Once we made the decision to have a third child, we ran into some heartache almost immediately. With our older two kids, the process had been very, very simple. We decided to try to have a child, and we had a child. But, of course, both of us were now older. So, in 2005 when Jeri miscarried, it was a shock. Because the previous two pregnancies were pretty uneventful, we didn’t even consider being circumspect with our news. We had shared it with Sydney and Tiber, family and friends. We then had to explain, as best we could what happened to our children. We’d never had to deal with this kind of grief before as a family. It was a difficult time.
In 2006 we tried to conceive again. And, we had more trouble. I can’t remember how far into the term or what number of weeks it was, I just recall thinking that we felt like we were out of the woods. Interestingly, while I can’t remember that dates of the term, I do remember the day of the week. It was a Wednesday. Jeri came home from her bi-weekly check up sobbing. Until this point in the pregnancy, all had been well. She had been examined two weeks before and was feeling fine — no cramps or bleeding. She looked great, too. But, at this appointment, they couldn’t find a heartbeat. Somewhere over the course of the two weeks between checkups, the child had died. In this case, she elected to have a procedure to have the remains removed as recommended by her obstetrician. I don’t want to get overly political here, but it does burn me up that today in many states she would be required by law to attend counseling, look at a picture of the child, and wait additional days. This experience made be an ardent supporter of policies that protect women’s reproductive rights. Again, we had the tough conversation with Sydney and Tiber, family, and friends. We were emotionally worn out and hurting.
There were conversations about the wisdom of further attempts. But, we agreed to give it a least one more try. I thought a lot about my own story. There’s a seven-year gap between my brother Chris and me. My parents had a string of miscarriages before I was brought into the world. I wasn’t looking to follow in their footsteps, but I did feel like we were experiencing something that was meant to happen. I felt that we really needed to see this through. I would guess that most parents are excited by the idea of potential — imagining the wonderful way a child will be and all the incredible things he or she will do. For me this was feeling was really strong, perhaps because of the echoes of my own story. While all of my children are wonderful and exceptional, I remember thinking that this third child would be extraordinary. I had no idea at the time how right I was for all the wrong reasons…
Early in 2007, we knew Koan was on the way. We held our breath and walked on eggshells for the first three months. As we rolled into June that year, well into the 2nd trimester, we began to relax. We had seen an ultrasound by this time and everything looked great. I was amazed by the new 3D ultrasound. These sessions for Syd and Tiber had been about as informative as looking a Rorschach paintings. When the tech showed me the real-time images of Koan and asked if we wanted to know the gender of the child (which we did), I already knew. His body language was so much like Tiber — both arms folded behind his head and his legs crossed — that I knew he was a boy. So, we started working on names.
Our name negotiations ended on something we both loved. Jeri really like the sound of the name — pronounced Co-en. I liked the idea of a Zen riddle. He also got my dad’s name for a middle name — Curtis. Sure, we were not following English convention for phonetics. But, we were going to let a little thing like that stop a really cool name. So, Koan (pronounced Coen) — it was and it was perfect!
That was a really busy summer. We had planned, before knowing the pregnancy schedule, to do the big to Florida family vacation in July. We were also going to visit Jeri’s parents in Duluth as well that summer. So, we spent a ton of time on the road, in airports, and generally in transit. Right before we left for Minnesota in late June, Jeri came down with a urinary tract infection. She went to the obstetrician and got some antibiotics to treat it.
August rolled around and we all geared up for the start of school. Jeri’s work calendar and mine were pretty well aligned that year. She needed to report for her first contact day on Monday, August 20th. Of course, she had been into work most of the previous week to set up her classroom. Students would be starting on Wednesday of that week. At around 3:00 PM on that Monday, I got a call on my mobile phone — something that was a bit more unusual ten years ago… It was the school nurse from Franklin Middle School (Jeri’s school). Jeri had all but passed out in her classroom and they had transported her to the hospital. I called our friends, the Derrs, to have them pickup Sydney and Tiber from daycare and hightailed it over to St. Lukes.
Jeri is so much (by orders of magnitude) tougher than I am. I’m admittedly a complete wuss and a hypochondriac. If I’m not feeling well or right, I tend to let everyone know about it. Apparently, the UTI that Jeri had treated in late June had only been knocked down and not killed by the antibiotics. The infection had progressed over the summer and turned septic. She had just attributed any ill feelings from this to the normal pregnancy lethargy. They gave her the chemical warfare caliber antibiotics — seriously — the same stuff they use to treat an Anthrax. She was hospitalized for the rest of that week.
While she was there, the Derrs really saved our bacon as they have done many times before by taking care of our older two kids. Jeri’s room was in a maternity room because she was within six weeks of her due date. I spent most of that week sitting in her room playing World of Warcraft on my laptop and sneaking down to the concierge station for free breakfast cereal and apple juice — which was really only meant for patients. On one of these clandestine trips for food, I had the ultimate “crap I’m old” moment.
As I was returning to Jeri’s room with a full bowl of Cap’n Crunch, I walked by a couple in the hall. The young lady, was in hunched over in labor and the young man was holding her hand and helping her walk off the back pain. As I passed they, both looked up at me — giving me a really hard stare. As I got closer, wondered if I had my fly down or if I had spilled milk down my pants or if they were going to call me out for getting food from the station. As I pass them, the young man says, “Mr. Barnum?” Former students in the maternity ward catching me sneaking free cereal– not good! It turns out this couple attended the first school I taught at — Valley of Elgin and were in 5th and 6th grade when I taught there. I never had ever felt old until that moment.
Jeri was released on Friday of that week and life went back to normal. Things were so good that we decided to keep our plans to go to Chicago for Labor Day weekend to see the Hawkeyes play at Soldier Field. Unlike the rest of our friends attending the game, we came on Saturday morning rather than Friday night. And, in doing that missed one of the most epic nights out ever, but that’s another story for another blog. The only reason I share that we were in Chicago at all is that we had an interesting time at the game that day. Our first two kids had rather short labor/births. In fact, we almost didn’t get to the hospital on time for Tiber. So, in the middle of the third quarter on the upper deck of Soldier Field when Jeri leans over to me and says, “I’m having a contraction!” That got my attention quickly. I had visions of Koan arriving at the stadium. We decided to wait and see and fortunately, these contractions turned out to be false labor pains. When he arrived ten days later, I realized just how lucky we were that Koan did not show up a few days earlier.
It’s fun for me to reminisce on these times. This is probably a bit self-indulgent in a blog about Koan to do this. However, the main point I’m hoping to convey is that we really, really wanted to have Koan in our lives. But, there were a lot of little interesting stories that happened while he was in the womb. These events brought a clear focus to what we would experience over the next few days and weeks after he was born. He’s an exceptional person — even before he was born.