Where does the whale go? I thought as I looked around our apartment.
My wife was due in nine days with our first child. Toys, stuffed animals, vibrating chairs, a breast pump, something called a “Boppy,” and a whale-shaped bathtub littered our crowded Brooklyn home. We needed to organize the place and finish packing our “go bags.” I needed to sort out time off from work, finish reading my new-dad book, and mentally prepare myself for fatherhood. And I desperately needed a shave.
Later that night, my wife’s water broke.
We grabbed the bags and rushed to our car. Eight minutes to Mount Sinai Beth Israel at three in the morning; parking garage, emergency ramp, fourth floor to labor and delivery, into the triage room. “They’ll probably send us home.”
“Congratulations, you’re going to have your baby!”
Out of triage, down the hall to the delivery room. IV in her arm, Pitocin to induce, Googling Pitocin, small contractions, so much Googling, Pitocin, screaming, crying, deep breathing—in through the nose, out through the mouth—new nurses, “We’d like to try without an epidural.” More Pitocin, pain in my wife’s eyes, screaming, crying, “You can watch TV if you’d like,” and then quiet as the pain got worse, silent tears rolling down my wife’s face while she mouthed, Ow…ow…ow.
“We’ll take that epidural now, please.”
Twenty minutes, a strong coffee, and back into the room where a relieved smile had replaced my wife’s tears. “There you go. You’ve got some time. We’ll check you again in four hours,” her doctor said.
I called my parents, “No rush.” I called her parents, “You have time to settle in at our apartment.” My wife in her bed, me in a recliner, time to gather our thoughts, skip ahead in that dad book.
The doctor came in to check on the monitors.
“Okay, Mommy, Daddy: get ready, you’re having a baby!”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re having a baby!”
“I know, but when?”
“Yeah, I know, but when?”
“She’s fully dilated and the baby is in position. You’re having a baby!”
Lights on, recliner up, calling our parents, “IT’S HAPPENING!” Holding her leg—push, pushhh, pushhhhhh! Screaming, holding one hand, “Breathe, breathe, breathe.” Then pushing, an hour of pushing. The head! Holy s#*t, it’s a head! One more push, and an entire baby. Our entire baby. Our son.
We moved to a recovery room. My in-laws arrived, allowing me to run home to grab everything we forgot thirteen hours earlier. In the bathroom, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror: tired, grizzled. I looked like my best friend was a volleyball.
I set down my bag and picked up my razor. I lathered my face with shaving cream and went to work. Stroke by stroke, I got rid of the unkempt beard that had grown out of stress and neglect, until all that was left was my smooth skin and a calm feeling I hadn’t felt in months. I still looked like me. I rinsed off, picked up my bag, and walked out of the bathroom—tripping on the whale tub in the process.
I had no idea where it would go, but it didn’t matter. We’d figure it out.