The musings, rants, stories, and tears of becoming a father.

The hardest part is saying goodbye.

The hardest part is saying goodbye.

Today, I left for work with sadness in my heart. Not that I was leaving my son for good, but knowing this was the first time I was leaving Kieran for the day. It was incredibly hard, and I can’t wait to see his smile again – even if it’s masked behind a cry.

Photo: Kieran and Dad (me!), provided by Sean McGrath, who recently welcomed his first son, Jack with his beautiful wife, Carrie.
“Can you turn the light on?”

“Can you turn the light on?”

5:30AM, Sunday, August 18th. I shot out of bed as my wife called for me from the bathroom. My nerves got the best of me, and as a concerned parent-to-be, I asked, “what’s wrong?!”. Jen sensed the worry in my voice. She looked at me and said, “I think my water just broke!”

What do I do now?

I wasn’t sure what was next. It wasn’t like the movies where a woman’s water breaks to a tidal wave of water, and instant panic to get to a hospital. It was now time to wait. Soon, my wife would begin to feel slight contractions, building up to larger and more frequent contractions, and ultimately, the final stages of labour.

I would meet my son for the first time soon! 

But there was still lots to be done. Having a touch of OCD, my immediate instinct kicked in: I needed to double check that my things were ready for a stay in hospital, get the house vacuumed and cleaned for baby’s arrival – “snacks, hun, what snacks do you want?” – the car seat! The car seat! THE CAR SEAT! I NEED TO INSTALL THE CAR SEAT!

Then I realized: my wife seemed calm.

So why wasn’t I? I guess it was a mix of the excitement of the coming event, the anxiousness of the unknown, and a primal instinct to ensure that everything was perfect, and that I was being useful. I somewhat expected that this was the day I would meet my son, but it wasn’t.

I got a lot of things done; house cleaned, gas in the car, lawn mowed, car seat installed, snacks ready, dogs walked, cat fed. I was in a trance that would allow me to accomplish much more in one day than I’ve traditionally accomplished in the span of a week. Maybe it was my subliminal way of preparing for the oncoming fatherhood, or maybe it was just my way of passing the time until my wife said she was ready to go.

Monday morning, it was time.

Jen woke me up at 4:30AM. She had been having some minor to moderate contractions all night, but they were fairly infrequent, and varying in intensity. But for the past 20 minutes, they had been coming steadily at 5 minutes between which, according to our pre-natal classes, would mean we should be on our way. We gathered the last of the items we needed for the journey to labour and delivery, while Jen dealt with the occasional blip that would cause her to grab a ledge while it passed. We called our doula, Sue, said goodbye to our ‘fur babies’, and set out into the morning darkness, unsure of what the day would bring.

Jen was emotional. As she should be. Her hormones would be going full tilt, and we both began to come to terms with the life change that was about to be bestowed upon us. She even cried when I jokingly mentioned that she forgot to say goodbye to the dogs. She already felt like a terrible mother, despite my reassurances of the contrary.

The hospital: the best and the worst of times.

My wife has long had a – let’s just say dislike – of hospitals in general. After a round up of bad experiences with doctors, nurses, and the general hospital institutions in the past, she was ready for her birthing experience to be beat down, berated, and discredited for all it’s worth. We planned for her to have a natural birth that would see her forego the promises of Pitocin, the shine of the epidural, or otherwise, so that she, and our son, could be fully alert and ready for the next step post-partum.

But that’s just crazy.

At least, that’s what we were  initially told. We had two things going against my wife’s wishes: time since the breaking of her water (which is allowed for up to 24 hours in our hospital), and the belief that ”if the pain can be taken away or minimized, why wouldn’t you?”. Immediately upon arriving, she was asked if her waters had broken. They had, so the immediate response was to recommend starting the Pitocin drip to get her contractions going at a faster, more intensive rate to decrease the risk of infection.

And that’s exactly what she didn’t want.

