One Year

One year ago, Thursday, December 11th at 4:24am, a really sharp pain caused Meghan to suddenly sit up in bed. A few pains had visited and disrupted sleep the past couple weeks but this was one like she’d never felt before.

She tossed and turned and realized the pains were going to keep coming. We moved to the kitchen table where we sat while the coffee brewed, Meg with her laptop open to pages about labor pains and me blearily awaiting her cues.

On a white sheet of paper she was keeping track of the contractions. Another sharp pain swept in about 8 minutes later. More scattered contractions visited throughout the morning.

The hospital nurse told us to monitor and come in when they got to 5 mins apart. I called to inform Margaret, our doula-think birth coach/assistant-who said she would drive to Madison and be available and keep her posted. Margaret is a lovely, earthy, calm woman who gave Meghan and I great advice and support leading up to and during the birth.

I went to work to prep for my paternity absence in the coming weeks. My focus was at best, very divided. I was informed later that a radio script I turned in had the wrong date and title and client…but somehow still made sense and got approved for airing.

Would this really be the day-13 days before due date? Yikes. I was hoping to get the weekend in. I had bought tickets to the Nutcracker at the Overture Center for that Saturday-part of Meghan’s birthday gift. C’mon Cash, those tickets weren’t cheap!

I contacted Meg from work, half-hoping she would say the pains had gone away and we would have some more time to prepare for all this.  Nope.

The time between her contractions was…contracting.

I arrived to Meghan crouching on the floor and 7, 6, 7, 8, 5…scratched on a piece of white paper on the coffee table marking the minutes between contractions. The two cats circling her with concern and the expectant father basically there to fetch, bellhop various items and watch his wife wince and moan.

After an hour or so, we were hitting the five minute apart mark consistently.

I confirmed the luggage was packed and loaded it in the Jeep behind the Graco baby seat that had been installed for over a month.

We made the 12 minute drive to the hospital. I mentioned to her I could pull in, drop her off so she could start the check-in process, and I’d park the car and be back in three minutes.  She shot me a death stare. So I pulled into the valet circle and handed the car and $7 over.  Cash hadn’t even been born yet and he was already costing me!

Directed to triage for our evaluation,  we would be admitted if the contractions were indeed five minutes apart or we’d have to go back home.  I couldn’t imagine going through this again in a few hours. (The nurse said there are people who have been sent home multiple times before they are admitted. That would be one tough car ride back home!)

Stopwatch said…five minutes on the dot! Plus, Cash was positioned low in the birth canal and Meg’s cervix was dilated at 3cm. For reference, the green light for the pushing part of labor is at 10 cm.  Think aperture for anyone who knows how to use a camera.  And I hope this article is the last I ever have to write about Meg’s cervix.

Funny, the pushing part is what I always thought of as the labor, that you see in movies and TV shows. It is the shortest part of the labor process that actually starts with the first contraction.

We were transferred to the birthing suite. This is a good name for it. The St. Mary’s Hospital birthing suites could be mistaken for a spa. Deep tubs in nicely-tiled private bathrooms. Large open space and windows with a view. Meg added to the ambience by bringing an essential oil diffuser and decorative lighting.  There was even a TV and a little couch to sleep on.  Not that there would be any sleep. When your wife is hit by intense waves of pain every few minutes, there is no rest.

Meghan sat on a big fitness ball, draped over the bed to brace herself for the pains. Margaret, the nurse and I took turns rubbing her back and bringing her water. Unfortunately, Meg couldn’t eat to help keep her strength up.

Hours passed. We took a few walks around the floor, nodding at other couples we would pass.  One dad and I ran into each other several times in the complimentary coffee room.  Two clueless men in sweatpants and slippers who had no idea what the night would bring us making small talk.

As much as Meg endured, by midnight, she had only dilated to three and a half centimeters. Her intention throughout her entire pregnancy was to  deliver Cash without an epidural-injection of anesthetic into the spinal cord-and do this all “naturally”, she was understandably wearing thin.

Dr. Holz, our sweet OB/GYN who was also pregnant, had been periodically resting in another room, suggested popping Meghan’s water to speed the process along.  Margaret was opposed to this because the doula way is not to artificially do anything to disrupt the natural birthing process.

We gave it another hour or so and checked again. No movement.  The doula and the doctor looked at me while Meg’s face was resting on the bed.  Meghan is an energetic, strong-willed, workout fanatic who would do anything for the benefit of Cash.  She had a look of struggle and exhaustion I’d never seen before or since.

