This is the second part of Anthony Romeo’s three-part post about the night his son was born. Read the first part of the series here. Tomorrow we will publish the third (and final) part.
7:49 a.m. It is still the morning of November 9, 2015, and I enter the operating room for Bio Mom’s c-section, to be her support system during the birth of my son. My husband has stashed himself at the freight elevator, along the path from the delivery room to the nursery, a location hinted to us by hospital staff willing to help two dads make a meeting work; Dom will wait there for awhile. Bio Mom is given two bracelets when she checks into the hospital, and while she wears one, I have been given the other. And so Dom finds himself waiting at an antiquated lift, to meet his son for the first time. I sit next to Bio Mom, and offer encouraging words.
7:50 a.m. I am amazed at the intricacy of the room. Like something in a Broadway show, a curtain is hung from the ceiling and draped to Bio Mom’s neck. Her head is surrounded by sheets, towels, cloths. It almost looks as if she’s placed her head into a wooden stand-up, only instead of a Victorian woman or a circus clown, it is a horror show of wires and tubes and pumps and monitors. And on the other side of that sheet, an iodine-stained stomach waiting for …
7:51 a.m. I am NOT thinking about the other side of the curtain. I am not thinking about my son. I am just trying to be present for Bio Mom, to encourage her, to listen. I tell myself that I do not hear snipping, or cutting, or wetness. I struggle to un-notice the occasional tug or smell of the surgical cauterization that finds its way into the smallest opening of my surgical mask and into my nose.
8:00 a.m. Why it is taking so long is a mystery to me. I’ve seen babies on a 3-D printer come out faster. I think back to my first phone call with the woman on the table, the woman who is strapped and sedated and delivering, and I remember asking her why she chose us. Out of 25 families, Bio Mom said our profile picture stood out to her because of the kiss. She said, “When I saw you kissing Dom on his forehead, I know what those kisses mean. It means you’re going to love somebody forever. That’s how I kiss people when I want to tell them I love them.” The light in the room must be brighter than I’d realized, I remember thinking, as the water pushed its way out of my eyes and onto my cheeks, tinting the top of my surgical mask with its transparent truth.
8:08 a.m. I hear the doctors say to Bio Mom, “Ok, now you’re going to feel that pressure we talked about.” And like something out of a exorcism movie, Bio Mom is pulled two inches down the table, as if a demonic presence has taken hold of her and is pulling her away. (My imagination, you’ll remember, at this point is deeply influenced by the lack of sleep and excess amounts of tension.)
8:09 a.m. And the world changes, because I can hear him. I can hear him for the very first time in my life, yelling at the room. My son is here, in the world, alive, and out. He is liberated, and he is barking orders at anyone and everyone who will listen. After everything, all of the things, and nothing, he is, at last, here. He is not yet ours, but he is the world’s.
I take a moment to look down at Bio Mom, who has tears of her own, hearing the baby cry for the first time. I bend down, and through the surgical mask, kiss her on her forehead, and with my lips pressed still against her head, I whisper a tiny truth to her. ”This kiss means I will love you forever.” She knows, and tears stop.
I do not know what time it is. The doctors ask if I would like to come and see the baby for the first time. I ask Bio Mom if that would be all right, and she is very supportive of that plan; she wants mine to be the first face the baby sees when he opens his eyes. I stand from her headrest, and walk around the other side of the curtain, averting my eyes completely from all that lies below the curtain.
And I see him, with a perfectly round head, white in patches, the rosiest of pinks in another. He is on a scale, and the nurse next to me instructs me to take out my phone, to capture these first moments of his life. She starts to say something to me about birth weight in grams. I cannot hear.
“I feel hot,” I say to her. She continues on, guiding me by the elbow to get in better position for the cell phone pictures I’m being encouraged to take. I am aware that my phone is now in my hand, though I do not remember taking it out or positioning it there. The nurse is now talking about birth weight in pounds.
“No. I feel ... hot.” She understands now and takes the phone from my hands. While she snaps photos of our son, another nurse takes me firmly by the elbow and back and walks me into the hallway. She tells me she is going to rub my back, and will bring me juice. I feel like Shelby in “Steel Magnolias." I am mortified. I survived the assorted sounds and smells of a major surgical procedure, but the sight of my son for the first time, the end and beginning of a story all at once, that is what buckled my knees. I take the juice.
When I have steadied myself and apologized for the care it had become clear I needed, a different nurse comes out to talk to me. She tells me that he is almost perfectly healthy, he has been given an Apgar score of 9, but that there is a complication and he will not be taken to the nursery. He is having difficulty with his breathing, they tell me. He is going to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, now.
I tell them we need to get Dom, I need to find Dom, they need to get Dom. Someone does, and we are given to each other, and we walk to the NICU together, hand in hand, for our next chapter.
Read the third part of Anthony Romeo’s series here.