“Becoming a father is easy enough, but being one can be very rough” – Wilhelm Busch
It all started with a pair of double lines on a pregnancy test. I was pacing in the kitchen of our Biddeford apartment, and Beth was sitting vigil with the test as it fermented? Aged? Culminated?
She came out of the bathroom with a test device clearly showing one solid line (negative), and a very faint second line (positive). We tried to convince ourselves that we were imagining the second line. “That’s negative, right?” Beth said. “Yup,” was my reply. “Are you sure?” she countered. “Not even for a second. I’ll be right back.” I flew to Hannaford for two more tests. It’s wasn’t exactly like when you’re younger and you buy a package of condoms with $20 worth of groceries so that they don’t stick out, but I also grabbed a six-pack. The guy in front of me turned around and asked what the beer was for. I told him that either way, I was going to need a cold one. He laughed, and told me that the best part of having kids is that the older they get – the cooler their toys get. He had just bought his son a go-cart.
Obviously, the second time we got two strong lines, or this story would be pointless.
Anyway, I had done all the first time parent stuff: bought the best car seat, traded in the econo-car for a bigger, safer model, went to all the Baby Doctor appointments, and even went to the weekly parenting class at Mercy Hospital. I was ready. I remember going to the car dealership and trading in our Geo Metro, which clearly wouldn’t suffice when it came to carting around a kid, complete with accessories. The guy tried to steer me towards a mini-van. Ha, I scoffed. I’m only 22, and no where’s near ready for a mini-van. I’ll take the Dodge Intrepid, I said. It was big and roomy, and still had at least some “cool factor.”
Not only that, but we were kind of under the gun to have this kid quickly. Beth was in her second year of teaching in Kennebunk, and we were hoping to have Jake as early in the summer as possible so as to minimize the school she’d miss on maternity leave. To add to the stress, Beth was moving from one classroom to another for the upcoming year, trying to get it done before the baby came.
If that wasn’t enough, Beth wasn’t due until July 4th. It was already late June and it was getting hot and sticky.
I remember June 26, 2002 pretty well. I had worked all day, and Beth had spent her day packing boxes full with textbooks, and pushing the loaded cart down the hallway. I prepared a spicy spaghetti sauce for dinner, which is ironic, because she didn’t eat much of it – she was too full of the half watermelon she chose instead. Crazy pregnant ladies and their cravings!
We even went for a bumpy ride and did that other thing you’re supposed to do to induce labor. Beth actually said, as we went to bed at 10:00, “My God, I think we’ve done everything you’re supposed to do to have a baby. And look … nothing.” Little did we know.
She woke up at midnight (probably due to a contraction), and went to pee. A 9 months pregnant woman getting up in the middle of the night to urinate is NOT a newsworthy event. I don’t think I even noticed her absence. Didn’t notice, that is, until she yelled from the bathroom that her water had broken!
No contractions yet, just the broken water. What were we supposed to do? We phoned the maternity service. They told us not to worry until the contractions started and got close together. They actually had the gall to tell Beth to try and get some rest, because tomorrow’s going to be a big day. Morons.
I mentioned that we had taken birthing classes, right? I can remember clear as day the first poster on the flip chart. It was of a smiling woman in “early labor.” She was so happy. She was puttering around her home nesting, and making general preparations. No biggie.
Wait! I forgot! I had never installed the baby’s car seat. “Wait right here,” I told Beth. I set out for the road at probably a quarter-past midnight on the morning of June 27.
Here’s the thing: I was out there for the better part of an hour. I just couldn’t get the latch to secure the seat tightly enough to satisfy me. The buckle part of the seat belt kept getting stuck inside the frame of the car seat if I pulled it as tightly as I thought it needed to be. I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I was jacked on adrenaline, it was 1:00 in the morning, and I was so sweaty it was dripping off my nose. To say I wasn’t thinking clearly is an understatement. I hadn’t even given any real thought to the idea that I was AT LEAST two days away from needing to use the car seat.
I returned to the apartment to find Beth miserable. She had a scrap of paper in her hand she’d been using to keep track of her contractions. They were 3-5 minutes apart. We had skipped right over “early labor.” We went from zero to nutso in no time flat.
That was our cue to beat feet. We piled into the car, and sped towards Portland at 90 mph, easy. I remember Beth sitting on a towel (they always need lots of towels when birthin’ babies in the movies), and holding a bucket, she was so nauseous. We had phoned ahead, so they knew we were coming. Beth’s contractions were frequent, and strong, almost from minute one. We were remembering that smiley lady on the flip chart, and feeling lied to. Beth said that if these were the easy ones, she was screwed.
We paused at the desk just long enough to sign a few consent forms, and then we got to our room. We had a pretty standard first-time, natural birth. Interestingly enough, we used a midwife, so we got a comfortable, intimate little delivery. Nothing like the medical productions we had Olivia or Gabriel in the middle of. Mother and baby were gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes by 7:04.
It was the most amazingly miraculous thing I’d ever witnessed. I’d never seen Beth so strong, and had never been that mixture of thrilled/terrified before.
So, to recap:
1. Eating a half a watermelon before bed can induce labor.
2. Early labor smiles are a load of crap.
3. I have no future in car seat installation services.
4. You can do 90 in Portland at 2 a.m. and never get pulled over.
5. Mercy is a fine place to witness a miracle.
Beth would like you all to realize that my transition from calm, controlled, grown man to flustered, panicked, man-child is the funniest part of this story. I spent nearly an hour trying to install a car seat, for God’s sake. Parenthood does that kind of thing to you. In other news, I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in over eleven years.