The waiting was over. On Thursday night, my wife got news that her closest family friend, someone close enough to be called her little brother, was soon to be a father. His wife was headed to the hospital. I was still at work and received this text:
“Do you think we could pull off a trip to DC this weekend?”
“Yes, there are a few options.”
We discussed the options at night, weighing logistics like all married couples do. Should we leave before or after swimming class? When should we get groceries for the week? Do we take or leave the kids? Should we travel by train or car? Eventually, we decided to drive as a family – my wife, my two little guys, and me, after swimming class and after picking up milk, eggs, yogurt, butter, mushrooms, bread, and lettuce from the farmer’s market.
My wife packed for and planned the trip flawlessly. She booked a hotel near the hospital where our friends were scheduled to give birth. Added bonuses: the hotel was close to Georgetown shopping, had free parking, boasted a heated, indoor pool, and was blocks from the metro that took you to the Smithsonian. The only thing we failed to consider was the weather.
Driving south through New Jersey and Delaware was a breeze. No traffic, clear skies. But as soon as we hit Maryland, a dark and foreboding cloud caught my half-closed eyes (yes, I rested while my wife drove – she grew up in midwest car-culture and is supposedly a better driver than me). This wasn’t just any cloud – it was a raging snow storm.
Our swift ride turned into a snow blasted crawl. The temperature dropped and kept the snow from melting, so it piled up fast. We pulled over and switched. It was my turn to drive. What should have been one hour left in the journey turned to three.
Had we checked the weather and done an objective travel analysis, we might have deemed the trip too risky and stayed home. Truth is, my wife is anything but objective when it comes to family and friends. Truth is, we were destined to be stuck in this storm on our way to DC. Truth is, we would have missed the opportunities for swimming in the hotel pool, seeing our space obsessed 3-year-old at the National Air and Space Museum, and sitting with a young couple in love in their most vulnerable and precious pre-birth state. And I would not have been able to give the almost-dad the advice I give to all expecting fathers.
My advice, in a nutshell, is as follows.
In this modern age of human history, babies are brought into the world to a room full of strangers – doctors in masks, nurses in gloves, techs behind machines. In most traditional societies, the births were coordinated by mothers and sisters and midwives who knew the history and lineage of the woman giving birth. Now, with that social structure shaken, men are more important than ever. Men have a role to play. No, you are probably not going to coach her while she is pushing. During labor, you just do whatever she says. It is moments after the birth that your new role becomes ever important. While inside their mother, they heard (or should have heard) your voice every day. They know you already. When they come out, they are looking for her breast and listening for your voice. There is no reason to ever leave your child in those first few days of life.
Be present. Follow the baby as the nurses take him through all the birthday rituals – washing and weighing and all the rest. Never let baby out of your sight. Sing every song you know. Recite every prayer in your heart. Keep that skin to skin contact. You did not labor and you do not need to sleep now. Your responsibility is to be the bridge from the the safest place that baby will ever know – his mother’s tummy – to the scariest place – the world. You are most needed in this moment, more than you will ever be needed again.
A few hours later, the new baby was born. Mom suffered a c-section but parents rejoiced at the sound of a healthy baby’s cry.
When putting my boys to bed that night, I felt happy to be at home safe and I couldn’t help but have a “daddy moment.” I told my first-born son the story of his c-section birth and he watched the tears fall from my eyes. He didn’t get shy or tell me to stop like he’s done before. This time, he smiled and gave me a hug.