To My Son
7 Captured Memories from the First 7 Months of Your Life
1. The first time you laughed.
2. The first time you mined for gold.
3. Here’s the first time you discovered the power to move objects.
4. Here’s your first conversation with the cat. Right now, you’re the only one in the family thoughtful, empathetic, and energetic enough to respond to a single one of her meows.
5. I’ll never forget how much you hated and still hate tummy time, scrunching up your face and screaming before your mom and I could kneel before you and promise that spending two minutes on your belly will not kill you. But I’ll also never forget how it motivated you to fling that chunky little leg in the air, shake it with all your might, and roll over onto your back. Dude, this made you so happy and proud it’ll probably be the reason you’ll never crawl a damn inch in your life.
6. I’ll never forget how badly your mom wanted you to take a picture with the characters at Disneyland. I told her we could test the waters by standing next to one, but the second you frown or ball up your face, I’m sprinting for the exits with you on my shoulder.
As you and your mom approached Pluto, the family at the front of the line gathered around the exuberant, human-sized dog and told their toddler to get close to him. Even though the toddler shrieked and pulled away, her family shouted at her to quit crying and smile for just one second. One second. I wondered how a human being with some semblance of a heart could subject any child, let alone his own, to this unique form of terror.
When it was your turn to meet Pluto, I watched your face like it was a speed round of chess.
Turns out you handled Pluto like a boss.
7. Then there’s the morning you were born. With the exception of your mom’s aching hip that incapacitated her the couple days leading up to your arrival, everything was going perfectly.
After a Thursday afternoon lunch with your paternal grandparents, a routine checkup led your mom to being admitted into delivery. She was 2 cm dilated.
At 6 p.m., your mom was given Pitocin to induce labor.
At around 3 a.m., Friday morning, the sweet-as-can-be night nurse told us with all the confidence in the world that you’d be here by 9 a.m. and you’d be healthy, strong, and beautiful.
At 6 a.m. that same nurse told us it was go time.
A few minutes later, your mom was pushing, and before long I could see the top of your head. I told your mom, “Oh my God, he has hair! He has hair!” Dude, it was jet black and slicked to the side.
The night nurse remained calm and focused, and she explained everything to us as it was happening. She warned your mother about every bit of pain and discomfort that headed her way. She pointed out how she could tell a contraction was coming by the subtlest change in your heart rate. And if she repositioned your mom or adjusted the bed or checked the computer, she gave us legit reasons for every action.
She was an angel.
But her shift ended at 7:30.
The morning nurse that took her place applied a different approach from the night one. The morning nurse remained very quiet as she checked wires and monitors and ceaselessly scribbled notes into some log, but she raised her voice whenever it came time for your mom to push. She sounded frantic as she told her, “You have to push harder, harder.” And then she would turn, lower her head, and bury herself in everything else she had to do.
I got nervous when I found myself monitoring your mother’s heart rate and asking the morning nurse if she should be pushing. Every time I’d ask, the morning nurse would seem to snap out of some robotic daze and say, “Yes, yes, push now. Push now. Harder. You have to push harder!”
By 8:30, the head nurse had decreased your mom’s epidural levels and urged her to push with everything she had. Otherwise, she’d need a C-section. Your mom was so exhausted that she practically welcomed it.
Now, what happened next was a blur. Your mom remembers the morning nurse making a phone call about your heart rate dropping. I only remember the nurse raising a long wire and telling us that she had to check your brain for a more accurate reading of your heart rate. This wire was supposed to pierce your head.
It all happened so quickly that I’m still not sure if the wire ever penetrated your scalp because the next thing I remember was the doctor racing in, saying she had to perform an emergency C-section on your mom immediately.
Other nurses raced in, frantically wheeling tables and equipment out of the way. Amid the chaos, your mom looked over at me and said my name with tears flooding her eyes.
I told her, “Babe, babe, everything’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be fine.” In that moment, I thought, Why wouldn’t it be fine? We were in a modern-day hospital with state-of-the-art equipment and top-notch staff; your lola — your beloved paternal grandma — had recently retired as a registered nurse from this very hospital. And hell, we were in America.
Then your mother was whisked off.
I followed her as she was wheeled farther and farther away from me down a long white corridor. More and more nurses poured in from all directions, banging into walls and tripping over carts like they were the Keystone Cops.
The doctor and nurses made a sharp right with your mom down another corridor, and they all disappeared through the emergency room doors.
An elderly nurse stayed behind and guided me into an adjacent recovery room. She gave me a set of blue scrubs and told me I would need to wait there until further notice. I told her that was no problem, that I’d do whatever she wanted and stay put as long as she needed, just as long as you and your mom would be okay.
Then I directly asked her if you two would be okay. The nurse gave a sympathetic smile and said everyone was doing everything they could.
As soon as she left me alone in the room, I tried putting on the scrubs. I looked down at the arm openings and the sleeves, and I couldn’t figure out where or how to stick my arms in. I just kept jamming my fist against the material. The science and logic of putting it on made no sense to me.
