Continuing the theme of FourTwoNine: The Family Issue, author Andrea Askowitz writes about her paternal feelings once her partner became pregnant.
The nurse draws up my sperm into a syringe. This is “my” sperm I bought when I was single and got pregnant with my daughter Tashi. I bought ten vials. I used two. I stored the rest for just this occasion.
For three years, Tashi and I were a team until I met the right woman to create a bigger family with me and to have our next child.
The nurse inserts a catheter into the right woman’s uterus and attaches the syringe. I’m instructed to stand between the right woman’s legs. I hold the syringe between my first two fingers. I press down very slowly.
The nurse extracts the catheter and tells the right woman to lie on her back fifteen minutes. She leaves us alone and I climb up onto the right woman. She lets me. We both laugh. I do not smoke but if I had a cigarette I would smoke it now.
The right woman’s name is Victoria.
“I love you, Victoria,” I say.
Victoria goes to Dr. Bustillo’s office first thing in the morning for a blood test. At 1:00 p.m. the nurse calls. At 1:02 Victoria calls me. She says, “I’m pregnant.”
I do not say anything. I think, “I’m gonna be a daddy.”
“I’m so happy,” Victoria says. “I’m so happy,” she says again and her voice breaks.
I say, “I’m so happy too.”
Victoria says, “What do I do?” She is crying now.
“Don’t have a drink,” I say. “Call your mom.”
“Yeah, I’ll call my mom,” she says. “I love you.”
I call my mom. I say, “I’m gonna be a daddy.”
“Andrea, don’t say that. It makes you sound so dykey. It makes you sound like you have a mustache.”
I call Janet. Janet has two girls. She is the person I call when I need another mom to talk to. “It’s official,” I say. “I’m gonna be a daddy.”
Janet says, “Congratulations.”
“Is it bizarre to say I’m going to be a daddy?”
“Not to me,” she says. “I’m so excited for you.
Next I call Stephanie. I have been friends with since sixth grade. Without saying hello I say, “I’m gonna be a daddy.”
Stephanie is quiet.
“I’m here,” she says. “Well first of all, congratulations. That’s so exciting.”
I say, “Thank God, I’m the daddy.”
She is quiet again. Now I know something is wrong. Stephanie doesn’t just blurt things out. She is careful, measured. She says, “Why do you have to define yourself in male terms?”
“Why does a dad have to be a man?”
She says, “Andrea, it’s sort of the way it is.”
“Not to me.”
“You’re implying that a family has to have a mom and a dad.”
I say, “I don’t mean a family has to have a mom and a dad.”
“Then stop saying you’re going to be a daddy.”
I look down at my fingernails. It is my first day of fatherhood and already my nails are nubs.
Stephanie says, “Also you’re implying your role will be different with this kid than with Tashi.”
“Well, I’m not breastfeeding.”
“You’re still a mom.”
“I’m telling you, this time I’m the dad.”
I do not like subscribing to traditional notions, but I do not know how else to think about motherhood and fatherhood. I feel like I imagine a dad would feel. I will not be watching my belly grow. I will not be avoiding alcohol and tuna and soft cheeses. I will not be feeling anxiety or elation or any hormone-induced emotion. But I feel the expectation of a baby on its way.
Victoria and I are at Dr. Bustillo’s office. We are waiting for an ultrasound. A nurse calls Victoria’s name and we are taken through the double doors. Victoria is directed to the bathroom to pee in a cup. I am told to wait in exam room C. It is the same room where, five weeks ago, I inseminated Victoria.
Dr. Bustillo’s halls are covered with pictures of twins—hundreds of twins—and quite a few pictures of triplets. Victoria had a low ovarian reserve so she shot ovulation induction hormones into her belly every night before insemination. I know because of the hormones she has a higher chance of being pregnant with twins or triplets. All the photos on the wall make my armpits sweat.
Victoria and I are chatting when the nurse comes in. The nurse asks if we are sisters and Victoria says, “No, we’re partners.” My eyes well up with tears. In a moment like this – when Victoria overcomes her fear of being out – I know I will spend the rest of my life with her.
The nurse inserts a sonogram camera into Victoria’s vagina. I am watching the screen. I am not sure what I am looking for. Something comes into focus. The nurse says, “Oh my God.” She does not say anything else for a few seconds. I do not know if this is good or bad. The nurse turns toward Victoria. The nurse puts her hand out to touch Victoria’s knee. The nurse then extends her arm to hug me. “You’re having twins. Identical twins.”
