Just a little after midnight on the morning of February 6, Joyce snuggled up close behind me and spoke softly into my ear: "I'm going to have a baby."
"You're kidding," I said, and repeated it about five times. Denial is a powerful thing.
February 6 was the birthday of my youngest "child," Peter, who was turning 23. His older sister, Colette, was 26. And Joyce's daughter, Jennine, had just turned 25. Now Joyce would have her second child nearly 26 years after the first one. And our stepsiblings would share a new brother.*
This was wild. We know people who have spent thousands trying to reverse the course of nature with fertility pills, in vitro fertilization and the rest. Yet here we were, on the brink of menopause, fertile as a pair of teenagers.
Everything seemed off by a generation. Since our kids weren't reproducing, we were making our own grandchildren. My mother corroborated our bewilderment. "I'm too old to be a grandmother," she said, though in truth she's still young at 83.
Reality makes a convincing argument. When Joyce brought home baby's first picture -- a sonagram of the guppy-sized embryo in her belly -- I knew we weren't just a couple any more. We really were a family.
This meant I would have to get used to the fact that I would turn 50 before my new child would turn 1 -- and that some day this kid and I would get into movies on children's and seniors' discounts at the same time.
With the second sonagram we got a look at this baby's "third leg" and knew he would be a boy. (And no, that's one of his real legs in the picture.)
One afternoon in June we decided to name him Jeffrey, because we realized there was something right about it. We didn't have a clue that many people would respond with "Jeffrey? As in Dahmer?"
It wasn't until after he was born that we found out why the name was perfect. More about that below.
We wanted a little quiet and perspective before our lives changed completely. So the week before Jeffrey was due (October 3) we took a three-day trip to Big Sur.
The Ventana Inn is your rustic cabin with room service. For a place to read quietly in bed by a fire and take walks where mountain lions occupy the top of the food chain, you can't beat the place.
Here we read through two perfect books for expectant parents: Birth Without Violence, by Frederick Leboyer; and Mind Over Labor by Carl Jones. We thank Leslie Sherman for giving them to us, and for making the whole experience so much easier for everybody.
Each morning we drove down to the midday mass at the Immaculate Heart Hermitage, where monks of the Camaldoli Order host the most serene and soulful services either of us have ever witnessed. The setting is over a thousand feet above the Pacific, and all but demands the silent contemplation to which the Camaldoli monks have committed their lives.
Anyway, that's where we took this goofy picture.
By the time I was born, what had once been strictly a tribal imperative was America's most popular surgical procedure. Also the least voluntary. And it stayed that way for more than a generation. Though my father wasn't circumcized, I was. And so was my first son.
I was against it. I thought there was no point to the practice, outside the religions that required it.
But my mind was not closed. So I put the question to about 50 friends and relatives on email. The responses ran all over the emotional, medical and religious landscapes. The dialogue made an interesting "thread."
The following come from Bulgaria, Thailand, North Carolina, New York and California:
The final tally was:
But research on the Web gave a much more lopsided result. Of the thousands of documents on the subject, I could not find one that favored circumcision for other than religious reasons. Many pediatric, nursing and midwivery associations are now officially opposed to it. Their bottom line: blunting a boy's most sexual instrument because he might not keep it clean is a strange trade-off. In the words of one writer, "It's like cutting off a kids' ears so he won't need to clean behind them."
So we decided to leave Jeffrey intact. Hope he appreciates it.
But the contractions didn't seem too severe. They were 4-5 minutes apart, but most didn't last longer than 40 seconds.
I fixed Joyce breakfast in bed (which I always do), and we read the papers over our eggs and oatmeal, pausing to time the contractions.
Then we got dressed and went downstairs to work. Joyce got off some faxes while I caught up on email. And she made an appointment at our hospital, Kaiser Redwood City, for 10:30AM.
At 9:30, between contractions, I took a few pictures out on the deck, including this one of Joyce looking out across the canyon.
