Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Puppetry Week #2: Puppet Helps Deliver Baby
With the International Puppet Theater Festival beginning Wednesday, I'm presenting Puppetry Week on Everygoddamnday.com, looking at aspects of this often-ignored art. Today's is a more personal tale, which could have been titled: "How Do You Make a Woman Laugh During Childbirth?"
There are four things I remember about Lamaze class.
First, we all had to bring pillows, to help position the pregnant mothers-to-be and make them comfortable. But toting the pillows added a strangely apt sleepover/kindergarten vibe to the experience, of a dozen or so couples meeting in a hospital conference room, the women large-bellied, the men, beetle-browed, trying to focus, clutching pillows.
Second, there were several breathing mantras ground into us so thoroughly that I can repeat them today: "Ah-hee, ah-hee, a-hee, ah-blow!" Almost like sailor shanties, now that I set one down. Designed to keep the woman breathing during the pain of contractions. Breathing is important. We spent a lot of time practicing this.
Third, there was a lot of talk of things that could go wrong. Which was supposed to help prepare us, to be ready for any complication, which childbirth can certainly serve up. But these precautions also terrified us. Terrified me anyway. I remember thinking Lamaze was like driver's ed: they're supposed to be teaching you how to make a left turn, instead they're showing you movies of mangled bodies being pried out of wrecks. Gee thanks, State of Ohio Department of Transportation. I don't think our Lamaze instructor actually showed us a video entitled "Coping With the Death of Your New Baby." But that's the sense I took away from some of these scenarios.
And fourth, the focal point. You were supposed to bring in a tangible object that the woman could concentrate on while pushing, while breathing. I have no idea how that helped, or why a thumb wouldn't do, but they told us to bring something, and we did. It didn't matter what. I suggested we use a hand puppet, so I could make the puppet deliver Lamaze instructions to her in a falsetto puppet voice. But she made a face, and we didn't have a hand puppet, so we settled on a small, sort of phallic orange toy dinosaur that I won as a consolation prize at a fair, if I recall properly. Stuffed, a few inches high.
We used the dinosaur. "A hand puppet would really work much better," I'd say, now and then, and she'd roll her eyes, because that was stupid.
In the weeks leading up to her delivery date, we prepared, laid in supplies, got a backpack filled with clothes and essentials. On Broadway there was a toy store, "Toyscape," that carried the high end playthings we Boomers loved. No Barbie dolls, but tin wind-up toys and imported Swedish trucks and handmade knit items. I picked up this pink-nosed hand puppet whom I dubbed, in my mind, "Mayor McCheese," even though he looks nothing like the McDonald's character. I think because of the top hat; it gave him an air of officialdom.
I did not show the puppet to my wife, but tucked him into a pocket of the backpack.
Now it is Oct. 25, 1995, the day our oldest son Ross was born, or will be born, as soon as my wife can get him out. We've had to rush to hospital because my wife picked one way the heck up in Evanston and I stupidly went to work to cover a bus tragedy in Fox River Grove—she was having contractions, but we figured it was a false alarm. It wasn't. We raced to the hospital, just barely got Edie to the emergency room (the advice I give to prospective mothers is, if they find themselves in an ER but not receiving the immediate service they expect, drop to their hands and knees and let out a scream: it focuses the hospital staff's attention magnificently).
We were rushed to a room, where labor began in earnest. Edie paced around a bit, but as the big moment approached, and she had to start getting this baby out in earnest, I whipped out this ridiculous puppet.
"Now we're going to count to three and push!" I had the puppet say, in a high, piping voice, out of the corner of my mouth, waggling his white felt hands for emphasis.
Over the 32 years we've known one another, I've made my wife laugh many times during a wide variety of circumstances. It's why she married me, she always says. But I think that one laugh, guffawed through clenched teeth behind damp hair hanging in her face, is the one I'm most proud of. Of course, I can't take all the credit. The puppet helped too.