Irene has grown more beautiful as her belly enlarged. Men pay more attention to her when we’re in public now, their flirtations have grown bolder. I don’t understand why she feels uglier with each passing day. “I’m fat,” she says. “No, you’re pregnant,” I answer. She can’t see the difference.How can someone who is simply overflowing with the raw power of life, who exudes it from every pore, feel ugly? She is The Goddess incarnate.Unless all she notices is the vomiting when the wrong odor assaults her nose or the wrong thought crosses her mind, or having to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes, or the backaches and physical difficulty moving around. These embarrass her, another thing I don’t understand.But then, I’m not the one growing the baby. I envy her.
It’s been long hours in the birthing room now, and we’ve all grown impatient. The midwife comes in, I tell her the time between contractions, she goes and has a peek. “One hour” the doctor says, “and then she’ll be about ready.”
“God, like a roast or something,” I think. I’ve been feeling sorry for her since we arrived. Poked, prodded, treated like a slab of meat on the butcher’s bench. Not at all given the respect due a deity. She hasn’t seemed to mind, or even notice. But I noticed.
She says “John, I think I wet myself”. I look away from the clock, and see that she has indeed unleashed a flood. “Your water broke”. I call the midwife.
The midwife returns and the room is a flurry of action. “There’s meconium in the water. Probably nothing, but it can mean complications. We’re going to strap you into this fetal monitor just to be sure.”
I laugh and point out that this is the machine that goes “ping” from that Monty Python movie. We amuse ourselves briefly by repeating “ping!” back to the monitor every time it speaks.I take my place by Irene’s head, to fulfill my role as coach. The one I’ve been training for months to do. Breathe. Soothe. Be her guide. With each contraction, the midwife eyes the monitor uneasily. I see a decision click in her head.The midwife says “Until I say so, don’t push with the contractions any more. You’re going to want to push. A lot. But don’t. Don’t push.” I’m a little confused by this. She looks at one of the nurses standing nearby and says “cord”.A half dozen people materialize out of thin air, and the room is suddenly full of chaos. Orders are barked, things get done, but there’s no discernible system to it. It’s the precise riot of a group of people who’ve done this a million times before.The midwife tells us “The cord is wrapped around your baby’s neck, and it’s tightening when the contractions come. We’re going to try and slip the cord off of its neck. Don’t push until we say to, and then push as hard as you can.” Irene cries “But I need to!” I allow her to break my hand instead.A stranger pops her head into the room, and says “we’re ready in operating room B”. Panic fills my body, and anger fills my brain. My god, we’re going to have a cesarean. “JOHN!” the midwife shouts, “help her breathe!”. I try, but I’m half insane now, fighting off tunnel vision. “PUSH!”I freeze. I have forgotten everything. I don’t know what to do. Terrified. God, I’m not even a dad yet and I’m already fucking this up.
I’m not sure what has happened, or even how long it took. There is no time. There is only now. And right now, my daughter is singing to me, in the dulcet tones of a baby’s cry. The midwife wraps our daughter in a blanket, hands her to me, and orders me to follow a nurse. Irene cries out “let me hold him,” but the midwife explains that there has been distress, the baby needs to be examined immediately.
Irene is enraged, and she shoots me a look, trying to thwart my impending abduction of her baby. “We’ll be right back,” I say as I carry our bloody baby away.
I follow the nurse into a tiny adjoining room dominated by a table flooded with light from heat lamps. My baby is taken from me, put on the table, and a detailed examination begins. The little room has filled with people, literally packed so tight that nobody can move. They’re all oohing and aahing over the newcomer.
A voice says “who’s the father?”. A different voice answers “the one that’s crying.” I look up through my tears and realize that they’re talking about me. I’m crying. I’m The Father. I hadn’t noticed, but now that I know, the tears flood forth with even greater urgency.
My child is returned to my arms, and I take her to my wife, who immediately begins nursing her. She looks at me, dips a finger in my tears, and tastes it. She smiles. She has never been more beautiful.A part of me dies.It had to, to make room for the part that was born.