When we arrived at the hospital, Joyce was only 2cm dilated and the doctor said we could go home if we liked, but that he suspected we'd be back that afternoon. So we stayed.
We made a couple of calls to our friends Steve and Jackie Tulsky, who had volunteered as labor coaches. Obstetrics are Steve's "family business," since his father was an OB/GYN and one of his two brothers is also an M.D. Jackie has the heart of Mother Theresa and an M.D. too, this one in Internal Medicine. And while San Francisco is hardly Calcutta, Jackie still works with The City's least fortunate residents.
Expecting a long day of labor, we told Steve and Jackie to take their time. Big mistake.
Kaiser put us in their best birthing room: one with a huge shower where the couple can sit on a bench while the expectant mom directs water to where it relieves the most pain. The shower was a Good Thing. So was the little Lamaze breathing we had practiced.
Labor for Joyce got tougher, but it moved quicker than we expected. A little after 3:00PM her water broke and the doctor was called. At this point she was 7 cm dilated. The doctor quickly gathered a whole birthing team in the room. With several more contractions she was at 10cm and Jeffrey was on his way. A few hard pushes and scary moments later, Jeffrey was out.
And Joyce, no friend to pain and blood, had done it all without a molecule of drugs.
He looked big, hairy and a little bit dazed, laying on Joyce's belly, panting quietly. But he was beautiful and fabulous and spectacular. We loved him instantly and completely. It was as if we were all inside one big heart. Which, of course, we were.
And when Joyce looked at Jeffrey face to face, it was clear to both of us that he bore utterly no resemblance to my side of the family.
"I have seven younger brothers and sisters and they all looked like this guy," she said later. I thought he looked like Joyce's father, Gail Jesswein, who is quite a handsome guy -- as are both of Joyce's brothers. And all of them are upwards of six feet (in fact, Joyce and most of her sisters are in the six-foot range).
After a few sweet and quiet minutes together, I carried Jeffrey over to the heating table (I kept thinking it looked like one of those things they heat fries with at McDonalds), where he quickly tried to suck on my knuckle while I put on his first diaper. To my amazement, I felt like we already had a deep intuitive connection.
Maybe it was just that my voice calmed him. Which made sense, since we both had been talking to the guy for months. In fact, Jeffrey was in a breech position until early September, when he finally listened to reason and put his head down where it belonged, sparing his mother a painful "repositioning," and a caesarian delivery if that didn't work.
(Our friend Rick Swan, who reviewed this text, insists I confess to retouching this picture. "Photoshop is a much more comfortable way to erase an overhanging gut than exercise or a belly-buster," he says.)
After a few more minutes of recovery, we were sent upstairs to the maternity ward, where we all slept well through our first night as a family.
The next day was a series of advisory talks with nurses, doctor visits and fearful anticipation of life outside the hospital environs. Why didn't this baby come with a manual?
But when we got home, he fit right in. Joyce got on the phone and talked for two or three hours, phones ringing all over the place, while Jeffrey slept on her lap, about 10 inches to the west of where he'd spent the last nine months.
Even he knew he was home. And that his mama was happy.
Now, after less than three weeks among the air-breathers, Jeffrey has proven to be an even-tempered and sweet little guy, who doesn't want anything more out of life than to constantly suckle at his mother's breast, lay on his father's chest, dance to lively music, and expel wastes frequently -- from every possible orifice.
And we love all of it.
It's nice to be old enough not to care that hardly a day goes by when I don't sob for joy at the new life of this perfect little boy.
The first time I broke into heavy tears was at the hospital, where one of the nurses told me what the name Jeffrey means, which is...Gift of peace
And two old friends, quite apart from each other, also volunteered that David would make a good middle name. David, the books say, means "beloved."
And that's what Jeffrey is: a beloved gift of peace.
Thank you, God. Thank you for this miracle.
*[For a sweet account of what we went through at this time, read Tale of Two Babies, which I wrote for Rick Smolan's 24 Hours in Cyberspace.]