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The earth trembled, heaved, moved under our feet, and (as the song goes) the sky came tumblin' down, a-tumblin down. Kate and I in bed? Normally yes, but in this case just another facet of "SoCal" existence, namely an earthquake. Contrary to public opinion in most locations outside southern Cal, earthquakes are not a myth invented by Hollywood in order to provide a plausible background for gorgeous young women to fall into the arms of tall, muscular men in a close-to-dead-faint. No, they are very real. And, on the morning of 28 June 1991, at 7:45 a.m., a 6.2 hit the town of Sierra Madre, about two or three miles east of our house.

We were in the local supermarket at the time, picking up some medicinal supplies to counteract some of the irritating side effects of pregnancy. We had just walked into the entrance, picked up a shopping basket, and were headed into the interior. Unlike most earthquakes we've been in, there was no heavy rumbling to announce the approach of one of nature's nastiest tricks. The floor suddenly buckled under our feet, there was a scream of tortured metal, and ceiling tiles began crashing to the floor around us. The sounds of breaking glass and tons of stacked canned goods falling to the ground echoed from the interior of the place. Finally, somebody screamed "EARTHQUAKE," which would strike one as rather superfluous, unless you were there. For some reason, it just seems hard to believe that the solid comfort of the earth can suddenly become the inside of a amusement park fun house, and most of us were still just staring around in blank amazement.

Kate dropped herself to the floor. The roof tiles, which I normally think of as light, were still deadly missiles slamming into the ground with twenty feet worth of gravity assisted velocity. I threw myself over Kate, suddenly realizing that my wife and baby were in danger. And then, as quickly as it came, it ended. The sounds of breaking glass and rolling soup cans still reverberated from deeper inside the store, and the manager was yelling at everyone to get out, but the ground was once again stable. I and Kate scrambled out the entrance way as quickly as we could, then paused to catch our breath outside. People came tumbling out behind us, yelling to one another in agitation.

After ascertaining that we were both free of injury, we decided to head home to check for damage. It was only a three minute drive, and as we headed up the road we could see people, including small children, out on their front lawns in bathrobes and slippers, wondering if it was safe to go back in. As we got further up the hill, we could see the mountains, hazed in with what looked like early morning fog. Later we came to realize that it was really massive dust clouds created by landslides in the mountains. The San Gabriels gained two inches in height in less than that many minutes.

We saw some of our neighbors, waved, but continued to our house. A fast sweep through the house revealed nothing out of the ordinary. A second, more careful examination did not find any breakage at all, just a few overturned glasses and picture frames. We were miraculously spared from the brunt of the quake. Our neighbors were not as lucky. We spent a half an hour helping our ninety-or-so year-old neighbor from across the street pick up shattered glass, porcelain, and other broken goods, relight her pilot lights, and shut circuit breakers that had popped open. She was a little rattled, to say the least. Afterwards, we headed back to work, not sure what we would find.

JPL shut down for the day, despite the relatively small amount of damage that seemed evident from a few entries into our buildings. A safety inspection was required, however, and the limited number of JPL safety officials meant hours before a significant number of buildings became available for work. We shut down the computer networks, picked up a few things from our offices, and left.

Kate and I returned home. There was nothing else to do; almost everything was shut down for at least a few hours in order to clean up from the quake. On the street, a number of our neighbors were out, speaking to one another about the damages and injuries they had suffered. We joined them, meeting people we had lived next to for almost two years but had never had the opportunity to speak to. One wife a few houses down, Dede, turned out to be a registered nurse and midwife, and worked at Verdugo Hills hospital, where Brianna is supposed to be born. I laughingly told her she had just signed up for lots of late night knocks on the door by us when Brie was having a undiagnosable problem.

As a result of this unexpected benefit from the earthquake, we were invited to a 4th of July breakfast at Dede's house. It was fun and educational. Several of the couples on our street have children. There were at least five adorable little (around 1 year old) girls running around the picnic tables and chairs, and one real young-un, a 9 week old boy, sleeping in his mother's arms. Running and jumping, smiling and laughing, grabbing and poking, smashing and breaking. Boy, parenting looks like a lot of work.

Yes, finally, the BIG NEWS

The birth of a baby is a strange and wonderful thing. On a PBS show, that is. In reality, it is more of a strange, painful, tiring, wonderful thing. Kate went in to labor at 1:00 a.m. Friday morning on the 19th of July, one hour past the scheduled due date of the 18th. That's what I call good management! We didn't head for the hospital until about 6:30 in the morning. Labor starts off slowly, building in what are euphemistically called "waves" by many descriptions of the birth process, and which Kate and I now describe more simply as "excruciating pain". In fact, our experience allowed us to interpret many medical, technical expressions used in regards to delivery of a baby in more down-to-earth, common sense terms. For instance, take the following list of technical birthing jargon and their English counterpart:

Birthing "jargon" English translation


Contraction Pain
Early Labor Ouch! Pain! Pain!
Active Labor Serious, searing pain
Transition Excruciating, unbearable, unending PAIN
Second Stage Still pain, but maybe I won't die
Delivery Oh, let's do this again
Recovery Never mind, I'm going to die after all
Post Partum

Pain, but this only feels like my intestines are being ripped out by a bear, so it's not so bad

Fortunately, in today's modern times there is a solution to this translation problem thanks to our new motto, "better living through chemistry." Specifically, in hospitals today, the list is more like this:

Birthing "jargon" English translation

Contraction Pain
Early Labor Ouch! Pain! Pain!
Second Stage Whazz thaat? Therezz baby showing?
Delivery WHIPPEEEE!!!
Recovery Hey, I can't feel my legs
Post Partum

Yowch! I don't want to feel my legs! More pain medication pronto, please! Or I'll rip your head off with my bare hands!

Of course, there are those who say that it is a more natural, more positive, more moving experience to feel like wild wolves are ripping apart your bowels with six inch saliva coated fangs instead of clouding these few, precious moments with drugs. Far be it from us to contradict these educated, devoted practitioners of medicine, other than perhaps to say that they are absolute morons. But we digress.

We headed for the Verdugo Hills hospital about 6:30 am, arriving twenty minutes later. We had a tour of the facilities at this fine institution as part of our LaMaze class, inspecting each of the four labor rooms that were not in use. The obvious question was asked; what if there were more than four people in labor simultaneously? We were assured that this never happened, Verdugo Hills being a small hospital serving a limited area. As a result, we were not at all surprised to find ten people in labor when we arrived. We were the eleventh, and another couple arrived a few minutes after us. The alarming thing was that the nurses and doctors on duty really did seem surprised. In fact, it seemed like they had no idea what to do about it. There were those subtle little clues of a process in disarray, things that take a keen sense of observation to notice but that are indications of a problem. Like, for instance, the nurse asking Kate and I to have a seat in the hallway, running off, and not returning for an hour (and I am not kidding about this)!

We took the situation calmly, and after an hour we began dismantling a large, complicated looking machine with a big red sign reading "DANGER ... RADIATION HAZARD" using only our hands a a couple of lead pipes. The nurses, sensing the sudden awkwardness, took us to a "recovery" room, where a new mom recovers from giving birth and is monitored to ensure no unexpected post-partum complications arise. While it seemed a little premature, it was better than the hallway, or at least it was up until we found out there was no bed, just another chair. Additionally, we were sharing the room with two _ other women who were far into labor, and who alternated between whimpering, moaning, and screaming at the top of their lungs. This settled Kate right down, of course.

They did finally get a bed into the room, and it helped a bit despite the noisy roommates. We alternated between half hour walks and trying different positions on the bed to help things along. After a couple of hours, several of the women in labor gave birth, and we were moved to a labor room. We had time for one more short walk before things began to get intense. At least, we thought they were intense. The Ob/Gyn, Dr. Woodard, stopped by for a few minutes, checked Kate out and told us we were just beginning "active" labor. In other words, we had a long, long way to go.

Kate held out for another couple of hours while the contractions got worse and worse. Finally, I suggested that we ask the nurse for some pain medication. Kate held out for a couple more contractions, then agreed that it was time. The nurse administered "Stadol" intravenously. Kate's eyes glazed over within seconds, and she said "Ohhh... the whole room is spinning." The nurse went away, and Kate began to talk somewhat fuzzily as witnessed by the following interesting conversation:

Kate: This Stadol, its just not organized.

Dave: Huh?

Kate: You start thinking one thought, and the Stadol, well, then it just comes out some other thought.

Dave: Oh.

Kate: I'm not making any sense, am I?

Dave: No, sweetie, you're not, but that's OK.

Kate: Am I dreaming?

The Stadol seemed to help in a weird way. Kate felt the pain from the contraction just as intensely, but it seemed to make it harder for her to focus on it, making it easier to relax between contractions. And it definitely dazed her. Overall, though, it just didn't seem to help enough. Additionally, they can't use it too close to the actual delivery, since it will depress the baby's breathing.

So we went on this way for another couple of hours, while the Stadol wore off and the contractions became more intense. Dr. Woodard stopped by again, proclaimed Kate still in the beginning stages of active labor. Kate was still a little out of it from the Stadol, and didn't react much to the news, but I was shocked. We hadn't made any progress at all after about three hours, and Kate's pain was growing rapidly. Finally, I suggested to Kate that we switch to an epidural, where they inject a painkiller into the epidural membrane around the spinal column. It has the advantage of being the most effective pain block during delivery, and additionally doesn't get in the mom's bloodstream, and thus doesn't affect the baby. Kate was beyond the point where she could argue about it

I figured we had, if things went normally, at least another six hours of active labor and an hour of transition before we got to "second stage". This is where mom gets to actually start pushing the baby to help it pass through the birth canal. Second stage normally lasts about an hour and half. Eight and a half hours to go, and Kate had already been in labor for fifteen hours. It was going to be a long night.

