To be fair, there’s no such thing as a dad’s birth story. I did not carry either Oliver or Margot in my body for 9 months. I did not have countless sleepless nights or painful constipation or the constant need to pee. And I certainly did not have a baby surgically removed through my stomach or pushed from my nether regions. As such, Elisa’s actual birth stories (C-section and VBAC) are much more detailed than mine. All the same, I know that the birth of both of our kids has had a profound impact on me, and I want to share with you my experience of them.
I was scared. Not for most of the pregnancy, no. You see, we’d planned to have a child, so I thought I was prepared. Although I’d initially wanted a girl, having a son had become incredibly exciting. No, I was scared at the hospital. I tend to be an optimist (or, as I like to call it, a realist), while Elisa is a bit, ahem, less optimistic. Leading up to the C-section, which we were advised would be our best option for some medical reasons, Elisa had been worried that something would go wrong, that she’d have to go under general anesthesia, and then she’d never wake up. I, being a realist, shrugged that off and cited some made-up optimistic statistic (the phrase “it is so statistically unlikely” came out of my mouth several times a day). But as Elisa walked down the hall in that hospital gown designed to embarrass people at their most vulnerable moments, it suddenly dawned on me that Elisa’s fear was a possibility.
I thought, this really could be the last time I’ll see my wife. And that was terrifying.
As I sat on the cold, hard wooden bench outside the operating room, waiting for a nurse to come invite me in and reassure me that everything had gone well, I saw doctors and hospital staff pass by and wondered if they could sense my overwhelming fear. Finally, mercifully, the nurse retrieved me after
12 hours a few minutes had passed.
Elisa was splayed out on an operating table with a high wall of fabric separating her face from the craziness about to occur beyond it. She seemed surprisingly confident, especially given the fear that had only just subsided in me. I held Elisa’s hand and said that everything was going to be okay–and I really believed it would be, now that I was back with her–and the surgery began.
Before that moment, I had no interest in looking at the C-section itself, but instantly I knew this was something I would regret missing.
I looked over the curtain.
It was just as gory as you’d imagine, organs visible and what have you, but at the same time, I felt that I was witnessing something magical. Moments later, really just moments, Oliver emerged into the world. Like an idiot, I was suddenly involuntarily shouting, “I’m your daddy! I’m your daddy!” I wanted to comfort this little boy who was shocked to find himself thrust into this bright, cold world.
What came next is a bit of a blur to me. Thanks to photo evidence, I know that Elisa and I were able to take a picture with Ollie together. I also remember them weighing and measuring him. And then I remember Oliver being whisked away to the nursery, and I felt terrible to leave Elisa, but knew our little boy needed me.
Big moments are often like that. We know they’re significant and that they’ll never leave our minds, but when we look back on them, it’s an impressionist painting of the event. The broad strokes are there, but the details are jumbled, especially as new layers are added to them. The boy that Oliver is becoming, full of laughter and teeth, energy and frustration, is painted on the same canvas as that baby who emerged from Elisa’s belly 16 months ago, and so the two are often hard to separate. But I’m not sure that I want to separate them. Our lives are rarely single instants, but the collection of events that combine together to form who we are. Oliver’s story began in these moments, but it’s only when combined with the ones that have been built on top of it that this son we love is truly born.
Margot’s birth was unexpected in many more ways than Oliver’s was. For starters, 13 months apart was not “part of the plan.” But also, since we decided that Elisa would try to have a VBAC, we didn’t have the definiteness of knowing Margot would be born on such-and-such day at such-and-such time. It seemed that she could arrive at any moment, one of which came at the end of August, a month before her due date, and, as it happened, on my birthday. As we prepared for Oliver’s and my joint party, Elisa started having contractions and we ended up at the hospital to be told that while, yes, the contractions were real, there wouldn’t be a baby today.
After that, it began to feel as though the baby would never come out. Elisa’s parents came to visit from Italy shortly before the due date (because it was the only time that worked vacation-wise) and it seemed that no matter how many hour-long hikes we took and no matter how many or how steep were the hills on said hikes, we could not replicate those contractions. Nonetheless, I felt a growing sense of anxiety.
I knew that my life was going to be forever changed. Again.
