts, feelings of guilt and ultimately the joy of taking Jake home. My goal will be to point to certain warning signs parents should be aware of in the development of a child and how to react and act if you have reason to believe that your child may be exhibiting early signs of Autism and what can be done after diagnosis. I am writing this as a parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum and not as an expert on Autism. Although I am an expert on ‘Raising Jake’, a most incredible young man with Autism. If you enjoy my blog or find it helpful in any way, tell your friends and welcome comments on what you read.