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Woster: A mother always knows

I like to say mothers have much better instincts about problems with their children than fathers do, but maybe it’s just Nancy and me with our kids.

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I start thinking along those lines every year toward late January. That’s when our youngest child was born in 1978, and he had to fight his way into this world.

Terry Woster

We have three children. The older two were born at McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. The last one arrived at St. Mary’s Hospital here in Pierre, S.D. I watched the latter two births, both sons. When our daughter was born, hospitals weren’t routinely allowing fathers into the delivery room. We could hang out in the labor room, watching our wives’ faces as the contractions came and went, offering encouraging, soothing words that were accepted less and less graciously as the labor progressed. When the magical moment of birth neared, we were shepherded to a cramped room for waiting fathers.

You older guys — men whose children were born 40 or 50 or 60 years ago, and I mean born in hospitals, which not every child was back then — remember that room, or one very much like it. The coffee table was strewn with ripped and wrinkled old magazines like “Field and Stream” and “Life,” half-empty coffee cups and ashtrays the size of a Buick hubcap overflowing with crushed cigarette butts and a few cigar stubs. Some nervous fathers-to-be talked incessantly to their temporary neighbors. Mercy, I hated it when they talked. I pretended to read, pretended to fall asleep, pretended to be anywhere but in the waiting room.

I fled the place like Steve McQueen in “The Great Escape” when the nurse came to tell me I was a father. The first sight of my new daughter overwhelmed me, and I wished I hadn’t missed an essential part of the process.

Fifteen months later, I was still deciding if I wanted to watch the delivery as the nursing staff hauled me into the room. Once there, it was great. Well, there was that unsettling moment when Dr. Volin pointed out the loose knot in the umbilical cord. You know how sometimes you can feel from the inside that your face just lost its color? Me, too.

Nine years later, no way I was missing the delivery of our third child, also a son. We were in Pierre by that time, and I was an old hand at the business of a gown, slippers and funny cap. I was ready for it. Then I watched Dr. Lindbloom calmly unwrap two coils of the cord from around the neck of this just-born baby boy. You know how sometimes you can feel from the inside that your face just lost its color?

I survived, we got back to Nancy’s room and settled in and a nurse took our son back to the place where newborn babies go to rest. Not much later a huge commotion arose out in the hall. Nurses scurried past our room, voices were raised down the hall somewhere and our nurse came in to close the door.

I asked what was going on. She said one of the infants was having trouble breathing.

Even as I was thinking, “Well, that’s too bad for some family,” Nancy was saying to the nurse, “It’s mine, isn’t it? It’s my baby. I can tell.”

I was about to reassure her. It couldn’t be our little boy. Those things happen to other people.

It was ours, though. Five weeks early, the little guy was struggling. A whole bunch of gifted, caring people were doing their level best to help him learn to use his brand-new lungs. It took forever — long enough that we got a visit from the Rev. John Lantsberger, a freshly ordained priest who was as shaky as I was as he performed a quick baptism — but the staff brought things under control and our child figured out how to breathe on his own.

The kid grew up, went to college, got married, bought a house and settled in Denver. To this day, though, his mother always knows when anything is wrong in his life, long before the phone rings. She always knows.

Woster is a Forum News Service columnist based in Pierre, S.D.