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Alex arrives in 1998

First things first: Alexander Marc Edward Stock was born in January 1998 at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz.

Charlie with his brand new little brother in his maman’s room at Dominican Hospital. “How did that happen?!”

His arrival was a bit of a shock for Charlie.  One moment Alex wasn’t there, and the next he was! On the left is the first picture of the two of them. That surprised expression came and went for a week or two, but never became anything more difficult for him or for Alex.

Marie-Hélène had decided that she was ready earlier that day, in the morning after Alban and Daphné had gone to school. She collected the affairs that she had put aside a few days before, and had me drive her to the hospital. We arrived at about 10.30 am.

The birth was a private affair, meaning that maman did not want me to share or pretend to help. This was her business, and modern ideas of childbirth had no role to play! I waited outside the door, trying not to listen (I didn’t think that she’d want me to hear anything either), but not for long at all.  This was very quick work!

Alex’s very first bottle, with supporting cast. We still called a bottle a “biberon,” and Alex’s “langue maternelle” was French, at least for the first few years.

Alex came into the world before noon, and Charlie and I were allowed into see him soon after, as soon as he had been washed. This tiny red bundle had eyes, and they looked right at me, right away. Alex was a baby who knew that he was in a new world, and was examining it, and examining us, because we had eyes too. How did he know to look at our eyes?

I actually thought to myself, “those who have eyes to see, let them see!” He was cuddled in his mother’s arms, laying on the bed next to her, looking outward from her, and his eyes stayed open, watching, as we welcomed him into our world.

Charlie grabbing on to his maman after the birth.

As soon as school was out, I drove over to pick up Daphné and Alban, and brought them straight back to the hospital. Dominican had provided the family with a lovely room and even a full size bed, so that we could all, children included, spend a couple of nights in an environment as similar to home as possible, while all the while remaining in the protective cocoon of the hospital. But Marie-Hélène wanted to be in her real home. With her doctor’s permission, she checked out seven hours after checking in, and did not even stay the night!

Nick and Tom visited in February 1998, and were thrilled in their turn to join in with the new arrival. Marie-Hélène is changing him on the kitchen counter while Nick offers support.

A little historical interlude: her pregnancy was Marie-Hélène’s first interaction with healthcare in the US, in particular with those disgusting pariahs of modern American life, health insurance companies. Ours decided that she was too late applying for coverage for her pregnancy and Alex’s birth to be covered. On top of all the running around that we were doing seeking the return of our furniture from Arnaud Bourlé and his crooked French moving company, not forgetting all the running around seeking to oblige Nick and Tom’s mother to allow them to visit us, as the court had ordered, we were also forced to spend a great deal of time appealing this denial of coverage. Fortunately, after a couple of months and with a lot of help from her doctor, we were finally able to obtain the coverage that we needed. But the initial denial of coverage had left a terrible aftertaste.

The visitors in February 1998 with Charlie and Alex on the sofa that we rented for six months while waiting for the furniture to arrive. Of course, it took a little longer than that!

Marie-Hélène’s pregnancy had been termed a “pre-existing condition” by the insurance company.

Think about that for a moment. They meant that we were too late asking for coverage, because they define a pregnancy as being a pre-existing condition if it has continued for more than a certain number of weeks before medical care is requested. With her obstetrician’s help, we were able to convince the insurance company that the pregnancy had not advanced the requisite number of weeks. But taken to its logical extreme, the insurance company’s logic could finish by denying coverage to any pregnancy or birth. Almost all women can make babies, a capacity which pre-exists every pregnancy and birth.

Great shot, Marie-Hélène! A lot stayed the same after Alex was born, including my relationship with Charlie. Here we are in Yosemite in December 1998.

I’m reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote: “What would men be without women? Scarce, sir, mighty scarce.” That’s what your customers will become, evil health insurance companies, mighty scarce!

The difference between our experiences in the US with Alex’s birth and our experiences in France with Charles’s birth was palpable. The nurses were kind in both places, of course, but the US obstetrician had another delivery and didn’t make it to see Marie-Hélène until after Alex was born. She still billed the same, of course, as if she had been there for the delivery. Her absent billing helped throw into relief the self-interest behind her help with the health insurance company. The lovely family room in the US could not make up for these apparent institutional breakdowns, and the new maman just wanted to go home to her sparsely-furnished house.

We all took a day out after a storm (that winter was a serious el Nino winter in California) to the beach at Rio del Mar, and asked a passer by to take this photo, the first of the eight of us together.

Alex’s arrival brought more good news on my side of the family. As her “grossesse” progressed (a literal translation of the French word for pregnancy is “fatness!”), I started doing the math, my own math. I was 45 years old. My dad had had first heart attack at 46, and died at 58, from another heart attack, his third or fourth. This new baby would need a dad for longer than 13 years, the age he would have attained when I was 58. Dad never could quit smoking, in one way or another. After graduating to cigars, he began inhaling again.

And finally, to approach things a little bit backwards, here is Marie-Hélène on the deck at home a couple of days before the birth.

The short conclusion was that after years of waffling and procrastinating I finally decided to quit smoking. I’d done it once before, in New York in 1984, with the help of a psychiatrist who taught me how to hypnotize myself, and had survived four years without a cigarette. This time I went to Costco and bought a box of Tootsie Roll Pops, and quit, five days before Alex was born. I was sucking a lot of those lolly pops for a few weeks or months, but no more cigarettes. I have not smoked a cigarette since then, and count the years not smoking by Alex’s age.

Alex may have been a bit of a shock for Charles at first, but things evolved fast. Here are some relatively early pictures of Charles and Alex. And here are some later pictures of our two joint efforts.