Lucy’s Birth Story

It’s been a while since I wrote a birth story. Four years. This morning I sat over my breakfast of coffee and eggs and mulled over this fact. For a while, I was turning out a birth story every two years like clockwork: 2015, 2017, 2019. Then nothing. Why did I stop? Was it the form that changed or was it me? Since writing my last birth story, a lot has changed for me as a writer, as a person. I’ve transitioned from a literary author to a mystery writer and have seen my first two novels in print. Is that why I turned away from the genre of birth stories? Why then this sudden impulse to write one four years later? I scour my brain, looking for answers. Then I notice something, or rather someone, out of the corner of my eye. She’s dark-haired, easy on the eyes, and has a voluptuous chest like two ripe cantaloupes. In her arms, she’s holding an extremely small female person, like a midget only perfectly proportional. It’s a baby. My baby! And the comely young woman is a wife. My wife! It all instantly makes sense.

Susan awoke around three Sunday morning and jotted down the time. On the analog clock that sits atop our dresser, the three resembles a reverse letter E, but the way our daughter Bonnie writes them, the three resembles a reverse epsilon from the Greek alphabet. So which was my wife trying to indicate? Which letter would help me decipher why she woke up at that precise time? I quickly drew up a list of every E-word that I knew in English and Greek, then I asked her. As it turns out, she wasn’t indicating anything. She was noting the time of her first contraction. Her contractions would continue for the next twelve hours, getting closer and closer until stopping mysteriously. (But I’m getting ahead of myself.)

The city streets of Garden were cold that morning. So cold I made the kids put on their coats before their Aunt Betsy came to pick them up. Susan and I didn’t know when we would see our children again. Maybe it would be Monday. Maybe never. One can’t always tell in this cruel and unpredictable world. (As it turned out, we would see them Monday.)

Then it was off to the hospital. 

The nurse at the ER station eyed us suspiciously as we walked in. Who were we? Why were we here? Had some doctor referred us? I didn’t have good answers for her, but luckily Susan did. In fact, for the next few hours, into the delivery room and well into the afternoon, she did most of the talking. I began to feel as extraneous as a dorsal fin on a poodle, but not nearly as cute. 

A woman brought Susan a breakfast tray shortly after we were admitted, but she declined to eat anything, saying she was “in labor.” I ate the various and sundry liquid food items instead, items which included jello, shaved ice, and some truly terrible coffee. I drank all of the coffee before reading the receipt. It was beef broth. Luckily, I’d only added a few spoonfuls of creamer.

More questions came. Did we know the gender of the baby, the doctor wanted to know. But why did she want to know? How would she benefit from a girl, say, rather than a boy? I ran through myriad possibilties before settling on the fact that I would never know. Doctors are inscrutable like that, as are their motives. Especially baby doctors. Only truly inscrutable individuals would be drawn to patients who can’t speak, can’t gesture effectively, and whose only means of communication is crying out. We told her we weren’t finding out ahead of time. “Oh fun,” the doctor said. “A mystery!” A mystery indeed…

Around three in the afternoon something changed. Intensified. It was Susan’s contractions. For some reason, they were coming faster and more intensely! Why? I didn’t know. Luckily, no one asked me. They all had ideas of their own and were taking action. Were they coordinating or working against each other? Only time would tell. But we were running out of time! Because, though we didn’t realize it at the time, Lucy Jane was bound and determined to be born at 3:26 pm, and that’s exactly what she did. 

After she appeared, head full of short black hair that pointed in all directions and gave her a look like Liza Minnelli, the nurses became oddly curious about all manner of things: her height (20 inches), her weight (7 lbs, 8.5 ounces), her head, chest, and stomach circumferences (approximately 13 inches each), and her bilirubin (whatever that is). Then they finally gave themselves away, this conspiracy of medical personnel, for the head nurse finished by taking Lucy’s footprint. So there it was: they were gathering everything they needed to frame my hour-old daughter for a crime she didn’t commit. 

I leaned into my wife’s ear so that no one could overhear: “When the nurse leaves, gather up Lucy and all her things. We’ve got to get her out of here.”

To which Susan replied, “Oh what a strange man I’ve married.”

Review: How to Be Perfect

I don’t usually review non-fiction books, least of all books on philosophy, yet when I started the ironically named, How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question, I should’ve known that I would be jotting down my thoughts the second I finished it. Michael Schur, writer for The Office, co-creator of both Parks and Rec and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and creator of The Good Place, builds on the moral questions he explores in The Good Place but in a way that doesn’t not produce a migraine.

If you are looking for a dry, serious analysis of the history of philosophy, this is not that thing. If you earned PhD in, I don’t know, epistemology and you’re looking for the newest piece of scholarship to further your specific content area, this is probably not that thing either. If you studied philosophy/anthropology in college, enjoy reading or reading about moral philosophy, and enjoy books with lots of jokes, then this is definitely that thing. One doesn’t help create four of the funniest shows in recent history without being able to write some very smart and very funny stuff, and Schur does not disappoint just because he set his sights on moral dilemmas rather than penguin weddings and sensitivity trainings.

Fans of The Good Place may be familiar with T. M. Scanlon’s philosophical work on contractualism, What We Owe to Each Other. (The book Chidi gives to Eleanor and she then basically ignores until the very end of the series.) While contractualism is present in How to Be Perfect, Schur doesn’t belabor this single theory. Instead, he presents three schools of thought central to Western philosophy, analyzing different moral dilemmas through these lenses. Those basic schools of thought are Aristotelian value ethics (the golden mean); deontology (Kant’s moral imperative); and utilitarianism (the most happiness for the most people). Through these lenses, Schur considers theoretical dilemmas like the Trolley Problem (and a ton of it’s variants), daily problems like tipping 27 cents on a $1.73 coffee, but only when the barista can see it, and gigantic issues like world hunger and global warming and how-in-the-world to pronounce “eudaimonia” or even more how-in-the-world to work it into casual conversation.

When he does come to contractualism, he does so in a logical way, built up from those three schools of thought, so that even a reader relatively new to philosophy has a solid understanding. And in the end, Schur does introduce a new idea (newish idea?), which he calls “moral exhaustion.” Similar to “compassion fatigue,” moral exhaustion is when our good intentions wear us out. Compassion fatigue primarily affects teachers and counselors who take on the problems of their students and patients, offering so much compassion that it negatively affects their own mental health. Moral exhaustion, in contrast, can affect anyone who struggles to make a thousand moral decisions a day–just to throw up their hands and do whatever they want instead.

Much of moral philosophy is written in order to not be misunderstood (at least that is the intention), so jokes and generalization are not the norm. Thankfully in Schur’s book they are. This is both laugh-out-loud funny and thought-provoking–and a must-read for those of us often paralyzed by what to do and why.

Review: Standard Deviation

Graham Cavanaugh is on the twelfth year of his second marriage, Audra is his beyond-outgoing wife who works as a graphic designer part-time and may or may not be having an affair, Matthew is their middle-school-aged son with Asperger’s and an obsession with origami, and Elspeth is Graham’s ex-wife, a successful attorney who Audra is convinced they should become friends with. The characters of this novel are richly imagined, unique yet believable. The story itself is just as new and real as the people. Just when you think you know what’s happening or what’s coming, the story takes a hard left.

I have read a lot of funny books, but Katherine Heiny hangs with the best of them. Like very few authors–Dave Barry, Steve Martin, Nora Ephron–she is able to deliver real laughs almost every page. I was impressed and also wildly discouraged as a writer. Like all great books, this made me want to work a whole lot harder at my craft.

I just finished reading Standard Deviations and wrote this review immediately, because you have to read it!