The nurse points to the screen and describes what she sees as two butterflies in one sack.
“I see it,” Victoria says.
I do not see what they see.
“God bless you,” the nurse says. “You’re in the hands of God, Victoria. You’re in the hands of God.
Victoria and I walk out of the doctor’s office. We hold hands even though Victoria is sometimes shy about public affection. We stand in the elevator. We both look up at the numbers. No one else is in the elevator. We are quiet.
We are on vacation in Venice, California, where I was pregnant five years ago. The clock alarm goes off and without waking Tashi and Victoria I sneak out of bed to move the car before street cleaning begins. This is not like me. I don’t normally get off my ass unless I have to. But today I bolt up and outside as if moving the car is now my job.
At 7:50 the sun is already bright. I smell the jasmine that grows all over the fences here in Venice. When I was pregnant the smell of jasmine made me gag. I put the car into gear and think, “Who’s your Daddy?” I think, I am the Daddy. I think, I am the Mac Daddy. “My” sperm got Victoria pregnant with our twins. I feel strong. I feel protective. I feel butch. I flex my arms more than I need to turn the steering wheel.
We get on a plane to San Francisco. Our seats are in the last row. The smell of the bathroom makes me laugh like a schoolgirl. I hold my nose. Tashi holds her nose too We both laugh. Victoria is not laughing.
Tashi sits by the window. I am in the middle. Victoria is in the aisle seat.
The plane takes off. We can feel every lurch. Victoria says she feels nauseous. I say, “Nauseated.” I feel bad for correcting her. I suggest she eat something.
She says, “No, I feel sick.”
I pull out pretzels from my backpack. I say, “You have to eat.”
“No thanks,” she says.
Tashi takes some pretzels. I say, “I know it feels counterintuitive but you’ll feel better with something in your stomach.”
Victoria looks at me as meanly as she can. Even with her best “bitch face” she looks like Bambi. She fumbles inside the seat pocket in front of her. She pulls out a barf bag. On American Airlines, barf bags are navy blue. I remember their being white. Blue is a better idea.
I ask her if she wants to go to the bathroom. She does not answer.
I insist again that she eat something. I say, “I know, baby, I’ve been there.”
Victoria opens the bag and lowers her head. Her face is covered by her thick hair. I am trying not to look. I think she needs privacy. There is no sound except for the filling of the bag, like water pouring into a paper cup. From the corner of my eye, I see the bag bulge. I rifle through my own seat pocket searching for another bag. I hold it open in front of Victoria. She ignores it.
She twists the top of her bag like there are gumdrops inside. She asks me to tell the stewardess that she is pregnant and that she is not drunk.
I push her hair away from her face. She is so pretty. “Wow, baby, good job,” I say. I then realize that my having just said that I have been there before makes me the world’s most annoying, obnoxious, know-it-all, expectant dad.
Victoria says, “I’m scared.” I rub her belly. “What if this ruins our relationship? What if I can’t work? What’s going to happen to my body?”
I hold her and think about all of this. I say, “You’ll probably have to take time off from work and you’ll probably become a refrigerator, but nothing will ruin our relationship.”
Victoria rolls onto her side. She moves her hair away so I can nuzzle into the back of her neck. Without looking at me, she says, “I want you to help nurse the twins.”
I want to get out of bed . I want to do a cheer. But I play it cool. I had mentioned earlier in the week this possibility of my helping nurse the twins but Victoria had given me a look which I had interpreted as you-have-got-to-be-kidding. So I had let it go. Obviously, she had not.
I squeeze my nipples to see if I can get milk to come out. It has been three and a half years since I nursed Tashi. I say, “I need to do some research on wet-nursing to see how to reactivate these mammaries.”
“Yeah, figure that out,” she says and I lie there awake thinking about what an interesting dad I’m turning out to be.
In the morning, I call Janet. I say, “Victoria wants me to help nurse the twins.”
“Oh,” she says.
I am afraid she is grossed out.
“It’s a little weird,” she says.
I say, “Isn’t it just modern-day wet nursing? I can pull it off because I’m a girl-dad.”
“And it’s twins,” she says, “Yeah, you better get in the game.”
Victoria calls me from the doctor’s office. She says, “There’s only one baby.” Then she gets off the phone to pay her co-pay.
