Twelve Years Ago

My oldest daughter, Kate, turns twelve today! It’s cliche, but I can’t believe it’s been that many years since a floppy haired 28 year old and his wife of two years (we had planned on waiting a couple more years to have kids, but things happen) headed to the hospital while an ice storm was beginning, and not forty-eight hours later they headed home as a family of three.

Last year I co-edited an e-book called Fathering Stories Vol. 1. It was Fathering Together‘s first publication, and it’s only $1.99 on Amazon or anywhere else you get e-books.

One of the sections was “Birth Stories”, and this is the piece I contributed to the book about Kate’s birth.

My World Stopped, Theirs Kept Going

I walked into the Starbucks a block down from the hospital, fresh off at least three days of little to no sleep. I saw all these people in line, looking at their phones, just going about their business, wondering what on earth was wrong with them. Didn’t they know what just happened?! Didn’t they know the world was different?!

Several days before this, I wasn’t sleeping well. My nine-plus-months pregnant wife was getting all the rest she could, while our five-days-overdue daughter kept kicking my wife’s insides like she was a soccer player (which she would later turn out to be). What kept me up, however, was the massive ice storm that was headed our way in late January. On our due date, the weather was in the fifties and quite sunny. Now? Whatever sleep I got was filled with nightmares about delivering our daughter myself in the backseat of my car in an icy ditch on the side of the road.

Around two o’clock in the morning, as a fine mist of snow and sleet was beginning to cover the ground, we headed to the hospital with what we thought were finally legit labor pains.

When the sun came up, we were in a room with a monitor on my wife’s belly. When a nurse came in with an “I’m sorry” expression on her face. “Your contractions are too far apart,” she said. “We’re going to send y’all home.”

I looked out the window at the thin layer of ice that was already over every car and the surface of the parking lot. Snow and ice are things we don’t do well in Tennessee. I looked back at the nurse, saying as politely as I could in my sleep deprived state (which was not very), “I’ll go as far as the lobby! We want to talk to the doctor!”

That bought us some time, and a head shake from the nurse that I couldn’t tell if it was understanding, pitying, or shaking off being spoken to by some jerk who thought he was in charge. Probably a combination of all those things. I was too exhausted to know or care.

That afternoon the doctors and nurses were prepared, the flood lights over the bed turned on, and my wife’s feet in stirrups. My wife grunted with every push, despite the epidural, and suddenly… it happened.

Oh my God, there was a baby in there?

I mean, I knew this logically. I had seen her in the ultrasound sessions. We’d assembled a crib, we’d had multiple showers, I’d even felt her kick plenty of times. Eight months earlier I had stared at the pregnancy tests in horror, realizing I’d gotten a girl pregnant, and worried her father was going to kill me; only to remember we were married and that her dad would be overjoyed.

But the reality just now hit me in a new way. This tiny little fetus that had just come out of my wife was my child. I was a Daddy!

The baby cried a little. I cried a lot.

Pretty much everything that mattered in my life up to that point was suddenly gone. Everything I had, and everything I was, now belonged to her, and she’d been out here in the world for about a minute.

Our daughter had already pooped in the womb, and at that time it was standard procedure to take her off to the nursery to check her lungs. My wife was busy being stitched up, so they whisked me off with our daughter as they performed the necessary checks.

The whole time she clung tightly to my pinky and was totally calm, looking around curiously at this brand new world. She only cried for a moment when I had to take my hand away to sign a form so she could get a quick shot. Otherwise, during the first hour of her life, all she knew was that as long as this “Daddy” guy was around, everything was going to be OK.

That hour was made even greater by opening the blinds of the nursery so the new grandparents could see their granddaughter. The euphoria of the moment passed when my phone rang- it was my wife, flush with all kinds of postpartum hormones, not so subtly accusing me of running off with no thought for her well-being!

A day and a half later I walked into that Starbucks, on a mission to get my wife and I real coffee, not this hospital garbage, when I was struck dumb by the people going about their business. Did they not know?

Even if I had voiced the questions in my head, even if I had loudly announced my daughter’s birth, people would have smiled, shook my hand, then promptly forgotten about the weirdo yelling as he got coffee.

My world had stopped spinning on its axis. Their worlds would keep turning, just the same as every day when new babies are born that they, or I, for that matter, don’t know about. Both worlds were true, and now I had to learn how to reconcile these two competing truths to make sense of the world around me.

Eleven-plus-years and two additional children later, I’ve made peace with the knowledge that what is of ultimate concern in my world is not the same as most other people. Because of that cold January day, I’ve gained a greater sensitivity for the moments when someone else expresses strong opinions that emerge from their experiences that don’t really match my own.

Whenever I meet a first-time parent, I make sure to take a moment to look them in the eye and tell them what I wish someone had said to me – “Congratulations! Everything is different now. It’s going to take some time to figure out, but it’s not just going to be OK, it’s going to be even greater than you ever imagined!”

Happy Birthday, Kate! I couldn’t be prouder to be your Dad!

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