The following article is a re-publication of an essay on fatherhood I posted to my daughter's website. The website is defunct, but my daughter is not... and this essay was too good to leave on my harddrive for no one to read...
This is a story about fatherhood for guys who aren't real emotional and who are completely out of touch with their "feminine side". Let me start this off by saying that I am not a touchy-feely kind of guy. I am humorous. I am passionate. I am intense. But touchy-feely... not so much. I don't cry at weddings or funerals... or very much at all for that matter. I don't watch chick flicks unless my wife makes me. And I am not even empathetic about most injuries. I am from the "no blood, no bones broken, no problem" school of thinking.
So it was with great reservation that I heard several young fathers say something like this to me before I had my first child: "When my baby was born, I cried. I felt my heart expand to twice its size. I never thought I could love someone this much. My heart melted and I immediately bonded to the baby. Just wait, you will understand what I feel." I was skeptical about this, because I just did not see myself getting that emotional. Not because I was trying to be macho, but because I just don't feel that way about nearly anything... hardly ever. For instance, I love my wife incredibly. I tell her I love her all the time. I brag about how wonderful she is regularly. But, I don't have "Harlequin Romance Novel" type feelings about her very often. Not that I think gushy feelings are wrong or non-masculine or anything like that. Those type of feelings just don't happen to me often. I guess its just not how I am wired.
So I really wondered how I would feel when Elise (my baby) came into the world. It all started when my wife, Kim, and I checked into the hospital on Thursday night, and they put a pill on her cervix to start her dilation and light contractions. I won't get into all the anatomical details, but it did not look very comfortable... at all. Some days I am really glad to be a man. After the last three days I am overjoyed to be a man! They also gave her some pain meds and a sleeping pill, and after that, we sat and waited, and nodded in and out of sleep for the next eight hours.
Then we started the pitosin drip into Kim's I.V. at 7 am Friday morning. If you have ever seen the movie "Aliens" you will remember how the creature moved around under the skin of its victim right before it broke through the skin with its razor sharp teeth. That is kind of like what the pitosin drip did when it started Kim's contractions. Except, if Kim did have an alien in her stomach, the sheer strength of her contractions would have crushed it to death.
For the first four hours, Kim was stoic. The electronic monitor measured contraction strength on a scale of 0 to 100. Most of Kim's contractions registered at a 90 or so. Some of them went off the chart. But Kim took them like a bad case of heartburn. She handled those contractions, if I may say it, like a "man", with the exception being, of course, that most "men" would have been reduced to a whimpering ball of pain huddled in the corner. But not Kim. She sat there. She breathed deep. She even joked a little. Then, about four hours into it, she called for the Epidural. The Epidural, in case you were not aware, is where they take a 6 to 9 inch needle and jam it into your spine to make a place for a small catheter to be implanted which delivers pain medication directly to the spinal column. The upside is that after it is done, she can't feel anything from the abdomen down. The downside is that they are sticking a 6 inch piece of steel into your back!
Now, here comes the hitch in the plan. The Epidural specialist happened to be working on another Caesarian section when Kim's pain endurance ran out, and could not come for about an hour. You could see Kim's whole demeanor change. Confidence turned to frustration, and she started sweating profusely. Then, almost as if on que, a train of visitors started arriving. First up was our priest, stopping by to pray for us, and bringing in tow with him two monks. Yes, I said monks. Now you have visions of a priest in black and two other men in brown habits, with rope belts and the very top of their heads shaved bald. Not so with our monks! These were brothers evidently from the "Casual Order" of Saint Benedict. One was wearing shorts and Teva sandals, and the other a t-shirt and jeans.
It was almost like a bad joke: "So this priest and two monks walk into a delivery room..." Along with them there is Kim, who deeply appreciates the prayers and pastoral visit, yet is completely overwhelmed with pain. Kim's mom, who is Baptist, is completely bewildered by priests and monks, and wondering what the heck is going on. And me, laughing inside at how wonderful and yet weird the whole situation is. As an observer, it was hilarious. After a short sermonette on Isaiah 26:3 and Psalm 139 by our priest, we laid hands on Kim and prayed for her and Elise. Kim's mom still remained confused by the whole thing.
