Jason, your wife’s platelets have dropped dangerously low.
We are going to need to operate now.
There is no time to wait. It’s what’s best for her and the baby.
Go tell your family to come into the room and give her a hug and a kiss before we take her to the operating room.
My head began to spin as I attempted to process the words which had come out of the Doctor’s mouth.
It was 24 hours earlier that my wife, Kate, who was 8 months pregnant, had come home early from work, complaining about back pain.
She had vomited a few times during the evening hours, but we hadn’t thought too much of it. Pregnant women tend to do that sort of thing.
After the 4th time she had vomited, I had convinced her to give the on-call Doctor a ring. The Doctor told us to get to the hospital and admit ourselves into triage. We checked in around 11:30 pm on Wednesday evening.
A battery of tests were taken throughout the night. At around 6 am, Thursday morning, a nurse barged into the room and loudly yelled to us,
You aren’t going anywhere until you have this baby!
Call your families! Kate, the Doctor will fill you in on the details in a minute. But the next time you go home, it will be with your child!
After we came to our senses and snapped out of our half-sleep, we were filled in on the stark reality of the situation.
Kate had preeclampsia and had also developed HELLP syndrome.
Both were childbirth complications and potentially life threatening.
The best thing to do would have been to have a c-section on the spot.
We had both hoped for a natural birth to avoid surgery if possible. We asked the Doctor if we could induce labor as an alternative.
The Doctor allowed it.
Kate was put on magnesium to calm down her elevated blood pressure and we started the process of inducing labor at around 7:30 am.
Both sets of parents and both of our sisters (we each have one) scrambled to get to the hospital. We didn’t know when our first daughter would be born. But she was coming soon, whether we were ready or not.
About 14 hours later, at 9:30 pm, the Doctor rushed into the room after one of Kate’s scheduled blood tests with the frightening news about Kate’s dangerously low platelets.
The situation was dire for both Kate and the baby.
I wouldn’t be allowed in the operating room during the procedure due to the emergent nature of the matter. The trauma team was called in with a large supply of emergency blood.
Within seconds, the room was swarming with more Doctors than I could count.
I was in a daze looking around the room, reeling like a prize fighter who had just absorbed a knockout punch.
Jason, hey, I need you to get it together. Go get the family.
I nodded, turned to Kate, and said,
Hey, I’m going to go get our parents so they can say good luck. I’ll be right back.
Kate was as white as a ghost and she was visibly shaking. She just nodded and continued to stare in disbelief as everything materialized around her.
I walked quickly out of the room and towards the waiting room, wondering how I was going to tell everyone – her parents, especially – the news. I had no time to rehearse. I was going to have to tell the truth; no beating around the bush. There was no time for pleasantries.
Everyone stood immediately as I barged through the waiting room door.
They saw the look on my face and they knew something was wrong.
Hey, guys. The Doctor says it’s time to operate. Her platelets have dropped dangerously low.
We can’t wait any longer. Head on into the room and give her a kiss.
I tried to look her parents and sister in their eyes.
For a split second, our gazes connected. I saw everything in that one-second. I saw the shock, the emotion, the anxiety, the sheer terror, the realization that there was a chance that this was the last time they would ever see Kate again.
I walked right through them and made a direct path towards the window overlooking the parking lot.
I stared out at the cars below, fighting my quivering bottom lip the entire way.
Tears welled up. If the situation had been different, I would have burst into tears. But this wasn’t a normal situation.
This was the type of a situation that separates the strong from the weak.
I needed to be strong in front of my wife.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
It was my mother. She was trying to help. She was watching her 29-year old son suffer, and she was trying to do what all mothers do.
She was trying to console her child in a time of need.
Stop it, Mom. Not now. Don’t talk to me. I’ll be fine.
She started again, trying to help.
I said to stop, Mother.
If you start comforting me, I’ll be a mess. Don’t do this. I’ll be fine. I can’t cry in front of Kate – it will only make it worse for her.
Take your hand off of me. Please don’t say a word.
Just follow me.
I turned around, walked out of the waiting room, and began the short trip back towards Kate’s hospital room.
Hugs and kisses were exchanged between Kate, her parents, my parents, and both sisters. Everyone tried to be as cheery as possible, given the intense gravity of the situation.
After everyone had left, and only I remained, I turned to the Doctor.
Can you take a picture of the two of us?
This is the last moment we will be childless! It’s all diapers and bottles for us from here on out!
The Doctor smiled and snapped this picture:
I slid the camera back into my shorts and we began our walk to the operating room.
They wheeled Kate inside and I sat down outside the double doors on a small, wooden bench.
I took my camera out and looked at the picture.
With my wife inside the room, and the fate of our family in the ob-gyn’s hands, I looked at the pixels on the screen.
I put my face in my hands and began to sob.
The picture had more meaning than I had let on in front of my wife.
I wanted to capture our last moment together, if my worst nightmare came true, and she didn’t live through the surgery.
The Rollercoaster Of Life
After what seemed like an eternity, everything turned out well.
Both Kate and our first daughter, Brooklyn, made it through the operation without a hitch.
Being a premature baby, however, she spent her first two weeks of life in the neo-natal intensive care unit.
Kate had to recover from HELLP syndrome as well as an emergency c-section.
Needless to say, the first month of being a Father was an utter blur.
I was taking care of everything – and everyone – as best as I could.
I was helping Kate shower, addressing her bandages, and cleaning her after the c-section.
She was constantly sick with flu-like symptoms from her rapidly changing hormones as well.
