The First Time
Sept. 20, 1996
It begins with urine. Usually, peeing is not a task you want to spend much time thinking about, but today it was the most important thing in my world. That's because my wife, Judy, used a home pregnancy test and turned the stick pink. Which I now know is the color of prospective parenthood.
Judy had her first gynecologist appointment today. She brought home a sonogram picture of the little guy (or girl), and, while I was happy to see it, I think I was expecting too much from it. To me, the hazy picture looks more like a weather map of the U.S. in the dead of winter, and the baby's head has all the clarity of a tiny snow squall over Des Moines.
I'm not sure how to begin here. These are some of the toughest words I've ever had to write, because putting them on paper makes it all so final. Our baby is gone. Judy has had problems with bleeding for several days now, and I had pretended I wasn't worried. This was normal, I insisted, as if I knew anything about the matter. Of course, I was wrong. The doctor informed us this afternoon that Judy had miscarried. It's only now, in this moment of loss, that I really can see how badly I wanted this child to happen for us.
The Second Time Around
Feb. 17, 1997
We're baaaaaaaaack! The stick is pink again. Based on previous experience, I think we'll adopt the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy for the time being and try to keep this pregnancy a secret.
I just had my first official baby dream. I'm in the frontyard of our old house, holding my new son. He's the size of my palm, and I think that's perfectly normal. I stroke him affectionately on the head, the way I pet my cat. I'm guessing this dream is an indicator that I still have a lot to learn about proper parenting skills.
It's Amnio Day. Because of Judy's age, 34, her doctor suggested she have the test to make sure all is going well. The sonogram portion of the program went well. For the first time, I saw little hands, little arms, little legs and feet. I looked at the tyke with the same fascination I looked at "E.T.," a baffling yet adorably surreal creature from another world. I felt in awe, yet at the same time, more content than I ever have.
Then came the actual amniocentesis test. Yes, there is a needle involved. And yes, it is actually poked right into the womb. All went well. Judy said she barely felt the process. All I could think about as I watched was: Welcome to the first annual Glad I'm a Guy Day.
We've decided we do not want to know the baby's sex. The gender is one of the few mysteries we could have left, and I like that idea. In the meantime, I would like some way to refer to the spudlet besides "it" (that just sounds too "Addams Family"). After much debate, we've settled on Bootsy.
The verdict is in. The amnio results came back clean, and Bootsy is one happy bundle of healthy chromosomes. Now I'll have to find other things to worry about, like what college he'll get into. There was one problem with today's report, though. The nurse messed up and told Judy the baby's sex. I won't let her tell me.
Here's a surreal moment. During dinner, I looked at Judy and I swear she looked bigger than when I saw her at breakfast. She looked terrific, certainly, but larger. It's almost like a magic trick.
Everybody knows about the mood swings a mother-elect goes through, thanks to hormones that flood through her body like the Atlantic Ocean through the Titanic. But what about dads-to-be? As far as I know, I'm not experiencing a hormone surge, but I am starting to deal with raging emotions. Suddenly, I see a dad talking to his baby in the grocery store or a news story about an abandoned baby and I get as choked up as I did when the Boston Red Sox blew Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
We have movement. Judy has been telling me for weeks now that she was feeling something swimming around inside her belly, but tonight was the first time I put my hand on her and felt it too. The sensation was exhilarating. And odd. There's something about feeling one life paddling around inside another that causes the little hairs to stand up on the back of your neck.
Don't get me wrong. There really is a special kind of sexiness that only a pregnant woman can display. It involves an air of confidence, of fulfillment, that is hard to resist. Still, the magic is pretty much on hold when your wife asks you to cut her toenails because she can't see them anymore.
Judy and I finally got around to seriously discussing what to name Bootsy. She has the advantage here, knowing the gender, but after surprisingly little discussion, we settled on a moniker for both sexes. Roman for a boy, Isabella for a girl.
It was another long, trying day at work today, but when I came home and saw how beat Judy was, I learned a valuable lesson all dads-elect should remember. No matter how tough things might be, you've now lost your right to complain about anything. She carried around a living being in her stomach all day.
Two quick thoughts here on Lamaze classes. First, never start giggling when your wife should be learning breathing techniques. This doesn't go over well with the teacher. And second, after watching a couple of films with women giving birth, I would like to know exactly what person says, "You know what? Please let a camera capture me with my legs wide open and a baby head sticking out, and show that film to thousands of strangers for the next 20 years."
So much for the Lamaze training. Judy's doctor decided today that a C-section was in the cards. The baby is too big and won't drop. That means in two days, we'll have a baby Roman (Judy let the gender slip). Amazing.
The Special Delivery
Oct. 1, 12:45 p.m.
We arrive at the hospital calmly, much different from the mad rush I pictured. Now, we sit waiting for the surgery and watching a Cary Grant movie, while outside the panting, uncomfortable moms-to-be trying for a natural delivery are led around by anxious husbands.
In the delivery room, holding Judy's hand as I sit on the less-active side of the curtain. Judy's crying from excitement, and perhaps the drugs. The doctors and nurses are all focused on their jobs. And all I can think about is, "Hey, the door to this room is open!" You'd think something this intimate required a closed door.
No Lamaze class video can ever prepare you for this. I peek over the curtain at just the right time, and while I'm sure the scene is horribly gory, all I see is a tiny head poking "Alien"-like out of Judy's belly. I blink, and there's the rest of him. I make this funny squealing noise, and he's starting to scream. I'm thinking, "If I don't get that guy in my arms right this second, I'm going to hurt someone." Judy's crying, but I'm feeling giddy.
