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.
     Edie laughed.
     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. 


  1. First, I loved this. It's why I read the column every day ( I'd say every "goddamn" day, but that only applies to having to write it...reading it's a pleasure.)

    Second this brought back a very specific memory. Because that wasn't just a "bus" accident was it? It was a SCHOOL bus. And I had just had my own first birth experience 4 months before. And that day brought with it the realization that I would for the foreseeable future view these kinds of tragedies in a whole new way with a vulnerability I hadn't realized I'd feel. I remember picking her up and saying "No school busses ever" and she just laughed...for the first time ever.

    1. It was indeed a school bus. Seven kids died. A salient detail, I must have left it out so as not to allow too deep a whiff of tragedy. I might tuck it in, now that you bring it up.

    2. I remember that very well because we lived out there and, in fact, my then-stepdaughter attended the school (Cary-Grove High) to which that bus was ferrying the kids. We spent the rest of the day fielding phone calls and reassuring people that, yes, Tracey was fine, she didn't even take the bus to school, ever.

      As for "natural childbirth," I'm sorry, but I don't get it and never will. To me that's like insisting the dentist remove a tooth with no anesthetic; a pointless exercise in pain endurance.

    3. Did anyone mention "natural childbirth"? I'm sure my wife would have happily had the drugs, but there wasn't time.

    4. I had assumed your wife wanted natural childbirth too. If you didn't in my memory you didn't take the Lamaze class. You took the class which just discussed childbirth in general.

  2. That whole natural childbirth is bull. Things can go wrong on those homebirths too. Best to use epidurals or at least a shot of Demerol. If we can make childbirth easier? why live in the 1850's?

    Even Queen Victoria said it was great to get chloroform (at that time).

  3. well said, bitter scribe and good article, Mr. S.

  4. I hope Mrs. S. had time for pain killers the 2nd time. And I wish you had a daughter too, you are missing out. I'm sure you aren't one of those sexists that has to have a boy.

  5. What an adorable puppet you used -- sweet story.


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