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Diary of a Dad-to-Be

Friday, October 25
Last night I played poker with friends, and didn't win a cent. Today: royal flush. I awoke to discover that Liza is pregnant. (She announced the news this morning over a bowl of cereal.) We've been trying for a month or two, carefully timing the act, raising Liza's legs into the air afterward to speed the sperm toward their elusive goal. It's stunning to see firsthand just how efficiently biology works. We're pregnant! Good God. What do we do now?

Friday, November 1
I can't believe it's only been a week since we got the news. It feels like we've been pregnant forever. It's all I think about: having a boy, having a girl, what kind of father I'll be. And how the hell we're going to afford it. Who cares? We're having a baby.

Thursday, November 7
The first trip to the obstetrician. The due date, according to the slide-rule-like gadget Dr. C. wielded, is July 2. We also got to see the first murky moon-landing shots of the embryo, which is exactly the size and shape of a single grain of rice.

Saturday, November 23
I dreamed our baby was a girl, and when I awoke, I remembered her name, one I've never even heard: Deanna Fabrice. So, inevitably, Deanna Fabrice has become the baby's latest nom de womb, as in "How's Deanna Fabrice feeling?" and other such insufferable stuff that would force any but the most tolerant of souls to leave the room.

Tuesday, February 11
The goop the technician squirts on Liza's belly is clear blue. The second the sonogram implement starts spreading the slime around, images appear on the screen, and to my surprise the pictures are vividly clear. The technician takes all sorts of measurements, and shows us such essential elements as the four chambers of our child's beating heart, and the spine, and the head, and the grasping fingers, of which there is a full complement. The legs, clearly crossed, are long and, one would presume, graceful, which the technician notes in her most practiced flatter-the-eager-parents manner: "It's an athlete  -- or a dancer." Overwhelming as these squirming images are, this still seems a painfully poky prelude to the main matter of importance. I keep craning my neck, turning my head this way and that to try to make out a certain telltale lump. Finally, the tech points to an area on the screen and coyly asks, "And what's that?" I don't see a thing. But I timidly venture the obvious: "A penis?"

"Yep. It's a boy."

Deanna Fabrice is a boy!

I spend the rest of the day telling anyone who'll listen  -- a co-worker, my Dad, Liza's grandparents  -- that I got a damn good look at those pictures, and, by God, my boy is hung like a horse!

Saturday, February 15
Liza's sister and brother-in-law had us over for dinner tonight. I was sitting next to Liza on the couch when suddenly, without interrupting what she was saying, she reached over, grabbed my wrist, pulled it toward her belly, and held it there while I gawked in dawning comprehension. I felt a tiny, light pulse, and then another. Kicks!

Mark Jannot is executive editor of National Geographic Adventure.

Sunday, February

This evening, on the phone with my brother Chris's mother-in-law, I found myself turning my unborn boy into a racehorse. I bet her $5 that our kid would be born before Chris and his wife Michelle's (whose due date is a few days later than ours). I've found a way to make even childbirth competitive.

Wednesday, March 5
Liza just sashayed her nude baby factory past me. Her belly has gotten round and hard. I've mastered the phrasing of reassurances like, "It's the perfect size." And I mean it. Still, perfect size or not, it is big.

Saturday, March 8
Liza and her hormones are on the warpath. Being the husband of a pregnant woman is a great exercise in riding the estrogen bronco. But when we've both ridden the thing without having been bucked off, Liza slinks over and hugs me and apologizes for her mood, and I mouth vaguely sincere words of comfort.

Thursday, May 1
Mayday, Mayday. I'm a zombie, trudging soullessly through my duties at work, mind affixed to my failings as a prospective father. Last night Liza said, "Mark? I'm worried about finances." I made a mollifying sound and tried to shove the issue back into the dank room where it belonged. But later I was inspired  -- in a misguided effort at reassurance  -- to draw up a rough weekly budget. Average weekly earnings on one side, round numbers of prospective expenses, postbaby, on the other. The columns didn't add up. The columns didn't come close to adding up. And the larger number did not appear under "income."

