Friday, April 23, 2010

Fatherhood: The First Hour

Thorn will be a year old at the end of May.

A year ago, when Fox was nearing the end of her pregnancy, when the fateful moment was weeks and not months away, I made a decision. I decided that I would capture the memories of my first year of fatherhood in a special journal, and then I would share the best parts with whoever would listen. I chose a happy blue journal--we knew Thorn was a boy, and so blue seemed only fitting. Affixed to the front was a lacquer turtle, and, because it was cute, it fit with the sentiment of a father's journal about his son. My pen scratched in some small details of the day Thorn was born, but the rest of the journal is bare.

I never understood how much work it was to raise a child. I knew, of course, that it was work, but the time, the hours, the exhaustion…these were things about which I possessed no accurate sense. I have spent a little time beating myself up for not keeping to my original plan. But that type of self-indulgence just doesn't sit well for long. No, there is no point getting upset about work you haven't done. Don't cry over spilled milk. Clean it up. Dear friends, here is the beginning of that process.


Thorn entered the world eagerly. Weeks ahead of his due date, he decided to squirm his little body out into the bright light of his first day. Unfortunately, his attempts met with little success. Simply put, his head was too large and Fox's bones too delicate and slender. The most exceptional physician knew what to do, and so Fox and Thorn (still wriggling away, perhaps aware that his moments in the womb were swiftly departing) were ushered off to the nearby operating room. Never before in my life had I observed a crew of people move so quickly and so calmly. I, alas, was anything but calm. C-section. Surgery. They were going to cut open my love, and she was out the door before I had time to get the green frock they'd tossed in my direction over my head. I did manage to get garbed. Many thanks are owed to my mother-in-law, who maintained her serenity when I had lost mine to the rush and the winds. The pants were several sizes too large, and so I had to hold up the ensemble with one hand. For minutes (exceedingly long minutes) I waited just outside the operating room. A nurse eventually arrived to convey me to Fox's side. The operating room was small. A huge curtain had been raised above Fox's midsection. The anesthesiologist sat by her head. His small corner of the room was filled with enormous machines that hissed and whistled as they pumped merrily away at their appointed tasks. Another nurse, or perhaps the same who led me in, provided me a folding chair. I sat down, my legs trembling, my breath short, and my heart pounding. The surgery had already started. I could hear it, though blessedly, I couldn't see it. Fox and I comforted one another as best we could, as the most exceptional physician did her work.

We knew the baby was out before we heard him. There is this terrible and intense moment, when, blinded by the curtain, you cannot see the babe they've pulled from your love. You wait, counting heartbeats, straining to hear a breath, a cry, a squeal, anything to confirm that your child is healthy--that your child is alive. There is a sound that comes first, a strange suctioning sound, and then, finally, you hear the intake of breath and the cry. Loud. Throaty. Indignant. Little Thorn wailed to the world that he had arrived and that he didn't think it was as great as he hoped. No doubt it was too bright, too cold, and too crowded with strange and mysterious folk garbed in sterile greens and blues. Thorn was cleaned, placed in a plastic bed atop a cart, and then wheeled over where we got our first look.

He was thin. His long limbs of bone thrashed about while the nurses measured, poked, and prodded to see if all was well. All was well. I think I cried a little, and I kissed Fox, and she kissed me. We were parents. Here was our child. He was red and distressed. His skin was wrinkled and filmy. And yet, he was beautiful.

The most excellent physician restored Fox's body to its closed state, and then they once more wheeled my love away. I remained behind to stand as a witness to the marking of my child. Hospital rules require that each parent and child receive wrist-bands that indicate you belong together. These bands come off only on the day you take your baby home. Fox needed to be in post-surgical recovery, and so I stood, jittery, dancing from foot to foot, as the nurses took samples of blood from Thorn's foot, and then placed identical tags on each of us. I got my first good look at him. He was well-formed. A strong torso and the lungs to inhabit it extended into four bony limbs that twitched and flailed passionately. He had hematite eyes -- I will never forget them, though now they've gone, replaced by browns and lighter grays. His skin was warm and dry when I touched him. I was not permitted to hold him yet, but I longed to. He was my son. My boy. My firstborn. Together, once he was tagged, diapered, and bundled, we went to find his mother in recovery.

I thought the most stressful time was behind me.

Silly me.


More on Fatherhood in a later installment.

1 comment:

  1. You managed your own serenity, my love, for you calmed me as I hyperventilated, unable to feel my lungs expand and thus, struggling with my mind to convince myself that I was indeed breathing. An odd sensation. Odder still, waiting for that cry, hearing the doctors and nurses chattering happily, knowing that he must be all right, as they were so gleeful, but we heard nothing. We conferred in quiet voices, as if they would not have answered us. So much we longed for a cry. Once again, we struggled to make our minds believe what we could not, ourselves, hear. Screaming assurance. Much like looking for God, yes?