First, a disclaimer: I struggled with whether it would be appropriate to publish this blog, as the topic is personal more than professional, and the subject only tangentially related to running and coaching. The name Clio comes from Greek mythology: she was a daughter of Zeus and the muse of history. And she is my muse for this atypical post, which I am writing simply because it is my impulse, my way to process. And because, some day, I’ll be grateful that I took time to record my thoughts – Clio will have a written record, from her father, of the day of her birth. I have decided to share that record here because a few people asked me to do so, and because significant life events like births (and deaths, marriages, graduations) can alter one’s world view profoundly: if ever there was a time to offer insight and perspective to the young men I coach (one goal of this blog) this would seem to be it.
We’ll start the story on the night of Wednesday, November 18th. Megan and I had planned a ‘date night,’ our weekly ritual of going out to a nice dinner, an always welcome occasion which we knew would become increasingly less frequent in the months ahead. On a whim, we chose to go to Talley’s Kitchen and Bar in Clarendon Hills, a spot I’d passed many times but never before dined at. We had a lovely meal: vegetable risotto and club soda with lime for Megan, steak frites with red wine for me, and talked through Christmas present ideas, little knowing how dramatically our lives would be changing within the next 24 hours (Megan’s due date was November 29th, so we both figured we had some time left).
Without going into too much detail, I can say that it was on our short walk through downtown Clarendon Hills that Megan first realized her labor was beginning, though it would be another hour before I became privy to that information. We made one last errand on our way home, to the Verizon store on 75th and route 83 to upgrade Megan’s phone. It was after exiting the Verizon store that Megan grabbed my arm, looked at me, and said, “I think it’s time.”
We tried to stay calm. Went home. Packed bags. Megan showered and I shaved. I contacted my Department Chair to let her know I’d need a substitute for the next few days, and hastily prepared lesson plans to give to whoever that might be (alas, I had to delegate to the substitute one of my favorite lessons, on King’s “Letters from Birmingham Jail,” one of America’s most beautifully written and righteous essays). We completed our usual evening chores, focusing on the mundane to keep the nervousness at bay: emptied the dishwasher, filled up the coffee pot (though turned the timer off on this occasion), swept and vacuumed. And then we loaded up the car, and off we went, fairly well-prepared all things considered (though lacking winter clothes, something we didn’t realize we’d need).
The drive from home to the hospital was surreal: we came via an unusually quiet Madison street, passing by the high school before cutting through downtown Hinsdale, where shopkeepers were just then closing down for the night. We entered the labor and delivery wing of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital just after 10:00 p.m., got checked in, and met with the nurse on duty. She ran a test on Megan to determine if the labor had indeed begun, and the results came back negative. The palpable effects of adrenaline subsided immediately upon hearing this news, though the nurse told us that the doctor wanted to run one additional test, just to be sure. As Megan and I waited for these new results, we began the process of reorienting our mental frames back to the ordinary, summoned the will to be patient just a while longer.
The nurse finally returned after an hour, even though she’d told us she’d be back in 30 minutes after she left with the test sample. With a grin, she said: “Well, look’s like you are staying!” Megan and I could only look at each other in wonderment.
Our nurse suggested we try to get rest, as the most difficult phases of labor would not likely begin until the next day’s sunrise. Megan called her twin sister Liz with the news, and then we tried our best to sleep, though dreams came fitfully.
True to the nurses’ word, contractions came more regularly the following morning. I will spare you the details, other than to note the obvious that the labor progressed as it has for time immemorial. As the hours ticked by, we came to know our nurse better, and to meet other members of the hospital staff. Shirley, our nurse, hailed from the Philippines, one of 11 kids. She had two grown children, both of whom had graduated from Hinsdale South. In a few days, she’d be hosting Thanksgiving for over 50 relatives. She had a perfect bedside manner and a wealth of wisdom to share about birthing based on her 34 years of on the job experience. Megan was as comfortable as it is possible to be at that stage of labor, reassured by Shirley’s competence and compassion.
Liz had arrived earlier that morning, and the two of us worked together to keep up Megan’s spirits and to keep her calm and prepared for the hardest phase of the labor soon to come. By late afternoon, Shirley began prepping the table for the baby’s delivery. We chatted amiably with her, excitement growing as we knew the time for meeting our baby approached ever closer. Our genial conversation was interrupted, though, as Shirley radioed for ‘a friend’ to come assist her. Then, chaos.
Before I could realize what was happening, there was a swarm. Nurses and midwives rushed in. Somebody pulled an oxygen mask from the wall, placed it over Megan’s mouth, and ordered her to breathe into it. Plugs were yanked out of the wall by shaking hands. The brakes on Megan’s hospital bed were released, and she was rushed out of our room, down a hallway and through double doors. I chased after but was prevented from entering the surgical wing by a forceful but sympathetic nurse.
I was escorted back to the now eerily silent delivery room, and Liz and I looked at each other speechlessly. Those moments of sheer panic were followed by foreboding and worry. There was nothing to do but wait, and in those minutes I thought about how long it had taken us to conceive, how truly momentous the task of being pregnant and giving birth is (young men, you have NO IDEA how much hard work, dedication, and discipline is involved in pregnancy – our distance training, challenging though it may be, does not even begin to compare). Should anything happen to Megan or our baby, I was not sure how either of us would ever recover from the devastation.
