Norah was born on a Wed in July, 2009. It was a scheduled C-section, like all of my kids. This was our second child, and although we’d been through this before, I recall being more nervous than I expected. Mel and I drove to the hospital; Tristan (our oldest) was in the back seat. It was early, 7 a.m., and Tristan was asleep. He was wearing a shirt his grandmother got him that read, “I’m a big brother.”
Mel was sitting next to me, one hand on her pregnant stomach, her eyes closed. I looked at her for a moment, and then I looked forward and hit a black bird in the road. Mel must have opened her eyes right before we hit it, because she said, “Oh no! Poor birdy.”
“You know,” I said. “Hitting a black bird is bad luck?”
We laughed about it most of the way to the hospital. The thought of bad luck really lightened the mood in the car. We were moving soon, and things were getting stressful. I’d just finished my undergraduate degree and had been accepted into a masters program at Minnesota State University. We were moving half way across the US in one month.
When I think back on this moment, I’m not sure what we were thinking having a baby between degrees. When we discussed the idea, it seemed like a good one. We’d have another baby during the summer. We’d had a baby while I was in my undergrad, and although it was really stressful, we’d made it work. How hard could it be to have two kids while finishing a graduate degree?
I will tell you. Hard.
Once at the hospital, Mel was prepped and I was asked to wear a white medical jump suit with a blue mask. Within an hour of arriving we were in the delivery room, surrounded by a dozen or so doctors and nurses. Mel was stretched out on a table; her arms open and resting on cross like planks. Across her chest was a curtain that kept her from seeing what the doctor was doing.
I sat to her left, holding her hand. I don’t have the stomach for blood. I made the mistake of looking at the procedure with our first child, and I nearly passed out, so I felt it was best to stay behind the curtain and wait until things were done.
Everything seemed to be going just as it had with our first child. Mel was a little loopy from the painkillers. She said, “Were having a baby… Isn’t it wonderful,” slowly, her words a little slurred.
It wasn’t until I heard Norah’s cry that I suspected something might be wrong. It was a soft wheezy choke, not anything like the loud “Nah, Nah, Nah,” I’d heard when Tristan was born. My heart sank when I heard Norah’s wheeze. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew that it wasn’t right. I could feel it in my heart and in my stomach. When I think back on this feeling, I begin to realize that there may be more of an early connection between a father and his children, some primal understanding of health and sickness that I don’t consciously understand.
Mel felt it too despite all of the painkillers she was on. She pushed me with the back of her hand, her face straining to see me, “What’s wrong,” she asked, “What’s wrong. Go see what’s wrong.”
The nurses, one male and one female, carried Norah across the delivery room to a prep table with a blue plastic sheet and a yellow heat lamp. The whole time she wheezed. Her body was already white from the vernix, but between it, where the skin was clean, there was a dull blue that matched her lips and face.
The nurses spoke in medical term that I didn’t understand, but were obviously questions. However, I understood the answers, “Fail.”
They kept repeating the word after each question, “Fail”, “Fail”, ”Fail.”
I must have heard it half a dozen times. I looked at Norah, and wondered if this was it. If this was all I would ever know of her. She was so small, just over five pounds. She was turning bluer by the moment, her small hands, her little toes, her slender stomach; all of it was ripening like a plum.
“What’s the problem,” I asked. “What’s going on?”
I tapped on the shoulders of the nurses. No one responded.
More people entered the room with a small rolling crib. A nurse placed her hand on my shoulders and pushed me back, out of the way. She was in a mask, and all I could see were her eyes. They were serious and somber. They seemed to say there is a real problem and you need to get out of the way. But I didn’t want to get out of the way. I wanted to know what was happening. I wanted to know if Norah was going to live or die.
I wanted to help, but didn’t know how.
I’m surprised how quickly I started to think about the death of my first daughter. How quickly I wondered if we were going to lose this child before she even had a chance at life and love. Before I had a chance to hold her. To teach her how to eat and talk and speak. Before she had the opportunity to climb on me.
I sat down next to Mel, my back to her. I watched as they moved Norah onto the rolling crib they’d just brought in. One nurse was holding a clear hose to her face that was pumping air into her mouth.
By now she wasn’t wheezing anymore. She was silent.
I’ve never felt so helpless and scared in my life.
I looked back at Mel. She was crying. A group of doctors and nurses pushed the baby from the room, and as they did, Mel reached out, gripped my hand, and said, “Follow them.”
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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