Yesterday was your due date, and today you were born. Your mother's contractions really started coming on strong just before midnight. Given that you were due any day, we were so impetuous and ready to blitz to the hospital that I forgot to fill up EITHER of our cars with gas. This, of course, after I spent months reassuring your mother that "no one gives birth in the car on the way to the hospital in THIS day and age!" Fortunately for us, we had just enough gas to get us to about 50 yards of the hospital, at which point we stalled out and I cruised us to the front entrance with the leftover momentum. Skillz.
Like just about every birth, there was a lot of waiting. If we were to judge childbirth by what happens in the movies, we'd expect about one minute of shrieking and then a five second aftermath of laughing and smiling between family members over a (surprisingly not very bloody) baby. Yeah, that accounts for about 0.1 percent of the experience. The rest is waiting around.
I exchanged plenty of knowing smiles with the other dads-to-be in the waiting room. Smiles which expressed anything from "congratulations, bro" to "glad it ain't us, eh?" Your mother and I made jokes as she paced the hallway of the labor and delivery waiting room. We made fun of all the women that wailed during labor. "Was that the baby or the mother?" we'd say.
Your mother wore one of those immodest-by-design, 'get-a-look-everyone!' hospital gowns. In it, she looked like some kind of pinata ready to burst. A pinata that was being struck from the INSIDE rather than the outside. Her midsection looked as though an angry shark was swimming around inside. She often yelped like she was being eaten from the inside out, too. And we thought you flailed wildly just halfway through the pregnancy!
For the most part, though, I can proudly say that your mother was just as stoic in the face of pain as I thought she'd be. "It's only life's greatest miracle happening for the 100 billionth time," she said with a wincing smile as they slid her into the labor and delivery bed. "I think I can handle it." At the height of her contractions, I only saw one tear fall from her eye. A tear of joy, not pain, that spattered on her tummy. What a strange place to see her so happy. Happier than I'd ever seen her in her life. She'd been waiting so long to meet you. So had I.
As is so often the case, the "big" events in our lives never quite end up feeling like we think they will. I thought that when you finally came out into the world, there would be an "ah ha!" moment where I would suddenly feel like I was a father. But that didn't happen. When you appeared, you looked nothing like I thought you would, but still, it felt strangely like I already knew you. Like I had been a father all along, during all those years of wanting you so badly. I love you daughter. Welcome to the world...
Ever since you were born, every day, I've thought about your due date. I've wondered about what it would have been like had you been born, as planned, on that day. What I'd think. What your mother and I would do. How I'd feel. And yesterday, suddenly, there we were. Your due date.
I think if the me of six months ago were to suddenly peek in on you and I, sitting in our rocking chair, he'd never guess what you'd been through. He'd see you all wrapped up in a moby sling like a tasty, high calorie baby burrito. He'd see you passed out on my chest, head tilted to one side. He'd see you eat like crazy and wail and fuss indignantly the moment we left you alone. He'd be amazed at how fat you were: in the 15th highest percentile in weight for your length. He'd see you meeting developmental milestones for babies that are 2 months older than you, tracking objects with your eyes and turning your head curiously at sounds. Not knowing that you've had months to practice already, he'd wonder how a newborn could possibly have the strength to hold her head up on her own or push herself about with her arms and legs. He wouldn't see you attached to any wires. He wouldn't guess that you were 4 months premature. Instead, he'd assume that you were born yesterday. He'd believe that you went full term, that we ran out of gas on the way to the hospital, that your mother and I made jokes during her contractions, and that your mother gave birth the usual way. He'd assume that nothing had gone wrong at all.
This morning, it felt almost as if that were true. After all, there is very little about you to remind me that you aren't simply a baby born under normal circumstances. Our 4 month stint in the hospital seems as though it could be from a story or something I witnessed from afar. Like it happened in another person's life. But then, I returned to the first letter that I'd written you and read it again. In an instant, I was back in postpartum with your mother, sleeplessly wondering whether you'd survive till morning. I was again coming to visit you at odd hours of the night, not wanting to miss any moment that might be your last. I was staring fearfully at all of the ways your future may unfold, terrified by how so few of them appeared like the one we now inhabit.
It's tempting to simply let the past 4 months fade into some fallow corner of my memory, but I don't want those troubling times to be buried so easily. If I ever let myself forget what happened, I'm not sure that I would watch you as closely as I do now. Or hold you as tightly. Or remind myself as often to be kind and gentle and patient.
It's easy to take for granted the things that we've never risked losing. Because of what we've been through together, I will relish every moment we are together. For all the pain you have faced, for all the hardships, I will bring to your life ten times the joy. And ten times the love.