Mercifully, the wait for news was not long. A midwife who was at the hospital to assist another patient had heard of our distress and came to offer the calming balm of information. “Megan and the baby are both stable” she reported, and Liz and I both breathed sighs of relief, though we couldn’t yet let go of all fears. Not long after, a nurse came to get me, telling me that it was now OK for me to join Megan in the surgical wing. She brought me through the vaunted double doors, and gave me scrubs and facemask to wear. Shakily, I put on the protective blue outer covers, and before I could even finish I heard the cries of our baby. They brought me into the room, and the doors opened onto what will be one of the indelible images of my life: a glance first to the corner of the room where nurses were attending to our minutes old baby, and then to Megan, lying on the surgical table, who looked up at me, and, joyful and teary-eyed, said, “it’s a girl.”
Clio Delaney was born, via emergency c-section, at 5:50 p.m. on Thursday, November 19th. She weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and was 19 inches long. For the first hours of her life, she was wide awake, with big black eyes and an astonishingly calm and gentle demeanor belying the scary circumstances of her birth. While the doctors finished up Megan’s surgery, I was given a short time period to be alone with Clio. I held her in my arms, looked at her, and could not stop smiling.
Megan was brought in to join us, and we became a family. I gave Clio to Megan to hold for the first time, and euphoria swept over us, though tempered by exhaustion. I took out my phone, and after taking a few photos, selected Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” as Clio’s first song. Listening to music is one of the joys of being human.
In the hours ahead, we would learn what happened: a blood vessel burst where the placenta and umbilical cord connect, so the baby was not getting enough oxygen. Our nurse, Shirley, realized something was awry when monitoring Clio’s heart rate. Her quick thinking and expertise prevented complications in Clio’s birth that could very well have arisen had we been in less able hands.
Here is the connection to HCXC. We speak often of cultivating a ‘culture of excellence’ within our program. This means that each individual aspires to do the very best they can, not just for themselves but for their teammates. It means that the team actively promotes certain values: hard work, self-discipline, an unwillingness to take short cuts, while discouraging others: negativity, mediocrity, undependability. It means certain habits and ways of acting become so ingrained that new members of the team become seamlessly integrated, and soon start sharing and contributing to the team’s shared norms. The best recent evidence I have that HCXC has instituted a true culture of excellence is that the freshman athletes, on their own volition, have created and implemented a training plan for their off-season conditioning, whereas in the first years I coached at Hinsdale Central, we literally had only one athlete on the team who trained regularly over the winter months (Pete Richard, who later went on to have a successful collegiate career at DePauw and who now works in Chicago and continues to train).
At its best, high school sport allows young men and women to acquire life skills and to gain valuable practice experimenting with implementing these skills in comparatively lower stakes environments. In the ‘Labor and Delivery’ and ‘Mothers and Babies’ wings of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, I witnessed what a culture of excellence looks like in a professional, real-world context. In a moment of crisis, the nurses and doctors in charge of helping Megan safely deliver her baby were able to draw upon decades of training: they knew enough to identify a problem early enough to address it, remained focused in a critical and high pressure situation, and managed to expertly execute a precise surgical maneuver all the while keeping us calm and informed of what they were doing.
This culture of excellence extended far beyond the surgical team, but was evident among all staff members we encountered at our stay in the hospital, from the Doctors and Nurses, to the high school volunteers, consultants, and orderlies. The people who attended to us were very obviously going above and beyond what their job responsibilities required. They showed genuine interest in our well-being, patiently answered our many questions, and showered Megan and little Clio with care and affection. To undergo an unplanned c-section can be a traumatic experience, but the staff that cared for Megan during her hospital stay did much to help her heal both physically and emotionally. I am sure nursing has its inherent rewards, and I know also that these nurses are working in part to provide income for their own families. But, it must be said, to exhibit such professionalism and kindness at 6:30 a.m. at the end of a 12 hour graveyard shift, and to do so day after day, year after year, sometimes for decades, requires reserves of strength and depth of character that are, simply put, uncommon.
Those two wings of the hospital are almost entirely female domains, far removed from the predominantly male realms I encounter in as my job as coach. Clio was born in world where, in the week she was born, a terrorist attack had been committed in Paris, bombs were set off in Mali, and protests over police brutality broke out in Chicago. But I will tell her that she was also born into a more immediate world where the people who tended to her were motivated by love, empathy, and compassion. These individuals ensured that Clio was properly cared for and established the conditions which set her up to thrive – and they did so knowing that they’d likely never see her again after she left the hospital. And they do this for every single baby born in that hospital, and for every wide-eyed and disoriented parent accompanying that baby. These doctors and nurses did not become this way by accepting mediocrity. They exhibited excellence in their job. It is my hope that by encouraging our athletes to reach for excellence, they will come to develop the skills that our medical team had; skills which changed forever for the better little Clio’s life, to say nothing of her eternally grateful parents.