By Chuck Hollingsworth
Content Notice: This article contains a traumatic, but miraculous birth story. Discretion is advised to those who may be sensitive.
It was my first time in a delivery room. It was a stark, off-white rectangle void of any décor or color that has become more common practice today. But this was the labor and delivery room of a Naval hospital, and the priority was clearly on function, not form or fashion.
In a way, Janet and I were the classic young Navy couple experiencing the joys of their first childbirth. But it was not joy that filled the air. There was a palatable tension in the room and, while I had no practical experience when it came to the protocols of Navy OB/GYN medicine, I knew we had more medical staff in the room than was typically required.
It had been a long day already. Several months before Janet had been diagnosed with preeclampsia (or toxemia), and in the last 12 hours, she had endured sky-rocketing levels of blood pressure that I didn’t know the human body could generate, much less survive.
Earlier that day, we were given a choice between three options: a life-flight to a high-risk pregnancy hospital, an emergency C-section, or immediate inducement to accelerate labor and delivery. The choice was made for us as Janet’s body, racked with pain and passing through waves of delirium, progressed into labor contractions.
Not only was the mother’s life at risk, but there were indications that the baby was in distress. His activity had significantly decreased, and for the last few weeks, he did not appear to be gaining weight. One way or the other, it was time to deliver this child for the welfare of them both.
After eight more hours of agonizing labor, everyone in the room prepared for the delivery. My first glimpse of our newborn son was terrifying. Not only was he thin and lifeless, but he appeared strangled. I watched as the doctor unwound a tightly coiled umbilical cord from around his neck – one, two, three times the life-giving cord wrapped around his pencil-thin neck like a noose.
The following minutes flowed like molasses. While neither mother nor son was doing very well, they were both out of immediate danger and on a slow path to recovery.
Because Janet spent the next week dealing with the ongoing effects of preeclampsia, I was in the unique position of being the primary caregiver for our newborn son. While he was almost full-term and measured a relatively normal 18 inches in length, he weighed only a little over 4 pounds due to the late-stage complications.
I spent the next week coaxing, prodding, and wooing this little guy to show some interest in his bottle feedings. Seeing how he eats today as a healthy, young adult, it’s hard to believe what a struggle it was to get that first couple of pounds on him! But unexpectedly, our son’s somewhat challenging arrival into this world provided an amazing time of father-son bonding.
He was about a month old and thriving by the time we shared our first Father’s Day that June. Now, several decades later, I’ve been privileged to share the joy of fatherhood three more times. It has been a journey of blessing and growth.
As we celebrate fathers and fatherhood this June, I reflect on the impact that becoming a father has had on my perspective of leadership. At Severn Leadership Group we believe the future can be better than the present and that we have a personal and moral responsibility to make it so. Nothing makes this statement more tangible than becoming a parent.
And as I share this story with you, I also reflect on how I use stories to develop my children, and how I have taken this skill to lead in my profession as well. Parents instinctively understand the power of stories to instill concepts, ideas, and principles to their children. For some reason, however, there is a tendency to sanitize the power of stories from the contemporary workplace. Undervaluing stories in the workplace is unfortunate, for neuroscience is clear – stories are one of the most powerful ways to communicate ideas, concepts, and vision – regardless of age and environment.
In the context of leadership, the tool of storytelling is immensely powerful when it comes to engaging and creating a team of excellence.
As we launch into the summer season, I encourage you to consider using stories to communicate ideas, and perhaps demonstrate a deeper level of transparency and authenticity, both at home and in the workplace. Like anything, this becomes easier with practice, but it requires some intentionality.
So, try weaving the power of stories into your leadership style this summer…and remember to call your Dad if you can.
The opening photo was an impromptu family photo taken in South Texas at a rare moment the Hollingsworth family were all together. Back row: Chuck, Tyler, Gage. Front row: Janet, Amylynn, Brooke.