It was about half an hour after the epidural when we had the problem. The fetal monitor showed the baby's heartbeat falling rapidly. The nurse came in, stuck her head out in the hallway, told someone to get "Woodie" immediately, put Kate on Oxygen and with my help began shifting Kate's position. It was a frightening moment, and despite the calm, professional, no-nonsense attitude of the nurse, it was clear that this was fairly serious. Fortunately, what we were doing worked, and by the time Dr. Woodard appeared Brianna's heartbeat was back close to normal. Woodard checked Kate to see what the cause of the unexpected problem could be, and exclaimed in surprise that Kate was "fully dilated" - or ready to go to second stage. The release of pain that came with the epidural allowed Kate to stop fighting the contractions, and she had accomplished seven hours of progress in half an hour. The sudden transition was what had caused little Brianna the unexpected distress.

Kate's second stage pushing was long and exhausting, lasting two and a half hours. By the time the baby "crowned," or was ready to actually deliver, Kate was so tired she was falling asleep between contractions. I put on scrubs, and we headed for the delivery room. Brianna was born at 7:31 pm at a hefty seven pounds, fourteen ounces, twenty and half inches long.

The delivery was remarkable, an experience that I, based on several PBS specials on the wonder of birth, felt would be better left to professional hospital personnel with strong stomachs. But it was different in real life than it was on television. Gorier, bloodier, and more of a mess than they were willing to show on TV, but also a lot more of a miracle. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

The most amazing thing was Brianna herself. Having had many opportunities in our LaMaze and parenting classes to study newborns, I feel no compunction in admitting that I find they have one major feature in common, in that they are all pretty much totally unattractive. But Brie was different. I mean, she did have that blue color of a baby just coming out of the womb. And she was covered in all sorts of slime and blood. But nonetheless, she was cute as a button, perhaps the first really cute newborn ever brought into this world. I thought I might just be biased, but Kate and the doctors agreed that she was a beautiful little thing. Her most obvious feature was her head. The LaMaze instructoi had explained that a newborn's skull was made up of unconnected plates to allow the head to shape itself for the trip down the birth canal. She hadn't gone on to say that Brianna's head might be shaped like a cucumber, however. Brianna was a serious conehead.

After she was cleaned up, she was even more gorgeous. A little elfin face, devoid of the squished up features many newborns have. A nice thin little pixie face. Cuter than you can believe. Kate and I agreed immediately that we had made a great baby.

Kate recovered in the delivery room, having the post-partum shakes, but otherwise fine. After I was sure she was alright, I headed to the nursery and watched Brianna get really cleaned up, have the standard procedures for newborns performed on her, and have her vital statisics taken. Then we all moved to the post-partum room, where we spent the night It was a single room, and although as "Dad" I was immune from the normal visiting hours, I had to sleep that night in an undersized reclining chair.


We headed home the next day. Our health plan covers only one night in the hospital for a normal birth. Post facto, it actually makes sense. The Doctor explained that Kate was past the point of any sudden complications or danger. From here on out, it was more a long recovery of strength and slow healing process than anything else. And, if you are going to be recovering, you might as well do it at home, where you would probably be more comfortable.

So, you may be asking, what is it like to be parents? We heard the horror stories. Plan on never eating a meal together for the next year. Kate was told to try hard to get dressed in the morning, no matter how tired or busy she was, since there was nothing more depressing than spending the entire day looking after baby and not doing a single thing for yourself. In other words, prepare yourself for pure hell for a while.

It hasn't turned out that way at all actually. JPL, a somewhat enlightened institution, doesn't provide paternity "leave," but allows you to take up to two weeks of family sick leave. Since, in the almost six years I've worked at JPL (God, how time flies), I've taken one sick day, I don't think I'll miss the extra sick time too much.

Kate is allowed to burn her sick time, and vacation, of course, and she collects disability (which actually simply keeps her from spending the sick time as rapidly). All of this adds up to about eight weeks of time off from work with pay post delivery, just about exactly what we feel she needs.

In any case, for the meantime both she and I are home and not having much of a problem keeping up. In fact, even if I was working, I don't think it would be the complete nightmare we were lead to expect. Brie sleeps pretty soundly most of the time, and generally makes it from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. without a peep. Admittedly, she is demonstrating an unfortunate desire to stay awake and active (read "fussy") from 2:00 until 5:00 or 6:00, but Kate and I split the time, and then sleep in after feeding her for an hour or so. All in all, it hasn't been bad at all. We've had opportunities to cook some interesting meals (an attempt at home creme brulee is in the oven as we speak), write this form letter, go running (just Dave), have people over for dinner, read a bit, catch up on the latest movies (on video), and generally do lots of activities we normally can't do because of our high-intensity jobs. Not that Brie doesn't take up time. She does - a lot of it - but not the sixteen hours out of the day that the classes suggested. So that's the BIG news. Hope life continues to treat you as well as it seems to be treating us!