I wasn’t ready. I never really felt ready. And to be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever feel ready.
But like most other things in life, parenthood comes at you whether you feel ready or not. That’s what it felt like when our first child entered into our world.
As Prepared As We’ll Ever Be
On a Friday night, September 8, my wife Betsy began feeling stomach pains on our way to pick up her mother from the airport. She assumed they were normal stomach cramps and didn’t think much of it, but they continued throughout the night.
On Saturday morning, Betsy woke me up and said, “I think I’m in labor.”
There was a mix of panicked “Oh crap this happening” and a relaxed “Ok let’s do this” feeling at the same time. Thankfully, I only expressed the latter, and calmly said, “Let’s start counting.”
Throughout that day, we walked around and killed time as Betsy went through contractions and I meticulously recorded intervals on my previously download labor app on my iPhone.
We had gone to all the birthing classes and read a bunch of blogs, but that magical number of minutes between contractions never came. Despite how prepared we were with knowledge, Betsy’s contractions didn’t follow the rules.
In the afternoon when Betsy’s contractions just got so painful that she was banging on the walls and floors of our house, we thought “Screw the intervals. It’s time to go.”
We got to the hospital at 4pm, and an instant wave of relief came over me. My goal during the whole pregnancy and labor was to get to the hospital because I knew once we were there, there were nurses who knew what to do. (I had countless nightmares the past few weeks on getting lost when trying to go to the hospital).
Life is Fragile
Betsy wasn’t dilated enough, so they told her to walk around for 2 hours and come back.
So we walked up and down the hospital corridors as she banged on chairs, walls and floors. After an hour, the pain was unbearable and she needed relief.
She went back in needing an analgesic – a shot for pain relief. But while waiting for that, her contractions got so intense that they were happening one right after another with no break in between.
The nurses gave her a shot to slow the contractions down, which resulted in shaking a lot. During this, the baby’s heart rate dropped and the doctor said they needed to do a C-section. So I got suited up.
They gave Betsy an epidural, which I have no idea how Betsy pulled off since she had to hold perfectly still through contractions as they stick a needle in her spine. But after the epidural, the baby’s heart rate leveled out, so they decided to go back to try a vaginal birth.
My heart raced through the entire process, as I was completely helpless to do anything but be at her side and hold her hand. I had complete trust in the doctors and nurses, but it’s difficult not being able to do anything.
It was about 8pm in the eye of the storm.
Betsy’s epidural had her on cloud nine as she laughed and talked with our mothers and friends in the hospital room. She then lied in the hospital bed for another few hours, waiting to be dilated enough.
At 1am on Sunday morning, Betsy began pushing. It’s not quick like the movies. For her, it was a long, slow, painful, and somewhat mundane process.
Betsy pushed for over 3 hours. The doctor tried to suction the baby out – they basically attach a suction cup to the baby’s head and pull. But after 3 attempts, there wasn’t any progress.
So at around 4:30am, the doctors said we needed to do a C-section. It was scary, frustrating, and relieving all at the same time.
35 hours later from Friday night, at around 5:30am on Sunday, September 10, our son Emerson was born into the world.
But after only holding him briefly, he was whisked away into NICU. Due to the long labor and suction attempts, there was a pool of blood on the top of his head between the skin and skull. They needed to do tests and monitor him to make sure there would be no brain damage.
At the same time, his bilirubin levels were high. Ok, short medical lesson.
When babies are born, old blood is replaced by new blood, and that process creates bilirubin, which gets broken down by the liver and pooped out. If there’s a lot of bilirubin, it means the liver isn’t able to keep up with breaking down the bilirubin, so it hangs around in the body. It causes jaundice, which is the yellowing of the skin.
So basically due to all the extra blood in his head and the extra bilirubin produced, his liver couldn’t keep up. Emerson had to hang out under a tanning light to help the break down the bilirubin.
We were in the hospital for 2 nights and then got to take him home. But after only being home for a couple days, we noticed his skin yellowing. He got some tests, and sure enough, the bilirubin levels went back up, so we had to take him back to the hospital and spend another 2 nights there.
I was never really that worried during that week – I had confidence that the doctors and nurses knew what they were doing. I think I was more concerned about me accidentally dropping him.
But the fragility of a baby’s life is a good reminder that none of our lives are guaranteed. Some of the things we stress about just aren’t that important.
My Son Needs a Better Father
Immediately after the birth, I got to hold Emerson for about half an hour while my wife was being stitched up after after surgery.
During that half hour while I held my son, I found myself in tears making a million promises to him – promises I probably won’t be able to keep all the time. I promised to always be there, to love him, to support him, to encourage him, to protect him, to guide him.
I held him many more times that week. I held him for a few minutes at a time when I was able to visit him in NICU. I held his hand through the night at the hospital while he was in his treatment container because he would cry unless someone was touching him. I held him for the first few hours we got home while my wife slept from exhaustion. I held him in my arms at night during the first couple of weeks because he couldn’t sleep in a crib.
Each time I held him, I found myself making those promises. And I realized more and more that I needed to become what I promised him now, not later.
Some of it was simple. I want to have the energy to play sports with him, and to be around for a long time. Since I’m horribly out of shape, I need to be fit and healthy now, not later. So I’ve started exercising every morning and eating healthier, so I can physically be the father my son needs.
In a previous article, I talked about all the things I wanted to teach my son. But I can’t just lecture him on how to be a better person, I need to show it to him by example. I need to be more patient, loving, honorable and courageous. I need to have that character now, not later.
It’s also funny that during the times I hold my son, I pray a lot more. I feel the weight of incompetence and responsibility in raising, and know I can only get through this by the grace of God. I know I want Emerson to have a deeper and more authentic connection with Jesus than I ever have, but that also starts with me showing him what that could look like.
He Changes Everything
The birth of my son has changed my whole life.
I have no time, I have no sleep, and I have no freedom.
But I have abundant love, I have overwhelming joy, and I have renewed purpose.
I need to be a better man for my son. And I need to make this world a better place for him to grow up in.