It was time…
The ride to the hospital was quick and uneventful, largely because the hospital was around the corner and down two blocks from our apartment.
At this point, my wife and I were pretty badly sleep deprived; her by virtue of her feeling like someone had parked a Honda Accord in a mailbox, and me because I was sleeping on the floor next to the couch on which slept a mailbox that someone parked a Honda Accord in.
As soon as we hit the emergency room, there was chaos. Sick people shocked by the language my wife was using and the detailed threats of violence, my mother, busy stroking my wife’s forehead and humming Christian hymns softly; as if preparing for the exorcism that was going to have to be performed. Two nurses and an orderly appeared, having just graduated clown school, and, for the safety of herself and others, strapped my wife into a wheelchair and rode her into the examination room while a small person who looked like a bridge troll kept following me and asking me questions about my insurance.
Insurance. What a joke. The love of my life had just minutes before threatened to gut me and use my skin for curtains. What insurance was going to give me assurance that she was going to be all right, that our child was going to be born healthy; that I wouldn’t spend the best years of my life with a curtain rod up my ass?
I answered no to all the questions I was asked about my wife’s health, possible allergies, and whether or not I wanted fries with my order, flung my insurance cards at the bridge troll, and signed my name on pieces of paper. I had no idea what the papers said, for all I know I own a nice plot of land in upper lower Slobovia and pledged my epiglottis for important medical research.
Of course, in this day and age, it had long been assumed that I was going to go into the birthing room.
Guys: DON’T GO INTO THE BIRTHING ROOM! For the man, the birth of the child should happen just like it used to happen on TV: the woman off camera in some mysterious room behind double doors that flap open and closed when nurses and doctors are rushing to and fro, the man pacing frantically, wide-eyed, smoking constantly, occasionally stopping one of the nurses to ask pitifully, “How is my wife, Nurse? How is my WIFE?”. Ideally, this scene should be in complete black and white as well.
Guy, I’m telling you, if you go into the room, you are going to see horrors straight from the very heart of hell, horror that you will never forget. Is the birth of a child a beautiful miracle? Miracle, yes. Beautiful? Short answer: No. Long answer: NNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOO!
I got strapped into my gown (It was a lovely floor length affair, taffeta, v-neck, I felt like a PRINCESS!), put on my paper shower cap and mask (gorilla) and entered the arena with the chair and whip that someone had given me.
My wife was on the gurney; her legs akimbo with her feet in the metal stirrups, and I made a mental note that it was a scene very much like this that got me into all this trouble in the first place. My wife insisted that my mother be present and she was; standing at the head of the gurney, stroking my wife’s forehead and humming softly to her.
Wait a minute, my mom was standing where I WAS SUPPOSED TO STAND! Where am I going to be? I was counting on being on the side of the little waist curtain that was NOT the business side! IF ignorance is bliss, and it is, I wanted to remain as blissful as I possibly could!
The Doctor came in, took a look at the situation, clapped his hands together and smiled. “Well Dad, with a little bit of luck, we will have this baby out before the Superbowl!”
I had forgotten, this was Superbowl Sunday. That’s when I saw the TV in the room, the sound of the never-ending pregame banter adding to the cacophony of the room.
“Dad,” said the eager physician, “I have to go down the hall. I will leave you in the capable hands of my nurse practitioner until the baby crowns.” Then, with a smirk, he added: “I want you to grab a leg and hold on!” and then he turned and walked out of the room.
“You heard the doctor,” said the nurse practitioner, a woman who looked like she paid for her education in healthcare by playing linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, as she assumed the catcher’s position.
So, there I was, looking down the business end of the Birthing Process. There are some things a man is not supposed to see when he is looking at this part of his wife’s body; a small, scrunched up face is one of them.
I won’t go into too much detail about what happened during the process of my daughter being born, partially because I believe discretion is the better part of valor, and partially because I like sleeping inside my house and, if my wife reads this and I go into the real details, I will be sleeping on the porch for the entire summer and no one wants that. I hate it, the neighbors complain because, in the world of snoring, I am known as a “Window Rattler”.
