When my wife and I discovered we were expecting our first child on the first weekend of April, my mind immediately drifted to an evening in the maternity ward, watching Kentucky play in the Final Four with a newborn. A week before the due date all I could do is pray that I would even be admitted into the hospital.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way we work and play. Not every aspect of life can be halted. The new virus on the block is not keeping babies in the womb any longer than normal.
There is a wide array of emotions that occur around the birth of a child. Excitement typically receives the top billing as friends and family prepare you with toys and the most adorable onesies you’ve ever seen. That excitement took a back seat to other emotions when it was announced that the hospital where I’d meet my baby is the same hospital where individuals were being tested for coronavirus. Excitement was replaced by anxiety and fear.
In my wife’s penultimate doctor’s appointment, I was told to stay home, a reasonable request. The phone call I received after seemed incredibly unreasonable.
“As of right now, you can still be there, but there’s a chance they might not allow any visitors at all.”
My wife’s words were greeted with silence. Few things can shut up this carnival-barker. Not being there for my wife and for the birth of my first child — I simply could not comprehend a scenario.
There was a footnote of reassurance with the message. The extreme visitor restrictions probably would not happen unless COVID-19 cases exponentially increased. All I could do for the next week is pray that people were listening to Governor Beshear’s instructions to stay at home and flatten the curve.
For my wife’s final prenatal appointment, I could not sit still. A cold, overcast morning, to stay busy I took the dogs for a walk. As my mind wandered, I called my Dad to talk about anything other than the fact that I might soon learn I could not watch the birth of my baby. Then, I got the call.
“Well, we’re having a baby tomorrow and you’re coming with me.”
All of the excitement that previously took a backseat kicked fear and anxiety to the curb. It was time to have a baby and I was going to be there to welcome it to the world (unfortunately, unaccompanied by Kentucky basketball).
The sky was still dark as we made our way to the hospital on April Fool’s Day. Before pulling into the parking garage, we passed a triage tent for COVID patients and a Kentucky National Guard Humvee. Aside from a parade or the state fair, the only place you’re supposed to see Humvees is at war. Even though your mind tells you that it’s there to protect you, one can’t help but feel a bit perturbed.
That unsettling feeling only grew once we entered the hospital. Masked nurses checked our temperature before we could enter the waiting room. Once again, it was expected. Even so, there’s something strange about being unable to see someone’s facial expressions. You can’t get a good read on the person. I’m not a medical expert, but it helps to know your professionals are speaking with certainty and that cannot always come be conveyed when a person is masked. It also did not help one or two mumble-mouths communicate clearly.
I expected those precautions. I had no idea what the delivery room would look like. I also had no idea what to do. I’m the guy. Men don’t do any of the work. All I could do was wait and make my wife as comfortable as possible. Luckily, I had some help.
Hiding behind a mask was a kind delivery nurse, Jenna. Unlike the high-pressure situations in every single piece of pop culture, she was relaxed and addressed each of us in a matter of fact manner. Even though I could not see her face, I sensed competence. She had done this before. She knew exactly what she was doing. The nurse and doctor’s sense of humor also helped calm my nerves by the time we were ready to bring this baby into the world.
“Make sure you look twice before you say if it’s a boy or a girl,” I was told. “The umbilical is not the same thing as a penis.”
The laughs in-between pushes kept the adrenaline from overwhelming my wife and I (mostly me) until we met our little boy, Duke. Named after his great-grandfather, I’d never seen a more beautiful thing in the world.
As soon as I locked eyes on him, nothing else mattered. My cheeks hurt from smiling too much. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before in my life.
When it was finally my turn to hold the little guy, something in my brain involuntarily clicked. I’ve held plenty of newborns before. The No. 1 rule is a simple rule to follow — support the baby’s head and neck — yet there was always a bit of awkwardness. Am I giving enough support? Am I holding too tight? How do I put it down without rocking its head all over the place? None of those questions crossed my mind once I held my son. Instinct took over and I had a father’s touch.
I did have to think about my next move. Of course, you want to talk to your baby and maybe rock him back and forth. Don’t you wanna sing too? Everyone sings to their baby. That’s just what you do. Naturally, I went to the song I’d been humming while washing my hands since the start of the pandemic — On, On, U of K.
“Really, Nick?” My wife asked.
I’ve never been more proud of myself.
Having a baby during a pandemic is a blessing. For almost two weeks I rarely even thought about the chaos that covered the globe. While others struggled with mental health, stuck inside their home, we spent the last six months preparing to do just that.
There was one thing we had not prepared for: taking care of our baby all by ourselves. Grandparents were supposed to be eager and ready to give us breaks for the first few weeks of the baby’s life. Instead, they’ve only been able to see their grandchild through FaceTimes and a screen door.
Even though they aren’t the firsts we hoped for our son, he’s getting plenty of firsts that few others get to experience so early in life. He made his first radio appearance at 16 hours old. His first football game was maybe the greatest game ever played, USC vs. Texas in the Rose Bowl. At only four days old he attended his first concert, as Timmy Lickteig played Duke to sleep with the sounds of Jim Croce. Even though we did not get to watch the Cats play in the 2020 Final Four, we did get to watch them win a National Championship together.
It’s an exciting, scary time to have a baby, but when isn’t it? The world could use more joy right now and that’s all that Duke Simeon has done since April 1.
Your situation may be completely different than ours, but here’s what helped my wife and I while we were in the early days of our son’s life.
- Background Music — Relaxing tunes really helped pass the time between contractions. It also helped us catch some Zzzs in the postpartum room.
- Snacks and Sandwiches — I was allowed to visit but I could only leave once a day. If the Dad don’t bring food, you aren’t eating.
- Master Swaddling — There are a couple different techniques. The one they don’t teach you is to use your burp-rag to keep their arms down and prevent them from breaking free.
- There’s no such thing as too many pictures. And if you create a shared album on your iPhone, you will not forget to send all of the grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles pictures everyday.