We discussed the option and confirmed that we should move this along and so Dr. Holz popped Meghan’s amniotic sac about 5AM-btw, in rare cases the bag doesn’t pop and babies can be born still inside the sac. This is considered good luck. Okay, then.

Anyway, the sac breaking caused Meghan to dilate to 7 centimeters in an hour or so…and a new level of ultra-intense pain for Meghan. Every contraction felt like she was “being ripped wide open.” Considering her overly exhausted state, Meghan couldn’t imagine pushing for another minute, much less potential hours upon hours to get another 3 cm and then have the energy to push through the delivery.

The next big decision was the epidural. Doula opposed because Meghan was getting to the home stretch and our previously expressed wishes not to use. Nurse Brittany and Dr. Holz were for it, especially considering Meghan had been in labor now for over 24 hours.

RN Brittany pulled me aside and said if we did want the epidural to order it now because the new shift was coming on and the anesthesiologist (by the way, I spelled this correctly without help!) may get booked up with other appointments.  The doula pulled me aside and reminded me of our intentions and that the hard part was over and she could do this…naturally.  Such decisions for a sleep-deprived dad…but sympathies for my position are a splash in the ocean of Meghan’s.

I asked for a moment with Meghan.  She said she was at peace with getting the epidural, she had fought the fight she intended to but she was okay with it. I confirmed and re-confirmed and then gave the nurse the nod, like a baseball manager tapping his arm on the way to the mound to call in the closer.

Margaret understood and reassured Meghan that all that mattered was our  beautiful baby was coming into the world soon.  She reassured Meghan in a tender moment. “This is what woman do to bring our babies into the world.”

Once that decision was made, the anesthesiologist couldn’t get there fast enough…it was about a half hour and Meghan asked me every 3 minutes where he was…and at one point, accused me of lying that he was coming.

He proved me truthful arriving then inserting the epidural, delicately into the spinal cord in between contractions. Me holding Meg’s right hand, Margaret her left. Meghan was straining through her contractions with great support and advice.

A new nurse came on board in the thick of the delivery push. Her name is escapes me but she was a seasoned veteran. At one point, she sat on the edge of the bed and calmly laid it out. “Okay, here’s how it’s going to go, it’s like riding a wave, push through the strain when you feel it coming on with all your might, then as the pain retracts, you retract and take a few deep breaths and prepare for the next one and so on.”  This helped Meg not to overwork but be efficient with managing her pain, strain and energy. I was impressed, for lack of a better word, with all involved.

Dr. Holz mentioned she could see the top of Cash’s head.  Meghan screamed and pushed and screamed and pushed and screamed and push…you get the idea. Until, Cash’s head popped out. Facing up. Crying loudly.

With ninja-like quickness, Dr. Holz placed the purplish, sticky, crooked-headed, long and skinny boy on Meghan’s chest.  He didn’t look like the Cash Michael Kennedy I had imagined-I think I was imaging he’d come out as a cute two year old smiling in a Badgers jersey…I’m not very smart…nonetheless, I agreed with Meghan who sobbed and repeated several times, “I love him so much.”

I was delighted/exhausted/relieved/impressed/dumbfounded/prideful/in love with both of them.

I was offered the cord to cut with a short-nosed scissors. The tubing membrane was not as difficult to cut as I’d heard it was.

Meghan and I kissed and stared at this newborn boy for a few moments, taking it in.  He looked healthy. She was okay. She had done it!

Then, it was time to weigh and measure him.

Margaret prompted me to take him over to the little incubator/crib in the room. He fit easily into my hands and didn’t cry as I transported him the few steps.

His eyes shut, I laid him in while the nurse said, “Six pounds, seven ounces. Twenty inches. He’s doing great.”  His AGPAR score was a perfect 10.(Appearance, Grimace, Pulse, Activity, Respiration) I didn’t know what this meant or what it was and was told it was the best score a newborn can get. He was healthy and confirming what we already thought, he’s perfect.

I realized I had my phone in my pocket so I took this pic…the very first (of now, millions) of Cash.

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This first-time father understood what a difference a day can make. And an appreciative awe at what mothers go through to bring their babies into the world.

December 12th. 9:28am. 2014

I witnessed two new heroes born that day.

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Just listen!

