My view from the driver's seat
I was at work when the call came, though I wasn’t sure it was The Call at the time. All I knew was the kids were having a double-playdate in our apartment, the dog was going crazy, and Sarah was so miserable she wanted to send them all to Anchorage. I hopped in a cab immediately and made my way home.
The second I walked in the door, I was sucker-punched by a thunderous fist of noise and stink. One kid banging on the piano. Another smacking everything in sight with a lightsaber fashioned from empty toilet paper rolls. Every toy, article of clothing, and juice box had been liberated from its rightful place and piled in the living room. The shower was running. The dog had peed in the basement and was now sprinting back and forth, terrorizing children. Max had peed on the bathroom floor.
And my wife, capable guardian of the home? Face down on that very same bathroom floor, alternately moaning, whimpering, and ordering me not to turn off the shower because the sound “relaxed” her.
OK. Everyone out. All of you.
Thirty minutes later, through various sleights of hand and kindnesses from friends, my wife and I were alone. Her contractions were not coming on top of each other yet, but they were horribly intense. She seemed to be in labor.
“I DON’T REMEMBER IT HURTING THIS MUCH,” she grunted between contractions.
I packed our bags and called Dr. Harth. “Glad you caught me,” she said. “I’m at the hospital but I was just getting ready to go home. I’ll wait for you.”
I love Doctor Harth.
Called my folks in Albuquerque, told them that if they wanted to be here in time for the delivery, they needed to mobilize immediately.
“Lake Shore Drive southbound from Oak to Balbo is at a standstill. And at Chicago Avenue, Ruby's wife is going to kill him.”
As I got Sarah in the car, I glanced at the clock. It was 4:35 p.m. Rush hour. We live in Andersonville, and our hospital is in Hyde Park, which, my love for Dr. Harth notwithstanding, suddenly seemed like the dumbest decision on earth. We sat in traffic on Lake Shore Drive for an hour, me biting my lip and texting “Sarah in labor” to my brothers while she writhed in the back of the minivan. Time stretched on, and the groans grew louder.
I began trying to recall the delivery advice the doctors gave me at the dinner party last month—“both thumbs on the left…guide the anterior shoulder down…(can you pass the potatoes, please?)…posterior shoulder up…”—and wondered if it made more sense to deliver in the reclineable middle-row captain seats, which were covered in McDonalds wrappers and Uno cards, or the spacious bench in the way-back, decorated with Goldfish crumbs and Mo Willems books. While weighing the various pros and cons, a voice from the backseat: “OH GOD I’VE GOT TO GO TO THE BATHROOM NOWNOWNOWPLEASE I NEED A TOILET WE HAVE GOT TO PULL OVER NOW.”
Traffic: not moving.
“Can you make it to Hyde Park?”
“PULL OVER PULL OVER WOULD YOU PLEASE PULL OVER—”
“OK, well, I’ll get off at Chicago Avenue and we can double park—”
“NO. THERE IS A PUBLIC BATHROOM RIGHT BY THE YACHT CLUB ALONG THE LAKEFRONT PATH. GET OFF AT RANDOLPH AND GO LEFT.”
I did and there it was, as promised. Even in labor, she knew Chicago better than I did. Sarah slid out of the car in agony, and before I could decide whether to accompany her, she sort-of-ran, sort-of-hobbled into the big brick house without me, nearly trampling a homeless man in the process.
The busiest public bathroom in Chicago
While I waited, listening closely for screams or something else (was that a baby crying?…), various cab drivers pulled off the Drive and scampered into the bathroom in much the same way my wife just had. For cabbies, vagrants, and preggos, this was the busiest public bathroom in Chicago.
After some anxious minutes, Sarah came out. Things had obviously changed. She was no longer in agony—and no longer in “labor.” And I no longer knew what to do. We sort of coasted half-heartedly down to Hyde Park, but when we got there we were too humiliated to go to the hospital. I called Dr. Harth and told her to go home. Then we stopped at my father-in-law’s apartment where the three of us sat and stared at one another for an hour until Sarah announced she was hungry. So we got spaghetti from Piccolo Mondo and drove back home.
We’re still not sure what happened. Braxton-Hicks contractions? Indigestion? Kidney stone? A desire to be rid of the kids and the dog for an evening? All of the above were posited as theories, but none were proven, and now we’re just embarrassed by the whole thing. And the upshot was: My parents were on their way to Chicago, expecting to see a baby of some sort, while my wife could still have another three weeks.
The spaghetti was good, though.