The baby wouldn’t come.
My wife was in pain. There was a large audience of doctors and nurses. I don’t remember how many. It must have been the most vulnerable she had ever felt.
I was 29. And clueless. And worthless. And helpless.
Just standing there with my mouth half open. I’d squeeze her hand. I’d mutter “C’mon, baby,” more to my wife than the baby.
But, no baby.
The labor had been a long one.
Our child was not coming. The doctors were monitoring heart rates and blood pressures and all those things we normally take for granted that can turn a typically happy occasion into a tragic one.
“Okay. No more. We’ve got to take her to surgery,” the doctor said.
I just looked at her.
She told me it would be okay. Someone handed me scrubs to wear.
Surrealism had taken hold as I was shuffled into the operating room where everyone was preparing for emergency surgery.
My wife was exhausted. I’d never seen her like that. The anesthesiologist was going to work.
Because I had never experienced anything like what was happening, fear took over as I watched her eyes roll into the back of her head—almost a total loss of consciousness.
I didn’t know what was happening. Just that a bunch of strangers were cutting my wife open and that I didn’t want her to die.
Everything was happening so fast. At 8:24 p.m., I heard crying.
A nurse carried a messy little bundle of human toward me.
“Can you tell the gender?” she said with a smile.
I have a son.
To my left, nurses were cleaning and poking and prodding a flailing, crying little boy that I was now responsible for turning into a functional human being.
To my right, doctors were stitching up that baby’s exhausted mother.
I would look left. My son.
Then right. My wife.
They were going to be okay.
Once cleaned and swaddled and outfitted with a teeny tiny baby hat, they put our son in my arms. Mom had done all the work, times a million, and I got to hold him first. It seemed unfair. She just smiled at him. Mission accomplished.
He was okay.
She was okay.
My wife had just spent 158 years (in labor time) trying to deliver a baby and getting cut open. She was starving. The hospital gave her cold, shitty chicken fingers. I don’t remember how much she ate.
Eventually, the baby was given to mom. He needed fed.
The breastfeeding wasn’t going particularly well. Our stubborn little son wasn’t cooperating. The brand new mother must have been terrified and feeling extraordinarily helpless.
It was late and I was getting tired. I had some people tell me that I should really try hard to get sleep because between the two parents, it would be good to have one mentally sharp for sound decision making. I somehow got it in my head I was going to go home and get sleep and come back in the morning.
My wife. Exhausted from the past two days. Frightened. We have a newborn! And the only people there to help are strangers.
And she asked me to stay. She needed me to stay with her. I remember her crying.
“It’s going to be okay,” I tried to tell her. “I can’t help you, and the nurses can. I’ll be back first thing in the morning.”
My wife—this brand-new mother—was feeling as frightened and vulnerable and exhausted as she had ever felt before.
She didn’t want me there to “help.” She wanted me there because she needed to feel safe. To know I had her back. To feel loved. To feel the security of knowing this new little person she had just brought into the world had a father who could be counted on. To feel the security of knowing she and that little boy would never be abandoned.
I didn’t know. I wasn’t smart enough. I thought she was being needy, overly dramatic and emotional.
You know. Like a girl.
And on her very first night of motherhood, I left her.
Scared and alone.
The First Year
Everything changes when you bring a baby home for the first time. Everything.
You either know EXACTLY what this feels like, or you don’t.
The dynamics of the house and the rhythm of life get turned upside down.
In the beginning, everything’s an emergency. Everything’s a challenge. That’s why parents of newborns rent U-Haul trucks just to travel with all the stuff you need to accommodate a miniature human only capable of performing three tasks, four if you count sleeping.
A million little decisions need made throughout a child’s first year of life. A million little things need coordinated.
Where do you put things in the house?
What’s the sleep and feeding schedule?
Who will take care of the baby once we go back to work?
Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.
I’ve known A LOT of people in my life. A lot of mothers. And to be sure, many of them are amazing women.
But, purely as someone to handle the logistics of baby nurturing? To manage the tasks? My wife was unbelievable. The best I’ve ever seen, bar none.
She was so good, in fact, that I didn’t matter much at all. I did what I could and was always there to assist. But assertiveness? I didn’t display any. If there was a decision to be made or a task to be managed? It always fell to her.
The resentment started to build. She became angrier. I became more defensive.
Who are you? Andrea Yates?
My wife told me she wasn’t feeling well. She even spelled it out for me: Postpartum depression.
I thought that was code for “I’m a shitty, unstable person who doesn’t love this innocent baby as much as you.”
All I could think of was the Andrea Yates story—the mother in Texas who drowned five of her own children in the bathtub in 2001.
There is no way my wife is crazy like Yates! Postpartum depression! What!? She doesn’t love our kid!?
I completely blew her off.
We used to argue about apologies, my wife and I.
She thinks you’re supposed to apologize when you hurt people, no matter what. (You are.)
And I often argued that when things are done accidentally, they perhaps should be treated differently than something done maliciously. Like the difference between accidentally killing a pedestrian with your car versus premeditated murder.
She thought I was ridiculous.
“Why can’t you just say you’re sorry?” she’d ask.
But being right was more important to me than helping my wife feel better, I guess. Instead of hugging her and telling her how sorry I was, and demonstrating respect for her feelings, I essentially told her that her feelings were bullshit and I had done nothing wrong, or that she was blowing the situation out of proportion.
I was so ashamed that I could upset my wife this much. I was so defensive because I was a nice guy who everyone liked and no one ever got upset with. And I was too much of a stubborn child to swallow my pride and say and do what needed to be said and done.
I was too much of a child to act like a man.
I heard the words she was saying. I heard them, but didn’t hear them.
She was reaching out for help. “I think I’m experiencing some postpartum depression.”
But I didn’t respect her, or the physical and mental impact that our bodies’ naturally produced chemicals (or a lack thereof) can have on us.
Depression is something crazy people feel.
Depression is something unhappy people feel.
Depression is something people not like us feel.
After a mother gives birth, she will often experience a sudden drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Her chemical makeup will completely change. Plus, her entire lifestyle just changed overnight. Plus, she is sleep deprived and overwhelmed by… everything.
And all she wants is the support of her loved ones. The support of her son’s father. The support of her husband.
But I shrugged her off. I probably had something much more important going on.
“You’re fine, babe,” I told her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Just like the doctor had told me.
We were both wrong.