There is very little in your life that doesn't change when you have a child. Even the minutiae of the everyday grind can alter to the point that you question things you once thought you had firmly established in your life. Children can make you give up on a dream or take on a new one, quit a job you once loved to spend more time at home, inspire you to inspire them. This is not entirely surprising; the surprising thing is just how fast this happens.
In 2011, my life changed in the span of a breath. We were expecting a baby, but nothing can really prepare you for what you are about to face. I thought I understood this, so I tried not to form any premature ideas of what life would be like with a kid. Of course there were the obvious changes. I'd have to change diapers, clean up vomit, lose a lot of sleep, and not curse when my kid is around. Then there were the things I came to realize only after thinking about it for a while longer, things like not getting to go on as many dates with my wife, having to be a role model, not getting to play video games very often any longer, not cursing when my kid isn't around. But beyond that, I tried not to over-prepare and instead wanted to take things as they came.
My wife's parents had come to visit for a week, hoping to be there for her when "the time" came. But the week came and passed and she showed no signs of labor, even false labor. Of course, the day they left the contractions began. We were at home, studying up on what to expect and how to have a "painless" childbirth. Instead of taking Lamaze classes, we had opted for an alternative, the Bradley Method, which is much more informed and informing about natural childbirth. However, we missed the deadline for those classes, so instead we learned "Hypnobabies." The idea is to induce self-hypnosis to eliminate pain. It was fine and dandy on paper, but in action that is difficult stuff to do, particularly for someone who is a natural-born skeptic and scientist. We had struggled with classes, with practice, with trying bring my wife into a hypnotic state while I was actively editing the error-ridden script I had to read out loud to her every day. And now we didn't have time for practice; the day had come. The first thing I did was call the midwife. The second was call her parents to come back.
I told my wife to find her switch… to turn it to the "middle." This was to tell her to "shut off" all nerves in her torso… except she was still allowed to move when needed. My wife wondered how she could move or breathe without her nerves off, always the critical thinker. We never did ask the instructor. The midwife was trying to act calm, but after 12 hours with no progress and 5 hot showers for my wife, the stress was starting to form cracks in her veneer. More hours passed and we ended up on the bed. 18 hours of labor and my wife was in the final stages, but the baby made no progress. I suggested that we try a new position. At this point all thought of hypnobabies was gone. All I could do was hold her hand tightly and remind her to breathe deeply between the contractions that turned my wife's face violet. I felt that perhaps I was failing as a father already because we were unable to have a pain-free birth as we had planned, like the couples on so many of the videos we were shown. When my wife rolled over, things, however, moved fast, and those thoughts, too, were gone.
When the midwife was talking in a calming voice, despite the stress, it was soothing. When she spoke faster, more urgently, it became alarming. But when she fell completely silent, my heart stopped. The baby came out, the cord tangled around her neck. Her blue and purple body was limp and lifeless. I don't know how long the midwife and doula worked on her before my wife started to encourage our baby. "Come on, Adelaide, breathe! You can do it!" We were both in tears over someone we hadn't really met yet. Another minute passed before the midwife placidly, yet firmly, commanded me to call 911. To this day, I've never run so fast in my life, but to me it felt like every second was another nail in my daughter's coffin. 4 and a half minutes had passed since Adelaide had been born, and she hadn't taken a single breath yet. Hypnobabies meant nothing. 18 hours of labor meant nothing. 9 months of pregnancy meant nothing. All the poopy diapers in the world were irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was whether or not our child would breathe. It didn't even matter if we could get her to breathe before her brain was permanently damaged. I knew we only had around 4 minutes, total, before the damage started, but she was still our daughter and we still loved her. We just needed her to breathe. The paramedics arrived and set up their equipment.
We all shared in that one, first breath.
Gasp. She struggled but her will was strong, something I have come to learn time and time again since that day. Wheeze. Every piece of my spirit and body felt such an intense reaction. I was on a rollercoaster of fear and elation. She was alive, and so was I for the first time. The love I shared with my wife only bolstered it, so that everything was so much more intense than I had felt before. That is what a child – life – does. It makes everything more intense. Even one breath.