I think I should preface this one with a disclaimer: I’m not one for a lot of build-up and back-story. The experience of seeing my baby girl come barreling into the world does not begin with ultrasounds, lab work, and weeks upon weeks upon months of agonizing over preparations and plans. All of that stuff occupies a separate compartment in my mind. Our baby girl wasn’t quite a little human to me until the morning she was born. I had tried my hardest, having been through a miscarriage in the past, not to become a father to my daughter until she was in my arms, breathing and crying and squealing. Of course I have a grasp on reality, but I am also firmly rooted in the pragmatic and I am really cautious and reserved when it comes to investing emotion into anything. I like to remain in control of myself, regardless of the circumstances…
…but on that morning, at the wee hour of 0200, my self-control dissipated in a tired fog of excited confusion. My wife Ellie was standing by the bed, rocking back and forth and moaning when I woke up. All I could muster at that early hour was a weak “are you having a baby?” She had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions for some time now and took them in stride, but these pains were clearly something a little more considerable. “I think so” was her verbal response, but the look she shot back at me told the real story. It said of course I’m having a baby, you f$@!ng tool!
Cool. Sweet. I got this, I thought to myself. We had talked about how we would pass the early part of labor at home, coloring in “adult” coloring books and baking, I don’t know, cupcakes for the hospital staff. Then we would go, safely and calmly, to the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP), where the effortless and all-natural birth of our baby girl would shatter speed records and leave the entire West Coast in a state of euphoria. After that, who knows? A milkshake and a stroll by the koi pond right outside the maternity ward to cap off the experience? Selfies? Group Skype session? Why not.
Aside – why do people feel the need to specify that they are adult coloring in adult coloring books? Is there anything at all different about adult coloring that sets it apart from coloring in a kid’s coloring book, or on the freshly painted drywall? NO, there isn’t! Just say that you like to freaking color!
We had it all planned out. As per the plan, or at least my plan, I went back to sleep. Or rather I tried to go back to sleep. Not even a half-hour passed before Ellie insisted we go to the hospital, NOW. We called the hospital and told them what was up, and they insisted that we wait another hour before coming in. Ellie was a first-time mother, and definitely could not have progressed to full-on labor this quickly.
I have always known that Ellie is absurdly aware of her body. She can feel from which ovary she ovulates, for crying out loud. Despite knowing this, I ignored that which was glaringly obvious, right in front of me, and took to the side of the nurses in the birthing center. I agreed that we should give it some more time before we headed to the hospital, just to see if it would pass.
Less than a half-hour later, and with absolutely no further argument, we were in the car and moving. I remember thinking something to the effect of sheesh, if she can’t handle pre-labor then there’s just no way she’ll be able to do this all-natural. I actually felt a little concerned for her, like the pain might actually become too much for her to bear and she’d somehow find a way to quit the whole baby-birthing thing right then and there, and all of this baby-making effort would be all for naught. Cut me some slack… these are the thoughts that make perfect sense at 3am.
One of the benefits of laboring at 3am on a weekday is the lack of any real traffic. We were living in California at that time, along the Central Coast. There is only one artery running north-south, and it gets stopped up something fierce during busy driving times. At 3am on a Wednesday, it was just us, the cops, and the drunks. We made it to the hospital in about 10 minutes. It helped, too, that we made it without running into any drunks or cops.
Thankfully, she did not give birth en route. On the other hand, I’ll confess that part of me really wanted to do a roadside emergency delivery. It’s like when a pilot rides as a passenger on a commercial aircraft and secretly fantasizes of a massive heart attack or stroke rendering the plane pilot-less, with everyone on board desperately crying out for someone, anyone, with a pilot’s license.
On the way out of the house I grabbed our hospital bag, but I also grabbed my own bag. The one with the precipitous birthing kit and extra medical and first-aid supplies. I wasn’t messing around. A part of me really did secretly hope that we would be stuck someplace remote, Ellie would go into labor, and everything would fall on me to see to it that my wife and baby girl lived to see another day. While I can appreciate a rush of adrenaline and adventure as much as the next guy, all three of us are supremely grateful today that it did not come to this.
At the hospital, the nursing staff checked out my wife’s cervix and declared it to be open for business. They were surprised, remarking that Ellie was moving along faster than most first-time mothers. Ellie, not surprised, told them she already knew this.
From then until the moment my baby was born, most of what I can remember consists of the sounds of agony. Ellie made it quite a while before asking for a little pain medication. I was floored by how tough she had been to that point, and continued to be from then on. The fentanyl relaxed her some, and gave her a chance to sleep between contractions. The way Ellie tells it, that was a mixed blessing. Yes, it was a reprieve, but it also set the stage for waking into a fresh painful nightmare every minute or so, again and again and again. Like the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, except every morning Bill wakes up to someone kicking him in the nuts with steel-toed golf cleats.
And then I saw that first little tuft of matted hair. My baby bird’s head, crowning. The OB had not yet made it back from her rounds, so the nurses told Ellie to stop pushing until she could get there. A little bit more hair poked through. This was happening, whether or not there was a doctor present, with or without freshly baked cupcakes.
I can’t remember who caught the baby. I was babbling and incoherent and elated and humbled all at once when my I first saw my baby girl. All of the emotion, all of the love I had been holding at bay, waiting for the moment when I knew for sure I would be a dad and all of this wasn’t some cruel joke or a dream, it came washing over me the way a tsunami washes over a the shore. It destroyed me and remade me in an instant. It filled every fiber of my body and every wispy tendril of my soul. I was a dad.
The next two hours were lost on me. I couldn’t stop staring at my little girl and my amazing wife while the doc tried to staunch the bleeding and put everything back in its rightful place…down there. I confess that I do remember, at one point, wondering when the hell am I going to get to hold my baby? Again, cut me some slack. I was really tired.
That evening, when both of us were ready to bed down to try and get some sleep, I held Wren Mari against my bare chest and laid back on the couch. She was so calm, so quiet, so content when I held her against my skin. I imagined what it must be like to be so small, such a miniature model of a perfect human being, riding up and down on the heaving chest of an enormous and ancient adult. I willed my heart to send my sleeping daughter a message as it thumped inside my chest: you are loved. You are safe. You are loved. You are safe.
Then we had milkshakes and I took a walk by the koi pond. The end.