This is part of the reason we made the decision to hire a doula. Sue provided Jen and I with resources and advice leading up to this day that would help her achieve her ultimate goal of refusing anything beyond what her birth plan allotted for, unless in an emergency. Throughout the day, she asked questions, and requested time to get things moving on her own.

And things got moving on their own.

Well, except for the plumbing. Literally.

Shortly after our arrival, toilets all over the area were backing up, showers filling up with sewage, and water being shut down to the entire floor. That was an inconvenience, to say the least, but it wasn’t the focus. It took a lot of time, and a lot of lunging on stairs, but Jen managed to get her initial dilation of 4cm at 6:30AM, to 8cm by 4PM. We were in the final stages before everything was set to begin. I’m not sure if it was the absolute excitement building up, or the incredible progress my wife was making, but time was going fast. And with it, so was the change in my wife’s personality.

“She’s normally pretty quiet.”

But not today. No! Today was her day. It was our day. And she wasn’t letting anything or anyone ruin what her ideal labour was going to be. With one exception: I wasn’t going to allow her to give birth in the woods amongst the wildlife.

As my wife confidently says, “it felt like a burning ring of fire”.

She refused Pitocin, she said no to the epidoural, and she told the staff what she wanted. We were lucky. We had an amazing set of professionals taking care of us. Nurses, resident doctors, and, most importantly, Doula Sue who was there to not only support my wife, but also support me. She had to remind me a few times to take breaks, eat, and use the washroom, despite my insistence that if my wife can’t take breaks, neither can I. Mostly everyone respected what my wife wanted, and understood that she wasn’t looking to win a medal, she was just looking forward to being able to experience our son’s first breaths – and remember them.

Her tribal personality kicked in.

And it was loud. I’ve never seen my wife bring her voice out like this. It was scary, exhilarating, and empowering all at the same time. She squirmed and twisted like she was possessed, and made noises and gestures in place of words. (In her case, a wave of the hand meant “get the hell away from me”. I almost learned that the hard way.) We had reassurances from our (amazing) on-duty nurse, Nicole, that Jen was only one of three in the area, and they were all screamers, so “give ‘er”.

This process lasted for over an hour before her voice started to change. At this point, Nicole burst through the door proclaiming, “that’s the sound we’re looking for! I could hear you all the way down at the nurses station.”

It was time.

My wife was instructed to begin to push. She did. For over an hour. According to the professionals on the scene, an hour is quite good for a first-timer. But don’t tell my wife that. I’m sure it felt like an eternity. But you know it’s about to get real when it goes from one nurse to two nurses, a resident, and a doctor of obstetrics.

“Put all your effort into pushing. Not the screaming.”

Well, good luck to you, Nicole. There was no way in hell that my wife was going to listen to anyone but her own body at this point. She moved around, squatted, put her feet up on a bar, and did everything possible to try and ease the process. Nothing truly eased it, but hopefully knowing that I was there to support here ever push, every grunt, and every tear.

And then I could see it – my sons head!

As it began to appear, I lost my breath. I truly couldn’t breathe. I immediately broke down; we were so close to meeting our son for the first time! I don’t even remember how long it took for his whole head to appear, but what I do remember is his cries filling the room, and his beautiful eyes locking onto mine. I could have been crazy, but I’m sure he was looking right at me!

The rest of his long, skinny body (just like dad’s) arrived, and he was immediate placed on my wife’s bare chest. At that moment I could see it. He loved his mom. His mom loved him. And me? Well, I was too caught up with emotion to truly know how I felt. It was an overwhelming sense of love for my son and my wife, and an overwhelming sense of pride of my wife. SHE DID IT!

Just … one more thing …

[For the faint, skip this part.] “I feel like I need to keep pushing,” my wife said after having our son delivered. My first thought was “there’s another one in there!”. No, there wasn’t. But her placenta was ready to go. And boy did it go. My wife shot her placenta straight out, causing her to win the title of the most fast and furious delivery of a placenta the staff had ever seen. Well deserved!

