This is a birthday card to Sam. He just turned 4 years old. Nothing in my life has been the same since he took his first breath. He opened the door to what life is really about… a door I had only stared at, not daring to touch it, until I was 60 years old.
But this birthday card is also about one of those scruffy old Happy Holla treasures, hidden in the run-down blue-collar neighborhoods between North Central and North Broadway. It’s where Sam was born.
They call it Tennova Physicians Regional Medical Center now, but I’ve always known it as St. Mary’s Hospital. And it’ll always be St. Mary’s, because even now, when you walk down the hallways, you’ll come around a corner and find yourself staring into the infinitely calming spirit of Mary, represented in one of the great feats of Western art, a modest statuette of a modest feminine presence guarding a modest hospital corridor. It isn’t St. Tennova. It’s St. Mary.
My wife and I lived in Texas when Sam was conceived, so to that extent, he’s an ornery Texan. That might explain the challenge of getting him into this world, which I’ll explain in a minute. But in the 7th month of the pregnancy, we decided we needed to have him born and raised in East Tennessee, where both of us grew up.
So we U-hauled it home, rented a house in Oak Ridge, and asked around for OB/GYN recommendations. One place that kept coming up was St. Mary’s, and the doctor most frequently mentioned was Leonard Brabson. Brabson was the favorite of anyone who leaned toward natural childbirth, especially those interested in midwife services, water births and the like.
In the 6 weeks between Sept 1st and mid October, we saw all three of Dr. Brabson’s midwives in a weekly rotation of check-ups. They all reassured us that everything was normal, with the baby positioned head downward, getting ready for arrival in early November.
My wife is a naturopathic doctor, a long-distance runner, and one of the healthiest humans I’ve ever known, all without really having to work at it. At the risk of sounding simplistic, it just comes naturally to her. So her approach to childbirth… our approach… was likewise. Let it come naturally.
In mid-October, 3 weeks before he was due, Sam let us know he was ready to move, so we checked in at The Birth Place, at St. Mary’s Women’s Pavilion, right there next to Fulton High School. A midwife met us and, once we were in one of the hotel-like LDRP rooms (labor, delivery, recovery, postpartum), got things rolling by breaking the amniotic sac.
My wife pushed once, and to everyone’s surprise, out popped a tiny foot, and the other foot was ready to follow. The midwife, realizing the severity of this little surprise, administered a shot that brought contractions to a halt, giving us time to wait for Dr. Brabson to arrive.
A feet-first delivery, known as a double footling breech, is pretty rare. Breech births are only 3 or 4% of all live births, and double footlings are just a small percentage of all breech births. If a pre-born baby presents in that position, a cesarean section is done.
But coming as a complete surprise… well, that’s unheard of these days. Even I could tell how rare this was, because suddenly every nurse at the Woman’s Pavilion crowded the doorway of our room to catch a glimpse of the little blue foot waiting for Dr. Brabson.
While we waited, an anesthesiologist came in to explain the C Section he was sure would have to be performed. And the steady rhythm of the baby monitor let us know Sam wasn’t getting stressed by the delay.
Then Dr. Brabson walked in, bringing an aura of experience and calm to the room that was so pervasive, I felt like I could’ve delivered the baby if he’d asked me to. He didn’t ask my wife if she wanted a cesarean. He just said “Are you ready to go ahead?” And like the Wonder Woman she is, she said yes without hesitation.
If the room had had space for 100 spectators, it would’ve been standing room only. A delivery nurse can work an entire career and never see one like this. Fortunately for us, the room accommodated only 3 or 4 nurses and the midwife to help Dr. Brabson. But he was in a very special zone. No only was this not his first rodeo; it was the kind of challenge to which he is uniquely qualified to respond. The skills required to deliver a baby in this situation aren’t even taught and practiced these days. To accomplish it successfully, with mom and baby intact, requires a doctor with the 40-plus years of experience Dr. Brabson has.
It’s like finding someone today who can fix a broken IBM Selectric typewriter. No… it’s about meeting a man who knows that no skill should be lost to so-called progress. Losing skills and knowledge is going backwards. Put that in your Facebook and smoke it.
So Dr. Brabson just coached my wife for the first minute or two, not even touching her as he let her push Sam on her own, until he had emerged to his waist. But then, when Dr. Brabson held Sam by the hips and became an active participant in his birth, there followed a series of manipulations, rotations, and balletic partnering unlike anything I could have imagined I would ever witness. And then Sam was laying across my wife’s chest, eyes open, calm as a wise man, looking straight at me.
The delivery took 4 minutes, maybe 5. When I recall every second, start to finish, it’s a slo-mo / time lapse mash-up. It was the first birth I had ever seen, and not only did I not faint, I actually helped a bit, and I took note of every detail as my wife did something they still talk about at St. Mary’s Women’s Pavilion… a natural birth delivery of a double footling breech, with no drugs. No epidural. No nothin’. Wonder Woman.
22 months later, we had a second son, at home, delivered three weeks before his due date by my sister, who is a highly experienced delivery nurse. Again, no drugs. He came so fast, we called him Shotgun.
And another 22 months later, we were at the Women’s Pavilion for our daughter’s birth. Dr Brabson delivered her. My wife had worked a full day at her clinic, called to have me pick her up, and we were parents again before the sun went down. The birth took about 30 seconds. Again, no drugs, unless you consider chocolate a drug. Dr. Brabson just said, “You know, you’re really good at this.”
So Sammy, Happy Birthday. It was an event I will never forget, made possible by a doctor whose skills should never be forgotten. Thanks, Dr. Brabson. I’ve wanted to tell you this for four years. You’re one of Knoxville’s most valuable treasures.