My wife and I greatly looked forward to our daughter being born long before we even knew she was our daughter. Once we did find out she was a girl, we already had a name picked out. The name we chose was Autumn and it was the favorite of both of ours for a variety of reasons (it also happened to be the only name on which we agreed). We made many plans for the big day. As it drew closer, Chrisie packed a bag and I started backing her car in so I could drive straight out without turning around. Everything was in place and we were ready. I thought I was prepared, but of course I wasn’t completely prepared at all.
On Saturday, April 3, 2004 we had a feeling, even though Chrisie’s doctor had scheduled her to be induced the next Tuesday. For Chrisie it was anticipation and excitement. For me it was an odd mix of excitement and terror. We spent most of the evening with some friends at our house who didn’t leave until shortly after midnight. By the time we got settled in bed, it was almost 1:00 AM. Even with the feeling, we both managed to fall asleep.
I slept soundly and well, right up until 2:00 AM. Well, actually, the time changed at the same moment I woke up (this was before George W. Bush decided we needed to lose two hours in March instead of April), so it was 3:00 AM (somehow I didn’t feel like I got that other hour of sleep). I woke up because Chrisie was standing by the bed.
“Leighton!” she said excitedly.
“What?” I managed.
“No, no. That’s Tuesday, Honey.”
“No, it’s now! I think my water just broke.”
I jumped out of bed, but still asked, “You think or you know?”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“Okay,” I said as I dressed, “Crap!”
“It doesn’t work like this, does it?” I had tried to put on a second pair of underwear.
Chrisie laughed and then we both were sure her water broke. We got everything together and piled in the car. I patted myself on the back for the forward thinking of backing in and sped off.
“I think I’m having a contraction.”
“You sure?” She grabbed my arm and squeezed. Hard. She was sure.
We made it to the hospital without incident. I didn’t even get to run a red light. We passed the Emergency Room’s usual early morning assortment as approached the registration desk. When Chrisie said she was in labor, the attendant looked up and cocked her eyebrow.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Chrisie’s labor had an excellent sense of timing because a contraction hit just that moment. She grabbed my hand in hers and crushed it. I did my best not to cry out. I failed. Don’t judge me, it hurt.
“I guess you are,” the attendant decided and finished processing our forms.
We made it up to a room. A very nice room. There was a few chairs and an incredibly comfortable recliner for me. Chrisie settled in the bed as the nurse hooked up various monitors. We looked at each other with expectation. We were excited about finally seeing Autumn without the aid of modern medical equipment. Good thing we didn’t know it wouldn’t be for another thirteen hours or so.
Part of the reason it took so long was that they came in and purposely slowed Chrisie’s labor because the floor was full (it was a full moon) and there was also a somewhat difficult twin birth (so they told us).
Soon after the morning shift started, Chrisie began asking about her epidural. Actually, she had been asking all night, but now she asked pointedly.
“The doctor won’t order you’re epidural until you’re dilated enough. Let me check you.”
I made sure to stand up by Chrisie’s shoulders as the nurse checked.
“You’re close,” she pronounced, “but not close enough. Do you want me to help you along?”
“Whatever it takes.” Chrisie really wanted that epidural.
“Okay, Dad,” the nurse said, “Come here. I need your help.”
“Okay. Wait, what?”
“I need your help,” she said as she snapped on a glove.
I cautiously approached the foot of the bed.
“Here, hold this,” she said as she handed me my wife’s left leg.
“Um, what am I supposed to do?”
“Throw it over your shoulder and press it to her chest.”
I did while the nurse did the same with Chrisie’s other leg. Then she took her gloved hand and did things to my wife I’m pretty sure are illegal in a few states.
“All done,” she said. It wasn’t long before Chrisie got her epidural.
Things got a little weird after that, because she wasn’t as aware of her labor for a while.
“Hey, you’re having a contraction,” I said during a quiet moment when we were alone.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Can’t you feel it?”
“Well, the little machine over there indicates you’re having one.”
“I wish I’d have more and they’d come in here and get this over with. I am ready to have this baby.”
“Me too,” I assured her, “I even have my line ready if the doctor asks me to cut the cord.
“You have a line?”
“You have a line ready for when our baby is born?”
“Yeah, I like to be prepared.”
Eventually, it was time and the petite little nurse that had helped us since the morning shift started came in. She examined Chrisie and said, “It’s time.”
I flushed with excitement until the nurse also said, “Okay, Dad, I need your help again.”
“Um, I kind of planned on staying at this end of the bed, you know, to support my wife and all.”
“Well, get down here and support her leg.”
“But I . . .”
“It’s just you and me right now and I need you here helping me.” I go down there.
When I did I saw the very top of Autumn’s head.
“Chrisie! I can see our baby! I can see our baby!”
“Would you like to see?” the nurse asked.
Chrisie surprised me by indicating that she did, in fact, want to see. The nurse got the mirror and positioned it for Chrisie.
“Okay, never mind,” Chrisie said. I still had to stay holding her leg of course.
After what seemed like a very long time, the nurse told me I could go back to the head of the bed.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s about to get crowded down here.”
Then a lot happened at once. The nurse put Chrisie’s legs in the stirrups, raised them high, and spread them wide. Then she turned on two extremely bright lights trained, well, you know where they were trained. Then something funny happened. All night and morning long people would knock before they came in. Chrisie was completely covered with blankets but they still only cracked the door and asked if they could come in. Now that she was completely exposed though, people I had never seen before flooded the room.
The doctor came in and told Chrisie to push. It was about 4:00 PM. Chrisie pushed. I moved back and forth between the head and foot of the bed because Chrisie wanted reports. I was down there at exactly the wrong moment once because the doctor asked for episiotomy scissors.
“What are those used for?” I asked. He showed me. There are things husbands should really be warned about.
After a while, Autumn’s head was out, then her shoulders, then she was gone. Before I knew what happened, they had her across the room. They weighed and checked her. I realized I had learned enough about childbirth and went to look at my gorgeous baby girl.
“Time of birth,” the doctor said, “4:34 PM.”
Maybe it was because I didn’t get to say my line about the umbilical cord. Maybe it was because I had very little sleep. Maybe it was because sometimes you just have to say something. Maybe it was because sometimes I’m just plain stupid. For whatever reason, I looked right at my wife, the woman who just gave birth to my first child after over thirteen hours of labor and said, “You couldn’t have waited just ten more minutes?”
“You couldn’t have waited ten minutes? Her birthday’s already 04/04/04, it would have been really cool if she’d been born at 4:44, that’s all.”
I cannot accurately describe her expression, but I believe it would be right at home in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
Finally, they were done checking over Autumn and they brought her over and lay her on Chrisie. Fortunately, I still had the camera and took my favorite picture that day. Chrisie doesn’t like it, but it’s my favorite because it’s the first time I saw Autumn’s eyes open. It’s also the moment I ran headlong into the cliché of a father seeing his child for the first time. It thought I was prepared for the rush of overwhelming emotion and love I had for those two. When I saw my wife and daughter together, I realized I wasn’t prepared at all.