Birth of baby

November 4, 2010

By Sebastian Moraga

How a new dad’s life changed with his son’s arrival

My name is Sebastian Moraga, I was born in 1979 and I am 41 years old.

No, the math is right. On Oct. 5, I watched my first child being born and I aged 10 years in about an hour.

It all started at about 10 p.m. Oct. 4, when the doctor looked at me and said “he’s not coming out.”

That meant one thing: forceps.

Now, imagine the inventor of the surgical tool the forceps replaced and made obsolete — if such a thing ever existed. Let’s call it “The Thingy.”

Well, you take the inventor of “The Thingy” on a bad day at the office, and I’m still more anti-forceps than he is. I grew up around horror stories of cousins whose lives were forever changed by what Bill Cosby calls “the salad spoons,” and I had decided long ago not to add my son to the family’s list of cautionary tales.

But I had seen my unborn child’s heart rate climb to 210, I had seen the nurses put cold washcloths on my wife’s forehead and an oxygen mask on her face, and I had the feeling things could worsen. So, maybe…

Then, I saw the actual forceps.

Oh, hell no.

I had never seen forceps before. They looked like something you use when you want to know where someone hid the money.

No way that thing was going to be used on my child and he was going to be OK afterward.

I suggested the suction method, and the doctor turned me down, saying my child’s head was too hairy for the suction cup to work. I am buying industrial amounts of Nioxin every month so I don’t die bald, and my son is too hairy to be born.

My wife and I had talked about forceps prior to the birth and we had both decided that it would be a last resort. In fact, we would likely use “The Thingy” first.

But this was different. This wasn’t a chat inside the still-unused nursery or inside Target shopping for bibs. This was the real thing. The heart rate kept climbing, my wife’s forehead kept dripping, and the more I thought about it, the more worked up I got.

Then, the next contraction hit. My wife pushed three times. No baby.

I wish I could tell you there was a Hollywood moment that convinced me, complete with background music and close-ups, Mr. DeMille. But there wasn’t. All I remember clearly is feeling my wife’s hand in mine and me thinking about my dad.

Back in 1979, my dad faced the same dilemma. He also had an unborn son who would not come out. He also hated forceps, and he also had a wife whose health was in danger. He told the doctor, “You do what you have to do to save my wife and my kid.”

So, 41 years later, I turned to my wife’s doc and I said the same thing. The doctor went ahead and started putting the forceps together.

I didn’t feel one bit better. I thought, “Who do I go to for forgiveness now? If the forceps do what I fear they will do, how do I explain to my son that it was my call to alter the course of his life before it even began? Where do I get the gall to explain the ultimate in ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time?’”

The need for answers weakened me, so I sat down for a second. Now, my eyes were forceps-height. Suddenly, that cushioned stool felt like Old Sparky. I got right back up.

Then, the two forceps clicked. The most horrifying sound I’ve ever heard in my life, and it sounded like nothing worse than perhaps four or five people snapping their fingers at once. That’s how worked up I was.

Then, the next contraction hit. And the spot of stubborn hair became a forehead flanked by two pieces of metal. And the forehead became a head, and the head became an upper body and the upper body became 20.5 inches of the handsomest anyone ever looked while covered in Lord knows what.

Twenty-three hours of labor and he was here, screaming for average and for distance, sporting the long, wrinkled Moraga toes that so delighted his grandfather when he saw them on me 41 years earlier.

And what do you know, without a forceps mark on him.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t scream. All I remember is standing there, smiling, completely lost in the moment, staring at my new love and wanting to keep staring at him like that until his fifth birthday. So lost I was that my wife later told me she wondered if I would ever grab the camera.

I thanked the doctor, kissed my wife and I apologized to them for being so nutty over the forceps. Then, after about a hundred photos, I called my mother, who cried with me, congratulated me and then screamed at me for letting the doctor use forceps.

My son was well into his lung workout, so I didn’t hear much of what she said.

I walked for a while, until I found my mother-in-law, one of my brothers-in-law and my wife’s best friend, who hugged me like I had just found their wallet, glasses and pet.

We walked back to the delivery room, and while they talked to my wife, I sat down again. That’s when it hit me. I tried to get back up, and while I knew this wasn’t Old Sparky, the clamps were on.

It was all business now. I had a son. Playtime now belongs to someone else. I had stopped living my life and become a supporting actor in someone else’s story. I have to impart wisdom even when I have none for myself.

I had no idea what to say at first. So I said everything. I called him pet names, goofy names, sang him songs while I changed diapers, talked to him in English and read to him in Spanish. Not Dr. Seuss, but he loved it. OK, maybe I did. He slept.

But I claimed ownership. I figured the worst that could happen is he stains a few shirts with his meals, I stain a few onesies with my drool and we get used to each other.

On the third day, the jaundice hit and he spent his day with a mask on, a diaper on and nothing else. He let us know right away that that was no way to start a life.

Then, I talked to him. Nothing clever.

“What happened, Matías?” I asked twice, using his middle name because I like it better than his first.

And then, the tiny fellow with masked eyes and little clothing recognized my voice and stopped crying. I could not believe it.

He stirred a bit and fell asleep, leaving behind the cold of the room, the darkness of the mask and a 41-year-old 30something looking at his own shoulder for a place to stick his first stripe.

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