Except this time, I knew what was coming. Before you have your first child, everyone warns you, both jokingly and deadly seriously, about the sleep deprivation during the first few months. With a second child, no one needs to warn you. You know. Oh, God, you know. Oliver had been sleeping through the night for quite awhile by that point, and I did not want to go back to the 2am feedings. And the 4am feedings. And the 6am feedings.
I also worried about the changing dynamics of moving from one child to two. Would Oliver hate her, like when the family brings the new baby into the house in Lady and the Tramp? (Ignore the fact that I just compared my child to a dog.) Would we be able to handle caring for two at the same time? Not to mention daycare costs, which cost more than college (!!!).
But then when the actual moment came… no, it was still terrifying. When Elisa woke me to tell me she was having contractions, I expected that we’d stay home for a few hours as they got closer together. Maybe she’d take a shower or I’d massage her while she calmly bounced on the birth ball. Instead, the contractions quickly moved from 5 minutes apart to four to three to two!
I didn’t want to have a kitchen-floor baby!
Thankfully, Elisa’s parents were a mere hour from taking a shuttle to St. Louis, so we cancelled it and they stayed to watch Oliver. We ran a red light on the way to the hospital because I really believed that our kitchen-floor baby would become a Hyundai-Accent baby.
At the hospital, the monitors showed that while Elisa’s contractions were indeed powerful, she was only 3cm dilated. We were meant to have a hospital-room baby after all. Our doula even advised us to head home due to the limited dilation, but thankfully we listened to Elisa’s body (via her screams, mostly) and stayed. We weren’t really in the mood to listen to our doula at the moment anyway since she was several hours late to the hospital due to a lack of childcare.
Fortunately, I had studied up on some comforting techniques, mostly involving gentle massage and guiding Elisa with my voice. Unfortunately, having anyone touch her or speak to her during a contraction was the last thing that Elisa wanted. I felt helpless, unable to do anything for my wife as she suffered through the worst pain of her life.
When the contractions hit, the only way Elisa would feel comfortable was to fling herself to the floor, onto all fours or leaning on the birth ball. I tried to cover her up with the hospital gown, to maintain some sense of propriety, but did I mention Elisa didn’t want to be touched? She quickly shed the gown so that she was wearing nothing but her sports bra and the the monitors that were continuously impeding her movement.
Thankfully, Elisa is not a prude.
The upside of powerful contractions is that each time the doctor checked Elisa’s cervix, it had dilated another 2cm. The downside is that they freaking hurt. Elisa had wanted to have a totally natural birth, but in the pain of the moment decided to take some pain medication that “might even allow her to sleep.” Instead, Elisa, with her head lolling around like Margot’s does now, said, “Why… can I still… feel the contractions?” Apparently it was much the way that a scented candle doesn’t really take the odor away from a stinky bathroom, but just makes it smell like the toilet was dipped in Fresh Linen. She still felt the contractions completely, but it was through a mist, like being high (which, I guess, technically she was).
There were a few “shut up!”s, an understandable number of screams, one slap on the back (not the congratulatory kind), and a few times begging for a c-section after all, but after several hours that somehow seemed both infinitely long and incredibly quick, it was time for Elisa to push.
A lot of “comedic” ink has been spilled about dads being in the delivery room for this phase of the birth. The received wisdom my mind went to was “don’t look at the baby coming out or it’ll be forever seared into your mind.” Images of fathers fainting flashed through my mind. Thankfully, Elisa’s wonderful OB had shared with us that he suspects actual fainting is caused more by fathers not sleeping and eating enough, than being on their feet for too long, not horror at what they see. So I decided that, just like with Oliver’s birth, I was going to watch.
As Elisa pushed, I began to see black hair from our little Margot’s head begin to appear. I cannot express how excited I became. Elisa, through the guidance of this guardian angel of a nurse, was a rock star, showing self-control and strength like I’ve never seen from anyone in my life. Then, almost in an instant, Margot was with us. Beautiful, lovely Margot, this shining star in our lives. Although Elisa was exhausted, she was able to hold her on her chest immediately, just as we’d hoped for.
The first time you lay eyes on your child, they never really look like you expect them to. I suppose I expected Margot to look like Oliver …with longer hair? I’m not really sure. But instead she had this cute little upturned nose that seemed to fit so perfectly the name we’d chosen for her. Although it’s been hard these last three months since her birth, I know that I wouldn’t go back. Every day, Margot is showing more and more personality. She’s not just a baby who unexpectedly appeared in our lives; she’s our Margot, and I thank God for her.