Aspen, our third child was born around noon on a Thursday. The nurses moved Mel and myself into a room on the third floor of the hospital. The first thing I did was try to get out of spending the night.
It didn’t fly.
I am not proud of this.
Mel’s mother was planning to stay with the kids. I tried suggesting that she stay with Mel, and I go home and stay with our other two children. “Wouldn’t you rather have your mother here?” I said.
Mel was in the hospital bed, still wearing a gown, a blanket over her legs, our new baby sleeping in a rolling plastic crib to her right.
“No,” Mel said. “I want you here because you’re my husband.”
“But what about the nurses. They’ll take care of you and the baby. I’m not going to do any more than they can.”
“They’re not you,” Mel said. “You’re my husband and I want you here.”
With Tristan, our first child, I spent every night with Mel. I slept (if I were to call it sleep) on a fold-out futon thing the hospital provided. They gave me a sheet to place on it. The sheet slid freely around on the futon. (The futon was covered in slick plastic. This was probably a way to make it easy to clean when someone puked, bled, or shat on it. Hospitals are just gross.) A couple of times I almost slid onto the floor. When the sheet did slide off, my skin stuck to the vinyl. Every time I moved, it felt like my forearms, neck, legs were getting rug burn. This irritation, combined with getting up every hour or so because of the baby, or the nurse coming in, made the three nights we stayed at the hospital absolute hell. Norah's birth was a different story. She was in a NICU 20 miles from the hospital Mel was in. I spent most of my time driving between hospitals and sitting next to Norah in the night.
I know, most of the mothers reading this are thinking, Stop bitching. And it’s justified for you to say that. I wasn’t the one who had a seven-pound baby torn from my stomach. I realized that, and I had empathy for my wife. But things get complicated when I bring into the mix that I have an anxiety disorder that flares up the most in the night. It’s better than it ever has been, but there is always the fear that it might come back, and staying in a hospital sounded like a recipe for a panic attack.
An anxiety disorder is little more than irrational fear. My anxiety always hits during the night, and with all three of my kids, I spent a lot of the pregnancy worrying that the child would come in the middle of night, and rather than being there for my wife, I’d spend most of the night with a pit in my gut and throwing up.
“It’s cool,” I said. “I’ll stay. But I’ll probably have to take my medication.”
My medication was a combination of sleeping medication and anti-anxiety medication that I only took during times like this. It’s a bit of a preemptive strike that will keep me from a panic attack, but it will also make me loopy and sleepy and act strangely.
I hated taking my medication. I think Mel did, too. She gave me a straight-faced look that seemed to say, “Do you have to.” Then she exhaled and said, “That’s fine. I just want you here.”
The nurse came into the room, and I asked her where I’d be sleeping. I was hoping she’d offer me a bed. Instead she pointed to this crappy little sofa thing that was made from the same material as a café booth. It was about two and a half feet wide and about 5 feet long. All over the hospital were beds, but they give fathers these crappy things. I probably would’ve felt a lot better about spending the night if the hospital at least provided me with a bed. Every room had a bed, but none of those were for the fathers.
Fathers get the sofa.
I recall looking at that thing, and thinking about new fathers, ones who were less dedicated to the notion of being a father, and wondered if those first few sleepless nights of being a dad, curled up on some cramped little sofa, were horrible enough to make them run off.
I took my mother in law and the kids home. We lived about 45 minutes from the hospital, so by the time I got back to Mel it was around 8pm. By this point, the painkillers they’d given her during the C-section had almost worn off, and she was starting to have pain in her chest and shoulders.
“Why are you feeling pain there?” I asked.
“The doctor told me it’s because of all the air in my body from the surgery. It’s hanging out up there, putting pressure on things.”
All of our children had been C-sections, and this was the first time I’d ever heard of this problem. Mel never complained about the large incision below her navel, rather she only talked about the pain in her chest and shoulders. How it felt like someone parked a truck on top of her.
The nurses gave her pain medication, which made things tolerable. Around 10 PM I took my anti-anxiety medication, and suddenly we were both high.
I said things like, “Our baby is the cutest baby. But if she slept she’d be even cuter.” And “Our nurse has a rocking mullet. She must have got that done at a barber shop.”
“Don’t make me laugh,” Mel said. “It will tear open my stomach. I don’t want to spill out!”
Aspen fell asleep around 11, and Mel and I drifted off shortly after.
Around 1AM, Mel woke me. She was crying, and she was hyper-ventilating. I don’t know how long she’d been crying my name, but I knew that I’d heard her crying my name in my dreams.
You would also enjoy, My First Evening Alone With Three Kids (a trip through hell)
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley