It’s my daughter’s birthday today. She’s twenty-five. How much do we love this girl? Get this. For a birthday present, Anna asked us to send her to her favorite hotel in Hawaii, and that’s where she is right now.
Man, I wish I’d had parents like us.
Love shouldn’t necessarily mean a big present, but this time, it did. I hope she’s loving every second of it. Not because it costs so much, but because, to me, this girl is everything.
Telling stories about our children, I don’t know, those stories, like Hawaiian shirts brought home to the mainland, don’t always travel well. To be honest, I’m not that interested in stories about your children, and I don’t expect you to be interested in stories about mine. Family reminiscences, in my view, should generally remain “in house.”
What am I going to do instead? Well, every Passover, it’s the tradition to retell the story of the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt. In the spirit of that tradition, I will, on her birthday, recount the story of my wonderful daughter’s introdus into the world. So here we go.
The Story of Anna.
Anna was born a week later than her due date. We were getting tired of waiting, especially the part of the team that was actually pregnant. Then, on Sunday, March the 20th, my wife went into labor.
A Sunday birth, for me, is a good and helpful thing. Why is that? Let’s start with this. As a rule, my wife, M. (for privacy), will not allow me to drive her anywhere. I brake for shadows, and I slow down to think. Myra permits few exceptions to this rule. One exception, though a reluctant one, is she’ll let me drive, when she needs to be taken to the hospital, because she’s just gone into labor. The advantage of a Sunday labor?
The contractions are closening. The doctor says, “Bring her in.” We get in the car and head for the hospital. I do pretty well; I had secretly practiced the drive.
At the hospital, we discover that the baby is not quite ready to arrive. We’re escorted to a hospital room, not the Holiday Inn-looking room where the delivery will take place, but a regular, normal hospital room. We watch a movie: Errol Flynn in The Master of Ballantrae. Horses and sword fighting. My favorite, after cowboys. M. enjoys it too. It distracts her from why we’re there.
The movie ends. The doctor comes in. Turns out, the dilation thing’s hasn’t moved along that much. The doctor gives us a choice. He can induce labor right now, or we can go home and have the baby tomorrow. M. votes for right now. So do I. We’re ready. And I don’t relish a Monday drive.
All right. So it’s going to happen.
We’re going to have a baby.
We had done the Lamaze. We knew the drill. It’s time to put it into action.
And now, I’ll make an unpopular comment.
I didn’t want to be in the birthing room. Why? It’s not a place I, deep down, needed to be. Unfortunately, this was a time in our culture’s birthing history when we’re transforming from “Men aren’t allowed in the birthing room” to “Men aren’t allowed not to be in the birthing room.” Not only was I uncomfortable in a graphically medical setting, I hate it when you don’t have a choice.
Say no more. I’m there, and that’s that.
The labor was fast. Forty-five minutes. As my wife describes it, it felt like one long contraction. The doctor was concerned. It wasn’t supposed to go like that.
The decision is made to do the birthing in an Operating Room. In case of complications. M’s feeling serious discomfort. Make that, excruciating pain. She’s wheeled into the Operating Room. I follow behind them.
Concerned and afraid.
The delivery begins. I try to do my part, but a tough nurse elbows me aside, becoming the actual birth coach. Now, I’m just standing there. Irrelevant, concerned and afraid.
M. courageously does her thing. The baby comes out. It’s a girl. I look at the clock; it’s five twenty-five in the afternoon. I have to admit, it was really something. We had made an actual person. It was pretty cool.
I remember looking down at our newborn and thinking, “She looks like an ‘Anna’ to me.” It was a major surprise. We’d been expecting a boy. Why? Old wives’ tale. If the baby’s “riding low”, it’s supposed to be a boy. My wife, it turned out, had known that it wasn’t.
Weeks earlier, she’d had a sonogram, and the technician had accidentally called the developing fetus ”she.” Aware that I didn’t want to know the sex of the baby until it arrived, M. kept this information to herself, pretending, instead, that it was likely to be a boy.
We thought about boys’ names. We’d decided on Benjamin Alexander. When it turned out we had a girl, and she looked like an ‘Anna’, I did some “on-the-fly” transgenderizing. Alexander became Anna. And Benjamin became Anna’s middle name, Benne. I made that one up.
The name had been taken care of. Then, the difficulties began.
M. was having a bleeding problem; they were having trouble stopping it. The doctor ordered me out of the Operating Room. The nurse handed me my daughter, and told me to take her to the place where they keep the babies. I went there, handed her over, and I waited.
A few minutes later, a nurse appeared with my daughter. Anna was crying and needed to be held. The nurse returned her to me, and she left.
Okay, so. My wife’s having surgery, and there I am, sitting in the Holiday Inn-looking “easy birthing” room, holding a tiny person who was twenty minutes old.
I’m called back into the Operating Room. I hand over my baby, and walk down the hall to face reality. The doctor says he hasn’t been able to stop the bleeding. He may have to perform a hysterectomy. I respond from my bottomless pool of immaturity, and I say,
“If my wife wakes up with less parts than she went to sleep with, she’s going to be really angry.”
The doctor says he’s going to try one last thing. And then, we’ll see.
I return to the “easy birthing” room. The nurse returns with Anna for me to hold. I’m alone and scareder than ever.
Then, a miracle happens. I’m not consciously religious, but I can’t think of a better word for it. As I’m sitting there with my daughter, kind of whimpering – me, not Anna – a stranger, dressed in medical “birthing Dad” attire steps into the room. I tell him what’s going on. He tells me, “It’s gonna be okay.” His words give me desperately needed comfort. The stranger is gentle, he’s supportive and most importantly, he’s there. I’m not alone anymore. Somebody had sent me an angel.
Once again, I’m called to the Operating Room. The bleeding has been, at least temporarily, staunched. There’d be “Intensive Care” tonight; tomorrow would tell the tale. The next morning, M’s in the clear. The crisis is over.
Most hospital visits send you home with a deficit. You leave, minus an appendix, a gall bladder, minus a lump. The birthing visit’s a “plus” situation. You go home with a baby.
Ours was named Anna.
Today’s Anna is a cornucopia of talents. She can do art – draw and paint – she can weave, she can bake pies from “scratch”, she can write and she can knit. And she can charm. Anna possesses guilelessly disarming social skills, talents which surprise her parents, since I have no social skills whatsoever, and my wife is better but no natural. Anna’s a natural.
Sometime, during late High School, Anna said to me, “I’m funnier than you, Dad, and I have been for years.” It’s the only thing she ever said that pissed me off. Not bad for twenty-five years.
I guess there’s only one thing left to say:
Happy Birthday, Darling Anna.
You are my sunshine.
My only sunshine.