Sunday, June 19, 2005

When I knew I was a dad

(click on pic for larger image)

Some time ago an expectant first-time dad asked me about my own fatherhood experience, in particular he was curious about when it finally "sank in" that I was a parent. He was excited and a bit anxious about having his first child, but also felt like the whole thing wasn't quite "real" to him yet.

I told him about the day my wife and I discovered we were expecting our first child (it happened to be our first wedding anniversary). I was overjoyed with the news, yet also a bit apprehensive not knowing what to expect as a parent. I was especially nervous about the birth itself. Would my wife and new baby be alright? What if something went wrong? What would my role be in the birth, and would I be able to perform that role well?

Over the next few months I accompanied my wife to most of her OB/GYN appointments, and we saw our unborn daughter for the first time together (on an ultrasound). Later as my wife's pregnancy progressed, we took 12 weeks of childbirth classes together. We had decided on a form of natural, husband-coached childbirth known as the Bradley Method. The classes were very thorough and comprehensive (at least in my opinion). And the fact that the husband was such an integral part of the process with a very definite role to play helped ease the concerns I had about my participation. We also read all the childbirth books, and talked (and talked!) about everything. We wrote a birth plan and reviewed it with our doctor.

I really felt prepared as my wife's due date approached. But somehow, I still didn't feel like a dad and I wondered when I would. Everyone says that the birth of a child changes you forever, but I wondered if that would be true with me. I just didn't feel any different!

We were pretty relaxed when my wife went into labor. We called our doctor who was already at the hospital for another birth. Then we took our time finishing up a few things around the house, took showers, tried to take a nap, etc. By the time we finally showed up at the hospital, our doctor was wondering where we had been and why it took us 5 hours to make the 10 minute drive. :-)

There in the labor and delivery room, I still didn't feel like a dad.

The hours wore on, and on, and on. Things weren't going quite as planned. We were experiencing some difficulties with the birth and my wife and I were both exhausted (she was working much harder than I, of course). With our baby's safety on the line, we were rushed to an operating room for an emergency c-section. That wasn't our preferred outcome of course, but we wanted a healthy baby above all and did what we felt needed to be done.

There, in that cold sterile operating room, my glasses fogging up from my own breath beneath the surgical mask, a nurse handed this little bundle to me. As I cradled our just minutes-old daughter in my arms and gazed down at her little face, rosy cheeks and searching blue eyes... then... then I felt it... and I knew I was a father and what that meant to me. I was a dad at last!

I'd like to wish my own dad, and my father-in-law, all the best today. And a special thank you to my beautiful wife, without whom I would not have had the experiences I have recounted here (I love you with all my heart!). Happy Father's Day everyone.

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