Cutting the Cord
I’ve never asked a doctor to grade an essay for me, so imagine my surprise when I was asked if I would like to perform the first surgery on my daughter.
As a kid, I loved the board game Operation, but the only recompense there for screwing up was a loud buzzer and the humiliation of knowing my big brother had won. I sensed the stakes might be a little higher now.
The morning of March 29, 2001, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, after 14 hours in the delivery room, my wife and I were still waiting for little Abigail Jane Rudder to arrive.
My wife’s contractions slowed around 6:00 a.m. and then nearly halted. Our daughter’s stubbornness was already beginning to manifest, and she hadn’t even been born yet. It was as if she were telling us, It’s nice and warm in here. If you want me, you’re going to have to come in and get me.
I snuck out to the parking garage to have a celebratory cigar, as every new father is supposed to do. (Nothing like the smell of cigar smoke mixed with exhaust fumes at 7 a.m. to wake a body up.) I was hoping that, by the time I extinguished my $10 stogie, all of the yelling, the blood, the gore and the assorted other unpleasantries of the birthing room would have ceased and I could arrive just in time to hold my freshly scrubbed, little baby burrito in my arms.
A few minutes later, I was summoned back to the birthing room and found that we were no closer than when I had left. We were informed by our midwife that if things did not progress, we would have to start thinking about the “C word.”
The term took me back to our birthing class. The woman who led our Bradley class was a woman I called The Birth Nazi. She was in her early 50s, with slightly graying hair that was often pulled up in a bun like that of a Mennonite. She was big-boned, probably 6’1” and wore the kind of cat glasses that my second grade teacher used to wear. She seldom wore makeup and would not tolerate tardiness, absenteeism, talking during the videos, or gum-chewing.
Over the course of ten weeks, we were treated to all sorts of helpful information about the “intervention spiral”—the series of unfortunate occurrences that might take place should we try to circumvent nature and attempt to speed up the process with modern medical technology. I can’t remember all of the possible consequences that we were warned of, but it seems that the potential side effects included everything from a lopsided baby head (due to the pressure of the forceps) to halitosis and nail fungus.
Fortunately for us, nature kicked in and the labor commenced about 7:15, and Clare summoned up the energy to start pushing again. Finally, around 8:30 a.m., Abigail stuck out the white flag and surrendered.
I was standing behind my wife’s head—after all, there were too many people hanging out at her feet—a midwife, a nurse, a nurse midwife, an OB-GYN doctor, several medical students, a couple from the room next to us who were visiting their Aunt Agnes, and a reporter from the Tennessean, I think. From my perspective, I could still see all the bright blood and space alien-like matter that I had seen in the videos in the birthing class all over again. I knew there also had to be a baby somewhere in that mix. That’s when the midwife handed me the knife and said, “So, do you want to cut the umbilical cord?”
I was speechless. Everyone in the room went silent and they all stared at me. “Is that really, um, the protocol?” I wondered if they were going to ask me next if I wanted to eat the afterbirth, like Tom Cruise did.
She told me lots of men did it. “Well, OK,” I said as I reached out to take the knife.
There are certain times in a man’s life when he has to simply face his fears and prove that he can overcome them, when he can take up his manhood, summon his courage, face the mythical dragon in the archetypal hero’s journey, and slay it once and for all.
This was not one of those times.
“I don’t know. I’m a little shaky from being up most of the night,” I said, handing her back the knife. “How about if you do it and I watch? Then, when our next baby is born, I’ll be all set.”
I watched as she took the knife back and began to cut the cord that had been the lifeline from my daughter to my wife’s body for the past nine months. This crimson-covered tube of flesh had been the provider of all the nourishment my daughter needed for the previous nine months. It had served as the emotional bond between the two. And now it was about to be severed.
After Abigail took her first scream, they cleaned her up and handed her to me. I looked at the beautiful, wrinkly, little ball of wonder in my arms and tried to think of something profound to say. But all that came to mind was, “Welcome to the world, kiddo. But I gotta be honest with you—it’s all uphill from here.”
Randy Rudder received an MA in English literature from Tennessee State University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Memphis. In 2007, he was awarded the Tennessee Arts Commission Fellowship for nonfiction writing. He is editor and publisher of the Country Music Reader, a muisic anthology containing articles, essays, and interviews with top country and bluegrass artists. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Country Weekly, The Nashville Business Journal, Nashville Lifestyles, Keyboard Magazine, Today's Christian, The Nashville Scene, Bluegrass Unlimited, and others.