I always thought a lot about the day that you'd be born. I rehearsed it in my head, over and over again. I wasn't going to be like all of those other dads. The ones that are nervous and pale faced. Nope, not me. I'd be standing next to your mother, grinning and cracking jokes between contractions. I'd say things to the doctors and nurses to make them uncomfortable, like: "So doc, is this the 1213th time you've delivered life's 'greatest miracle' or the 1214th??" or "Don't worry doc. You don't have to say that the baby looks like me when it comes out. I know you guys just say that to encourage daddies to stick around."
Your mother would be the only one that thought they were funny, which would make them inside jokes, and she'd laugh for just a second before the next bout of pain arrived. Your mother would grit her teeth like a stoic, though. She wouldn't wail melodramatically like all of those mothers on TV. I'd smile and stroke her forehead. And I wouldn't lose the blood in my face and pass out like a wuss. No way. Why would I? It would be the happiest day of my life. I would probably cry happily, though, and I'd be okay with it. When it was all over, I'd hold you in my hands, you'd scream something that translated loosely to "If you don't have mammaries, then you'd better pass me to someone that does!" Later on, when you were drunk and drowsy from all the milk, I'd give the whole holding thing a second shot. I'd rock you slowly, singing lullabies I'd been preparing for months and months. At that moment, I would know that I was a father.
Well, things didn't really happen that way.
Your mother began her bedrest at 22 weeks when the bleeding started. She would be on her back for half a month. We were hoping it would be a lot longer. 28 weeks gestation. The third trimester. That was our next goal for you. That's where all of the dangers of extreme prematurity began to taper off. Of course, we never made it that far. Not even close.
If you had told us an hour before the moment you were born that you would be arriving, we would have said, "What? So soon?" One minute your mother was sitting in a bed and the next she was off to the operating table with barely a minute's warning. As I put on scrubs, I watched as she disappeared behind the surgical doors. I was so dazed at that moment I tried to put a shoe-slip on top of my head. I couldn't get the terrible numbers out of my head. The odds of your survival. Nothing so important to me had ever come down to the flip of a coin. How close were you to being born at that moment? 10 minutes away? I threw my thoughts ahead 4 more months. To that time you were SUPPOSED to be born. I'd be holding your mother's hand. Waiting for those last few pushes. Waiting in tense anticipation to see your face.
When I arrived in the operating room, the surgeons were already to work. There were slicks of blood and amniotic fluid on the ground. I arrived at your mother's side. Her teeth chattered. Her face was almost green. Your mother didn't wail melodramatically like on all of the TV shows. I held her hand. I smiled behind the mask and stroked her cold forehead. And oddly, I ended up not being like those other dads, after all. I wasn't pale faced. I didn't feel dizzy. Maybe I should have. After all, it was the scariest day of my life. I cried tears of sadness, and I was okay with it.
Then there was a squeak and a gurgle. Some feeble sound. Your mother's eyes shot open, alert, even though they had been wearied and empty just a moment before. "Is Ellie okay?" she asked me.
I don't remember what I said, because I didn't know the answer.
The doctors took a tiny, squirmy mass of flesh to a table. I was surprised how little blood there was on you. I didn't see much of you, for awhile, just the occasional hand or foot stabbing at the air. I listened closely to the doctors and nurses for any clues about your condition. Then, they wheeled you out in your isolette, and a nurse called me out of the operating room.
You were parked there in the hallway between surgery and the NICU. That moment weighs heavily on my memory, but strangely, I don't remember it like a picture. I just remember seeing your face, and being shocked by how much you looked like me when I was a little child. I always thought you would look--- wanted you to look--- like your mother.
The nurse asked me if I wanted to touch you. "Want or should?" I wondered. I declined because I didn't want to hurt you. The nurse insisted, and I was secretly glad that she did. I reached through the isolette and put one finger on your forehead, as gently as I could. You seemed big to me, then, because you were infinitely larger than I had ever seen you before. I told them to hurry, and you were gone.
I was plunked in a waiting room as your mother was being stitched up. I wondered whether you would be in my arms soon. Whether I'd be singing you my lullabies. I hoped with all my heart that I wouldn't. I didn't mind not having that moment anymore. I didn't mind not feeling like a father, because if I were afforded the right to hold you at that moment, it would mean that I wouldn't be a father for much longer. It would mean that you were dying. That you were so far gone that it didn't matter whether you were touched or held by your parents or not.
I saw in my head how it would play out. You would be sedated. Your mother and I would take turns rocking you. I'd sing my bittersweet lullabies about a future that would never come. I'd choke between verses. A tear might splash on your head, and you would squirm, and I would tell you I was sorry for hurting you. You would gasp for breath, fight for life, until you turned pink then purple then blue. We wouldn't know when to let go or when to stop singing, even after your breaths had stopped and your chest had grown cold. You would haunt us forever. We'd want it that way.
But today, you are alive. I don't think about the day that should have been your birth, any longer. And I don't mind having missed that moment when I would hold you in my arms and know, right then, that I was a father. If I just knew for certain that you would live, I could watch you indefinitely from afar or from inside an impenetrable sphere. When I look at you now, I'm willing to wait forever.