I have a friend who is going through an unbearably stressful time just now, and we were comparing notes recently about our reactions to traumatic stress. He loses weight under pressure, and I gain it. He falls asleep exhausted and wakes up extra-early, while I have the opposite problem. So here I sit.
Even as I’m waiting for this next child, I’m reliving the experience of the birth of our twins. I lay in bed in the darkness while my eyes dart back-and-forth, moving around the pieces of the timeline from two years ago. Characters from my past appear at the foot of the bed, and I put them in the right place: The surgeons who delivered the babies, the NICU team who kept our son breathing, the cardiology sonographer who came from across town to do her assessment, the geneticist who came over as well to share his wisdom and comfort, and the huge team of people in red shirts who transported our son away on his first day of life. I remember riding with my father-in-law to see my son at the Children’s Hospital, and I remember the Cardiology Fellow who invited me into that computer room that smelled like someone’s dinner. He was tall, much taller than me, and he squatted down in a chair to draw me those same pictures of my son’s heart and tell me all of the information that I’d heard before. I remember the way the words echoed around in my head. I said I understood, and I did– but I understood like a soldier understands, like someone who is trained to execute certain actions because he understands that certain actions need to be executed. I didn’t understand like a father understands, because a father is no good in those situations.
This time, I’m going to be a father. We have every reason to believe that no one is going to need to take the baby away. I won’t have to choose to leave one child to be with another, or to try to make impossible decisions. And yet I’m still expecting that stress, somehow. I didn’t have the time or the luxury of processing it at that time, so I guess I’m doing it now. But when this baby comes, there will probably be a kind of relief– of time on our hands where there was none before. Time to bond and to sit and to reflect. Time to see the kid scream, and time to attempt to comfort. Time to take a gazillion photos and to walk around with a big, stupid grin on my face. Time to be innocent, and happy. Time to be a perfectly oblivious father.