We were staying in a motel nearby the hospital which was for families of long-term patients. We wanted to be next to Brookie as she gained strength in the NICU.
I was spending hours each day holding her in my arms and rocking her, as oxygen meters were hooked up to ensure her lungs were adequately providing oxygen to the rest of her body.
I felt like a robot.
I wasn’t sleeping; I was existing on fumes. The totality of the situation which had just passed was too much to process. I woke up in the morning, and did whatever the current task was in front of me.
The downtime was the worst.
I had held everything together, at least on the outside, during the operations and post-birth stay.
But this was becoming too much.
Each night, after my wife was asleep, I laid in silence, staring at the ceiling, alone with my own thoughts.
I cried myself to sleep most of those nights.
After what seemed like a grueling, never-ending stay in the NICU, we were finally discharged.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so relieved in my entire life.
As tends to happen after life-altering situations, the seriousness of the situation quickly wore off.
We had no time to reflect and process what had just been thrown at us.
After all – we were new parents. Nobody gives you a handbook for this stuff. As any new parent can tell you, when you get discharged from the hospital with your first child in tow, all you can think of is:
“Wait, what? You’re going to let me leave with this baby? I’m totally unqualified. I think the kid should stay here, quite frankly……….”
You don’t have time to sit around and discuss the emotional whirlwind of the birth experience. You don’t have time to talk about what might have been.
Besides, we both knew what might have been.
It was easier to avoid the discussion.
I suppressed the feelings of despair. Fear. Helplessness.
I pushed them way into the back of my subconscious – into the corners of my brain that I almost never access.
I left them there, hoping to never re-hash them again.
It was just too damn painful to open up those memories.
They were best avoided, to save us all from the pain.
Don’t Waste This, Jason
Shortly after Brooklyn’s first birthday, a morning was spent like any other.
I woke up, turned off my alarm clock, brushed my teeth, and took a shower.
As I stepped out of the shower, for some reason, the image of myself that I saw in the mirror captured my attention.
I looked, quizzically, at my shirtless body.
I inspected closely what I was seeing. I reflected on who I was and the image I was portraying.
I stared deep into my eyes.
And I began to question my own existence.
It was an uncomfortable feeling. Staring at yourself for a prolonged amount of time, asking yourself the tough questions, is a real gut-check.
Who was I? What kind of a man was I?
What kind of a Dad was I? Husband? Friend? Confidant?
Was I strong, or was I weak?
What did my body image project?
What did my relationships with others reflect?
Was I a go-getter? Was I masculine?
Was I the leader in my own home? Did I provide for my family – and my children – the way a Father should?
The answer to almost all of those questions was a resounding “No”.
The sheer facts, staring at me through the mirror, were that I was unhappy with myself.
I was obese. I was unhealthy. I was lazy.
I ate too much food. I exercised too infrequently.
The part that stung the most was that I avoided hard work like it was a plague.
I was weak.
I looked at myself in the mirror that day.
And I made a pledge.
“You’re fucking pathetic, I said to myself.
A year ago, you nearly lost your wife and daughter in one, big swoop.
And here you are, fat as hell, sinfully weak, and your masculinity is non-existent.
What are you? Are you a man? Then it’s time to start acting like one.
Everything which means anything to you was almost taken right out of your hands.
But instead, you were given a second chance. You were fucking GIFTED this life you have.
Stop taking it for granted.
You’re wasting it, Jason.
Stop being such a pussy and start tackling that which needs to be tackled.
I don’t train to have a 6-pack.
Or a huge yoke.
Those are cool to have, sure, but they don’t get the fire burning inside of me.
My girls do, though.
All three of them.
After that moment, in 2011, looking at myself in the mirror, I’ve been incredibly consistent with my diet and training.
I never miss workouts. I train as hard as I possibly can every time I step foot in the gym.
I can go months on end without missing a single day’s worth of macros.
It’s this level of dedication and intensity that has allowed my body to completely transform over the years.
How do I keep that sort of regimen up, day in and day out?
Whenever I feel physical pain, I re-frame the situation and recall the blessed life I have been given.
Every time an exercise starts to burn, I grit my teeth and push through.
Every time I don’t feel like doing a set, I tease myself, calling myself weak-minded, urging myself to be strong.
Every time I get a bit hungry, and feel like cracking, I remind myself of how lucky I am.
I could be wifeless. Childless. Family-less.
I could have lost everything I had in the blink of an eye.
As I was sitting on that bench outside the operating room, on that warm, July evening, with tears streaming down my face, I waited.
I waited for someone to come out and tell me that I had lost it all.
I waited for confirmation that my nightmare had become real.
I waited for a Doctor to come out of the room, take off his hat, and lower his head to tell me the bad news.
Instead of the worst coming true, I heard the most amazing sound I have ever heard in my entire life – to this day.
My daughter’s first cries came piercing through the air and filled up the hallway.
Still crying, I smiled. And I began laughing.
Laughing from relief. From joy. From happiness. From elation.
Nobody came out to tell me the bad news.
Instead, a nurse came out, removed her mask, and smiled at me.
You have a beautiful baby girl.
Both her and her Mother are doing great.
Everything is going to be just fine.
That nurse was right.
Everything has been just fine.
I use the realization that everything is just fine to drive me.
Because it didn’t have to turn out this way.
But thank God it did.
How can I possibly complain about a little hunger, or some physical discomfort from a workout, when I have moments like this to fill me with so much love and happiness:
Brooklyn, the taller of the two flowergirls, is now 5.
Her sister, Ava, is 3. She was born in 2012 without a single complication.
Life is good.
From my family to yours,