It was December of last year when I slept with someone. We had been friends, albeit not for very long, before we had sex. Both of us were coming out serious relationships and feeling that emotional and physical loneliness that so often accompanies a break-up. After a party that was hosted at my house, we adjourned to my bedroom and for one night, neither of us felt alone.
In the sober light of the next morning, both of us realized this wasn’t going to be an actual relationship. We agreed that it had been fun, no one had gotten hurt, and that neither of us were in a place where this was a good idea. There were no regrets. Thankfully, there were no tearful admissions of STDs. We were simply two consenting adults who decided to have sex. And then we went our separate ways.
Then I found out she was pregnant. When I say “pregnant” I do not mean she was having pregnancy symptoms or thought she might be pregnant. I mean the kind of pregnancy that has been confirmed by a blood test. Anyone else finding out a girl he had slept with was pregnant three months after the fact would probably have dismissed it off-handedly. But I knew that it was possible for pregnancy symptoms to be dismissed as other things, especially if you aren’t looking for it. I knew that we hadn’t used protection of any kind. I knew that while I had been careful, no one is ever as careful as they would like to believe. I knew that this could be my child.
For the sake of her privacy, I will be purposely vague here: my conversation with the girl in question yielded little to no assurance. Yes, she was dating someone and yes, they had slept together, but only once. She admitted she hadn’t felt quite right for about 3 months and agreed with my assessment: it was possible I was the father. She said she was having another test done, but that the results would take a few days. She promised to call with any news.
Dozens of questions started to fill my head, as one might expect. What would my relationship with the mother be like? Though we had never given a real relationship a shot, I think we both knew it wasn’t something that would work; not to mention parents who stay together just for the kids don’t have a high rate of success. What if she didn’t want me in the child’s life? I have a cousin who is currently in that situation and have heard full well the emotional and legal struggles he’s been dealing with. Some questions were much more selfish. What about me and my dreams? Was I ready to change my entire life plan because of what was essentially a one night stand? I am in the military, but had long ago decided that this would be my final tour. A child would certainly change that.
Oddly, I sought the counsel of an ex-girlfriend. Her reaction was less than encouraging and mostly filled with things like, “Dude, that sucks,” and “What are you going to do if it’s yours?” I surprised myself by responding without hesitation, “I would want to keep the baby. I want to do the right thing.” In a matter of hours since hearing the news, I was already starting to prepare myself for fatherhood.
You see, I am adopted. In all of my 27 years, I have never once faulted my biological parents for giving me up. I was sick when I was born and they didn’t have the financial means to pay for the medical care I would require. They did the right thing, of that I have no doubt. But this situation was different. I am grown man with a stable job and consistent income. I have the means and ability to take care of a child. And that’s what I was resolved to do.
Most unexpectedly, I started to feel confident. I could do this because I can do anything. It became less and less difficult to imagine a life with a baby. Having always possessed a love for and good rapport with children, I felt as prepared as one could be to handle one of my own. That Fight or Flight response that we all associate with being chased by a bear kicked in and my brain – or perhaps my heart – decided that we weren’t going to run from this. If I was the father of this child, then I was going to be a father to this child.
It was almost exactly 48 hours after I received the life-altering news, I got a little more. The tests came back — the baby was not mine. While I had anticipated an overwhelming sense of relief upon hearing this, I was surprised to discover that part of me was disappointed. In 48 hours, I had managed to come to terms with having a baby. While it is possible that these feelings were fleeting, I was still a bit let down by the fact that I wouldn’t be dad quite yet.
But for two days, I thought I would be and I’m thankful for that. I learned a lot of hard lessons over those two days about what really matters, who will be there for you when it counts, and what you are capable of when you have to be. These are, I believe, lessons that are delivered exclusively via difficult or challenging circumstances. They are presented in the consequences of our mistakes. They are earned in the living with those consequences.
Having discussed this event with friends who are parents, I have learned that no one is ever “ready”, not really. That overwhelming sense of panic mixed with an inexplicable “I can do this” confidence, those are things I can look forward to experiencing again one day.
And you know what? I can’t wait.