She calls again from her car. She says, “I don’t know how to feel. Maybe this is better.”
I feel a real pain in the center of my chest. My limbs are heavy. “I’m sad,” I say. I say nothing else.
Victoria says, “I have to give a presentation now, in front of thirty clients.”
“Oh shit, Baby, I’m sorry. Do your best. I love you.”
I leave the house and walk. Victoria lost one of the twins. We lost one of the twins. That’s how I play it over and over in my head as I walk the streets of Coconut Grove. I keep walking down Shipping Avenue, through the village and up Grand Avenue. I am in the South Grove now where it is shaded and beautiful but I do not enjoy the old Key West cottages or the giant banyan trees or the mango trees that are producing their fruit.
I walk because I am sad. I am also feeling something else – something ugly – that is compounding the hurt. We still have one baby. We still have one. One baby is perfect. People go to all kinds of lengths to have only one baby. But I am pissed. I am angry because I thought we were having two. I accustomed to the idea of two. I wanted two.
I stop in a little park. There is a bench. There is a soccer goal. There is a child’s plastic play kitchen. I sit on the bench. I call my mom. She says that somehow the remaining child might forever miss his or her twin. I thought she might say this. It pisses me off even more.
After Tashi was born, my midwife told me that my placenta looked like it was originally preparing for twins. My mom was there when the midwife told me that.. She said the same thing then, that maybe Tashi would feel the loss forever.
I say, “I see no evidence that Tashi misses her twin if she ever had one. Do you?”
“No, I don’t,” she says.
“Then why would you say that?”
“I’m sorry Honey. I’m just worried about the baby.”
“I have to go,” I say.
I walk along Avocado Avenue. I walk down Poinciana. I walk back through the village. I walk until my until my feet hurt.
Victoria calls me after work. She has dinner plans with a friend and does not want to cancel. She sounds far away. I ask if she is okay and she says she thinks so. I do not think so.
Victoria comes home late. She sits on the bed and cries so hard I cannot understand anything she is saying. When she finally calms down she says, “I’m scared crying is bad for the baby.”
I say, “I think not crying is bad for the baby.”
She says, “Where did the baby go?”
I am thinking of a mass of cells big enough to create a beating heart. We do not know when the beating stopped. I think her body absorbed it. But I know that is not the answer she is looking for.
I cannot get out of bed. It is as if I am the one who is pregnant. Victoria is not having trouble getting out of bed.
I wake up from a dream that we are pregnant with a boy. I recognize that I am thinking, “We’re pregnant.” When I was pregnant and the men in my birth class would say, “We’re 37 weeks pregnant,” or “We’re having trouble sleeping,” I could have come to blows with them. I would think, “No, mister, this experience is not about you. You may be expecting a child, but you are not the one pregnant here.”
Now that I am the daddy I do not know what all that hormonal craziness was all about.
Tashi and I go to a birthday party for a five-year-old. Tashi plays while I hover around the cooler with three other dads. I drink a beer. I do not think I used to ignore dads on purpose at parties but standing here talking to the dads feels new.
I tell the father of the birthday boy that my wife is expecting.
He gives me a high five and says, “Congrats, man.”
I say, “I’m getting a sympathy belly.”
He raises his shirt to show me his. I say, “Your kid’s five.”
He says, “Takes a while to work off the pregnancy weight. You’ll see.”
I take Victoria’s hand and lead her into the bedroom where I have set up two round candles encased in glass, a blue one and a green one. I put the candles on the windowsill behind our bed where our headboard would be if we had a headboard.
I tell Victoria the blue candle is for healing. The green one is for fertility and for luck and for health and for money. I tell her I looked online to find out what color candles we should burn. I say I do not remember what religion or ancient tradition we are following but that are all the same.
I strike a match. I light the blue candle. I say, “I’m very sad about losing the twin.” I stop to think about what else to say. The smell of the match is overwhelming.
I say, “It didn’t take me long to create a fantasy about how wonderful and busy our lives were about to become. I dreamed of the double stroller.”
We are looking at the flame. I hear Victoria breathing heavily. I turn toward her. Tears are streaming down her face.
“Goodbye baby,” she says. “You are in heaven now.” She bows her head and cries hard.