Today.

Today, our son celebrates his 6th day with us. Today, I am thankful for every cry, every peep, and every smile my boy makes. And today, I can proudly proclaim how proud of my wife I am. Not for doing things drug-free. That was a choice of hers. But for being an incredible mom, and incredible friend, and an incredible wife.

Welcome home, Kieran Anson Russell.

Grown men don’t cry.

Grown men don’t cry.

Bullshit. Anyone who’s told you this has never heard the sound of their first child’s heartbeat, felt the flutters of a slight kick, read a bedtime story to their wife’s growing belly, or seen their son for the first time on a monitor during the first ultrasound.

But let’s back it up.

This is a story that not many people have known until now, but I feel it’s important for me to share for a number of reasons, which I will explain over time.

Two years ago, I had just finished my morning run when I got a text that my wife, Jennifer, was coming to meet me at the dog park. We meet, the dogs played, she grabs my hand and says, “I’m pregnant”. Shock and awe-struck, I instantly became the happiest man alive! But things didn’t go well. A week or two passes, and my wife notices some spotting. My instant reaction is, of course, panic. We start doing research while we contemplate a visit to the Regional Hospital. “It can be completely normal.” Well, that was a relief! In my haste for a definitive answer, the only part of that that registered with me was “completely normal”.

But it wasn’t.

We made our way into the Saint John Regional Hospital for 4PM. We didn’t have an appointment, so the obvious choice was going to the Emergency Room – and, well, for us, it was an emergency. We waited. Hours. When we were finally put into a room, we waited more hours to finally speak to a doctor, who then took more hours to get access to ultrasound equipment to finally give us an answer. Right? Not quite.

He was silent.

The doctor gave no emotion. I don’t blame him; he deals with these routines day-in, day-out, but as a terrified couple hoping for the best, it was the least comforting experience we could have. Until it got worse.

“You’ll have to come back tomorrow.”

After literally waiting a half a day to see someone, we were told that we would have to return the next day to get an answer. We travelled home in the wee hours of the morning, finding ourselves silent along the way. The next morning, we returned, hoping that a new day would bring new hope, rather than silent agony. My wife had her ultrasound, where we were met with silence, and instructions to wait for a doctor to see us. “OK,” I thought. “I guess they can’t be responsible for telling us anything, but I think I saw something!”

We waited for the doctor to meet us in the Emergency area. We’ve been here before, no big deal!

She arrived without emotion. The first question we were asked: “Did you want to keep this baby?”. Of course we did! We both nodded in agreement. She took pause.

Then my heart sank.

We were told that my wife’s uterus was empty, that there was no embryo, no fetus, no child. The doctor said she was sorry. My immediate verbal reaction was “it’s OK.” What she said after that was something I guess I wasn’t prepared for. “No, it sucks. This is the worst feeling in the world.” And she was right. My wife began to cry. I stood once again speechless, not knowing what to do.

Then we were Mexico bound!

We considered this a new start. This would give us the opportunity to just get out, travel to a country we never had the opportunity to visit, and catch up with some amazing friends, their families, and their culture. We had a blast! From sightseeing through the Grutas de García outside of Monterrey, to the sandy beaches of Cancun, to a wedding that would rival the Royal Couple’s, it was just what we needed to reconnect, step back, and just enjoy life.

Then back to reality.

After a week and a half of living the high life, it was time to go home. We had a gruelling few flights return. Flying from Mexico to Canada through Texas on September 11th was probably not the brightest idea. Add that to the all-nighter we had just pulled to ring in the morning at the wedding reception, we were exhausted. From Houston, we were on our way to Montreal, and at this point, just looking forward to getting to sleep in our own beds. With about 30 minutes remaining on the flight, my wife began to get severe pains. Initially, I thought it may just be a reminder that she hadn’t gone to the washroom in a while. But then she began to bleed.

