My baby story is unique in its personal specifics, but probably not very different from every other story you have heard. Nevertheless, the stories that people told me during the months of buildup to the big day were helpful. Perhaps, my story will help those of you who will soon enter parenthood and, hopefully, it will bring back memories to those who have already lived through it.
Please tell your own tales below. I, for one, am interested.
If you are, in fact, having a baby, check out our infosheet (#4).
One night in early-March, my wife Gabriela and I were rushing through Tyršův sad to meet some friends for dinner. Suddenly, Gaby pulled me under a large tree in the back corner.
She didn’t beat around the bush: “We’re having a baby!”
It took me a moment to comprehend what she had said. Then it took me more time to compose myself. A million thoughts flooded my head. Pride. Amazement. Plans. Anxieties. We hugged and kissed under that dark tree and the world seemed perfectly aligned. It was a big step, but we both felt prepared. We decided that, besides telling our mothers, we would keep the news secret until we reached three months.
At dinner we met our friends – an American man and a Czech woman. My friend slipped his mobile phone across the table to show me a photo. It was a goofy image of him laying on a hospital bed with an ultrasound wand against his belly and a monitor showing a pregnant womb. The image and my state of mind mashed together. I am sure that my confused response was not what he had expected.
The monitor was, in fact, an image of his wife’s womb: he was telling me that they, too, were expecting.
We kept our news secret as we had decided and tried to make conversation. While others talked, I did some math. We were at four weeks. That made the due date sometime in late October. When I worked backwards, the timing was suspiciously close to when my lifelong favorite NFL football team – the Seattle Seahawks – won the Super Bowl.
We told our mothers soon thereafter, and they were surprisingly able to keep our secret. Throughout that silent period, I found myself constantly evaluating my life, doing research, balancing accounts, extrapolating my age to when the kid would graduate from college, have a wedding, have a child. I started to notice baby-carriage-unfriendly trams and all of the steps and stairs throughout Brno. And, everywhere, I heard about someone else having a baby; perhaps it was just hypersensitivity, but it seemed as though Brno was experiencing a baby boom.
We made the official announcement at my annual “Burning of the Witches” party on April 30. With my best friends gathered around an open fire in my backyard, with beer in their hands and špekáček grease on their faces, I told them what my brother told me in the same situation: “My boys can swim!”
The Naming (Part 1)
The first question everybody asks is about the gender. We didn’t want to know until the birth. That meant we needed two names.
I am convinced that I am a different person because I have a relatively unique name, so naming my child was important. It is a long story. Suffice it to say, Gaby and I had a meeting to define the subsequent discussions (similar to international treaty negotiations); we had the first round of talks at a steak house where, on the count of three, we flipped over our sheets of names (girls first, then boys), and discussed; we mulled over our lists separately for a few weeks; and, finally, we made the girl-name and boy-name final decision two weeks before the due date as we walked home from a season-altering 7:1 victory by Kometa over Slavia.
The Waiting (Part 1)
When the due date came . . . it went without a change. So did the next day and the next and the next. The doctor said that nothing was really happening and it might take a week or more. Everything in my schedule was in limbo. I kept my mobile phone fully charged. I dressed each morning wondering if these were the clothes in which I would later rush to the hospital. It was, literally, a pregnant pause: something was going to happen, we just didn’t know when.
The only positive about the tardiness was that I would be able to go to the Zbrojovka-Slovácko football game. Such a nice, thoughtful kid – or so I thought.
Around midnight on Nov. 1, Gaby began to feel contractions. I woke about an hour later to see her walking around the bedroom with a concerned look.
It was time . . . to wait some more.
I took my watch and began keeping track of the time between contractions. When it got to a consistent five minutes we were to go to the hospital. For the next six hours, Gaby dealt with the regular contractions, I timed, and we waited.
Things started to settle down. The pain, reportedly, became more bearable. We considered walking the 2km to the hospital Milosrdných bratří. Around dawn, the data started to go crazy: a fast contraction, then a short one, then a lot of time between and, about five times in a row, a five-minute gap.
