As I watched the most beautiful girl in her class walk across the stage to collect her college diploma, I thought back to the first time I saw her 22 years ago.
Her mother and I had driven to the hospital very early that morning, running red lights (!) the whole way, but the doctor sent us home because she wasn’t far enough along. So we’d spent the rest of the day trudging up and down hills and walking around and around our apartment complex trying to speed things up, but nothing seemed to work. When I told her I’d read about a woman who had climbed stairs carrying two heavy suitcases until things started moving along, she made a face, rolled her eyes, and went to bed.
By then it was 10 at night, and I was hungry. I searched the freezer and found a lobster frozen in a tube of seawater that I’d bought months before as a joke. I dropped it into a pot of boiling water and instantly the entire apartment reeked like Boston Harbor at low tide. That did it. She came into the kitchen, green at the gills, and announced we were immediately going back to the hospital. (More red lights!) We were broke and had no insurance, so the plan was natural child birth: in and out of the hospital in 24 hours.
At first it was kind of fun. They put us in a homey “birthing room”, MTV was on, and the doctors and nurses were laughing and making jokes. Then about 4 in the morning the laughter stopped. The baby’s blood pressure was too high and there was some danger the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Suddenly the comfy bed turned into a gurney, and I was running beside it careening toward an operating room.
The doctor gave my wife one more chance to push. She tried, but she was too far gone. The half asleep anesthesiologist on call ran in, his bare feet covered by blue doctor’s footies. Trays and other equipment were quickly wheeled in, and several O.R. nurses appeared. The prep for the C-section looked like something being thrown together at the last minute, which is exactly what it was.
A nurse noticed my ashen gray, sweaty face, quickly grabbed my arm, and dragged me back to the birthing room. A low pitched, keening sound I’d never made before or since emerged involuntarily from the back of my throat. “It always looks like that,” she assured me, “but they know what they‘re doing.” She left, and after a few minutes of taking deep breaths and feeling ashamed because I’d left my wife alone, I staggered back to the operating room. I held my wife’s hand and tried to appear calm. There was a ripping sound, a baby’s cry, and the doctor happily shouted, “How about a girl?” Nurses rushed the baby off and I was led back to the birthing room.
After a while, they took me to see my daughter. There she was in a clear plastic basinet with a McDonald’s warming light overhead. The nurse picked her up and handed her to me. I stared into those sky blue eyes, and saw everything all at once: loving, smiling, sleeping, laughing, crying, crawling, walking, falling, rising, running, playing, learning, dreaming, studying, leaving, graduating, working, struggling, marrying, mothering, nurturing, worrying, aging, dying, and loving.
As for me, my beloved, insatiable, all consuming self shattered like a windowpane hit by a Nolan Ryan fastball, and all that remained was the perfect baby girl I held in my arms.