What it’s like having a kid
In addition to the obligatory book reading and research my wife made me do, every once in awhile during her pregnancy I would do some searches online for “what it’s like to have a kid” or “what to expect when first child arrives” and most of what I found was either written for a Mom or was more clinical in nature. I’m sure I missed some great article or book specifically written for Dads, but for what it’s worth, here’s what it was like to have a kid.
I was laying in bed reading a magazine and my wife walked in looking like she’s about to burst, holding a pee stick in her hand. All she said was, “Adam…” and I knew.
Fast forward 40 weeks later and we’re hurtling down Lake Shore Drive at 11:30 at night, my wife in the passenger seat in some serious discomfort as her contractions are coming on stronger and more rapidly. I was trying to maintain a sense of calm for her sake but my internal panic was probably evidenced by the gas pedal getting closer and closer to the floor. Just an hour earlier she was having some discomfort but it seemed under control. I even made her mac and cheese. Now it felt like I was going to need to pull over on the side of the road and deliver this baby Macgyver style before we were going to make it to the hospital.
Fortunately the baby didn’t pop out and we pulled up to the hospital door and waddled in. A front desk receptionist handed us a couple things to sign and a triage nurse was called to take us in to a room to run some initial tests. The nurse had my wife lay down to check things out and take a bunch of blood. While all this is going on her contractions were getting more intense so I tried playing the role of relaxer, hand holder, and smiler all at the same time. The problem was I’m a little squeamish when it comes to blood and hospitals in general. I’ve never been to the hospital other than to visit other people there, but this was no time to look away, stand in the corner, or ask to lay down! I just hoped I didn’t outwardly display my fear through too pasty a face.
Once the tests were over and the hospital agreed she was indeed in labor(!), we were checked in to a delivery room. The doctor on call came in to perform another assessment and monitors were connected to track the baby and Mom’s heart rate and other vitals. She was still in major pain from the contractions and I felt helpless seeing her that way. I knew there was nothing I could do to help except walk her through her breathing and massage exercises we had learned in birthing class and avoid the sarcastic comments I’m prone to make.
My wife also chose at this point to have an epidural which is a strong numbing agent that works from the chest, down. This would minimize her pain but also tends to slow down contractions. We were clearly in for the long haul.
Once the epidural was given though, my wife’s demeanor changed considerably and we were both a little more calm. The huffing and puffing and groaning had ceased and her ability to speak coherently returned. We had debated the decision of receiving an epidural a great deal because some believe it’s not a “natural birth” if you get an epidural and I’d put us at a midrange granola level with our lives in general, but we decided that for us, for her, it was the right thing to do.
At 2am her contractions had indeed slowed enough that the baby’s arrival was no longer imminent and we tried to both get a little sleep in the hospital room. Realistically I probably got 30 minutes of sleep and instead nervously refreshed Hacker News, Reddit, and the New York Times looking for anything to pass the time.
At about 7am our doctor arrived at the hospital and paid us a visit. We were fortunate enough that the Doctor we had been seeing all along for check ups was also on call that day. She told us everything was going pretty well but there was one thing she was a little concerned about: every time my wife had a contraction, the baby’s heart rate would slow down by about 50%. This was fairly common we were told, and something that just needed to continue to be monitored and addressed by trying to lay in different positions.
An hour later our doctor came in again and took some dilation measurements. No progress over the past few hours, and on top of that, an analysis of some amniotic fluid collected from my wife’s water “breaking” showed the baby had #2’d inside her and had in essence contaminated the path she was supposed to be coming out of soon. So now on top of the heart rate issue, we had another issue working against us. But again we were told this was pretty common and could be dealt with.
After more monitoring, at 10am our third strike came. Fever. Earlier in the evening my wife was running a slight fever. Now her temperature seemed to be climbing precipitously fast at +1 degree per hour. This could be a signal of infection in both her and the baby. Our doctor’s demeanor changed from cheery and supportive to concerned. She strongly advised us that instead of delivering the baby vaginally we needed to consider a C-Section where they make an incision in her abdomen and take the baby out.
A C-Section? The entire pregnancy had gone so smoothly and now all of the sudden we were being presented with a major fork in the road: continue on the path we were on to deliver vaginally which we had read was the very best option for the baby, or have this C-Section. I thought about how prepared my wife likes to be for things, about the walls of ink on pages of to-do items she regularly keeps at home and how organized she is. And how now she was being presented with a major decision that we really hadn’t discussed as much as we probably should have.
At this moment I felt like I was putting my wife’s life and the life of our baby completely in the hands of someone else. We were wholly dependent on their experience, their medical training, their judgment, their general mood that morning! It felt much like it does when I get on an airplane and think, “I’m now in the pilot’s, and God’s hands!”
