Leslie was reminiscing about the day Emma was born this morning. I'm not sure why I wasn't. Maybe it's just something that moms do annually. I think about it from time to time, but for some reason this morning wasn't one of those times.
Leslie had back labor with Emma. Do you know what back labor is? Well it's icky. Emma was shoving her noggin against Leslie's spine and for 30 hours we waited for her to decide to join us.
For 30 hours my wife would fall asleep for 3 minutes, wake up for 5 minutes of contractions, then fall back asleep again. I was rubbing holes in her back with my thumbs because if I pushed in a certain spot it made her feel slightly better.
"Rub harder," she said, her voice a ragged hiss, the tone trailing into a whine.
"If I rub any harder I'm going to puncture the skin," I replied, rubbing harder.
And then she'd fall asleep and I'd crack the knuckles on my hand, flexing my fingers tiredly and lay back, shaking my head at her ability capture sleep so deftly and nod off myself for a minute or two before the "machine that goes ping" would ratchet back up in intensity, signalling a new set of contractions and I'd mobilize my thumb for spine penetration duty.
Some time after she finally opted for the spinal (which was like the hand of God descending upon her removing all pain) and they readied us for the C-section, we could see St. Patrick's Day approaching.
"Can you hold off a few more minutes so we have a St. Paddy's Day baby, Doc?" we asked.
"No," he said flatly. And so at 11:52 p.m. (possibly 11:51 p.m. . . I swear I'll change this entire post if it turns out I got the time wrong just to make it seem like I didn't) Emma was delivered.
I stood at Leslie's head as she was crucified to the operating table during delivery. I'm not kidding. Probably you already know this, but they strap your arms down. So she sat there, receiving . . . something. . . through an air mask, unable to move her hands, with an itch on her nose. My job was to scratch that itch. Even the one *shudders* inside her nose.
"The baby's here. You can stand up and look now," the nurse said.
I stood up, expecting to see the nurse holding my daughter for inspection, but instead seeing her head penetrating an incision in my wife's abdomen like the alien bursting from Kane, and I sat back down, probably looking a little pale.
"Yeah, she's not quite here yet."
Strange, and almost surreal. Emma was born but was not yet Emma. We were stuck between a few names. She was Baby Girl W, with Hannah Abigail, Madelaine Patrice, and Emma Katherine all jockeying for position. I wanted her to be Hannah, Leslie wanted her to be Madelaine.
How to describe my feelings upon first seeing and holding Emma. . .It was surreal. It feels like a betrayal to say this, but I didn't immediately feel a connection. Who was this baby?
It was like the first time seeing a DJ after hearing his voice for years and getting a mental image in your head of what he looks like, or reading a novel and then seeing the hero on the cover of a sequel. The artist's image wasn't what you'd imagined. It's jarring. And yet you know your image of what that person looks like cannot realistically be accurate.
Emma was not the picture I had in my mind. I'm not saying she wasn't a beautiful baby; she was. But I immediately was struck by this weird disconnectedness. . . I had a nine month image of what this baby would look like, and she didn't look like that image. I immediately worried that I wasn't going to feel a connection with this baby ever; that I wouldn't love her the way a father is supposed to love his daughter.
I had only ever heard of the instant bond, the instant connection, the greatest day ever. . . nobody had ever told me to expect this.
Not to spoil the suspense or anything, but I needn't have worried. After that initial surprise/disconnectedness/whatever. . . Emma took root in my heart and changed me. She changed the way I feel about life and children and myself as a man. She changed everything. I'll come back to that.
They wheeled Leslie's mobile bed/OR table back to the palatial birthing suite with its hardwood floors and pull-out sofa bed, and put Emma on Mommy's chest. Leslie couldn't keep her eyes open and her arms were shaking from coming off the anesthesia. We couldn't get her named before Leslie was passed out.
She woke up a couple hours later and we called for the nurse to bring Baby Girl W in. I don't remember if we named her then. It felt like unfinished business to me at the time, but I can't remember if I was antsy because we didn't name her before they took her off to the nursery, or because we didn't name her when the nurse brought her back in the second time, but we both knew she was not Hannah; was not Madelaine. She was Emma. Beautiful little blue-eyed baby Emma.
And things would never be the same again.
A year or two later I read Anna Kareninna, by Tolstoy. I was in a "read the classics" phase, and didn't want to deal with "War and Peace," but wanted to knock Tolstoy off my classics bucket list. I read in that book, for the first time, a similar story of another father's candid reaction to his son's birth. It made me feel like less of an oddity. I don't know if I've ever told anyone how that first moment scared me; how I wondered what kind of father I could possibly be that I didn't immediately feel some connection.
While I didn't feel the disgust. . . I thought Levin's reaction was at least "honest" and I remember thinking maybe it's not just me:
"Kitty was alive, her agony was over. And he was unutterably happy. That he understood; he was completely happy in it. But the baby? Whence, why, who was he?… He could not get used to the idea. It seemed to him something extraneous, superfluous, to which he could not accustom himself."
