I couldn’t sleep even though I knew I should. From what we had heard from everyone who had gone before we were going to be faced with many sleepless nights ahead. Every time I felt my eyelids get heavy I would shake myself awake. Sleep a silent enemy creeping up on me the moment I let my guard down. Not on my watch! I looked over at Stephanie, full of envy as she sank deeper into the sea of pillows surrounding her. She would be up soon and I would have my chance. Another nod of the head. Another jolt back to awake-reality. I was a dad now and he was my responsibility. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.
Stephanie had been a nanny for years and I had worked with all different ages, both teaching and as a support counselor for a foster care agency. For all intents and purposes, we had gone through the best training for parenting already. In fact, we arrogantly thought we were the best parents in the world before we had kids. We had discussed plans and parenting tactics. We read books and listened to experts. We quietly watched how others raised their kids and made decisions on what to do and not to do. In our minds, the plan was in place and we had all we needed.
There’s a saying that they use in the military that goes something along the lines of, “The battle plan is only good until the first shot is fired.” As I laid there sleepless, looking at my son, I realized I had just experienced the reality of that idea. Shots were fired and things had already not gone as planned.
Earlier that week Stephanie started having contractions in preparation for the inevitable event about to take place in our lives. The doctor had Stephanie on weekly visits because the baby wasn’t responding well to the contractions and needed to be monitored closely. Even then we didn’t know enough to be worried. We just thought this was how pregnancy was and listened to our doctor’s advice. Our doctor didn’t seem to be in a panic so we weren’t either. We took all our cues from her.
Due to the negative responses to the contractions Stephanie was scheduled to come in at 39 weeks pregnant and be induced for labor. The big idea was to get the kid out sooner rather than later to minimize risk of something bad happening to him while in the womb. We calmly strolled into the birthing center in Kirkland, WA on August 17th, 2005 excitedly anticipating the moment we would get to meet our little guy for the first time. As we settled into our room, most of our family started to arrive to the show. For my side of the family this was the first grandchild. This was a big deal. Our parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles took over the waiting room. My dad pulled me aside and offered the best advice I think I’ve ever heard regarding the experience of childbirth. All he said was, “It’s a roller coaster ride and you have to ride it. Relax in the lows and hang on in the highs. In the end, everything will work out alright.” Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was.
Stephanie was administered the labor-inducing medicine shortly after we arrived and we waited. Over the next few hours the nurses would come and go checking on progress. I was on ice chip and Jell-O duty ensuring Stephanie had all the allowed delicacies the hospital afforded her. A few hours into the process our doctor arrived to our room. The contractions were continuing to put the baby in distress. The doctor expected to see the baby’s heart rate strengthen during contractions but his was doing the opposite. In order to get a better read on the situation our doctor went to place an internal monitor to more accurately gauge the baby’s response to the contractions. As she placed the monitor directly on the baby something unexpected happened.
Over the next couple minutes things changed quickly and drastically. The roller coaster was speeding up. I could state all the facts of what had happened of which I’ve learned after the event was all over. However, in the moment I had no clue what was developing. That’s the version I think is best told here. As I helplessly stood next to the doctor as she tended to Stephanie, I had no idea what was happening. I once again found myself trusting in the doctor’s expertise and taking my cues from her body language. She calmly reached to push a button on the wall. In less than a minute the room was full of medical professionals all calmly but intentionally working quickly to remedy a problem I had no idea existed. All of a sudden there was a language that was being spoken in the room that I didn’t understand. As my calm went to confusion I saw my mom come into the room. Seeing her brought an instant calm as I as watched her communicate in this foreign language with the doctor and come over to me to translate.
My mother is a saint. When she shows up in stressful situations she brings a calm and ease to the environment that I can only describe as a spiritual gift. My mother is also trained as a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse. She often finds herself in situations in which there are high-risk births of babies. She is a calming presence and is always cool headed in tough spots. One of the only times I’ve seen her lose composure was years prior, while I was attending the University of Washington (UW). I would occasionally go to visit her at work as a NICU nurse at the UW Medical Center. Since I was only a short walk away I would bring her coffee in between classes and on days where she wasn’t working the night shift. On one of those occasions she walked me around the unit introducing me to her fellow nurses, some of which were newer to the team. I gave her a hug and kiss on the forehead as I left. Later that day she called me. Hardly able to contain herself she told me that one of the newer nurses had asked if George, my father, knew about me. “Of course George knows about Jason” was my mom’s confused response. The nurse was shocked and asked, “Is George okay with Jason?” My mom responded with, “Why wouldn’t he be?” Shortly after the exchange with her co-worker my mom called me in hysterics to explain that the nurse thought I was her boyfriend and that my dad was aware of the situation. In case you didn’t catch that, I was mistaken for my mom’s boyfriend. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think I ever took coffee to my mom again at work. Being mistaken for her boyfriend was a little too much for this college kid to handle.
Seeing my mom come through that hospital door and having her in that room was an anchor that I was able to hold onto that brought peace in a moment of uncertainty. Strong anchors have a tendency to bring peace like that.
After my mother spoke with the doctor she came over to me to explain the situation. Stephanie was being prepped for surgery and was to be whisked off to an operating room where the baby would be born. I tried to keep up with the gurney as they ushered Stephanie into the operating room and held me at the door to put a surgical gown on and wrap my flip-flops in booties. The fact that I was the only one in the room wearing flip-flops is evidence enough that I had no idea what I was doing. Moments later I was in an operating room with my wife, mom, mother-in-law and surgical staff. The healthy baby boy was born via cesarean section.
They handed me my son. For the first time in my life I looked into the eyes of my child. “It’s nice to meet you Levi,” was all I could think to say through tears of joy. “I’m your daddy.”
That night I laid in the hospital room watching Levi and Stephanie sleep and thought over the events of the day. Things didn’t go as planned and that was just a glimpse of the future uncertainty we would experience as our family grew. There would be more roller coasters of emotion to ride. However, knowing that those we trusted and loved were in the room with us was an anchor that allowed us to know that even if the worst happened, we wouldn’t be alone.
Within 5 years we would repeat this experience two more times, albeit with much less stress and chaos. Our son Seth was born March 2008 and our daughter Addison was born August 2010. Each time was a moment of joy as we met our children for the first time. However, while having children did in fact make me a dad, it took a bit to find out what it meant to be a true father.