“It feels so unreal, was it the same for you?”
– Brother-in-law, 48 hours before the arrival of his first-born
Apparently, only four percent of children are born on the actual due date, which, to me, makes the whole concept of having one date simply ludicrous. If that’s the best they can do, why not simply give the parents a good ballpark guestimate, say, a week, and leave it at that.
I was still asleep that morning, a Thursday, over seven years ago, getting ready for another day at the office. Well, obviously, not getting ready, just sleeping. But I got up in a hurry when Wife (then known as Girlfriend) yelled from the shower that her water had broken.
I got up – jumped up – and we looked at each other, baffled. The bag had been packed, and sitting by the front door for a couple of weeks, with Yatzy, and books and clothes, and we had graduated from the birthing classes, even survived the way-too-graphic images they showed there.
To be honest, I, on my own, would have failed the class. The way I bathed the practice doll would have drowned a real baby, in addition to cutting the blood circulation to its arms and upper body in general.
But one thing had stuck to my poor little Winnie the Pooh mind at the class. I remembered that even when the water breaks, there was really no rush to the hospital. So, as calmly as I could, I said, “Let’s have breakfast.”
There we were, reading the paper, eating toast, drinking tea, talking about stuff we saw in our newspapers. So, Brother-in-law, even at this point, seeing Girlfriend – your sister – giving birth to a child, and myself becoming a father, seemed very surreal. We were just having breakfast.
A couple of hours later, we decided it was time to go. We lived just four, five blocks from the hospital, the same one where I had been born, so we walked. It was late November, and it had been snowing, so I did the only intelligent thing, put on my rubber boots, and off we went.
We made a couple of stops on the way, Girlfriend had to catch her breath – or maybe just survive contractions – and I was stumbling along in my rubber boots. It was still snowing.
It was nine o’clock in the morning.
I am sure it felt very real to Girlfriend. In fact, I know it did. The only time she didn’t seem to be in great physical pain was when her entire body was reflecting a more massive mental pain, caused by the hidious purple “clothes” she had to wear at the hospital. For me, the worst part was eating hospital lunch of macaroni and cheese, minus the cheese.
But, there were were, playing Yatzy, breaking records even, and watching the home shopping network on TV, Girlfriend wincing every once in a while. Not because of the programming, but because she was about give birth to a baby.
Once, I snuck out to the balcony to make a phone call to the office, telling them that I wouldn’t be coming in that day, but that I’d come in “maybe tomorrow.” While at it, I called a client who had left a message, and told him to talk to my people at the office.
By late afternoon, it still didn’t feel real. It was more like that Friends episode where Rachel gives birth. While “we had been expecting” together, at this point, I didn’t do much.
I just sat by the window, thinking that my feet were really sweaty. Rubber boots weren’t such a great idea, after all.
And then, something happened, somebody said something, we were taken into a dark room, and just six hours later, a baby was born.
For most of “our” pregancy, we were convinced that we were pregnant with a baby girl, so my first words were somewhat stunned “that ain’t a girl’s face.”And it wasn’t, because it was Son’s round face.
My plan had been to check his time of birth on my grandpa’s old watch, but I had dropped it on the hospital floor earlier, breaking it, so I had to look at the clock on the wall. It was 2:58.
It had been 20 hours since we had had breakfast at home. At around 4:30, I finally had to leave. Despite our good intentions, and all the beautiful talk about family rooms at the hospital and at the birthing class, we weren’t so lucky. I said goodbye to my new family, and headed home.
But first: food. Only mothers were entitled to the macaroni dish, so I hadn’t – really – had anything to eat since that toast and the tea at breakfast. I gave myself another pat on the back about the great decision to have a good breakfast at home before going to the hospital.
Just two blocks from the hospital, half way to our house, there was a McDonald’s. I’d like to say the first McDonald’s in the world with a special theme – rock’n’roll – but that may not be true. It may just be a slight exaggeration by the Finns, but anyway, there it was, at five in the morning, and I was hungry. The McDonald’s was closed, though, except for the drive-thru. I walked to the window and knocked. The young deputy assistant shift manager opened the window, tilted his head, and said, “whaddaya want?”
“I’d like a Big Mac… meal, please?”
He just looked at me. Sighed. And then:
“What kind of a drink would you like?”
“A Diet Coke, please.”
I handed him a five-euro bill.
“Hey, I’m not drunk. I just became a father for the first time,” I said.
Click. He’d closed the window.
I stood there for a good ten minutes, just looking in, staring at the staff make my burger, and thinking how beautiful my Son was, how strong my Girlfriend was, and how very unbelievable it all felt.
Clonk. The window opened.
The young deputy assistant shift manager handed me a brown bag. I said thanks, grabbed the bag, and walked towards our apartment which I had left as Boyfriend, and returned to as Dad.
I ate the burger and the fries in an empty kitchen, while sending emails to friends and family, about Son being born.