Another nurse noticed me as she passed by in the hallway and asked if I was okay. I told her I knew how to put on these scrubs, I just couldn’t do it. The nurse stretched the openings so I could stick my arms through. Then I somehow fit the covers over my feet and the cap over my head.
I told her the situation, and she said her heart went out to me and that she was sure everything would be okay.
When she left, I started to pray out loud — the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” the “Glory Be” — and repeated over and over to please let you and your mom be okay, please let you and your mom be okay. I clenched my eyes and my fists, trying not to be distracted by the fact that thirty feet down the hall, you were fighting for you life.
I struggled to focus on the prayers and avoid being consumed by thoughts of death taking you before you entered this world even though your mother and I had long fallen in love with you, even though you kicked and punched every time I prayed or spoke to you or read Goodnight Moon or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom through you mom’s belly. Your mother and I talked to you when you were the size of pea, a sesame seed, when you could comfortably chill on the tip of a needle. We talked to you long before you were ever conceived, when we quietly believed we’d one day have gorgeous, curly-haired daughters; when we assumed, for years, that our child would come easy.
I even talked to you long before I met your mom, when I was single and alone, often in the middle of the night, often after some relationship sadly ended. I even talked to you when I was sure I’d never have children.
For some reason, I always imagined driving you through the desert in a beat-up truck, sharing with you some lesson I’d picked up over the previous year. And every year or so, those lessons would change. I also pictured you being ten, blessed with a mop top of thick black hair, and far more interested in the passing rocks and Joshua trees outside your open window.
It was a scene that often found its way into screenplays, short stories, and novels that I inevitably discarded.
It was a fantasy that grew then faded then evolved as I did. But in order to see that desert fantasy come to fruition, I first had to see this one — the one in which you simply survive the passage into this world.
Another woman entered the recovery room. She wore a white coat over a blouse and dark slacks. She told me you’d be okay, that you were strong and your heart rate had climbed back on its own. But the doctor was going through with the C-section to be safe. She said I should hear you cry in the next five minutes.
I broke down. Fat tears blurred my vision as I stood to hug and thank her. She rubbed my back and said she knew this was scary, but everything was going to be okay. I couldn’t stop thanking her.
But then I was alone again. And I suddenly needed tangible proof that you were okay. Even when I heard the sound of a crying newborn coming from the emergency room, I couldn’t be 100% sure that was you.
So when I was told I could finally see you, I swiftly pushed through the swinging emergency room doors.
The nurses and doctors turned to me and froze.
Then I froze.
Your mom lay on the operating table. There was a large open hole in her belly. It was red and orange and seemed to glow. I remember long strands of organs and body parts hanging on metal hooks beside her.
Yeah, it was a nightmare, and I probably shouldn’t be telling you any of this, but whatever. I forced myself to turn away.
That’s when I heard you crying again. That’s when I noticed two little hands rising above a small glass tub beneath a heat lamp.
I made my way over and looked down into the tub. I couldn’t believe it was you, that you were here. I told you, “Hey, little guy. Hey, Cedric. It’s me, your daddy. I’m the guy that’s been talking to you this whole time.”
You stopped crying. You stared at me. We stared at each other.
I leaned down, and you raised your tiny hands to my face.
One of the nurses told me I could pick you up, and I realized that I’d never held a newborn before.
I also realized that if I’m your father, I’d probably have to hold you at some point in your life. So, I picked you up.
The classes your mom and I took at the hospital paid off because I successfully carried you over to her without breaking you. I even remembered to support your neck. Every second that passed without me dropping you made me feel like a champ, but I never lost sight of the fact that I could drop you at any moment.
A blue sheet hung between your mother’s face and most of her body, shielding her from the horror show I’d just witnessed. I held you up to her the best I could and told her you’re here, you’re here. She couldn’t see you very well because of the anesthesia and the way she was positioned, but she softly asked how you were doing and how you looked. I said you were beautiful.
You returned with me to the nearby recovery room where, minutes before, I had broken down. I watched as nurses checked and observed you. I admit I was pretty proud of the way you grabbed onto one nurse’s fingers and held yourself up for as long as you did.
Then your mom arrived. The nurses placed you in her arms, and she nursed you. Before my very eyes, I witnessed my fantasy becoming real. All I needed was time for it to sink in.
Even now, your mom and I will sometimes look at each other and say, “I can’t believe he’s actually here,” or, “We have a son. We have a little boy.”
Your mom doesn’t remember me holding you up to her in the emergency room, but at least three times a day, every day, she tells me, “He is so beautiful.”
Yeah, she’s talking about you, dude.
Anyway, the way I’ll end this story is with the photo that a hospital photographer snapped of you, your mom, and me, about half an hour after you were born. I think you’ll see by the expressions on our faces that we’d weathered quite the storm. All three of us — we look tore up, you included.
When we received the photo a couple days later, before leaving the hospital, your mom made me laugh because she had this to say about it:
“The only good thing about this photo is that stupid giraffe.”
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Many thanks and best wishes,