We couldn’t do anything.

The flight landed, and she rushed to the restroom. She called for me. I didn’t know what to do. My immediate thought was “I can’t go in there! It’s a Women’s washroom!” My wife needed me, and my biggest worry was offending someone. After being told her uterus was empty, we found out they were wrong. Jen didn’t want a hospital; she just wanted to get home. And that’s what we did.

9 months ago, things changed.

A cooler day in November, I was busy doing my morning routine. 6AM up. Shower. Shave. The obvious. I was too busy with my head down to notice. My wife was up, silently waiting for me. I stood at my closet deciding the wears for the day, and turned around to my wife beginning to tear. I looked to her left, and on my pillow lay an outfit. Not for me, however. It was much too small for me. My first thought? None.

I must have looked like a complete moron. I don’t even know if words entered my mind before blurting “seriously“? She nodded, and like a fool, I stumbled towards her to give her the biggest hug that I’m sure I’ve ever given. I woke up dreading the daily routines, but today would be different. ‘Today’, I thought, ‘today is the best day of my life’. And it was. Knowing what had happened just a couple of years ago, however, I was cautiously optimistic.

I couldn’t wait to ‘spill the beans’.

Christmas day, that’s exactly what we did. We got three boxes, and three pairs of shoes. Of course, since we weren’t sure what our child’s gender was, we got two pairs of pink shoes, and one pair of blue, red, and white shoes to distribute to our three immediate families. The immediate reactions filled my heart, and once again, tears welled up while I tried to hold them back. Best. Christmas. Ever. So far.

Everyone was ecstatic. Some cautiously, however.

My reality check during it all was the constant reminder of what had happened a couple of years back. It was something that I wanted to put in the past, but I was once again being reminded of it on what should have been our day to share the best news we could!

But they were right. It was something we had to consider, and this is why I chose to share our story.

The idea of miscarriage is not a happy, nor comfortable one. Although our society has made strides in accepting the topic, it’s still largely seen as taboo, when, in reality, approximately 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That’s significant. Both Jen and I were quiet on what we experienced, but we shouldn’t have felt we had to be. So many people go through this alone, and that needs to end.

A few weeks later, it was time to face the music.

And music happened. The fast paces of a heartbeat. A heartbeat! 

Jen says she thinks she saw some tears in my eyes. There was. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Those who haven’t ever experienced this before may say “oh come on, everyone says that, but they don’t really mean it”. But I do. For the rest of the appointment, I was asked to wait outside. My legs were bouncing, my heart was racing, and I had the biggest, most stupidest grin on my face that I’m sure the other waiting room attendees assumed I should be committed.

A few weeks later, after my jaunt around Europe with a great group of High School students, my good friend Jon, and my brother-in-law Greg, I came home, and escorted my wife to our first ultrasound.

See that photo up at the top? That’s … my son.

We were expecting a girl for the majority of the pregnancy up to this point for no particular reason. I honestly didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl; it was my child, and I couldn’t wait to hold them. 

A few months ago, I began working on a song for our son. I’ve got some lyrics, and Jen has contributed as well. But I honestly can’t bring myself to sing them. I’m an emotional wreck. I’m excited, nervous, and anxious. But you can take a listen to the music track. It’s a work in progress; mixing, editing, stylizing. But it’s his song, and I can’t wait to show it to him.

And here we are …

… literally hours or days away from meeting our son for the first time. The road to this point has been trying. We have been longing to experience this for years, and we’re fortunate to be able to share it with so many people. Over the past months, we’ve received a ton of advice and pressure that we truly never asked for, nor wanted. We’ve had discussion about what’s best for our son, and what path we want him to follow, and we’ve been told we’re wrong, we’re right, and we’re everything in between for making the choices we are.

But in the end, none of that matters.

Jen’s his mother. I’m his dad. And he’s our son.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Cunjo