A Grand Day

A little over thirty years ago, while my wife was in labor with our first child, my in-laws sat in the hospital’s waiting room for seemingly endless hours. Every so often I would go downstairs to inform them about the slow increases in the tempo of the contractions that were leading us toward the big event. My father-in-law greeted my every appearance with nervous pacing; I had the confidence of youth.

I spent most of that day with my wife, feeling largely extraneous to a process that had its own rhythm. Oh I could provide her with moral support, but the reality was that my role was minimal. Mother nature had taken charge; my wife’s body was doing the work.

Eventually, our older daughter arrived in a crescendo of pain and excitement that is like no other experience in life.

***

I used to joke that if humans could really remember pain, each couple would have but one child and the population would implode. Our actions belied my words: we went on to have three more children. In each case, the process was just as mind-numbingly miraculous as it was the first time.

***

As I write, my wife and I are sitting in the very same hospital waiting room while the daughter who was born that day is going through the very same terrifying, exhilarating and primal process.

Her husband is with her now, probably feeling as awkward and excited as I was thirty years ago. He came down to visit us a little while ago. He looked happy.

He’s about to learn the weight of responsibility for another’s well-being, a weight that he and our daughter will carry for decades to come. Their new baby, once he comes, will be more important to them than they are to themselves; children are the end of solipsism.

Like other new parents, they will also both learn what’s it’s like to have a piece of your own heart in a small, vulnerable child that, soon enough, will strike out on his own in ways both wonderful and frightening. And their little boy will trip and fall many times; he must do so.

***

I remember my father-in-law’s pacing. He knew what was happening, and much of what was to come. He knew to be worried as well as joyful.

It should all be over – and beginning again – in a few hours.

 

M.H. Johnston 2/25/16

 

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