Friday, May 2

Tonight, as we sat through the opening credits of a bad movie, I scrutinized each name for suitability. The director of photography is named Rex. I turned to Liza: "Rex." She laughed. "No, really: Rex." Suddenly she wasn't laughing; she was warming to the idea. It's unusual, and it's an R name; perfect as a nickname for Robert, which was her father's name and is our first choice.

Sunday, May 11
Mother's Day. Liza says we're not allowed to celebrate it this year. Something about jinxes.

Monday, May 12
Tonight was our first Lamaze "childbirth preparation" class. We learned about the baby "dropping" into the "pelvic station," about the three signs of labor, among them, the dislodging from the cervix of a "mucus plug."

Sunday, May 18
Liza had a baby shower at her mother's, complete with hor d'oeuvres and champagne. I didn't stay, of course; didn't want to invade the den of estrogen. My favorite of the new acquisitions are the little baby skull caps. The first one I laid eyes on was so tiny I had to fight back tears.

Thursday, May 22
Today, almost six weeks ahead of schedule, we thought we were about to have the baby. I met Liza at Dr. C.'s for a regular checkup. As we were setting up the next appointment, Liza began to feel some booming contractions. We were sent to the hospital, where they ran tests, prescribed some drugs to stave off labor, and sent Liza home for two weeks of strict bedrest. She's 34 weeks into the pregnancy. At 36 weeks, our doctors estimate the chances that the baby's lungs will be fully developed and that he'll be able to survive without mechanical help outside the womb are 95 percent. So it's pretty crucial to buy Rex those two weeks.

I'm not worried, exactly. But I feel like our storybook pregnancy has hit a serious glitch.

We were also told we can't have intercourse for two weeks. Given our frequent bouts of exhaustion, the logistics of coping with Liza's expanding girth, and our general lack of libido, we haven't been having much anyway. But now that we're told that we can't have sex, I'm dying for it.

Sunday, June 8
My birthday. But, more auspiciously, the day that Liza comes off bedrest. It's 11 PM, our mini-party for me has ended, our few guests have graciously gone home, the Bulls have lost game four of the finals, and it's been a solid nine hours since Liza took her last anti-contraction pill. We're both sort of stunned that Rex hasn't made a move.

Monday, June 9
Last week Dr. C. told us to hold off on vigorous sex until Sunday night. Well, last night was Sunday night. I cannot better remember such a moment of pure, distilled bliss.

Tuesday, June 10
The big delivery came today: changing table, car seat/carrier, crib mattress. We pulled out the car seat, which has a rounded bottom so that it can rock when being used as a carrier, and I rocked it gently, with a light push of my hand. My heart clutched.

Friday, June 13
Last night, Liza delivered what we think might have been the mucus plug (or "bloody show," as they call it in the baby biz). She's begun to feel contractions...not to mention gastrointestinal distress, queasiness, and general discomfort. Liza now thinks the delivery will be Sunday, Father's Day, which she feels would be a tribute to her father, the baby's namesake.

Monday, June 16
It wasn't Father's Day.

Friday, June 20
I've decided that, for all Liza is going through and (more to the point) is about to go through, I need to get her a gift, a token of my love and gratitude, to be presented in the recovery room as we sip champagne postbirth. So I cajoled my friend Valerie to accompany me to a jewelry store, where we were drawn to a bracelet that featured five miniature beans. "Ah, the seeds of life," the salesman said. Valerie and I gaped at each other, astounded. I reached for my wallet.

Sunday, June 22
No baby yet. I can't say the same for Chris and Michelle. Last night we returned home to a message from Chris: "Unless you're at the hospital right now, you're out five dollars."

Thursday, June 26
As we were getting ready for bed, Liza turned to me and said, "I'm not really pregnant. I just got really, really fat."

