By James Prenatt — OTHER FATHER
Nothing prepares you for meeting your child the first time. I don’t think I would want to be prepared anyway. My wife had been having contractions for a few weeks, so we were both pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. She woke me up at four in the morning and I was surprised to see her in visible pain. Before, she didn’t have much emotional reaction to the contractions at all. I thought there would be more waiting. I thought it would take more time. I had other things on my mind, like a writing workshop I was in, that had me checking my phone constantly.
It all happened so fast. We were moved from room to room, and had just been getting comfortable, really. I mean, I was comfortable. I don’t think there was much that anyone could’ve done for my wife. I tried to rub her back and hold her any way she needed as she sat through contractions. I’d been supportive about the pain for a long time, but in the end there wasn’t much I could do. The next minute they were putting the needle to her back for an epidural, but before they could administer it, she had to push.
I’d never seen such pain, but I’d also never seen such strength. I can’t imagine what it takes to carry a life inside of you for so long and to thrust it into this world, to let go of something that was once a part of you. It’s incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t done it before. That’s what magic is, really. Something unexplainable, something sublime.
She bore down for only two pushes before I heard my child cry. In an instant, she went from excruciating pain to absolute joy as she met her daughter and comforted her. It was a bright day and sunlight brought a glow to the room. It was not the cold white hospital rooms we see in movies, but golden, the greens from outside reminding me that it was spring now. The brutal winter days where I longed to be home with this new member of our family were over. A life had bloomed.
I couldn’t stop smiling. I had so much to say to her, this tiny, beautiful and fortunately healthy thing that we had created with our love. I held her hand and kissed her forehead as the nurses made sure she was okay. I calmed her cry for the first time. I said hello. We made sure to do skin-to-skin contact and looking at that picture, I’m not sure my smile has ever been bigger. I sat down with her for a minute while the doctor tended to my wife. I was happy to be with our baby, but I was also worried about my wife and what she had been through. I watched her shake and shiver and I experienced the conflict of being a parent the first time, of what it meant to have two people you loved more than yourself and to know you can only help one at a time.
When they put her back into my wife’s arms and we three were together for the first time I remember how silly I felt, for being so caught up in things that, compared to this, didn’t matter: my writing, my professional life, money, my writing again because let’s face it, that’s my number one obsession, and all the other petty things I’d been caught up in. If I had known this incredible moment was in store for me, I would have forgotten about everything else in an instant.
When the rush faded and we were left alone with her in our room, I sent the news out to my family. I knew they’d want to meet her as soon as possible, but I knew we also needed our privacy and alone time. That time in the hospital was hard because all we wanted was to go home and we couldn’t once we found out the baby had jaundice and would have to stay another night underneath a lamp to soak in vitamin D.
Guilt set in. I knew I was tired, but not in pain or nearly as exhausted as my wife. I wanted to be with the baby constantly, but she could only come out of the crib to eat and then had to go back in to get light. I wanted to be there for my wife, but I couldn’t when I was falling asleep sitting up. Not to mention, when I’m tired I have even more trouble paying attention than normal and that’s not good when a doctor comes in the room to tell you important information.
Eventually we were able to go home. But it was not as sunny anymore. It was gloomy and rainy. The high had worn off, no matter how in love we were. We got to introduce my stepson to his little sister though, and that cheered things up for a while, even if this was a big change for him, too, who had been an only child at our house and was used to having all of my attention.
My wife said she’d never seen me fall asleep so easily, but nonetheless every few hours I got up, got her snacks, fed the baby if she couldn’t breast feed and put something on TV for us to watch so that we didn’t fall asleep while she pumped and I held the baby. It was hard, much harder than I expected, but it was paradise as well.
I sometimes felt like it would never end. Not only was I not prepared for how magical it was, I also knew deep down that it was far harder than anything I’d expected. The truth is, now that I’ve been back to work for some time, I miss it, no matter how difficult it was.
Parenthood is a kind of magic we forget about as we get older, as we go through daily life wanting nothing but sleep, longing for that time when we only had our own life to worry about. But the magic comes back. It never really goes away.
Originally published at thewildword.com.