So far, I've changed my first diaper (got peed on) and marveled at exactly how loud a small baby really is. Now, the nurse has just wheeled him down the hall to the nursery so we can enjoy one last night of sleep. Of course, "night" is now only going to be three hours long, tops, before feeding time. I don't care. Less than 24 hours ago, he wasn't here. I can't imagine a time when I didn't know him.
The Real Deal
It's Going Home Day. Roman was released from the hospital this afternoon, and for the first time, I feel like a real parent. I've never driven slower and more cautiously in my life. I drove down Sunset Boulevard, refusing to pass a Vespa.
A good night's sleep will now just mean that at some point, you sleep.
This will undoubtedly go down as the longest night of my life. As I write this, I sit in the neonatal intensive care unit, staring at Roman as he sleeps inside an incubator and realizing just how fragile life truly is. The trouble began about 10 last night. He wouldn't stop fussing. By 11:30, he was crying so hard he was turning precisely the sort of red you don't want your baby to be.
After three calls to the doctor, two temperature-takings of 100-plus, and one projectile poop, we loaded a screaming Roman into the car at 1 a.m. and headed for the emergency room. I'll never have a longer ride in my life than the seven minutes it took to get there. And I'll never hear a more heart-clutching phrase than the one the nurse used as she took Roman into the ICU: "You don't want to be in here right now."
I knew having a baby meant sleepless nights. I didn't think they'd be spent in a deserted hospital waiting room, watching every second tick by. It wasn't until about 3 a.m. that a doctor could come speak to us. Roman's temperature was down. Outside of some dehydration and maybe a little jaundice, he seemed fine now. There was just one catch. He would have to stay in the ward for at least two days, until his test results came back. We drove home a two-person family once again.
We were finally able to bring Roman back home this morning, and as happy as this made me, I also felt awfully guilty. I thought we were ready for parenting. We hadn't wanted him to get sick.
Roman's nighttime crying seems endless. He's eating at 3 a.m., and after that, he can carry on crying and groaning like the Tasmanian Devil for two hours or more. His scream feels like a giant drill bearing down on the base of my skull. And as he's fussing, I'm rocking him and singing to him in a futile attempt to lull him back to sleep. Every night, as I go through this routine, I feel like a failure. Just when things couldn't get lower, though, an amazing thing happens. He closes his eyes and dozes off. And suddenly, as I crawl back into bed with him, I feel like the best parent in the world.
By accident today, I discovered a song that instantly calms Roman down whenever he hears it. I tried it five times and saw the same result. I always thought babies were soothed by lullabies. I've got a kid who only relaxes to the salsa beat of Buster Poindexter.
You hear a lot about the trauma of the working mom. Well, I'm learning that working dads don't have it much easier. Lately, when I leave in the morning, Roman is asleep. When I get home in the evening, my arrival seems to coincide with fussy time. I get to hold him as he squirms and screams. And then, eventually, sleeps. I go to bed worrying that we're not making a connection, and I know how important bonding is.
Last night was a bit of a miracle. For the first time, Roman slept six straight hours. Finally, we have a real breakthrough.
Scratch that. He's back to waking up every three hours. It was fun while it lasted.
I've been a bit envious of the fact that Judy gets so much time alone with Roman. I want some as well to get the bonding started. Tonight I got my chance, and I've learned to be very careful what I wish for. I stayed home with Roman while Judy went to her company's Christmas party. She was going for a mere three hours, and I figured, what harm could happen in three hours? (But then, Gilligan, the Skipper and the passengers were just going on a three-hour tour.) The night was a disaster. Roman just kept looking at me and crying the entire time. I'd never seen him so out of control. He wailed until five minutes before his mommy came home, so she assumed everything went fine. I know babies just fuss sometimes, but tonight I feel like a failure as a father.
Now that Roman has actually started to become something more than a lump of flesh, making eye contact with us and grinning occasionally, I find myself working hard to be the focus of his attention. I want to make him laugh. I tell him jokes. I dance around. I make funny noises. I don't think any stand-up comic on open-mike night works harder than I do.
Feb. 12, 1998
Here's a real '50s sitcom moment. As I was leaving for work I called out, "Goodbye, Roman," and with no prompting, he turned to look at me . . . and smiled. I may never get to work on time again.
Progress isn't painless. First, Roman began teething today. We could tell by the bucket-loads of drool coating his clothes and the piercing screams he periodically emits. Second, he officially outgrew his first toy. His bouncy chair has been exiled to the garage, and the pain was all mine.
Now that Roman goes through the night without assistance from his mommy's milk, I work the night shift. If he stirs at all from midnight to 7 a.m., he's my responsibility. And thanks to this, I've developed the power of super-hearing. If he so much as snorts at 3 a.m., it wakes me right up. Of course, this ability isn't universal. Judy can stand right next to me and ask me to do a chore and I can't hear that.
The day began well, with Roman getting a clean bill of health at his six-month checkup. Then, it took a sharp turn south when I opened my mail to find that a book proposal I'd worked on for months had been roundly, and rudely, rejected by nearly two dozen publishers. Feeling as low as I'd felt in the past year, I came home just in time to see Roman go to bed. He lay there in his crib, eyes shut, arms spread out, snoring slightly and looking perfectly content. I stood there for a very long minute, just staring at him. And feeling more proud of my role in creating this boy than I ever had. I just knew he was going to be more important to the world than any book I could ever write. Life isn't about me and my trivial struggles anymore. It's about this vision in a Pooh nightie that I can't take my eyes off of.