The alarm clock began to buzz noisily on the nightstand. I opened my eyes, surprised to see it was already light. Sunday. It dawned on me that it must be Sunday. As much as I would like to get to work early, it wouldn’t make much sense because my store doesn’t open until noon. Asking my crew to come in at ten o’clock in the morning was still pushing it, but I would have loved to have shifts start at six o’clock on Sunday the way they do every other day of the week. Imagine how much could be accomplished in six hours without customer interruptions!
I rolled out of bed, and, as my feet hit the floor, my wife came around the corner from the hallway holding the camera.
“Here, take a picture of me,” requested begrudgingly holding the camera out at arm’s length. “I have done a terrible job of recording my pregnancy, and I look presentable today.”
It was true. It was thirty-four weeks into the pregnancy, and we probably had more pictures of the baby growing inside of her—from all the ultrasounds required of a high-risk pregnancy—than we did of her.
I flipped on the little point-and-shoot, and it whirred to life, its auto-zoom lens extending and retracting before settling into place. “Smile,” I said, as I shifted to frame her in the bedroom doorway. She smiled, resting one hand on her belly, her other on her hip in her signature pose. The camera flashed and clicked, capturing the moment for posterity as it transferred the image into its internal digital storage banks.
“How are you feeling this morning?” I asked as I pressed the power button on the top of the camera and slid it onto the nightstand without looking to make sure it had powered down, trusting that it would.
“Sore,” she replied, holding her back. “She won’t let me sleep.”
“A little less than three weeks to go,” I said, consulting the calendar on the wall with the words ‘C-Section’ scribbled across October 31st. One of the few advantages of a high-risk pregnancy is that you get to pick your baby’s birthday. It makes planning the time off much easier. Plus, we were going to have a Halloween baby! I couldn’t think of anything cooler than that.
“Ugh,” she groaned, rubbing the small of her back. “You carry her for the next three weeks then.”
I leaned over and kissed her as I headed for the bathroom. “I would if I could.”
She snorted at me before changing the subject. “When are you done at work today?”
I shrugged my shoulders and responded through a mouthful of toothpaste. “Dunno,” I said. “I guess I can be done whenever you are.” I spit into the sink and thoroughly washed out the basin making sure there was no trace of the blue paste. “I just have the typical Sunday stuff, markdowns and returns.” I glanced at the red digital readout of the clock on the nightstand before continuing. “It is half-past eight, so if I take you to work now and head straight in, I could be done around sixish?”
She gave me a look, “My shift ends at four o’clock.”
“Four o’clock it is then! Just walk over when you are done and I will wrap up whatever I am working on, and we can come home and put in a movie.”
She smiled, then winced, as she touched her swollen belly.
“Yes, I just keep getting weird pains. She is running out of room in there.”
“Three more weeks,” I said as I pulled a shirt on over my head and grabbed my car keys.
It wasn’t three more weeks; she didn’t even wait until four. At two o’clock I was in the middle of my Sunday markdowns when I heard a page over the intercom. I made my way to the front counter and was surprised to see my wife there.
“We need to go to the hospital. I think I’m in labor.”
“Are you sure? I am right in the middle of markdowns,” I stammered. It was a stupid thing to say, but I was terrified and my brain wasn’t processing the information very well.
“Go. We will take care of it,” the gentle but firm voice of my assistant manager assured me. She handed me my coat and steered me towards the exit.
She was admitted immediately when we arrived, her regular doctor was out of town, but they would try to get in touch with her. They were going to try to stop the labor. Thirty minutes later we were told that they couldn’t stop the contractions. That they were prepping a room for the C-section. The on-call doctor was not comfortable with our situation, so they had called our regular doctor. They let us know that she was on her way, but it would be a couple hours. Wind played through the branches of the tree outside the room. The leaves were frozen in that half-changed state where they are still more green than orange. I memorized the colors while my heartbeat ticked away the seconds as we waited for the doctor.
An eternity later, our doctor arrived saying, “Put on some scrubs, you’re coming in.” It wasn’t a question—it had never been a question—where my wife went, I went.
“Our pre-surgery meeting is tomorrow,” I muttered while trying to figure out how the scrubs worked.
The nurse helping to untangle me from the knot of paper clothing laughed. “Well, you probably won’t need to keep that appointment,” she said.
I walked into the room to the top half of my wife; everything below her ribcage was concealed behind a great blue sheet suspended from the ceiling. I took her hand, and she looked into my eyes. She was scared. I was scared, but I smiled. “Here she comes.”