I called a taxi.
The Cab Ride
Of the three of us, the cab driver was the most nervous. Gaby was trying desperately to be nice and keep the contractions under control. I imagined becoming a television sitcom cliché by having the baby in the back of a taxi.
At the end of our street, we were stopped at the traffic light and watched fire trucks, sirens blaring and lights flashing, rush to the Komárov tram stop. Flames were shooting out of a dumpster. Oh yeah, I remember thinking, it was the morning after Halloween.
We were stopped at three of the next four traffic lights, even though it was 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning and no other cars were around. The silence in the car was eerie.
I tipped the driver well, just in case the flames and red lights were bad omens.
Once we got to the hospital, the contractions stopped. The nurse gave us an hour to prove what we had been saying and she eventually decided that it was 50-50: go home or stay. We opted to stay. She allowed it.
We were given the choice of rooms. Gaby selected the one with the bathtub. It proved useful during the subsequent hours. We wondered why the other couple hadn’t chosen this room since they had come before us; our suspicion is that the nurses were less than accommodating because that expectant mother smoked throughout her pregnancy (and later had Gaby watch her smallish and yellowish newborn each time she left the maternity ward to go outside for a cigarette.)
Out of the window, I could just see the top of the church were Gregor Mendel planted peas and made his breakthrough contribution to human knowledge. I looked forward to telling my friends in America that my son/daughter was born 600 meters from the birth of the heredity laws of Mendelian inheritance.
The Waiting (Part 2)
Babies born quickly are the rare exceptions. Most require a long period of labor with a lot of down time.
Gaby had packed a bag with all that she would need for the subsequent days of recovery in the hospital, but the book she brought was now less than interesting.
The regular contractions are uncomfortable enough (so I am told), but the minutes in between can be excruciating if you ponder where you are and what is about to happen (or if you think about how you had to back out of going to the Zbrojovka game.) The only form of entertainment was a Kindle. Unfortunately, it was my Kindle with my books, articles, and reading material, and my wife wasn’t interested in New York Review of Books articles or most of my free classics from Project Gutenberg.
I ended up reading Pride and Prejudice out loud between contractions. It is hard to know who was suffering more.
Repeatedly the nurses asked what the name would be. We told them that we weren’t sure. Actually, we just wanted to wait until we actually met the child. They were annoyed.
But women undergoing contraction pain get a pass.
When the sun went down, the screaming started. The woman in the next room filled the ward with the power of a suffering opera singer. Her screams and moans, mixed with sobs, began to peak at increasing intervals. And, like an infectious yawn, Gaby began to feel the force within her, and her contractions also began to speed up.
The noise from the next room reached a crescendo and then, suddenly, a crying baby. It was getting real.
Gaby’s nurse suggested that one or two more pushes and it would be done. Suddenly four people dressed in scrubs entered the room.
I had been afraid that I would have trouble keeping my emotions in check during the delivery. Somehow, I managed to hold Gaby’s hand throughout and watch the final, painful moments.
The Naming (Part 2)
Then it was done. One final push and a red blob with a lot of hair was thrust into the light. The assistants quickly examined the baby and determined that it was a girl. Gaby took her and was the first to say her name out loud: “Zoe!”
That is when I shook uncontrollably with emotion, almost falling down when my knees buckled.
After cleaning up and trying to recover as much as possible, many phone calls were made. Eventually, Gaby was taken into the maternity ward to recover.
I went to the closest bar.
Most of the time fathers celebrate the birth of their child days or weeks later. I was happy to be able to meet my friends three hours later at Kometa Pub. Some came straight from the losing Zbrojovka game – Zoe was born at halftime when it was still a scoreless tie – and some from a get-together that they scrapped in order to celebrate with me.
As the beer started pouring, it helped the realization settle in: a life had begun and mine would never be the same again.
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