so this is it, this is what it feels like to be the male of the species, a male who's about to become a father. this is what it's like to be standing on the other side, to be on the outside looking in, watching the person you love pass through a range of stages and emotions—bored, uncomfortable, in incredible pain, distracted, apprehensive, jubilant, impatient—not being able to do much to help, and feeling somewhat invisible, useless, helpless.
a few words—kind, soothing words, softly spoken, mixed with a little humor—that's pretty much it in my bag of tricks, although i suppose that's better than nothing. after all, in the "old days", days not very long ago, i wouldn't even have been allowed this, to be here in the labor/delivery room touching my daughter's shoulder, her head, her hair, trying to come up with the right words to say.
earlier in the day—nine hours earlier, to be exact.....
i hear a ringing sound. ringing—is it that, or is it something else?
my sleep remains heavy and undisturbed on this night and into the early morning hours, the sleep of the dead, as they say. far, far in the distance i hear bells; no it's music—that's it, music, not bells—almost inaudible violins playing beside a river, and the sound is traveling along the water toward me. or is it the sound of guitars, both sad and sweet, that i hear? no, i was right the first time. they are bells, cathedral bells, high above this ancient city built with many hands and heavy sweat and ancient stones.
i stir. sleep lifts. i begin to come out from under muffled slumber and dreams. i realize it's not bells, it's the phone that's ringing, brrrring-brrrring-ing in my head. i have been waiting for this call for what seems like forever—twenty months plus another nine—since the beginning of failed effort, and then when the words infertility and IVF—harbingers of both horror and hope—were introduced, and IVF was considered and tried, failed, and was eventually successful.
when the call comes i am unprepared. i have been prepared for weeks, ready for the call, but now, on this morning when it finally comes, i happen to be in the deepest of sleeps. i am disoriented in my drug-like slumber. why is the phone ringing at such an odd hour? my fingers blindly claw at the table beside my bed. at first i can't find it; when i finally do, the numbers on the dated (translation: ugly—it really should be tossed), 1980's general electric, brown plastic clock/radio/phone shine a bright and cheery four fourteen at me. then i hear her tired, happy, slightly quavering voice. mom, we're at the hospital. my water broke at 1 a.m..... and i wish i had wings and could fly to burlington to be at her side this instant. i am still groggy when i say we'll be on the highway by eight and hang up the phone. but, suddenly, i am wide awake. for me, the world is going to be different from today onward. i am going to be a grandmother.
the drive to vermont feels endless. when we're within a half hour of our destination we have to stop to let alex and kevin's dog, montana, out for a pee, and fill up her food and water dishes before we can continue on our way to the hospital.
and here we are. after many hours of keeping alex company, three of us must leave the labor/delivery room with the bird's eye view of lake champlain—it's time for her to start pushing her baby out. we try to wait patiently. i feel abandoned, left out—once again, male-ish—like fathers must have felt until about 40 years ago when they were finally allowed into the inner sanctum of blood and pain and joy. i wait, staring at the old-fashioned wall clock, watching the second hand's annoyingly perfect round and round promenade, for this most modern of fathers to walk through the door of the waiting room—once he has cut the umbilical cord and done some bonding—and announce the birth of his baby. (i have honestly never glanced up at a clock or at a door so many times in my life.) it will be near sunset when the waiting is over.
i marvel. the tiniest humans, the newest arrivals on this planet, carry with them such small parts—miniature orifices, appendages and limbs—parts that have never before felt the earth's warm air, or their mother's or father's touch. their noses have never smelled this world or any world, nor have their tongues tasted warm mother's milk. their eyes have only known darkness, their ears only muffled vibrations.
in the morning light his eyes open and he gazes at his mother as she holds him in arms that have ached for him. i try to handle my emotions. i blink away tears and blow my nose. i am convinced his infant stare is deep and knowing, like that of an old, old soul. but, of course, that cannot be. that's impossible.
an old soul in a new body. why impossible? maybe it's not such a far-fetched idea. within even the tiniest of newborn babies, under the soft, delicate, brand-new skin, lies the ancient, the unknown, the unfathomable, some small inkling of what we are, where we come from, how we have come to be. hidden inside each infant is a kind of universe, the hint of a thing that is old, very old—the origin of us all—and also a foretelling of what has never been seen, but, in time, may be.
every baby is a beginning, but he also contains the possibility of beginnings—the possibility of life for the next generation—inside him. he is who he is, but he is also the past and the future combined into one. as he journeys into his new world, he brings with him an unbroken link to an old world—those souls in his line who existed before—and an extension into the future, to those who will exist in a time far off, a time which has not yet even been imagined.
welcome, my little boy. welcome.