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Diary of a Dad-to-Be

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.

Mark Jannot is executive editor of National Geographic Adventure.

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