Preeclampsia, Fatherhood and Reflections on a First Birthday
One year ago, I unexpectedly became a father earlier than I thought I would be — my wife was due toward the end of January and the weather was looking more and more brutal every day. A few days before she gave birth, Elizabeth started complaining about really bad headaches and her doctor had her come in for some tests. It turned out that she had preeclampsia and it was preventing proper growth in the womb. The doctors were undecided whether to induce labor or not but when it became clear that the yet unnamed baby was in danger (We decided, in the spirit of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, not to find out the gender of the baby — it was good enough for generation after generation and it was good enough for us!)
Suddenly Elizabeth’s doctor found that her preeclampsia was getting quite severe and so they decided upon an emergency Cesarean operation in order to best serve the needs of both mother and baby. They took Elizabeth into the operating room and advised me to wait until they were ready to bring me into the room. I was not allowed to be in the room until she was ready for surgery. It was not too difficult for me to ascertain that she was in a lot of pain, however, when they stuck what was undoubtedly one of the largest needles known to humanity for the purpose of a spinal tap and she let out a scream and let out an intense expletive. They then had me come into the room, covered in paper scrubs.
I sat behind Elizabeth and could only see up to her waist — the doctors and nurses had drawn up a large curtain so that nothing could be seen below her waistline. The doctor nearby me explained to me what was going on while it was happening. All of a sudden, Elizabeth said she felt as though she was going to throw up and I held a small spit bucket under her mouth. She missed and hit me instead. A short moment later, there was a cry and Elizabeth’s doctor said, “Mazel tov! It’s a boy!” That was the beginning of the joy that I have had for the last year.
There have been very few nights in the last year in which I have slept a full night’s sleep with only a few exceptions, and those have been where either Elizabeth has been away on vacation or when it has happened that Chaim Yosef has managed to sleep through the majority of the night without waking. In the first few months of his life it was particularly intense as he would wake up every two hours without fail to feed. Both Elizabeth and I woke up to help him. I started getting grumpy at my now former office and, despite everyone knowing what I was experiencing, got strongly reprimanded for my performance at work. I am glad that I now am working somewhere where fathers don’t face outright discrimination for their gender — the office manager at the old office got to go on maternity leave with both of her children but I barely managed one day off after Chaim was born.
I have learned quite a bit about what it means to be a contributing father in our relationship. There are some evenings when Chaim is having difficulty sleeping and the only thing that helps him sleep is me pacing back and forth in the room with him. There was one evening when Elizabeth, Chaim Yosef, and I were in Brooklyn visiting a couple of friends. I had gone off for twenty or so minutes with our friend’s husband to pray the evening prayers and when we met up with our wives we found that Chaim Yosef was crying. I took him into my arms and we started walking and by the time we reached the end of the avenue, he was fast asleep.
I have also learned much about needs and prioritizing. In our home, the prime priority was at one point each other and taking care of our relationship. Once Chaim Yosef was born, his well-being became the prime (and in fact only) priority — or so it seemed sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, we still care about each other and we make time for doing things for each other but it is not nearly how it once was. Not to mention the radical way in which our budgeting has gone — I used to have a fixed budget every month for buying music on vinyl — that budget has essentially gone down to zero. We used to see at least one movie a month. I have seen exactly one movie in the movie theaters this year, as has Elizabeth — and we didn’t see the same movie at the same time! (We haven’t reached the stage of paying for babysitters… yet!)
Every day is another adventure in the magnificent world of learning to be a better parent. We are regularly looking up new and interesting things online, whether it is serious or more humorous, like when we discovered that the California Parenting Institute does not like satire. When Chaim does something new or has a cry we have never heard, or a reaction we have never seen, we jump online and start making phone calls to our doctor friends to get reassurance that what we are seeing and hearing is normal. I always hear that new parents are like this with their first child and that with their subsequent children they are more relaxed. I suppose we shall cross that bridge if and when we get to it, G-d willing.
This has without a doubt been the best year of my life and I have never been as happy as I have been. I look forward to many more rich and fulfilling experiences in the years to come — and when the time is right, of course, introducing Chaim Yosef to the wonderful world of enjoying great blogs such as the one you are reading now!