My wife, Meghan, told me I needed to start writing again. And I’m practicing listening to my wife. Seems like an attribute that will serve me well in my married life. I need to practice because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

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My excuse is I was unmarried for 42 and a half years…so the only person I’ve ever consistently listened to…is me. Listening to myself, “trusting my gut” is something I’ve probably done a little better than the average guy. It also struck me that listening to yourself means purposely not listening to what others say.

For example.

Coming out of my senior year in high school, no college recruiters thought I should be playing Division 1 football. Not even Division 2. But I wanted to play for my beloved Wisconsin Badgers football team. So, I walked on, tried out…and made the team.

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Then, when I made the team, a coach told me I probably wouldn’t make the team the next year. I decided not to listen and worked out harder…and made the team the next year…and the following three years all the way until we won a Rose Bowl championship for the first time in school history.

So, I’m glad I listened to me and not to others.

If you want to read more about this experience, I wrote a book about it. No Bed of Roses. I’d give you the amazon link…but heck, I’d rather you just contact me and I’ll sell you a signed copy for half price. (Please! I have 3 boxes full in my basement!)

When I graduated with a Journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin and said I wanted to try to be an actor, I listened to myself. So did others. And many didn’t think what I was saying was very wise.

“That’s no way to make a living.” “What? Are you gonna be a waiter?” “Everybody wants to be an actor.” “That’s the most competitive field there is!”

With those sentiments echoing out my ears, I moved to Chicago anyway.

After a few months working at a newspaper, and as a waiter, I booked my first professional acting gig–a Hardees commercial. My girlfriend in the spot, Michelle Monaghan, was also making her TV debut. One of us went on to star opposite Tom Cruise in a couple Mission Impossible movies and headline several other major studio films including Made of Honor, The Heartbreak Kid, and Mr. & Mrs. Smith.

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I will let you decide whose career was really launched that day.

While stardom may have eluded me, I was able to snag a film role and a TV show pilot while in Chicago and armed with a few lines on my acting resume decided I wanted to go to Los Angeles and try my way onto some more shows and sets out there.

My Chicago acting friends and even my agent told me I was making a mistake. “Too green, too soon.” “You’ll be swallowed up out there.” “You will be back here in 6 months, penniless and broke.” Not sure why she had to add the “…and broke” part…feel like that was covered with “penniless.”

I’m proud to say I didn’t listen and ended up on the set of the hit show, “Party of Five” within eight months of moving to LA.

A.	cast counter clockwise: Scott Wolf (Bailey Salinger), Lacey Chabert (Claudia Salinger), Neve Campbell (Julia Salinger), Jacob Smith (Owen Salinger) and Matthew Fox (Charlie Salinger), star as orphaned siblings in the one-hour Columbia TriStar Television series

And when I say “on the set” I mean, literally, I was knocked down on the set, shoved by lead actor, Matthew Fox’s character, Charlie, for making a pass at his girlfriend!

Welcome to Hollywood!

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I picked myself up, dusted myself off and starred in quite a few commercials, films and shows over the next 9 years. The One with Joey’s Fridge is The One I Will Be Forever Known For amongst my ‘friends’, former classmates, and family, as I was cast as Patrick in the Friends’ episode as a potential date for Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).

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While Rachel and Patrick didn’t make it as a couple, I could say I, Chris, had “made it” as an actor.

What I’d ‘made’ was my own path, without direction from anyone on how to do it. Not only did no one make it for me, “they” told me the path I imagined wouldn’t be possible.

Just like “they” said about me trying to play college football. Just like “they” said about my wanting to be an actor. Just like “they” said about me moving to Los Angeles.

When I first pitched my book, every agent I sent it to told me no. “There are too many college football books out there.” “Oh, that story has been told.” “If you played at USC or Notre Dame, that’s different. Nobody knows about Wisconsin.”

But, I found a publisher, without an agent, and…I had my book published.

So, listening to myself, and blocking out others, served me well and allowed me to accomplishments I’m still proud of to this day. Listening is a good practice.

In the past few years, I’ve neglected my writing.  There are excuses, some I would consider great ones. My marriage and my son, Cash.

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Some, like being too busy or my own general lethargy, not so great.

Other than be a great husband and father…when asked what I do, or what do I want to do, I say “write.”  For awhile now, I haven’t been listening to what I keep saying. But someone has. Meghan has. And, now, she’s telling me to write.

After 43 years, it’s nice to know, there is one less person I have to block out.

And one more person, to practice listening to.