I didn’t want to see my daughter being born. Not because I wasn’t excited to meet her, or because she wasn’t going to be important to me. I’m squeamish. (Yes, the bold italic version.)
Also, my brain doesn’t simply remember unsettling things, it DVRs them so that I can relive them later at inconvenient times. For example, when I was a teenager I shut my finger in a pocket knife. I’m getting faint trying to type about it because the memory is so fresh, and that injury barely elicited interest, much less sympathy from anyone in the room at the time.
I knew what was involved in childbirth, and frankly I didn’t want any part of it floating around in my head. I didn’t even want to be around.
Understandably, my wife objected to the notion of an absentee father. She never leveraged any of the clichés against me, so she never said pregnancy was my fault or yelled at me for getting her into it; she did something more effective: she looked sad and scared.
I’m a softy. I may look enormous and gruff, but that’s just because God likes irony. What could be more ironic than a puppy in a tank? (You have to imagine the puppy trying to drive the tank with his enthusiastic little paws, then you’ll understand why I’m so clumsy.)
I love my wife. She said she needed me, so I had to be there. I just told myself that I didn’t have to watch. I’m enormous; I figured I could be comforting with my eyes closed.
I couldn’t. Being a husband and birth coach is surprisingly involved. (Sure, of my wife and me, her role was harder but she also had medication to help.) It took twenty-two hours, but it seemed to happen at once.
Then, all of a sudden I was watching my daughter’s birth.
I don’t remember most of it. I certainly don’t remember any of the bad parts. I just remember the look on my daughter’s face. She looked confused. Confused and impossibly precious. She was so small, frail, and clearly surprised by the world. (Who wouldn’t be?)
She started to cry. Even her voice was tiny and helpless. The nurses said that babies are supposed to cry, that it was good for her to cry. At that moment I felt quite certain that those nurses could let their own babies cry if they wanted, but that I would stomp through a wall if necessary to get to my little girl’s side.
Someone must have told her.
They had taken her to a small metal table on the side of the room. One of the nurses was cleaning her or taking some measurement or something. She (my daughter) was crying through the entire experience, but suddenly she stopped. They say that babies can’t see, but I swear she turned toward me as though she knew how I felt. She turned toward me and pouted.
I’m a softy. I have no defenses against such a heartbreaking appeal, but I felt utterly powerless to help her. Size is the only thing I bring to the table. I brought it as best I could. I picked her up and held her close, almost like I was trying to fold around her like her blanket. I was enormous for my little girl, because I loved her.
That she eventually stopped crying is entirely a credit to my wife however. (I’m serious, size is all I have.) I’ll never forget that moment though, and the brief connection of a frightened baby with her lumbering protector. I relive a bit of it every time I see her.
It turns out that I’m glad I was there after all.