When my wife started labor, we went to the San Diego Zoo

Present at the big moment

When Deirdre went into labor at around noon on May 5, she did the dishes and put in a load of laundry. We called our parents to let them know and to ask for prayers, and then we went to the zoo — walking helps move things along. The day was hot, so we got to see the polar bear swimming while we timed the contractions and the space between them. When one hit, Deirdre would stop walking, maybe hold onto a railing and bend over a little, and start counting. They were coming about nine minutes apart; when they reached four minutes, we would go to the hospital. No feverish running about, no drive sped on by fears of babies born on I-8. This was labor, not an aneurysm — people had been doing this since forever.

After the zoo (she was down to seven minutes at this point), Deirdre sent me to Montana's on University for a burger and fries. We watched Sleepers to help pass the time. By film's end, the contractions were forcing her out of her sitting position and onto all fours, and soon after that, the burger came back to us, along with the fries. She would continue to vomit throughout the labor, necessitating an IV.

I was not perfect in attending to my wife during her travails. I admit to getting caught up for a few minutes by the special effects vehicle Invasion — my washing the vomit bowl and mixing the labor aid (honey, water, lemon juice, Tums, baking soda, and salt) happened to coincide with Luke Perry's final transformation into a bug. (Once he was dead, I snapped out of my stupor and swallowed a healthy dose of remorse.) I admit to sleeping for an hour, despite Deirdre's cries. (In my defense, she told me to sleep.)

But most of the time, I helped — though it was an odd sort of help I gave. Despite her exhaustion, I tried to keep her walking. And when contractions hit, Deirdre dropped down onto the stairs in agony, gasped, "Now," and while her moan changed octave and began to quaver, I checked the second hand on the watch, noted the time, and only then attended to her. I rubbed her back and feet to distract her from the pain, crouched over her and prayed in low tones, "Lord Jesus, bear her up, give her strength, give the grace to bear this suffering. Whatever pain she cannot bear, take from her. Whatever pain she can bear, accept as an offering for her mother and her son, for the salvation of her mother (for her return to the Faith), and the health of her son."

The opportunity to offer up the pain of labor was one reason we decided to join the ranks of those who have drug-free births. Another was that we didn't want the drugs to reach the child, and several people have commented on how alert Finian seems. Finally, Deirdre wanted the experience of giving birth — of pushing the baby out of herself, of having him placed on her abdomen immediately after birth, of that initial contact, that meeting of eyes....

Around 3:00 a.m., we went to the hospital. Tonsillitis, developed five days previous and rendered noncontagious by antibiotics, had reduced me to eating milkshakes and canned peaches, and that, combined with near-sleepness night, has left my memories of the hospital spotty but intense. I remember setting up our CD player in the delivery room, playing Bach's cello suites and then switching to Mozart's horn concertos, which proved to be more soothing. I remember circling the labor and delivery ward, falling to my knees so Deirdre could bend over and lean into me as the contraction hit, our birth coach Nancy reminding her to breathe through it, ride the pain, moan from the gut, sink into the contraction, relax....

I remember that Deirdre wept once, lost heart once, and once asked us to just pull him out I remember that her eyes kept darting about the room between contractions, never resting on me. I remember staring at her face, screwed up with pain and sticky with sweat, as I counted to help her hold her breath as she pushed, my eyes swimming, and thinking she was beautiful. I remember holding one of her legs back, watching her open slowly, fold by fold, and seeing, under the glare of the lamp, the blinding white top of Finian's head amidst the dark, blood-engorged flesh of my wife. I remember the elation of telling her this. I remember weeping when he came, and Deirdre, her pain forgotten, holding him to her and crying that she loved him.

In the past, I have failed to react at big moments. Births and deaths have taken days to sink in. This time, I was granted a moment of joy at Finian's arrival, followed by a quick shift to anxiety. He had more gunk in his air passages than he was supposed to, and the nurse had to suction him out enough times to start me worrying. Only later did the more pleasant emotions come washing over me: the feeling of possession — my son — and the overwhelming love, the adoration that makes everything a baby demands worthwhile.

Whether he feels the same about me is another matter. His first excursion with Dad was to the circumcision table, something we did so that he would look like his father, so he wouldn't get made fun of in the locker room, and because it is customary. All he knows is it hurt, and Dad brought him there. I also get to change him, a ritual that includes rubbing Vaseline on his wounded penis, He hates this, and I pass the penis duty off on Deirdre whenever possible. She, after all, can comfort him with the breast.

As I mentioned, Finian is alert for being so young, with wide eyes and an excellent command of eyebrows. He was born light (six pounds, three ounces) but long (21 inches). Perhaps because of his small size, his face suffered minimal mashing on the way out, so that even though Deirdre and I promised to be honest with each other about his looks, we can both coo over what a beautiful baby he is. He's a kind baby as well, sleeping for five hours at a stretch at night and taking to the breast after a day or so.

For now, he spends his time eating, sleeping, and relieving himself. He is not visibly big on interaction, but I do spend some time every day with him on my chest, chatting and catching his eye. I am beginning to be a father.

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