When you’re childless, the type of childless due to being an ignoramus who had the wrong priorities in life, the last thing you ever expect after you realize the utter stupidity of saying, “I never want to have kids,” is to hold a newborn. It’s not like they have an annual Ignoramus 5K Run and Hold A Newborn Day down at the local maternity ward. Being an ignoramus, you actually expect them to do such a thing, failing to notice that no one would let you near a newborn on your best day let alone when you’re dripping with sweat and assorted stank from doing a 5K.
So it was a truly amazing experience almost six years ago when my oldest stepdaughter gave birth to her first child and I was not only able to be in her room 40 minutes later, but was handed the tightly wound football that newborns are during their first few days outside the womb. Initially, I was just along for the ride. Literally. My wife arranged to take over driving the last portion of the 600 mile trip from our home to the hospital because of her familiarity with the route. My role, not communicated in advance, was to hold the phone to her ear about an hour or two out as she bellowed a panoply of colorful observations about the doctor and his desire to administer something that sounded very much like when you step on a Lego in the middle of the night wrapped around the unfamiliar though for not for long word, Pitocin. I gathered from the context as our mass approached infinity that Pitocin wasn’t considered the best substance on Earth in our vehicle. However, we were going to be there way sooner than planned so it did appear to have some positive aspects.
Eventually, matters got sorted out sans Pitocin and in the wee hours of the following morning, a beautiful baby girl entered the world. By that time, her newly minted grandmother, who would come to be called Amma when the beautiful baby girl began talking, and I were snoozing in a waiting room off the maternity ward. Okay, at least I was snoozing. In that regard, I was pretty much the same as my father some 52 years before when he was also awaiting the birth of a firstborn child in a waiting room off a maternity ward. Of course, there were some key differences with the main one being that my father could go no further than that waiting room. In fact, he was given the option after they put up the stop sign and wheeled away my mother (and me), of staying or going home. Not that anyone cared. His part in the proceedings ended as far as they were concerned when he brought us to the hospital and his time in the waiting room would end in seeing me as a newborn only through the glass of the nursery.
That was 1959. In 2011, my time in a maternity waiting room ended not by going to the nursery to look through its glass but instead into my stepdaughter’s room to see the baby. Even at that, though, I had no other expectations. Just being there was amazing in and of itself. A childless man in the room of someone who had given birth forty minutes before. Who could expect such a thing? Even an ignoramus would not. Certainly not this one. And once it happened, who would expect more, ignoramus or otherwise? Only more was about to occur when I was offered the opportunity to hold this newborn. This 40 minute old newborn baby girl!
My first impulse was to say, and I actually did say, “No, that’s okay. You don’t have to do that. I’m fine. Just thrilled to be part of this.” After being reassured it was more than okay and taking a huge deep breath under a prayer of, “Oh God, please don’t let me drop her,” I took hold of young Chelsea Grace. For the record, it’s not like I don’t know how to hold babies or even change diapers because I’m quite adept at both. In fact, my long track record of putting babies to sleep is marred only by my cousin Christina who apparently did not find me the utter bore that every other baby who immediately falls asleep on me does.
Now, there’s holding babies and there’s holding newborns. What an amazing feeling to hold a newborn! They’re so small and so, so new. And you know it. And you feel it. The entire experience is truly overwhelming. You have a new life in your arms. And again, you know it and feel it. I was really aware of it and really aware of the reason I was holding her. Here were two people, regardless of them being my wife’s daughter and son-in-law who, while knowing and loving me, were nevertheless trusting me with their newborn. For them to do what I felt was far beyond anything reasonable and definitely not necessary in allowing me the magical privilege of holding their newborn daughter when I would been completely fine with being like my father and looking through that nursery glass, touched me so very deeply.
It stays with me to this day almost six years later. There was no reason I could ever expect to have that experience. You miss out on things in life and you have to accept them. All the regret in the world doesn’t make a difference and considering the tragedies too many have endured in this regard, it’s nothing I had any business dwelling on. As I said, I was an ignoramus and that’s that. Somehow, though, I held a newborn, experiencing what is, again, a magical privilege.
Fast forward six years with another baby girl on her way. Now, before I go any further, there was a baby boy in between these girls. He’s perfectly healthy, thank God, and 100% boy, no doubt throwing something or running madly about at this very moment. He had a bit of a rough entry into the world, so holding him was delayed somewhat from his newborn time. I don’t want him upset, though, that he’s being left out of the story. Maybe I’ll chronicle some of his escapades one day especially the ones that shock Amma who only had sisters and only raised girls. A 100% boy does a thoroughly good job of regularly shocking Amma as you might imagine. Then again, he managed to shock me as well last fall when he employed, shall we say, natural landscaping techniques proudly proclaiming when I pointedly inquired as to exactly what he was doing, “I making a pool, Papa Mark!”
So with a second little miss entering this family, I was on track for another chance to hold a newborn and I have to say I really looked forward to it. I think it’s like everything else you experience for the first time that you don’t know what to expect and you just experience it. When the opportunity comes around again, you tend to plan a bit, anticipating that you can savor things this time. That’s at least how I went into it. I figured that here was a second newborn and how cool that would be. Wow! Look at me. A childless man and two newborns. Not bad. Not bad at all.
What I didn’t anticipate were the emotions that I would feel this time. With the first baby, there was everything going on at once—elation, nervousness, excitement, surprise—one big jumble. This time around, I figured I’d hold the newborn and be Papa Mark the Cool. Papa Mark the Old Pro. Instead, I was Papa Mark the Close to Tears. Holding that little baby, that newborn girl, really touched me deep inside. I felt a new closeness with the entire family. I felt a connection with her, but I have no connection with her. I’m her grandmother’s husband. There’s no blood save a partially shared ethnic heritage. Essentially, I was a stranger allowed to be part of a special moment.
A stranger. For that is what a childless man is in a maternity ward. A stranger. Someone whose presence is not a natural one. A presence not devolved from family nor required by occupation or necessity. Completely and utterly superfluous, at best. Yet there I was holding a precious new life. Eight hours old and vulnerable in every way. I held her on my left side, over my heart. She nestled; I swooned.
A childless man holds a newborn…again.