As published in the Providence Sunday Journal, March 20, 2016.
I felt myself blacking out, but there was a silver lining: at least I was in a hospital.
My wife, Deb, and I were taking the new parents’ tour at Women & Infants. It was the middle of February, and our first child was due the following month.
We stood in the crowded delivery room with the other couples from our childbirth class. For as long as I could remember, I’d been squeamish at the sight of blood. Now, the mere thought of it was making me woozy.
Once, when I was 9 or 10, I clipped my forehead on the corner of a coffee table while playing dodgeball with my older brother in the basement of our house in Providence. I lay face down on the floor, moaning.
“Get up, you baby,” my brother said.
I lifted my head and saw a pool of blood the size of a salad plate on the tan linoleum floor.
“Dad!” I screamed.
My father was staying with us that evening, until my mother got home from her class at Johnson & Wales. It was an arrangement they had made after the divorce.
Upstairs in the bathroom, my dad pressed a towel against my head.
“I’m dizzy,” I said.
“You’ll be OK,” he said calmly, “but we have to go to the emergency room.”
I don’t remember the drive down Pleasant Valley Parkway or getting stitches at Roger Williams Hospital. I only recall how relieved I felt at the sound of my father’s voice.
Such relief was nowhere to be found during the tour at Women & Infants. Sweating beneath my woolen winter coat, I tried not to listen as our teacher rattled on about umbilical cord clamps, vacuum extractors, and other ominous-sounding delivery room devices. Her detailed explanation of meconium aspiration — a potential complication for newborns — didn’t seem to unnerve anyone else. Meanwhile, my legs felt rubbery and spots floated in front of my eyes.
Panicking, I bolted for the door, staggered out into the hallway, and collapsed on a nearby chair. Shedding my coat, I put my head between my knees and tried to calm myself with long, deep breaths.
Moments later, Deb and our teacher came to my aid as the class filed out behind them.
“You OK?” the teacher said.
“He’s not good with medical stuff,” Deb whispered.
“I’ll be all right,” I said in a throaty voice, my head still bowed.
I saw Nikes and Timberlands shuffling by on the shiny floor. A mom-to-be sarcastically said what everyone must have been thinking: “Oh, he’s going to be a big help.”
I had come to the same conclusion. How would I ever make it through the actual birth?
Not that it mattered. As one of the docs at Deb’s obstetrics practice had said to me, “If you faint, we’ll just slide you out of the way.”
Five weeks later, on an unseasonably warm day, Deb and I paced up and down a sunny hallway at Women & Infants — the same hallway I had fled to during my hospital tour meltdown. Deb was in labor; we were told walking might hasten our baby’s arrival.
When we returned to the delivery room, Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods” came on the TV as if on cue. My father had introduced the Tony Award-winning musical to Deb and me soon after we got married. We loved its cautionary meditation on children and parenting, though it would be years before we truly appreciated the show’s nuances.
I managed to remain vertical through Deb’s delivery. After the birth, someone even mentioned meconium, but it didn’t faze me. And soon I was holding our baby — all six pounds and eight ounces of him.
“Welcome, little man,” I said softly.
Twenty-five years ago, the first day of spring was my first day of fatherhood. Just before midnight, I drove home from the hospital with the sunroof open.
The air was filled with promise like never before.