. . . " Levin, looking at the tiny, pitiful creature, made strenuous efforts to discover in his heart some traces of fatherly feeling for it. He felt nothing towards it but disgust. But when it was undressed and he caught a glimpse of wee, wee, little hands, little feet, saffron-colored, with little toes, too, and positively with a little big toe different from the rest, and when he saw Lizaveta Petrovna closing the wide-open little hands, as though they were soft springs, and putting them into linen garments, such pity for the little creature came upon him, and such terror that she would hurt it, that he held her hand back."And again here you see the softening change:
. . . "Look, now," said Kitty, turning the baby so that he could see it. The aged-looking little face suddenly puckered up still more and the baby sneezed.
Smiling, hardly able to restrain his tears, Levin kissed his wife and went out of the dark room. What he felt towards this little creature was utterly unlike what he had expected. There was nothing cheerful and joyous in the feeling; on the contrary, it was a new torture of apprehension. It was the consciousness of a new sphere of liability to pain. And this sense was so painful at first, the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy and even pride that he had felt when the baby sneezed."And during the first few hours. . . I felt that same weird disconnected feeling and panic and worry. Levin's reaction, while different, was enough like my own that I took comfort from it. It's still dicey talking about it, because, like I said, it feels like a betrayal.
But again, I needn't have worried. Sometime between naming her and holding her, in feeling her warm little body resting against my chest she took root and the flower that bloomed changed my world. I became a ridiculous puddle of a man, tearing up at Polaroid commercials and unable to watch television shows that depicted the suffering of children. Once I left the room during a CSI episode where a father had left his baby in a car to die.
"If you're watching that, I'm going downstairs," I told Leslie, sanctimoniously, and she rolled her eyes and turned the channel even as I stood at the door, poised to leave. It made me physically ill.
I was watching a Jet Li movie. . . JET LI! . . and the bad guy killed his daughter, and I was running on the treadmill (about Emma's age at the time of the movie). . . and I my jaw just dropped, and I shut off the movie and said "Fuck you," and got off the treadmill and didn't return to the movie (or treadmill) for a week while I. . . what?. . . mourned?
And the more time I spent with Emma the more time I wanted to spend with her, and when I leave my family, her love is like a bungee strap stretched taut, that I NEED to snap back to.
So Emma turns ten today.
The day before yesterday I went to kiss her goodbye when I dropped her off at daycare and she turned her head away. I cocked my head at her and whispered, sotto voce, "do you not want to kiss in front of the other kids anymore?" and she just looked at me and smiled, and, uncertain how to interpret that, I smiled and kissed her forehead instead and hugged her and told her I loved her and left, sad that perhaps she was approaching "That Age", where her fear of her peers' opinions starts molding her childlike innocence into jaded adolescence.
I've always known that day was coming. I've made my peace with it. But I'll remember it. Maybe my parents can remember when I started turning my head, no less in love with them, but embarrassed by what my friends might think.
But even while she leaves daddy's girl behind, I'm still so proud of the young lady Emma has become. And while she has her moments of whiny selfishness, she's mostly just a good kid with a lot of grace and poise, a great sense of humor, and a healthy dose of self-esteem.
Monday she's going to try out for the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade talent show. Apparently it's pretty cut throat. Some of her friends have already decided to back out because they don't think they'll make it past auditions. Emma will be singing "Defying Gravity" solo. No chorus class. No vocal training. She just has a pretty voice and wants to sing, and isn't afraid to stand up on stage and just do it, come what may. She knows she may not make it to the show itself. If you don't understand how proud of her that makes me let me speak more plainly. I am so proud and amazed by this. Defying Gravity? Are you fucking kidding me? Have you heard that song? Solo? In front of her peers and faculty? Who raised this kid?
The pride helps soften the blow that maybe she's getting a little too old for good bye kisses. The next night I let her know that if it made her feel uncomfortable we can just hug and that it won't hurt my feelings. She shook her head, and said no, it didn't make her uncomfortable, but she's very sensitive to hurting people's feelings, so I just said, "okay. . . " and let it drop, unsure of where she stood.
I dropped the girls off at daycare this morning. We carried a bag of cupcakes to share with her class as a birthday treat and she went downstairs to the "big kids room" while I took Lily up to her room. I got Lily situated before I climbed down the stairs to give Emma her hug goodbye.
Emma turned 10 today. She's getting almost too old for good bye kisses from her Daddy in front of her friends. Almost. . . but not yet.
"Happy birthday, Emma, have a great day at school. I love you," I told her, hugging her tightly.
"I love you too Daddy," she said, oblivious to all the drama going on in my head and heart, and I left the daycare and drove to work.
|First Penguins game|
|Helping around the house|
|Goofy, with her nose-warmer|
|Shining on stage|