Late on a Friday night in September, while the denizens of the greater Harrisburg area descended into their post-Labor Day weekend revelries, Danielle and I ascended — with clear eyes and full hearts — into our own pre-labor day weekend reverie.
To do so, we ascended in a more literal sense to the 3rd floor of Holy Spirit Hospital, with the genial guidance of an elderly gentleman who worked as a kind of unarmed (and disarming) hospital sentry. He spotted Danielle’s baby bump as we walked hand in hand toward the front door and pleasantly offered to escort us to our destination in due haste. Or at least as much due haste as his frail limbs, and Danielle’s full womb, would allow.
The man parted ways with us at the door to the labor and delivery unit. And as we walked slowly down the long white corridor to the nurses’ station, I breathed a sigh of relief. All of my mostly irrational worries — about getting caught unaware, about not leaving for the hospital in time, about living out one of those Hollywood moments where I would need to deliver my own child over old oil-stained towels in the backseat of a minivan under dome lights on the shoulder of an interstate — were now eradicated. My fears were rendered moot in the fluorescent glow of sanitized safety and scholarly competence emanating from the placid, blandly comforting hospital walls around us.
(On a side note, it’s a testament to the vast experiential chasm between a man and a woman that I had the luxury of feeling this calm sense of relief just before the actual grueling moment of truth.)
A nurse welcomed us and checked Danielle into her room. I immediately made note of its ample size. Perhaps because Greyson had been born in the cozy confines of our own bedroom (shout-out for home births!), this hospital room seemed positively palatial by comparison. A plush suite where we could make ourselves at home. We had our own private bathroom and everything! Not to mention access to a full menu of mouth-watering hospital food. Clearly we would be living like kings and queens this weekend. This was like staying at a Marriott without a pool.
I kid, of course. We were there to welcome our kid, of course. I crack wise in order to make light of the stark divergence between the part I played and the part Danielle played in the childbirth process. Because it’s actually true: I did think to myself at one point, “Hey, we get free room service!” Ludicrous, right? Danielle was about to push a fragile, sentient, writhing, nearly-8-pound human being out of her body. A physical accomplishment that no man ever born can fathom. The Herculean task of the century (or millennium). And there I was, at least for a fleeting moment, sizing up the perks of our weekend accommodations. I would be remiss not to acknowledge the inherent comic absurdity.
But I would also be remiss not to acknowledge how deeply linked together Danielle and I were that night. And how dynamic our connection had been throughout both of her pregnancies. I am no detached sitcom dad. I can’t relate to those hapless and hackneyed men who keep themselves emotionally removed from the long and winding journey of their wife’s pregnancy. I can’t fathom the fact that just one generation ago, husbands (not even just the sitcom kind, but the real-life kind as well) often didn’t even stay in the room with their tirelessly laboring wives.
And I can’t stomach the idea that any father can’t stomach the extraordinary sights and smells and sounds of an actual, messy, real-life childbirth. His own child’s birth. What should be the most profound moment of his manly existence. A moment to eclipse all other moments. How could any man just check out emotionally and go read magazines in the waiting room? This is life itself emerging before your eyes, man! Pull yourself together. And bear witness.
From our fertility endeavors in 2014 and 2015 to our Bradley class and home birth endeavors in 2016 to our parenting endeavors thereafter, Danielle and I have shared in every aspect of the family-building journey that biology would allow. The emotional connectedness we’ve built over nearly a decade together has even further amplified the natural profundity of becoming parents. The years we spent hoping and straining to be parents — and having only each other to fall back on and cushion the blow when that dream was deferred again and again — laid the groundwork for this moment. And that foundation was bulletproof.
So as we hunkered down for the night in our hospital room, Danielle’s body contracting imminently, our eyes locked in a gaze of mutual love and trust.
In a physiological sense, at this point in the game it was all Danielle.
But on a deeper level, we were in this together.