Then the ecclesiastical menagerie left, and after that came the parade of parents. Keep in mind that during all of this Kim is undergoing extreme contractions and is not properly medicated yet. I am frankly amazed that she did not erupt in a torrent of words that would make a sailor blush, but then again, she was stoic. My parents walk in, start talking and greeting everyone like it’s a family reunion. Kim, sweaty and groaning, is hugged and kissed. Her father then walks in, and says hi to everyone in the room. During all of this Kim is withstanding pain that would cripple me, and yet she is surprisingly kind and courteous. The adjective, again, is stoic. Now, Kim's father is a professional nurse, so he begins inspecting the whole set up and making generally positive comments. He starts asking Kim about how everything is going, and I can see that Kim is on the edge of completely exploding (Yes, I know THAT look). Thankfully, at the last minute, the nurse comes in and shoos everyone out into the lobby.
Shortly after that comes the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural, and finally Kim was tired, yet happy. Almost peaceful. But there was just one problem: Kim's cervix was not dilating. It got to three centimeters and then stopped. Now, at this point, if you do not know already, you may be asking yourself: "Self, how do they check a woman's cervix to see if it is dilated? What type of instrument do they use?" Answer: they don't use an instrument. They use their hand. And yet again, I am incredibly glad I am a man.
Basically, you loose all dignity when you are giving birth. Dozens of people see you- all of you. Amniotic fluid is running everywhere and monitoring devices are plugged into the most ingenious places. While cords and wires are stuck to every part of the body, the medical staff poke, prod, and measure every square inch. But Kim doesn't care, she just wants the pain to stop. And I don't care because I am just standing there like a deer in the headlights, wide-eyed, and all I can say is: "Great job honey! I'm proud of you! Breathe deep!". Basically I was a 300 pound cheerleader, Kim was the playing field, and the doctors and nurses were the players.
But I digress. There we are. Kim has gone through 12 hours of immense, bone-crushing contractions, and she wasn't dilated enough to push the baby out. The net effect was that Elise was being pushed into Kim's pelvis over and over with no place to go. I would imagine it was kind of like a fat man sitting on a sack lunch repeatedly. As a result, Elise's heart rate would drop precipitously after each contraction, except for when Kim was laying on her side. The doctor then told us that we needed to have a Caesarian Section. This was NOT what I wanted and NOT what I was praying for, but when he asked me, I said: "I figure you know a hell of a lot better than I do what is best, so let's go with what you say" (I was putting on my "game face" at this point). A little confused and a little upset, I watched as they wheeled Kim down the hall and put me in surgical garb.
They then put me in a room, all by myself, to wait to be called into the O.R. by the nurse. That was probably the worst part of the delivery for me, because I was stuck in a room with nothing to do, and no one to talk to. So, I did what I had been doing all morning: I prayed. First I prayed for everything I could think of for Kim, Elise, and the doctors. Then I prayed through it all again. Then I prayed in the Spirit for a while. Still, no one came to get me. Twenty minutes passed. Was she alright? Had they forgotten me? Was my baby already born and no one told me? Was something horribly wrong? I was freaking out. So, I did what anyone would do who was stressed out but could do nothing about it: I found hospital literature to read. You know something is wrong when you are actually READING the pamphlets from the hospital. But I found out some great procedures to do if someone is going into severe hyperthermia, as well lots of information on the admission, security, and discharge procedures for the nursing staff. Anything to keep my mind off of worrying.
Finally, after about 35 minutes they came and got me, and everything was alright, thank God. I came into the O.R. and Kim was on the table with a curtain under her arms, separating her from all the doctors and nurses operating on her abdomen. The nurse tells me: "Whatever you do, do NOT look over the curtain to see the operation. We do not want to pick you up off the floor." Now, I have got to tell you that it was all I could do not to stand up and look. I was that curious. But, I focused on Kim and started talking to her. The anesthesiologist was on our side of the curtain too, and we had a great conversation while the surgery was going on. He was from the same town as us, so we talked about Elementary schools and fund raisers.
