My girlfriend, Amber, stood outside the shower, waiting for it to warm, unsure if her water broke or bladder leaked. I brought my finger to her inner thigh and dabbed at the liquid. I looked at the tiny droplets and saw various multiracial Gerber babies smiling at me. I tasted it. The fluid was bland, save for a slight hint of life. Amber rinsed off and quickly pocketed her mascara. I grabbed the prepacked labor bag, which contained important items to ease childbirth, like a Sade CD and snacks. We took off for the hospital.
The check-in staff at the hospital were nonchalant considering a little human was forcing himself out of my girlfriend’s womb. The clerk calmly asked if we needed a wheelchair and handed me a name tag. “And you are?” she wondered. As an interracial couple not named Ice T and Coco, we were accustomed to such questions. I mean, I suppose I could have been Amber’s friend or adopted black brother, but damn, lady—play the percentages.
The clerk called us to the triage room. Here, the nurses came and went, each time swabbing samples of the substance dripping from Amber to make sure it was amniotic fluid. Evidently they were not supporters of alternative medicine, namely, the ability of my taste buds to determine labor.
Amber’s family and friends soon joined us. We couldn’t believe the baby was finally on his way. Had he marinated in the belly just a day longer, labor would have been induced, which sounded like something that involved drugs and forceps. The crew was excited; we talked of names and I answered the ubiquitous “Are you ready?”question many times over. Of course, marriage was also up for discussion. I mostly kept quiet, answering with a smile and quick reply of “Yeah, eventually,” as was typically the case when asked if we would soon join the antiquated, discriminatory institution that requires we prove our love to a possibly nonexistent God in an expensive ceremony where people stare at you.
Hours later, we finally got to the delivery room. Seating was limited, so Amber’s help team was reduced to me, her mom, and her best friend/childbirth photographer, who, in Amber’s words, was to document the experience without too many pictures of “down there.”
Pain began to set in. Amber stretched and bounced on an exercise ball for relief. Her prenatal hips and thighs engulfed it; hell, it was actually sexy. But the pain worsened. Amber’s teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. She had planned for a natural, drug-free labor. But this was long before she felt her womb shift. The nurse hooked her up to an IV. It helped, but not much. After five hours, she gave in and asked for an epidural.
The anesthesiologist arrived with his case of drugs. If I had to choose someone to put a needle in my girlfriend’s spine based on looks alone, I’d probably choose him—he was old and serious and wore up-to-date glasses. Amber sat on the exam bed, her back slightly arched. The room went silent. The good doctor explained the procedure as he prepared the medicine. He stuck her in the lower back and I watched the medicine flow from the tube to her bloodstream.
It was now close to midnight and we had been in the hospital for more than eight hours. The epidural numbed Amber and she fell asleep from exhaustion. I balled up in a chair next to her and wasted time on the internet. I eventually dozed off, only to be awakened by a new nurse who periodically came by to measure Amber’s dilation.
A nurse woke us up around 8am. She told Amber it was time to get busy, then she put me and Grandma to work. We were to hold down Amber’s legs and count to 10 as she pushed and grunted herself to tears. I put on my game face and surgical mask. The nurse said, “You don’t really have to wear that if you don’t want to.” But I did for two reasons: 1) I needed to feel protected in case of flying placenta; and 2) I wanted my face at least half-covered in case I started crying like a lil’ biz-nitch.
After just a single 10 second push, the alpha nurse yelled, “I see hair!” I glanced down. She did not mean bush. A patch of curly black fur peeked out of Amber. A second nurse rolled in a giant mirror so Amber could see the progress she was making. Birth was near, or so I thought. It turned out we were just getting started. Baby was being lazy, loitering at every rest stop on his way down and out the birth canal.
Two hours and countless pushes later, the obstetrician arrived in the delivery room. I thought he’d be there for the entire labor, but apparently they pay him the big bucks to come in at the last minute to deliver the baby and remold the vagina. Then he moves on to the next patient.
We gave the good doctor space and he went to work, placing his hands inside Amber and making rapid circular motions with his index fingers to clear space for 9-plus pounds of crowning newborn. The movement looked harsh, or maybe I was just being negative because the doctor wore an earring and had a slight smile on his face as Amber reached peak vaginal expansion.
Then, nearly a day and a half after we arrived at the hospital, a big-ass conehead emerged from Amber’s womb. The rest of his pink-purple body oozed out. Baby was frantic. I cut his umbilical cord, it felt like I was slicing through chicken skin. The nurse placed him on Amber’s chest. She was crying; I was crying on the inside.
The baby latched onto Amber’s nipple and nursed. Then he took his first dump. The nurse wiped Amber’s belly and held a diaper in my direction. She looked stern and said nothing. I suspected it was the look she gave to all unmarried fathers. The front and the back of the diaper looked exactly the same. I guessed and put it on correctly.
We would spend two more nights at the hospital, confined to a cold room and shared bathroom. Amber lay in an adjustable bed, I slept on a mini-coach, and the baby rested in a heating tray that reminded me of something I’d seen at Kentucky Fried Chicken. A motion alarm was wrapped around his ankle and a skull cap covered his head, which had deflated to a normal size and shape. He woke up every few hours in search of nipple.
A nurse was available to check on us at the push of a button. We rarely called for her, but she did stop in to remind us that the baby would need to be named before we were discharged. In the tradition of black people just making names up, we called him Nile. He took my last name. The nurse confirmed this by spelling it out with us and giving a “You sure?” look to Amber.
Baby Nile would quickly grow into a lovable dictator, ruling our household with a tiny iron fist. He would soon have unplanned company; 18 months after his birth we had our second boy. Just 15 months later we would have a third. Then we got married. Now we use birth control.