They told my wife she couldn’t have an epidural until it was time to push because, with the epidural, she wouldn’t know when it was time to push. I didn’t understand that, and neither did she. The baby was in the birth position, turning her head as if trying to drill out of her mother, her head grinding on my wife’s pelvic bone.
“YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND, YOU BASTARD! I NEED THAT F#^%#ING EPIDURAL NOW!”
Now, let me just say that the staff at the hospital we were at was more than competent, but I found out later that, because this was a Catholic hospital and the staff thought my wife and I were unmarried because we have different last names (she kept her maiden name), had a little disdain for us; an attitude that was aggressively dealt with when my wife saw her own doctor after the birth. He kicked some serious ass and after that, our every wish was their command.
The baby became stuck. A pelvic bone was keeping the baby from exiting the birth canal. My baby’s heartbeat was becoming irregular, and my wife was minutes away from going into shock.
Then, my mother kicked in. My mother, who had been a nurse for my entire life, had a certain…way, a certain otherworldly quality to her touch…you immediately felt better, calmed down, breathed easier when she touched you.
She continued to stroke my wife’s forehead, ran her fingers gently through my wife’s hair, and softly murmured, “Relax, honey. Everything is going to be all right. Just listen to the sound of my voice…”
Then, the doctor appeared with the industrial strength salad tongs and, after some work, I remember my baby daughter being held by the doctor in the light…everything in that moment ceased to exist. There was just me, in the darkness, with some hands holding my baby up to the light. She was crying, a big, healthy cry; a cry that sounded like a little lamb. It was a cry so distinctive that my wife and I could pick it out from all the other babies in the nursery down the hall.
“My baby is crying,” my wife would tell a nurse from her bed in the recovery room. “Could you bring her to me?”
” I’ll check, ma’am,” said the nurse, sure that my wife was wrong. Then the nurse would come back with our daughter.
“How in the world could you tell your daughter’s cry from all the others?” said the astonished nurse.
Well, you just could.
After that timeless moment when I first laid my eyes on my daughter, the Marx Brothers came running in, grabbed the baby and put her into a something that looked like a clear plastic freezer drawer. They were counting toes, listening to her breathing, just bothering her in general. My wife was frantic, trying to get off the gurney to see if the baby was all right, the nurses were holding her down…everything was fine.
They laid my daughter in my wife’s arms, and at that moment, I lost the ability to complete a sentence or speak in any way that sounded like a reasonably intelligent human being.
I was a Dad.
Well, all that was twenty-seven years ago as of this writing. A lot of things have gone on since then.
I remember reading to her and noticing that she wasn’t looking at the pictures, but looking at the strange marks on the page and trying to figure out how those letters were making the words that I was reading to her. I remember her first word (Dada), her first steps, “naked baby time”, where she would run through the house without a stitch of clothes after her bath, giggling as we “tried” to catch her to dry her off.
She had me play video games with her, watch her favorite movies OVER AND OVER again. She turned me on to Japanese metal, I turned her on to Led Zeppelin. She turned me on to Naruto and One Piece, I turned her on to Hunter Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. My wife and I showed her what marriage really looked like when you take the vows seriously; she grew up to find her right man and begin the journey that my wife and I begun thirty years ago this year.
I changed her first diaper. I changed a lot of her diapers, but I take pride that I was the first to change her diapers; and now we come to the point: the real question I wanted to ask and the reason I wrote this screed in the first place.
What the hell was that in that diaper? It didn’t smell, but it was some kind of black…what? Tub grout? Something to patch drywall? Some substance that they use to fill potholes?
I have no idea, but soon after that, we were home. My wife was taking a well-deserved rest in our actual bed, I was sitting with my brand-new daughter in her bassinet in the living room. I looked over the side, and saw her looking and me. She seemed to smile at me, and then she farted.