I recently picked a book up while browsing at a local bookstore. Fathers and Sons: 11 Great Writers Talk About Their Dads, Their Boys, and What It Means To Be A Man is a collection of essays written by fathers, sons, and one daughter. Only part way through the first essay in the first section of the book, entitled “The Beginning”, I found myself fighting indoor allergies, sweaty eyeballs, um, alright--tears. Awkward to say the least, as I was sitting in a bookstore sipping coffee. It was an unexpected reaction to an essay written by someone I don’t even know. I can't say it brought back memories because what went through my head hadn’t been forgotten, but the essay did result in fragmented memories coming back together that hadn't been that way since the birth of my son almost three and a half years ago.
I haven't appropriately honored my wife for bringing my son into this wonderful world in this forum; it's overdue and the time has come. I also haven't talked about those first hours in the hospital after Paul was born and the initial thoughts that went through my head a brand new dad--not so much the lofty philosophical thoughts (because frankly, there weren't any), but rather my initial caveman reaction to going from being a father who's son is still on the inside to being a father with a son in my arms. So i'll write these thoughts and reflections down because I need to for myself, but hopefully those of you who read this will carry something away as well. Dads, especially you first-time dads, assuming my experience isn't unique, maybe you'll find you're not alone; there are other men standing around you--standing with you in the fraternity that is fatherhood. Moms, if you have a husband who doesn't like or want to talk about his fist contact with fatherhood, maybe this will give you some glimpse into your man's inner workings.
Our pregnancy was pretty much a standard one. Steph dealt with gestational diabetes and pregnancy-related hypertension, but that's not uncommon and it wasn't ever a real issue. Good advise from the doctors, discipline on Steph’s part, and things went smoothly. Late in the game though, Paul did a summersault and ended up breach. No big deal again. As the day approached our doctor talked us through the procedure to turn him around just prior to delivery. If it worked, a normal delivery would follow; if it didn't he'd still arrive courtesy of a C-section. The day arrived and we checked into the hospital, armed with all our knowledge and no experience, ready to bring our child into the world. Check in, get "comfortable," a sonogram to confirm the position of the child, rotate as required, and deliver--ready, set, go! We came in with the C-section scheduled and mentally prepared for the surgery. One quick sonogram later we learned that our child decided to have mercy on Steph; as she slept the night prior, he reoriented himself and was pointy end down. The doctor told us we had an option: go ahead with the C-section as scheduled, or start down the path of a normal delivery. Either was fine, but due to Paul's position, the natural path would take a little more time than usual to allow him to move the rest of the way down the birth canal and into contact with the cervix. Having nothing else to do and a preference not to have surgery, we opted for a normal labor. A little extra time, plus another 14 or so hours (what we were told was the average length of labor for a first child in the U.S.) and we' have a baby on the outside. We were nervous but ready.
About that whole 14 hour thing...the next 51 hours were the fastest and longest hours of my life. You read it right, I said fifty-one hours. Hours. Nothing really went wrong, but everything took a long time or even longer. Let me back up; nothing went wrong in this modern world, but Steph and Paul may not have survived the birth in times past. Paul simply wasn't moving down the birth canal like he should. He came down a little, then stopped and decided to take a break, think about coming out later, who knows. Steph started having some major league contractions somewhere along the way, but not near the end. Paul just wasn’t ready. She was a superstar and powered through it like it was business as usual and she had done it many times before. I don't and can't understand how this is possible other that to believe what I've heard others say: you ladies are made to do this. And for the record, it's not only mysterious to us men; I think it's miraculous. I was there and watched my wife do something she had never done before--give birth to my son, after doing something else she had never done before--carry another human inside her body for nine months while that little guy grew from a microscopic size to almost seven pounds. I get the science behind it all but when I hear scientists talk about it all I hear is Charlie Brown's teacher talking. When you look only at the biological and chemical science of pregnancy and birth, you miss the absolute majesty of it all. There just aren't adequate words in human language to capture what happens. And our wives some how contain this in their bodies naturally!