Friday, July 4

At about 2 A.M., Liza wakes me, feeling stronger contractions than she's ever felt before, though they're still 10 to 15 minutes apart. Somehow, I manage to drift back to fitful sleep, though Liza, who knows for certain now what's coming, doesn't. At just past 4, it's undeniable. The contractions have zipped to three minutes apart. Dr. C. told us not to worry as long as they were relatively light. Still, neither of us is getting any sleep anymore. We get up and, carefully, exhilarated, we do those things you do in this situation: We take showers. We get dressed. We check the hospital bags. Liza puts on makeup. We eat, or I do, anyway. We play cards, briefly, until about 6 A.M., when we call Dr. C. Having talked to her, we decide it's about time to head to the hospital. Before we leave home, I glance at the front page of the morning paper. The headline reads, "Spacecraft Lands Today on the Planet of Dreams."

At about 10:30, we're in the labor room, told that Liza's cervix might, at most, be three centimeters dilated. We're to walk the halls until the situation improves. As we shuffle down a corridor, Liza gripping my arm, another contraction comes on, and she slumps to the floor in pain. Two nurses take pity and spirit us into a birthing room, where we'll spend most of the day, and where Liza can lie on a bed and relax. She slips a relaxation tape into her Walkman, places the headphones on her ears, and drops into an awesome trance, breathing like a pro and no longer crying out in the middle of what are clearly stronger and stronger contractions. This goes on for hours, with me sitting by her side, watching her eyes flicker behind their lids, silently timing each contraction. At 3 P.M., still unadmitted, we get a call from Dr. C., who's heading into the city: She wants Liza to have an epidural when she gets here and to be put on a Pitocin drip, to speed the labor along.

Once the drugs take effect, and Liza is released from her pain, she actually smiles. She nods when Dr. C. suggests she take a nap. A nap! It's 6 P.M., and it could be hours before she's ready to push. As Liza drifts off, I head out for a quick dinner. Nothing is open in the hospital, so I venture into the changed and quiet world. When I get back to the maternity ward only 45 minutes later, a nurse stops me in the hall. "You the husband of this one in here?" "Yes." "Well, she's fully dilated and ready to push." Good God! I almost missed it!

The elation of being so close to delivery is quashed almost immediately by the reality of what comes next: Liza's agonizing attempts to push the baby out. I hold one leg back in a "squatting" position, a nurse holds the other, and, as each contraction rolls in, Liza bears down for a ten count  -- once, twice, three times, even four times. Nothing happens.

Finally, at 10 P.M., Dr. C. says that, after two excruciating hours of pushing, the baby has not moved at all. She thinks we're going to have to have a cesarean. Liza seems amazingly accepting of this. To me, after 20 hours of labor, it seems a tragedy. I'm led to a hall outside the operating room. I put on paper booties and a hat and mask. I pace outside the door, the ridiculous booties shuffling along the floor, the flimsy mask sending my quick, hot breaths up to fog my glasses. Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God. Finally I'm allowed into the operating room. I could watch the operation if I want, but I have no desire to risk fainting at the most important moment of my life. I stay at Liza's head, behind a scrub-green screen, holding my courageous wife's hand, which is strapped to the table, and stroking her face. It's going to be all right.

I don't pay much attention to the ER banter behind the screen. I focus on Liza's beautiful face. Soon, though  -- incredibly soon  -- we hear festive noises. "Oh! What a handsome guy! What a beautiful nose you've got!" Our son is crying. Our son is crying on the other side of the screen, and I'm crying, I'm sobbing, and Liza is sobbing, and we're hellishly hampered by this screen. He's real. He's alive. He's healthy. I'm dying to see him, but I almost don't want to see him, this moment between fantasy and reality is so excruciating. Finally, I get up to see my boy, my boy who is wailing in healthy anguish as they assess his Apgar rating.

He is beautiful, all squirmy and wrinkled, wearing a hospital-issue cap. "What's his name?" Dr. C. calls out to us. "Robert," we say, in unison.

Rex.

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