Birth and the first four days
I’m sitting cross legged on the hospital floor. I know it’s disgusting. I can’t imagine the bodily fluids this floor has hosted over the years. I don’t care. I’m sitting cross legged on the floor because it allows me to be in the optimal position to massage my partners hand. My partner who, at this very moment, is birthing our daughter. My partner who is about to make us a family.
With my right hand, I squeeze the middle of her palm and tell her she’s doing amazing. She responds with FUUUUCK! and grunts deep and low through her teeth. My left hand is behind her knee, lifting up her leg so she can push. She’s propped up on her side like a baseball player sliding into home base.
After one more grunt I see something protruding out of her. Hair. So much hair. Her head? She reaches down and feels it. She gasps. I grin. I squeeze her hand. A short break. Breathe, baby, breathe. You’re doing great. Another contraction. Another push. More hair. More head. An ear? An ear. Another ear. She turns, faces forward. A face. She’s here. She looks pissed. She looks perfect. Her arms come out. Her eyes open. Her mouth opens. She gasps for air. “GRAB YOUR BABY. PULL YOUR BABY OUT.” What? Now? Me? I grab her under the armpits and pull her up. Her legs come out of her mother. I pull her up like she’s fallen on her knee and needs to be held. I pull her up like she’s ready to get out of the bath. I pull her up like she’s gotten tired and looks up at me and says daddy up. She’s not saying anything. She’s not making a sound. She’s greasy. She’s slippery. She looks at me but also not at me. I put her on her mothers chest.
“Is my baby okay?” Her mother asks.
My daughter sleeps beside me as I write this. In a swaddle that was so obviously wrapped by a beginner dad. Just enough to put her to sleep. If anyone came into the room (mom) I’d be sure to rewrap her so she didn’t look like a overstuffed burrito with the fillings spilled out.
Mom is sleeping. She’s sore and broken down and tired and drained. I try and protect these precious little moments where she can actually get some rest. I take baby into the other room and put her in her sleep pod. She’ll be hungry soon. Sorry, mom.
It’s been four days. In about an hour she will be four whole days. I had to look at the calendar. It doesn’t feel like four days. It doesn’t feel like anything. Time has become a mishmash of moments with no linear end or beginning. We sleep in a series of naps and eat whatever is within arms reach whenever we can. This morning I thought I finally got a chance to go to the bathroom when baby fell asleep. Then she screeched me off the toilet when I was only halfway through my business. (Serious question: how do new parents poo?)
I realize now how much time I had before. Time was everywhere. I haven’t been able to cook a whole meal, or go to the gym, or scroll through my Instagram feed. All the things I would be doing before to take up the day have been wiped out. 90% of my time awake now goes to her.
Yet, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. Sure, I can see a reality where if I don’t get my butt to the gym in the future I’ll regret the way I look or feel. Or I might lose touch with people that were important to me. Or I might fall behind on NBA news.
But none of those things are as fulfilling as her. She’s filled a void that I didn’t even know was there. We’re learning about each other. She’s responding to my voice (mostly my shushes), squeezing onto my finger, nuzzling into my chest (I know, I know, looking for food). She doesn’t know who I am yet, but she’s learning. And I’m learning who she is. What face she makes when she’s uncomfortable (or pooping), what her different cries mean, the best way to calm her down (so far: swaddle, rock and shush. In that order.)
This isn’t me trying to sound like I’m a good father. The truth is I have no idea if I am or not. I am doing all of this for the first time and am not convinced that I’m doing any of it particularly well. She’s too little to tell me. I know being a good father isn’t easy. I know it takes time and failure and hard conversations and being there when she needs me the most. I have no idea if I’m a good father. All I know for certain is that I am a father.
And that there’s nothing else I’d rather be.
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