Below is Part II of my essay Everything Since: Five Weeks at Home With a Baby, Five Months as a Father. Part I was posted yesterday. I'd recommend reading it first.
I married a woman who on Monday, April 8th, 2013, two hours after an almost-but-not-quite-emergency cesarean section, performed because of worsening chorioamnionitis, instructed the Recovery nurses to bring her down in a wheelchair to the N.I.C.U. so that she could begin breastfeeding her daughter.
You’re not allowed out of bed yet, they cried.
Well then starting pushing the bed, she said.
Inside our room in the N.I.C.U., I heard the doors open to the unit, the staff-only doors, and I knew it was her. Then I heard her voice. It was Danielle and she was decidedly not dead.
(Keep in mind that once the little one was swaddled and toasting in her warmer, I’d run up to Recovery to make sure Danielle wasn’t dead; found her sweaty and shaky, but alive. My bulging eyes told her that something was wrong with the baby, which of course, wasn’t the case.
I had been moved to tears several times already by the sight of Luna’s tiny mouth—tiny lips smacking apart, exposing a tiny tongue, nature informing her through tiny electronic pulses from a tiny brain to tell whoever was around hey, hand me a breast, would you?—and in response to Danielle’s gentle demand of are you sure everything is okay?, I blurted out something along the lines of, “it’s just so obvious that she needs her mother,” and started crying again.
I regret that statement now, since Danielle wanted nothing more in the world than to be with her too. What I said came more from a place of amazement—here were the visual cues I had spent nine months reading about and I wasn’t in a position to respond to them.
True to form, Danielle just smiled, and comforted me, and told me that it was okay, that she was going to be fine).
I got to see them meet for the first time (outside of our first moments as a family in a frantic O.R.) and nobody in the room (two Recovery nurses, one N.I.C.U. nurse) could move because they had jammed an enormous hospital bed into the space, because that’s the kind of woman I married.
You don’t argue with my wife. You just fit the bed into the room.
I married a woman who would do that same Recovery-down-to-N.I.C.U.-and-back shuffle for five days, several times a day, for the baby’s feedings, back up for her feedings, and for pain meds, and for nurse’s checks. Danielle ditched the bed by early that morning (at some point, we had hospital hamburgers, which I remember as one of the best of my life), ditched the wheelchair by Tuesday morning for a steady hand on the I.V. pole, and on Friday, when she was discharged, and I heard her voice entering the N.I.C.U. again, I exhaled for the first time in five days, even though I would now have to spend the next three nights in the N.I.C.U. sleeping either on the linoleum floor, nestled amongst every towel in the closet, or sitting in the chair (both setups had their pros and cons) because I wouldn’t be alone in this anymore.
I married a woman who, once she was home and healing and feeding, had an edema develop, probably because she moved around so damn much (well then start pushing the bed!), and had to keep her wound dressing fresh because she had fluid leaking from her like cars running their air conditioners at gas stations. And when the doctor told her (because my wife is a midwife, doctors always speak to her the way they really want to speak to all of their patients—the bitter truth wrapped in detached laughter, wrapped in a series of knowing head and hand movements) that the best way, the quickest way, was to just squeeze the shit out of the thing and keep it dry, Danielle took his advice to heart. On several occasions, I walked into the bathroom and saw the woman I married pressing down with interlocked fingers on her abdomen, a lazy Heimlich maneuver, a thin line of rosy fluid jetting out from a tiny hole in the middle of her and into the sink.
I don’t think it was a coincidence that we used the same wastebasket for her medical waste and for the baby’s waste.
I married a woman who frazzled in the weeks after because we had a baby who loved to yell, at times cranky and obnoxious (like her dad), almost from birth. And I’d come home from work and she’d hand her to me, and even though I was busy and juggling a few jobs’ tasks and commuting and getting fat because the gym is the first thing to get moved off of life’s Must Have list once you have a baby, everything would stop and nothing else mattered. Exactly how they’d said it would be. I’d sit and try and figure out who this little person was and why she was in my home.
I married a woman who needed to go back to work after three months because her job is important. As a midwife she helps women, and by extension, their families, through the same process we had just needed so much help to get through. And I get downright stupid and smirky when I think of the little lady we’re going to unleash on an unsuspecting world, primed and ready to enact change after having studied under the the woman that I married.
When we found out that It was a girl, I was worried. Because it’s harder to be a woman in this world. And because I didn’t know how to teach a woman how to be woman. Everything I know is about how to be a man, and even there—not much.
But I realized soon that we’d lucked out. A little boy growing up to be like me—there’s enough men like me in the world.
But the woman I married?
The world could use a few more women like the one I married.
And so when Luna would piddle when her diaper was off, yowl to get your attention and then grin when she got it, or jab you with a fingernail, we’d think: here she comes.