The doctor’s disembodied voice reached us from somewhere beyond the blue fabric wall. “You are going to feel a tug.” That was it. Then I saw a nurse leave the concealed space, carrying something to the clean white table under a bright light. My wife looked at me anxiously and let go of my hand. Uncertainly, I walked the four paces that placed me in directly behind the nurse at the table. I looked down and saw her for the first time. Our daughter. My daughter.
Tiny, wrinkled, and pink. Her little arms and legs limp with no support. Her tiny head lolling to the side when the nurse placed her on the table. “She is cold!” my brain screamed, but the nurse was doing something, so I stood back, silent. Then came the cry. The cry that meant she was here. The cry that meant she wasn’t too early, that she was ready for the world.
“Look at this!” It was the doctor’s voice, so I turned around. She was holding something in her hands. Her face was covered by a surgical mask, but her eyes were filled with the mad light of discovery. I looked at what she was holding. It was pink and glistening under the surgical lights. It looked like the three-dimensional rendering of the Valentine’s heart a preschooler would draw. The kind where it is much too small on one side, and much too big on the other.
“This is your wife’s uterus.”
I had no idea how to respond to that.
“Cool?” I hazarded, but something in my reaction must have let the doctor know she had lost her audience because she was already turning away to put it back wherever it was that she had produced it from. As I turned back to the nurse and my baby girl, I was suddenly incredibly grateful for the blue sheet that separated the lower half of my wife from the upper. If my brain had been able to make the connection that I had just been shown one of my wife’s internal organs, I am pretty sure I would have required my own hospital room.
Our baby had to go to straight to the nursery so her oxygen levels and heart-rate could be monitored, but my wife had to go to recovery. I was torn. They both needed me. My wife made it perfectly clear to me that the decision was not mine. I had to go with our baby. She couldn’t be there, so I needed to be.
Over the next two hours, I never left my little girl’s side. I put on her first diaper, I gave her her first bottle. I watched the chart on the wall where they tracked her oxygen and had my first parental panic attack when they had to put her on oxygen blow by.
It had happened so suddenly, but suddenly, this little tiny person meant more to me than anything else in the world. I was enraptured by her. She wasn’t doing anything, but I could not take my eyes off her.
The alarm clock began to buzz noisily on the nightstand. I opened my eyes, surprised to see it was already light. Sunday. It dawned on me that it must be Sunday. Nestled against me was a tiny figure. I rolled out of bed, scooping her up as I turned over, careful not to disturb her mama who was sleeping soundly on the other side of the bed. I pulled the sliding glass to the side, and the dogs bolted past me out the open door. I couldn’t remember the last time they had gone out. Sliding the door shut, I stretched and headed for the kitchen. If I was lucky, I could get a bottle ready to go before she opened her eyes. I began preparing the formula, but her eyes fluttered open before I had a chance to finish. She required a quick stop at the changing table—the only time the kid had spent in her own room was at the changing table—for a fresh diaper, and then we were back to the kitchen for breakfast. As I paced, trying to convince the tiny person in my arms that she needed to eat, the calendar caught my eye.
“Two weeks. You are not even supposed to be here for another two weeks.”
She grunted at me around the nipple of the tiny bottle I was using to feed her.
I scrunched up my nose as I looked down into her impossibly dark eyes, “It was very inconsiderate of you to be so early. We don’t even have clothes that fit you.”
I caught sight of a fuzzy orange blob on a chair in the corner.
“Let’s take your picture again and see if you have grown,” I said. I placed her next to the cat who was acknowledging me with his one open eye. “Smile,” I said as I framed them both in the bowl of the chair.
I scooped her up and headed back to the bedroom.
My wife was just opening her eyes, and she smiled at us.
“How are you feeling this morning?” I asked.
“Sore, but better,” she yawned. “How did she sleep? I hope she didn’t keep you up all night.”
“We were up a couple of times, but it was not too bad.”
She propped herself up, grimacing, “When are you done at work today?”
“I am not going in,” I said, sliding back into bed.
“Don’t you have your ‘Sunday stuff’, markdowns and returns?”
“They can handle it,” I replied, looking down at the two faces next to me, so similar that one could have been made as a miniature model of the other. “I have more important things to do today.” I settled into the softness of the comforter and propped a pillow under my arm. I reached for the book on my nightstand and cracked it open.
“This is Harold, and this is his purple crayon,” I began.