The whole scene was absolutely surreal. On the other side of the curtain, some type of funky music with a good baseline is playing and the surgical team is having a conversation that sounds like a party. On our side of the curtain, Kim is totally conscious, and she can feel pressure and movement on the other side of the curtain, but no pain. Every once in a while I can see her jerking around, as they move her, but she is completely calm. I mean, I know that on the other side of that curtain they are cutting through her skin, pushing aside muscle, pulling out intestines, and cutting into the uterus. But on our side, we three are having a conversation like we are at a Starbucks somewhere (you know, the Starbucks where they do major surgery).
Then we hear "There's her head!" I pull out my camera. Followed by "The cord is around her neck." At that point I KNOW that the C-section was an answer to prayer because if Kim would have dilated and had the baby normally, then it could have strangled Elise. Then they say "Here she is." For about three seconds they put Elise over the curtain. I am so transfixed that I am not able to get the camera up in time for a picture. Now, I am not going to romanticize it. Some people say a newborn is the most beautiful thing in the world. I disagree. A baby just pulled from the womb is NOT pretty. She is bloody and covered by this white creamy stuff called "vernix". She looked like a small panicked monkey that had been shaved and covered in Crisco. But she was MY small panicked monkey!
Then the nurses whisk me over to the cleaning table with the baby, and I am simultaneously transfixed by the baby while also inexorably drawn to look at what they are doing to Kim on the other side of the curtain. I fight the urge to look at Kim and I watch as they suction the baby's nose and mouth and clean the vernix off of her. She immediately begins to turn an adorable shade of pink, and she screams the prettiest scream I have ever heard. And of course, I have the digital camera taking pictures and video of everything that is going on (check the website out when you get a chance!).
Then they wrap the baby up in a little burrito and take her back over to Kim as I follow. I finally take a two-second glimpse at the surgery as we walk over. It wasn't gross as much as surreal to see four people working together to pack everything correctly back into Kim's stomach. It was just weird to see the same person- the same body- who I had hugged and held and married, be opened up and have other people's hands packing her intestines back inside her. Again, the word surreal comes to mind. I quickly turned away and followed the nurse. Kim got to hold the baby (with my help) and we even got our pictures taken by the nurse while surgery was being completed on the other side of the curtain.
After about five minutes, they put Elise in a crib and wheeled her out to the nursery as I followed. Kim stayed behind for the next hour as they finished working on her and sent her to post-op. As we walk out the door, it was like walking onto the red carpet at the Grammies (or should I say the "Grand-ma's"). All of our respective parents- now grand-parents- are standing outside the double doors with digital cameras blazing like a mob of middle-aged paparazzi. Elise is a super-star! She is then whisked away into the newborn nursery and my dad ceremoniously gives a baseball cap with "New Dad" stamped on the crown of it (the non-smokers equivalent of a cigar). It may be a little gimmicky, but it was still pretty cool.
We all then proceed to the nursery windows to ogle, ooh, and ah as Elise is given her first bath. Everyone is patting me on the back, and I am definitely feeling like a proud papa... but there is just one catch: No tears. No melted heart. No gushy feelings. No miraculous expansion of my heart. I mean, at least the Grinch's heart expanded for goodness sake! I immediately started feeling guilty. If "bonding" to my new baby meant having some type of touchy-feely gushy emotional response, then it wasn't happening. I tried. It just wasn't happening. Was something wrong with me? Or is there more than one way to bond?
Then I noticed something that was demonstrably different within me after she was born. I LIKED her. You've got to realize that I am not a "baby person". Its not that I dislike babies, I just don't like them. I don't enjoy them. I am not the type of person ho sees a cute baby and thinks "I wanna hold her". In fact, babies have always made me nervous. Too small and too fragile. I will hold them if asked, just to be courteous, but I always try to give them away as fast as possible. Sorry to anyone who's baby I have held before, but it is true.
