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The call from the hospital

By the time he came along, the older siblings in The Legal Genealogist‘s family were used to the phone call.

You know.

The phone call.

The one from the hospital.

The one that gave us the news that the family was just a tad larger than it had been a few hours earlier.

“It’s a boy,” we’d be told.

Or “it’s a girl.”

Sometimes it’d be a full report: “it’s a boy and his name is…,” we would hear. Or, on the one occasion when the ranks of the distaff side increased, “she’s eight pounds 15 ounces.”

But there was that day, a tiny bit more than 55 years ago, when the words that we heard in that phone call were more than a little different.

Said in a tone that was very much different.

It’s the first time, I’m sure, that any of us, even the older ones, had ever heard the word “fetal distress.”

For my mother, it was baby number six.

It was June of 1963.

And he was in trouble.

WarreFetal distress, we know now, is “an uncommon complication of labor. It typically occurs when the fetus has not been receiving enough oxygen. Fetal distress may occur when the pregnancy lasts too long (postmaturity) or when complications of pregnancy or labor occur.”1

The term isn’t used so much any more. Its imprecision and ambiguity have led the Committee on Obstetric Practice of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to recommend that the term be replaced with “non-reassuring fetal status.”2

I sincerely doubt that use of that term would have made the hours that followed any better.

His older siblings on that day in June ranged in age from just two-and-a-half years old up to just 14.

And at least we in the older ranks knew the drill. Get awakened, told to man the fort, some hours later get The Call, and a day or two or three or so later, Mom would be brought home with another little one. We’d been there. We knew what to expect and how to handle it.

But we were, one and all, utterly unprepared to even consider the possibility that the next little one wouldn’t be coming home.

Or the possibility that, even after he did make it home, he wouldn’t be … well … quite right.

There were, you see, all those potential “long-term consequences for general cognitive functioning, educational achievement, neuropsychological functioning and behavior … elevated rates of hyperactivity … (such that) behavioral monitoring is required …”3

Which explains an awful lot about my brother Warren…

Doesn’t it, Warren?

(I told you I’d get you back for all those pranks you pulled on me…)

Happy birthday to my charming, funny, delightful, not-at-all cognitively impaired (except for not remembering things like where he left the car keys) and thoroughly abnormal brother.


  1. Julie S. Moldenhauer, MD, “Fetal Distress,” Merck Manual Consumer Version ( : accessed 8 June 2018).
  2. Fetal Distress: Diagnosis, Conditions & Treatment,” American Pregnancy Association ( : accessed 8 June 2018).
  3. van Handel et al., “Long-term cognitive and behavioral consequences of neonatal encephalopathy following perinatal asphyxia: a review,” European Journal of Pediatrics, via National Center for Biotechnology Information ( : accessed 8 June 2018).
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