My daughter Anna was born. Here are the first few moments of her life, from the current draft of A Smile for Anna.
“Her cleft is incomplete.”
That was the first thing I noticed after Anna was laid up on Julia’s chest. The cleft only extended halfway up to her nose. An incomplete cleft was far easier to repair than a complete one.
Julia didn’t answer, so I brushed the side of her face to get her attention.
“Her cleft is incomplete.”
A glimmer of recognition: “Oh that’s great news.” The tone of her voice didn’t change much, but I attributed that to exhaustion. “What time is it?”
“About a quarter past midnight.”
“Your baby was born about five minutes ago,” Dr. Park said. “The official time of birth is 12:10 AM.”
“You know if it was January first, you might have had the first baby of the New Year.”
She wasn’t impressed. I remember her telling me more than once that she’d rather have a New Year’s Eve baby so she could claim the deduction for the whole year. That’s Julia: always thinking like an accountant.
Donna lifted Anna up off of Julia’s chest.
“So Dad, would you like to give Anna her first bath?”
I wanted to, but she looked so slippery covered with goo and glop. I was afraid I might drop her.
“Can I assist you instead?”
Anna had calmed down once she was on Julia’s chest, but once she got wet she started screaming again.
“She’s got quite a set of lungs,” Donna said.
“Yeah, I think she gets that from me.”
“Well wherever she gets it from, it’s good to hear a healthy cry.”
After the bath, Donna laid Anna on a scale under a heat lamp: “Seven pounds, eleven ounces.” The last ultrasound was off, but only just a bit. Then she measured her. “Twenty three and a half inches.” We knew she was going to be long.
“Would you like to diaper her?”
I had been practicing with a used cabbage patch doll we found at a garage sale and I was ready.
“You’re about to put it on backwards.”
Ten minutes as a dad, and I was already choking under the pressure. I turned the diaper around and tried a second time. Success!
Donna wrapped Anna in a blanket, placed a pink and blue striped cap on her head, and handed her back to me.
“Hi, Anna, it’s Daddy.”
She calmed down immediately.
“She knows your voice.”
Then Anna yawned and I got the first good look inside her mouth. She had a gap in her gum that matched the one in her lip, but the roof of her mouth was whole.
“Julia, her palate is complete.”
No answer. I looked up and saw Dr. Park in the middle of sewing up a small tear. Julia was in considerable pain, but she nodded in acknowledgement.
I looked down at Anna. She gazed up at me with her big brown eyes. I read in many books that I would love this baby more than I’d ever thought was possible. I also read that those feelings don’t always come right away for every dad, and not to be concerned if they didn’t.
“I love you so very, very much.” My whole body shook from sobbing. I knew at that moment I would do anything; give anything, my own life included, for this little girl in my arms.
I paused and drew in a big breath, and then exhaled, bringing my emotions under control.
“Anna, I want you to know that there is nothing you can’t do; nothing you can’t be if you want to, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you different.”
My first fatherly advice: not that she understood what I was saying. She just kept gazing up at me. I didn’t want to ever let go, but after fifteen minutes, my shoulders started to hurt. I carried Anna over to Julia. Dr. Park had finished stitching her up.
“My shoulders are killing me.”
“New Dad?” Donna asked as she took Anna from me.
“Yeah,” Julia replied. “He doesn’t know to switch arms.”
I’ve learned a lot about being a dad since then. Thank you, Anna, for teaching me, and Happy Birthday.