“My wife and I are expecting a baby in November.”
This sentence came out of my mouth for the first time in the Spring of 2014. Like many phrases that change the world, the full weight of its meaning washed over me in ever increasing waves.
“My wife and I . . .”
One of my first reactions to the news of my impending fatherhood was to subconsciously rearrange my entire outlook on my marriage. Before our future child entered the picture, it was just Jess and me. Sure, we were married, but a childless marriage doesn’t look that different on a day-to-day basis from a stable, long-term relationship.
Once the child entered the picture, however, we suddenly became a “family,” a unit that required stewardship above and beyond the maintenance of a single relationship. My decision of what to do after law school took on a new dimension, and I spent most of a week calculating financial projections before I realized what was happening. The math was the same as before, but my role in the math had changed drastically: I was now part of a family with a future child. That required a variety of new spreadsheets.
“. . . a baby . . .”
A baby starts off as a concept. You can infer its existence via a test and some morning sickness, but, for a father especially, a baby resides on a transdimensional plane. Other than implication (and morning sickness), it does not yet interact with your world. Then you hear the heartbeat. And see the arms and legs kicking on the ultrasound. Over time you can even start to see the bump. Even after all that, our decision to keep the gender a surprise and to use the genderless nickname of “the Borg” kept a certain science-fictional quality to our future child. It certainly existed; the medical profession and Jess could attest to that. But the bump kept getting larger, and eventually the Borg started moving and kicking. Our transdimensional baby began interacting with reality in a way I could feel with my hand.
Our baby kicked my hand.
“. . . in November.”
Nine months is a long time. In between finding out we were expecting and the grand reveal, Jess and I each interviewed for and were offered new jobs, I graduated law school, we moved into a new house, and I quit my government job of nine years to try my hand in Big Law. Our lives were almost unrecognizable. All of this, to say nothing of the morning sickness, back pain, and false labor my wife endured.
Nine months is also a blink of an eye. We had books to read, trips to take, life to sort, all before everything would be flipped upside down. It felt like I barely had time to paint the baby’s room, assemble the crib, and meet our doula before I was racing to the hospital through rush hour traffic with a screaming wife beside me.
“. . . expecting . . .”
As the months marched on and the baby became more and more real, the implication of the word “expecting” became sometimes overpowering. I’ve read books and my fair share of the Internet, and throughout my life I’ve known several families who’ve suffered the heartbreak of a miscarriage or stillbirth. There’s no way around it. Pregnancy isn’t a sure thing. You can paint the baby’s room, assemble the crib, and still, in the back of your head, know there’s a chance that . . . . I can’t even write it, because it hurts my heart to even think of it. But it’s there.
I’ve always tried to avoid ever blindly assuming the positive outcome. Whether it’s playing a board game or taking the bar exam, I focus on the set of likely possibilities and mentally prepare for each one. Sometimes those possibilities are heartbreaking. But it’s your job to shoulder them as an adult.
You shoulder them when buying seemingly endless amounts of stuff, and moving into a bigger house to have more room for the baby. You shoulder them through the weeks of fruitless false labor. You shoulder them through hours and hours of actual labor and pain, your strong and amazing wife’s eyes pleading with you to make it stop. When the labor stops progressing and they bring up the idea of a c-section, you tell her “Baby, it’s going to be okay, I promise you, it’s going to be okay.” When the baby’s heart rate drops and it turns into an emergency c-section, you hold her hand and caress her hair behind the screen, trying with every ounce of your being to project the cool calm center of the universe you promised yourself you’d be.
And then the baby’s out. She’s a girl, and everyone’s cheering. A little baby girl, with ten fingers and ten toes and squinty little eyes, screaming with every ounce of her being, and she’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen in the world. And all the stoicism and planning and pretending to know what you’re doing pours out of you through giant streaming tears while sitting alone the next day on a couch in a darkened waiting room because you went to take a walk and everything hit you like an exploding star of joy and you sat down and cried and cried because you realized you were the luckiest man who had ever lived.