I’m not ready. The thought, more an impression than specific words, tied my stomach in knots once again. Tali lay on the couch, trying her best to be comfortable. Her big, baby-full belly looked like it could pop at any moment. Her contractions told her a similar story. The midwife, however, reassured us by phone that we had time. Tali had only been in labor for twelve hours, it was her first pregnancy, and she was still relatively composed, so we had a while to go, probably at least until the next day. She even went so far as to say she would send a doula over to check and confirm that Tali wasn’t in labor. I hoped she was right, because we weren’t ready. The birthing tub was empty, the midwife was two hours away, and the camera wasn’t set up. We weren’t ready for the baby to come.
I’m not ready. It was more than fear of the baby coming before preparations were complete. It was fear of the baby coming at all. It was fear of a new, tiny, helpless person turning our world upside down. It was fear of finding out what it means to be a father. It was fear of failure. What if I fail? How am I supposed to help a new person figure out life when I don’t even have my own life figured out yet? I’m not ready.
All these fears had whirled around in my head for months, and with mere hours before the baby would be here, they wanted my attention more than ever. I pushed them down. This was happening. Whether I was ready or not, it was happening, and I was needed. My unborn child needed me. Tali needed me.
She grimaced as another contraction started. I glanced at the clock, faithfully tracking frequency and duration, and held her until the pain subsided. She looked at me with fear and exhaustion in her eyes.
“I can’t do this,” she said. “I’m not going to make it.”
My heart sank. Tali wanted a natural home birth with all her heart, and I was completely supportive. We had been dreaming and planning this for nine months. If Tali wanted to give up that dream, it meant that she was in incredible pain. Something didn’t seem right, though. I remembered what I’d learned in our Bradley Method birthing class.
“I think you’re in transition,” I said.
“Don’t say that!” she responded.
She thought I was right, she later told me, but she didn’t want to get her hopes up if she really had at least 24 hours of contractions ahead of her. It was decided that I should call the midwife. Up to this point, Tali had done the calling. This was one reason the midwife thought we had time. She didn’t believe that Tali would be able to have such calm and collected conversation if she was just an hour or so from giving birth. Maybe if I called instead, we reasoned, we would get a different diagnosis.
On the phone with the midwife, I gave her an update on the contractions and told her about Tali’s sudden change in attitude and my belief that she was in transition. The midwife again reassured me that we probably had time, but agreed that she should start the two hour drive to our apartment. She also said that she would call a doula that lived near us, and have her come over as a precaution. I suggested that it would be a good idea to get the tub ready, just in case the birth was happening sooner than expected, and she agreed.
After hanging up, I ran a hose from the shower to the birthing tub, and began filling it with hot water. Less than ten minutes had passed when, to my frustration, the water flowing through the hose suddenly went cold. A plumber had come over just days before and was supposed to have fixed that. I immediately called our realtor and reported the issue. They stated that they would send the plumber again, but they couldn’t be sure when he would arrive. Obviously, I couldn’t just wait and hope, so I tried an alternate method. For the next half hour, I went from filling several pots on the stove with water, to turning the shower hose on, to helping Tali through a contraction, to turning off the hose, to emptying the boiling water from the pots into the tub and filling them again, to turning on the hose, etc. Sometimes the baby wasn’t cooperative and I had to help Tali through a contraction while the pots boiled over.
The arrival of the doula made my job a little easier. I was able to focus more on getting the tub filled, while she paid attention to Tali, although Tali still wanted me near her for most of her contractions, which were steadily getting worse. Her incredible composure was breaking down under the extreme pain. It had become clear that the baby was coming much sooner than expected. The doula was nervous about trying to birth the baby without the midwife, and was reluctant about getting in the tub, as that would speed things up, but the baby wasn’t giving us a choice. It was coming, whether we were ready or not.
It was about this time that the plumber showed up. As he began inspecting the water heater, Tali had another contraction, and I went to be with her. By the time I returned, the plumber had left without saying a word. Tali’s growls and groans probably scared the poor guy.
She had begun pushing with each contraction, her desire to get the baby out overcoming her fear of the pain. In one powerful push, her water broke, bursting like a compressed water balloon. She couldn’t stay on the couch anymore. It was far too cramped and uncomfortable. The doula and I helped her up and into the tub. She winced.
“The water’s so hot!” she gasped.
In my rush to get the tub filled, I hadn’t taken into account the imminence of the birth. Originally, I had planned to fill the tub with very hot water to prepare for the possibility of having to keep it warm for hours before we would actually use it. I hadn’t expected to use it right away, and it was still scalding hot. I quickly turned the shower hose on, streaming cold water in. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the tub became bearable and Tali was able to sit down. Being in the water was a huge relief for her. I climbed in and held her, doing my best to help her relax.
After one contraction on her back, she decided she needed to be on her knees, so she sat up and grabbed the edge of the tub. Another contraction seized her body, and she screamed in pain as she pushed. I had never heard Tali scream like that. I had never seen her in so much pain. I had never seen her be so strong. It was terrifying. I felt truly helpless. All I could do was be there for this incredible woman as her body did the unbelievable.
“Get ready to catch the baby,” the doula warned me. Screaming through one final, excruciating contraction, Tali pushed with everything she had. Like a tiny torpedo of life, the baby shot through the water into my waiting hands. The doula and I passed it up through Tali’s legs and out of the water, into a relieved and victorious mother’s arms.
“You have a little girl,” the doula said. I held my strong, beautiful wife as she held our fragile, beautiful daughter. My heart swelled with pride.
I’m not ready. Of course not. How could I prepare myself for the wonder and mystery of this new, precious life? How could I truly understand until I saw her face, heard her cries, and held her tiny hand?
I’m not perfect, but I’m here. I will be here for you. I will give you my best. I will love you, little Nika.