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Dad’s Side: Oh, What a Night!

It was exactly 2:27 p.m. when I brought Isabelle, in a deep sleep, home for the first time. Susan had already entered the house, greeting our pets and letting them get used to the smell of the baby on her. We couldn't have been happier, or more scared. Here's how the rest of the "night we'll never forget" went down:

4:11 p.m. Isabelle is awake. Susan feeds her. The house is quiet. I'm suddenly not sure why we were nervous planning for a baby. What's the big deal? A newborn poops and pees a minuscule amount; I was actually happy to volunteer to diaper Isabelle, and even happier to volunteer to hold and watch her. I was hardly falling on my sword. She slept in my arms, and I sat on our couch and watched television. If this was going to be parenting  -- getting to watch lots of TV  -- I could handle it.

7:26 p.m. Isabelle is still awake, and once again, Susan's whipping out her au naturel milk supply. We're excited because, clearly, since she's been up a while, Isabelle is going to sleep well tonight.

10:06 p.m. It's time to put the world's most adorable newborn to bed. We have a feeling that our child is going to be one of those rare infants we've heard about  -- one who is perfectly attuned to the notion of sleeping after dark.

10:17 p.m. Isabelle is crying. That's okay. No big thing. Susan tries to breastfeed, but that doesn't seem to quiet the baby, probably because she's full. Susan checks the diaper. Rocks her to sleep. Good, she's down.

10:26 p.m. She's up. Susan suggests that I get some sleep while I can. She will tend to Isabelle.

11:11 p.m. I wake up with a jolt. Then I hear that not-yet-familiar, beast-like sound: my new daughter's crying (still). What we didn't know, and wouldn't figure out until the next day, was that Susan's breast milk hadn't come in yet. Isabelle was crying because she was famished. We thought she was stuffed, since Susan had breastfed her continually (or so we thought) from the time we got home. I lie in bed, listening to the screams, feeling helpless, and half-wishing we could take her back to the hospital and trade her in for another, quieter infant or maybe a puppy. Heck, at this point I wouldn't mind being the proud father of a gerbil.

12:23 a.m. I go to check on Susan, who bursts into tears when she sees me. "I can't do this," she sobs, handing the baby to me. "What am I doing wrong? I keep feeding her, and it doesn't help. Her diaper is clean. She's warm. She hates me!" "She doesn't hate you," I say, and offer to take over for a while. Susan looks like a prisoner assigned to a lifetime of hard labor who has just been told her sentence has been commuted. Meanwhile, I admit it, I like the feeling of being the hero. I take a wailing Isabelle downstairs and turn on the TV.

1:13 a.m. Susan comes downstairs, worried by all the noise. Between Isabelle's sobs, I'm pleading with her to go to sleep. I promise I'll buy her a car when she's 16 if she'll just mind her dad and go to bed. It doesn't work. I tell her that she is grounded; neither Susan nor Isabelle laughs.

1:17 a.m. I decide to take the baby for a drive. Susan is hesitant  -- driving when you're sleep-deprived isn't the smartest thing. But I'm not that weary yet, and we're desperate.

1:28 a.m. Isabelle has been asleep for several minutes in her car seat. As I drive through the dark, I'm rigid with fear that a deer will come racing out of the woods and dart in front of our vehicle. I also imagine an inebriated truck driver a few miles behind us, gaining ground, barreling toward my precious cargo. And my eyes are wide open as I imagine myself slumped over the steering wheel, asleep, sending our car plunging off a cliff. Not that we have many cliffs among the rolling hills of rural Ohio, but you never know.

1:48 a.m. Rattled, I return home, easing into the driveway. I've called from my cell phone, warning Susan to chloroform the dogs if she has to, to keep them from barking. I park, ever so slowly. I turn the ignition off. Isabelle promptly wakes up and cries.

1:50 a.m. I troop wearily into the house with the crying Isabelle. Susan looks horror-stricken. I'm waiting for her to snap, certain she's about to grab the keys, hop in the car, and peel away, not stopping until she's in Canada, where she can apply for citizenship and try to start over.

1:54 a.m. I'm digging through a closet, searching for one of the baby gifts we received: the baby carrier. So far, whenever we've managed to get Isabelle to sleep, she's been gently jostled or held tightly in our arms. And so I have a plan.

2:15 a.m. Susan is asleep, and so is the baby, pressed against my chest in the carrier. I'm walking around, tired and dying to sit down, but every time I do, Isabelle's lungs turn on like an out-of-control blender. I mutter swear words that would embarrass Howard Stern  -- not because what I'm saying is graphic, but because my choice of expletives is ridiculous: Since I'm with a baby, I say "fudge, fudge, fudge!" in a way that I hope sounds really dirty.

3:33 a.m. After another feeding attempt by Susan, Isabelle is back in the carrier and I'm back to pacing. I take a little stroll through our living room, down the hall, through the kitchen, and back  -- 716 times.

4:01 a.m. I'm still walking, cranky, and no longer enjoying the idea that parenting means I get to watch a lot of TV. In the background a Clint Eastwood movie is on, and I'm rooting for the bad guys.

6:47 a.m. Sunlight is filtering through the windows, and I suddenly feel, well, almost awake and better than I have any right to feel. After all, we made it through our first night, and Isabelle has slept several hours. So has Susan. I got about 20 minutes. But between yawns, I realize that Isabelle and I have bonded. Still asleep, she's so quiet and vulnerable, her tiny hands curled against my body. There's no way a gerbil could give me the same feeling.

Geoff Williams is a freelance writer.

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