About a year into our marriage, my wife and I decided we were ready for the adventure of having a child. Despite our best efforts, it wasn’t happening. We didn’t know why. One night as we were watching television, my wife turned to me and said, “I think you’re the problem.”
She had no medical background; she was going by a woman’s intuition. To set her mind at ease, I paid a visit to my doctor.
My previous doctor had retired. I met the new one as she walked into the exam room. She looked to be in her early 30s, with dark hair and bright red lipstick.
She said she would refer me to a fertility clinic. In the meantime, she suggested my wife and I have sex three times a week. I asked if she could put that in writing.
A month later I went to the fertility clinic. My wife and I were married in our late 30s – hence our urgency. As a bachelor, I never imagined marriage would lead me to a room in a medical office that contained a plastic specimen cup, a sink, a chair, a TV and the DVD “Young and Horny.”
Despite the less than optimal surroundings, I managed to complete my task. It then dawned on me that there wasn’t a secret drawer where I could discreetly leave my sample. Instead I had to exit the room, cup in hand, and walk down the hall, passing several employees, until I got to the last desk where a ponytailed woman was working.
She smiled and thanked me. I did my best to pretend I hadn’t just masturbated and placed a cup of semen on her desk.
The next day my wife brightened after discovering she was pregnant. Which meant she had been pregnant when I was in that stupid room with the pornography. If I had waited just one day, I wouldn’t have had to drive to an office building and humiliate myself. But I was happy. I was going to be a father.
We heard the baby’s heartbeat during our first appointment with the obstetrician. I asked the doctor for the baby’s due date. She took out her phone and used an app to calculate it. “Oct. 10th,” she announced.
From that moment on, Oct. 10 became a date that loomed large.
One night, when the baby was particularly active, my wife placed my hand on her stomach. I waited and waited. Nothing happened. I said, “This is kind of like whale watching.”
In retrospect, that was a dumb thing to say.
You need a birth plan
I didn’t know what I was doing. This was a new experience for me – for my wife, too. We had dinner with our friends Ann and Marc, who had three kids and plenty of insight. Marc was upset when he found out I did not have a birth plan.
“You have to have a birth plan,” he insisted. “You need to know where to park, whether or not she’s going to get an epidural, if there’s going to be a shaman in the room.”
I hadn’t thought of these things because early on, my wife decided she did not want me in the delivery room. There is a park on the grounds of the hospital. I decided I would sit on a bench in the park and maybe have a snack. At some point I would receive a text: “Come meet your baby! :-).”
On Aug. 10, however, my wife woke me up around 10:30 p.m. “Something is happening.” Her water had broken.
I jumped out of bed and thought, “I need to get a birth plan.” First step in my plan: Put pants on. There was just one obstacle we needed to get past: my in-laws. They were sleeping on an air mattress in the living room.
I asked my wife, “What do you want to do about the people in the other room?”
“Just go,” she implored.
We arrived at the hospital in record time.
A nurse examined my wife and explained that the baby wanted to show up early, but they would be able to delay birth for about a month. My wife would have to stay at the hospital. A cot was wheeled in for me.
A change in plans
Despite my wife’s being administered medicine to delay our child’s arrival, her contractions began an hour later. My cot was wheeled out and a pit crew raced in, including two nurses carrying an empty dessert tray. The on-call doctor took one look at my wife and said to me: “The baby is coming. Do you have any questions?”
I was supposed to be in the park. I asked my wife if she wanted me to leave the room. She grabbed my hand so hard I was certain she had crushed the bones in it. There was moaning and breathing and squeezing and pushing. Then there was our baby, smaller than a teddy bear, crying.
Our baby was put on the dessert tray and taken to the neonatal intensive care unit. It’s a place where professional guardian angels care for premature babies 24 hours a day.
That morning I called my in-laws and told them there had been a change of plans. As I awaited their arrival, I saw a group of pregnant women with their husbands taking a tour. They were giddy and chatty, as if on a field trip. I couldn’t help but think, “What a bunch of amateurs.”
After five weeks in the hospital, we finally brought our daughter home, healthy and happy. I was officially a father. And being a father, as I am happily learning, involves a lot more than sitting on a park bench and having a snack.
Carlos Kotkin of Los Angeles is the author of the dating memoir “Please God Let It Be Herpes: A Heartfelt Quest for Love and Companionship.”
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