Medically, however it didn’t seem like there was much up for discussion and we decided to give our doctor permission to do the operation. We told the doctor and nurses who were huddling on the other side of the room of our decision and suddenly everyone sprung to action. Multiple teams of nurses were called in along with additional doctors to help support the operation. I took a few steps back from the bed and became a helpless onlooker as my wife was prepped for surgery. This was all happening way too fast. Suddenly they were wheeling her out and in the commotion we hadn’t even had a chance to say anything to each other. I could only see her capped head and arms hanging off the sides of the bed and a team of nurses and doctors surrounding her as they rounded the corner leaving the room. I sprinted to the door and called to her in the hallway to catch her eye and silently waved.
And then she was gone.
The room where she was supposed to deliver the baby was suddenly empty except for me, my sister who had arrived that morning, and our doula. A nurse presented me with scrubs and I was told I would be going in to the surgery room in 5 minutes. I put on the scrubs and started to pace and tear up and take deep breaths. All I wanted was for my wife to be ok at this point and nothing more.
I was escorted in to the surgery room and was greeted by over a dozen people working the room. It was much colder than the other room we had been in and I was told to sit behind a curtain where I couldn’t see any innards, just my wife’s face. She was trembling and told me she couldn’t feel much and we silently looked at each other as the doctors and nurses did the command and response cadence you regularly see on TV.
Suddenly we hear our doctor call out “Baby delivered, 10:42am.” But there was no cry, no holding the baby, no sound at all other than a team of pediatricians whisking her out to an adjacent room. We were told to expect not to hear anything when she was extracted, but the silence was still awful to experience.
Within 30 seconds though, I was summoned to come in to the adjacent room to see our baby. I was flooded with relief as this obviously meant she was alive and kicking. And indeed, there she was. Our baby girl, stoically laying on her back on a warming table, eyes wide open and slowly kicking her legs and waving her arms. People say this is supposed to be the happiest moment of your life when your child is born. I was honestly too overwhelmed to think about that then. But now as I write this and get a knot in my throat thinking about how big her eyes were and how it seemed she was looking at me as if to simply say “Hi Daddy,” I think it was.
The nurses let me take some pictures of her then wrapped her up in a blanket and let me carry her back in to see her Mom who was still on the operating table. My elation and wonderment quickly changed back to concern as I saw how uncomfortable my wife was. She was shivering uncontrollably and said she felt a distinct pressure in her chest. I held up the baby so she could look at her hoping to calm her down. We both cried and said how beautiful she was. The nurses took the baby from me then to run some tests and I literally had to hold my wife’s arms down because they were shivering so uncontrollably - a side effect of the anesthesia she had been given. Saying I was still “worried” was an understatement, but I took solace in the tone of voices in the room - still calm and collected, even jovial. At those moments I think you look for any sign that things will be ok even though doctors are trained specifically not to lose their cool.
The team finally finished the surgery and we were moved to a recovery room. They brought our baby in and we were able to do “skin to skin” with the baby and even nursed successfully for the first time (ouch!)
And now we were three.
I went out to the waiting room and got my sister and the doula so they could visit my wife and the new baby. Since we were only allowed to have 1-2 people in the recovery room, I stayed behind. I called my parents. I called my wife’s parents. I texted close friends. And then I just sat for awhile and stared at the ceiling.
I realized even with a pregnant wife for the past 10 months I had still been obsessed and stressed about running a company by myself, with listening to music, with reading, with running and what I eat, with watching University of Illinois sports and the Bears. The “stuff” that is essentially me. Having a baby had been so abstract. Sure I had a Wife with a growing belly laying beside me every night, but it still all felt like it was in “the future.” And then there she was, staring up at me from that warming table. Just like that, I wasn’t about me anymore, I wasn’t just a husband, I was now about her. A father. My world and thought process immediately became about supporting her and being a good Dad. About just trying to do the best I can by her and not screw her up too bad. All the hopes and dreams I had for myself suddenly became entwined with hers. It’s become such a cliche these days in politics to say “we must do this for our children and grandchildren,” but at a local level, at my family nucleus level, those words have never rung more true.
Afterall, I’ve got a family now.
p.s. I focused almost exclusively on myself, my wife, and our baby in this post but I would be remiss to not mention the incredible support we got from our friends and families, especially my sister who is even more squeamish about hospitals than I am but was a trooper the whole time, our doula who was a steadying hand throughout our entire experience, our doctor who did a wonderful job presenting us with facts and articulating things clearly and concisely, and perhaps most of all, the nurses at the hospital who were friendly and warm and caring. They truly are the foundation of any hospital. Oh and of course our dog who has taken it all in stride and has a new smell box at home to enjoy.