My wife literally wore the doctor and her staff out. Around the 49th hour our doctor came in, did some of that poking around doctor stuff and said, "OK, if that baby isn't on the outside in an hour, we're going to go ahead and do the C-section". We hadn't asked about this or even really discussed it between us since opting for labor, but when she said it Steph and I were absolutely agreeable and ready. Exactly one hour later, our doctor retuned, did some more doctorly poking around, said some scholarly things about things with Latin names, and everything shifted to the surgery.
We Have A Son!
Another hour passed and Paul arrived. I was in scrubs and sitting at Steph’s head. The room was cool, and Steph was all bundled up (from where I sat), wrapped in sheets and blue towels, interestingly, looking a lot like Paul would just a few hours later after the nurses swaddled him.
The c-section was relatively fast after so many hours of labor. Steph was a champion. We exchanged small but important words, mostly exchanges of “I love you” and “how are you doing?” She seemed very calm and I was nervous. At one point she told me she felt like she couldn’t breath very well. I glanced up at the monitor and anesthesiologist; things looked fine and he comforted her immediately by assuring her it was a common feeling due to the anesthesia, but that she was breathing fine and her oxygen levels were good. Steph seemed OK and I had to trust him. Very shortly after, our doctor said, “OK dad, I’m ready to deliver the baby, do you want to stand up and see?” I winked at Steph and stood just in time to see my son enter the world. His back was to me as the doctor gently and smoothly lifted him up with her hands under his arms. Just a few seconds later and I heard his voice for the first time as he began to cry. My heart leapt for joy and broke at the same time. Nothing was wrong; everything was right and good. And I had just witnessed the most amazing thing in my entire life: the birth of my firstborn son; and my amazing wife who instantly became a hero in my eyes.
I’ve seen some amazing things through the 47 years of my life. I’ve traveled to all but one continent on this earth, been to some of the wealthiest and poorest nations, worked as an EMT and firefighter, and served in combat along side my brothers and sisters in arms. I have never seen anything that rivals what my wife did. I didn’t do it; she did. She bore my son, kept him safe, nourished him by God’s grace, then made herself completely vulnerable by placing herself at the mercy of everyone except herself as she lay helpless on her back on a table--entrusting herself entirely into the hands of people she really didn’t know. And our son was born.
Like Alec Wilkinson wrote in the third essay in Fathers and Sons, I began to cry. Just like him, I didn’t anticipate it. In fact, I didn’t even think about my possible reaction to my son’s birth in advance. Here’s what Alec said, “I did not expect to cry when my son was born--it seemed a silly and conventional and trivial thing to do, weep for joy, like a figure in an advertisement--but I did, quite suddenly and without warning, as if it were a reflex.” I was blown away and I shed tears: not bawling, not even sobbing, but I quietly and lovingly wept in absolute awe of my wife. Although it wasn’t the case before Paul was born, at that moment it became inconceivable to me that anyone can view human life as anything but miraculous: whether you’re a creationist, evolutionist, a noneoftheaboveist or a nothingatallist. You get my point: life is a miracle and my wife and son are the proof. Ladies, you rock. Moms, you’re something even more special. You have facilitated miracles.
Men who are dads, if you don’t respect this about your wives, you should probably just turn in your man cards now, if you can find it. If you think I’m right and can’t tell your wives what you think, or the other men in your lives, I fraternally encourage you to grow a pair or send your card to me and I’ll discretely dispose of it for you. (We’ll never speak of this again.) If you’re one of those other men and would presume to mock a fellow man who happens to be a dad and tells you something like this, turn your card in too, and use some form of express mail. Finally, if you’re a single man or husband with no kids, I humbly ask you to just accept and respect what I’m telling you. If and when your turn comes; let me know if you think I missed the mark on this. By the way, unless you were born in a lab courtesy of a test tube, if you have the privilege of still having your dad around, consider finding the right time to ask him (or any other dad you respect) for his thoughts. Be prepared to learn something (or to confiscate his man card). I know you’ll do the right thing.
The first few nights after Paul was born were ordinary in one context, but extraordinary in another. The extraordinary aspects I’m referring to are my own reactions to some very common things that happen with many an average newborn. Nothing about the events of those next few short days and hours surprised me, but my reactions stunned me. If you’re interested, please be patient and I’ll write more about this story soon.
It’s great to be a dad!