Recently, I’ve come to realize that my life, at least for the foreseeable future, is going to be defined by my family and my writing career. And that’s due to two factors:
1. My wife and I working our asses off.
2. My realization that at some point, you just have to decide that something Is, rather than wait for it to Be.
I’ve been waiting for this moment. And that’s been the problem. Waiting isn’t the same as creating, isn’t the same as drawing up a plan, taking pause to reflect on the outcomes, and then just taking action.
This is me taking action.
It’s September 16th, 2013. I’ll turn 29 in three days. My debut novel, Whitney, will be released in 28 days. Some changes are afoot for the time after that as well. But for now, for this week, I want to tell you about the the birth of my daughter Luna and the five weeks I spent at home with her.
The piece I wrote is called Everything Since: Five Weeks at Home With a Baby, Five Months as a Father. It’s divided up into four sections. Today, I’m going to release Part I: Arrival. Tuesday, I’ll release Part II: Mother; Wednesday, Part III: Father; and on Thursday, Part IV: Beyond.
Writers—artists, really—look at their work through a fisheye lens. What is most immediate is shown in the sharpest clarity; it’s our best work to date. Everything that came before and will come after, the surrounding material, is blurry, hazy, and obviously terrible.
I’m no exception. I think that what I’m about to share is the best piece of writing I’ve completed up to this point. But I’m fighting that gut belief to trash everything I’ve done before it and cast doubt upon what I’m working on for the future. I’m trying to break the cycle, believe in the work, and hope that, like it or dislike it, you’ll at least respect my honesty.
I like music. I like politics. I like movies and sports and technology. I’m going to post about all of it here—calls for bloggers to narrow the focus of their blogs be damned—and release one longer piece a week that pertains more to my life as a writer and as a father.
My wife and I have been singing to The Kid a lot. New stuff, classics—we spent Father’s Day morning listening to Sgt. Pepper, the actual LP, on an actual record player.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song and I’ll try not to sing out of key.
Everything Since: Five Weeks at Home With a Baby, Five Months as a Father
If I told you that I remembered my first thought when she was born, I’d be lying. I think about it now, five months later, and all I’ve really got are the base elements of memory, separate and distinct fragments. Sounds—the electronic chatter of the machines in the O.R., the voices of the people involved. The fact that a nurse was breaking the chops of the surgeon was a port in the storm; I thought: well, she probably won’t die. People don’t joke if someone’s about to die. I can still hear the practiced calm in the voices of both the midwife and her student. The midwife had a slight midwestern-twang to her speech; the student—nasally, New York City Jewish overtones.
I do remember the feeling of the moment. It felt like surging, after twenty hours spent living in three minute intervals, forward. I remember blankly comforting my wife even though I had no basis for my comforting, as I didn’t know what was happening, my words having no heft beyond the sounds that left my mouth. We were positioned behind the same blue curtain.
I also remember how slowly they pushed the incubator down the hall once she (the other she in my life now) was out and being taken to the N.I.C.U., and thinking: she’s probably not going to die. They wouldn’t be moving this slowly if she was dying.
The best I can do now is look at one of the few pictures taken of me during that week in the hospital. I was—I am—the photographer. My influence is in every picture—the composition, the post production, the dissemination.
But I am in almost none.
But I am in this picture. I had been told to wait outside of the O.R. as they prepared everything, an everything that I knew included a transverse cut into my wife’s abdomen. I was given a papery bodysuit to step into and zip up, the result of crossbreeding a painter’s coverall and a hospital gown. A paper cover for my head (elastic band). A cover for my mouth (strings to tie). The hot smell of my own breath. The pants were baggy (better, I suppose, for the short to deal with excess than for the tall to deal with exposure) and I remember scolding myself for wondering if I looked stupid.
In a cart next to me were our bags—clothes, pillows, a sweatshirt with a clump of lilac torn off the plants that grow in front of our house in one of the pockets. A birth plan that had been abandoned hours before.
They said that they would have me bring the cart to the room my wife would be taken to after the birth, which I took as another good sign: they wouldn’t reserve a bed for someone about to die.
But they forgot about me.
And so there I was, a camera hanging around my neck (the camera I’d bought specifically for this moment, and for the moments after), just—waiting. Civilians passed. They gave me that look that everyone gives each other in hospitals, the look that says “You’ve got pain too, huh?”
At some point, I noticed my reflection in the sliding O.R. doors across from me. Took one picture. Took another. Both while holding the camera at chest level. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen myself (water tubs, birth balls, decels, epidural). I disappeared when the doors slid open. Hospital staff, but not to collect me. Our almost-but-not-quite emergency cesarean section, or maybe somebody else’s, was just their next half hour of work. I was back when the doors closed. I disappeared when they opened again. More staff. Back when they closed.
And then I disappeared when they opened again, and it was the midwife, and the midwife motioned with her hand and said, “They’re ready for you.”
And then I left our cart in the hallway and stepped through myself, where I’d been only moments before, and emerged on the other side the father I am now.