But this is not true for Elise. I really LIKE her. I like to hold her. I like to talk to her. I like to smell her. I like to look at her. I even like changing her and meeting her needs (though probably not ALL the time). I enjoy this baby, and I have never really enjoyed any other baby before. I don't enjoy her in a mushy, gushy way, but in the way someone enjoys having a deep conversation with someone they care for. Or the way someone deeply enjoys a work of art, a beautiful sunset, or a great piece of music. Looking at Elise I realize exactly what the Psalmist means when he wrote "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (Psalm 139:14). She is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made, if I do say so for myself: from the tips of her cute little toes to the top of her fuzzy little head.
Another thing that tells me I am "bonded" is this: I would die for her. Really. I would give up my left arm, my kidney, my bone marrow, or my lung, if that is what she needed. Without hesitation. I love her that much... and I barely even know her! Furthermore, I would do anything to help her become all that God has made her to be. I will use my time, my talent, my treasure, and my prayers to help her live out the purpose she is made for. I will hold her, I will discipline her, I will comfort her, I will protect her. I will do whatever it takes. I would beat someone to death with my bare hands to protect her if that is what she needed.
Future boyfriends of Elise, pay attention to that last sentence.
This gives me deep insight into what the Bible means when it says God is our "Father", our "Provider", our "Shield", "Stronghold", and "Refuge". He disciplines us for our good, and he provides for all of our needs (see Romans 8 and Hebrews 12). Our Lord is a "mighty warrior" who protects and provides for His family of faith. I think I am just beginning to get an insight into what that type of love really means. Warrior love. Tough love. Powerful love. Fatherly love.
I guess I am trying to say that bonding- real love between two people- is not necessarily or even primarily an emotional feeling. It is commitment. It is action. It is enjoyment. It is self sacrifice. If you are not gushy about love, there is no need to feel guilty because maybe, just maybe, deep love is more than just "deep" feelings.
Scripture says that "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." (Zephaniah 3:17) This really hits me hard after having Elise. Through her, I have a deeper grasp of God's grace. On one hand I take great delight in her. I enjoy quieting her when she is fussy. She is a really, really cool kid. But, on the other hand, there is the question: WHY do I love her? Is it because she will somehow make my life easier or benefit me in some way? No way. I have no guarantee she will EVER benefit my life by giving me wealth or prestige (or extra sleep or more time to "enjoy myself"). I personally owe my own parents more than I would ever be able to pay them, and my dad still pays for dinner every time we go out and eat.
What can Elise give me? Dirty diapers. Food bills. Lost sleep. Clothing and medical costs. Worry, stress, and heartbreak. College tuition. Paying for the wedding. In every material and emotional way, Elise will cost me. She will cost me big time. So, back to the question: WHY do I love her? I love her for the same reason God loves me: she is mine. I made her (with a bunch of help from Kim, of course). She comes from my soul, my body, my being. She is made in the image of Kim and myself. She is my life, and I would do anything for her, even to the point of dying.
God loves us all like that. We are his own, made in his image, and we come from his own being. We cost him everything. We can give him nothing. We keep screwing up, and yet he showers us with his grace over and over and over. He emptied Himself and became one of us and died on the cross, giving everything he could to bring us back to him. He exchanges our sin for His righteousness, just like changing a dirty diaper for a clean one. Every time we "mess ourselves", he is there to clean us up and hold us close to himself.
Grace is a free, undeserved gift given to someone who could never earn it. My love for Elise is pure grace. God's love for us is like my grace toward Elise multiplied by infinity. I have just a glimpse of His grace in Elise, but what a wonderful glimpse it is! Maybe it is not a touchy-feely, over-emotional glimpse of grace, but it is a strong, bold, courageous vision. Love may have a "feminine side", but we should never forget that it has a "masculine side" as well. Now, I don't know about "rejoicing over her with singing", because with my voice that would probably just make her cry... but you never know, I might just write a rap song.