I put my arm around her. She says, “I have a baby in heaven.” She straightens up. “I’m sorry,” she says. “There must not have been room for both of you. Thank you for making this sacrifice for your brother or sister. I love you. Your whole family loves you. I have to let you go now.”
We sit for a while. We light the green candle. We ask for health.
We meet Dr. Guinot, one of the obstetricians in the practice where we have decided to have the baby. Dr. Guinot is short but well built. He is handsome with deep smile lines. He tells us the baby could come any day. I tell him I am going to monitor Victoria’s dilation. He chuckles and wishes me luck.
Victoria goes to the bathroom in the doctor’s office to pee in a cup. I see Dr. Guinot in the hall. He smiles which makes me smile. He says, “So, is she dilated?”
“I can’t tell,” I say. “It’s a lot harder than I thought. I need a lesson.”
He nods. His face is bright. “I’ll be in in a second.”
Dr. Guinot comes in. We discuss Victoria’s weight gain—three and a half pounds this week. He says that sounds right. He asks, “How’s the baby moving?”
Victoria says, “Seems quieter than normal. I felt him after my chocolate mousse, but nothing for a few hours.”
Dr. Guinot squirts Victoria’s belly with goop. He presses an instrument to her skin. We hear the baby’s heartbeat. It sounds just like Tashi’s didn, like a galloping horse.
“Sounds perfect,” he says.
The nurse comes in. The doctor puts on a glove then hands me one. I put it on. The nurse lubes his gloved hand. She drops a dollop of lube into mine. He goes in to check her dilation and Victoria screws up her face. She says, “Hey, you’re a brute.”
He is in there two seconds, then he is out. “Sorry about that, your cervix is posterior.” He turns to me. He grins. He says, “Give it a try.”
I ask Victoria if she is okay with this. She says, “You’ve gotta be better than he was.”
I stand between her legs. I touch her knee with my ungloved hand and put my gloved fingers inside her. I feel around but cannot reach her cervix.
“I can’t feel anything,” I say.
The doctor says she is not dilated yet. The nurse is laughing.
I say, “Don’t dads ever want to learn how to check for dilation?”
“Never,” Dr. Guinot says.
Our baby is born. He weighs eight pounds and nine ounces. He is 21 inches long. He is beautiful. They say babies always look like their dad at first. This is a biological phenomenon so the father knows the child is his. But our son looks nothing like me.
We name him Sebastian Alberto – Sebastian because we both love the name and Albert after both of my grandfathers who were named Albert. We give him both our last names. Victoria, Sebastian and I spend the first night together in the hospital bed. Our baby has his own bed – a glass crib – but we lie with him between us. Victoria is nervous. Will we squash him? Is he latching? Is he crying too much? I am not nervous.
Victoria pumps milk so I can take the night shift. A swaddle at midnight. A diaper-change at three a.m. A bottle at six. Seven nights like this and I am dead tired.
Victoria is back at work. I stay home and read lots of books aloud to Sebastian, such as Moo Ba La, La, La; Mr. Brown Can Moo! and Good Night Moon. Since Sebastian can only fall asleep in my arms while I am pacing the house and bouncing him up and down, I have created a track that goes from the front door, past the kitchen, through the living room and around the couch. I am up to several hundred laps a day. And this kid is no featherweight.
Sebastian is a hungry boy. Yesterday he ate rice cereal. I know I am supposed to introduce one food at a time and wait three days but I am impatient and I do not believe in allergies. Today Sebastian eats avocado and green beans. Tomorrow he will eat sweet potato.
We are getting ready to leave my mom’s house. Victoria says, “You forgot to put diapers in the diaper bag.”
“Yes. You’re in charge of the diaper bag.”
All of my straight friends complain that no matter how many kids they have or how many times they leave the house, their husbands have no idea what to pack in the diaper bag. I say, “What kind of dad is in charge of the diaper bag?”
As soon as I say this, I realize Victoria is right. I am in charge of the diaper bag. I am the one who makes sure we never leave the house without two onesies, one burp cloth, one pacifier, one changing pad, one bottle filled with six ounces of fresh water, and three scoops of powdered formula in a separate container than the breast milk which is in a freezer bag. I am the one who makes sure we never leave without diapers.
Sebastian lies on the couch. He is diaper-less and dangerous. I look through the diaper bag myself and do not find the diaper she was looking for but I get the burp cloth which is crafted in three panels – the middle one the thickest – like an old-fashioned cloth diaper. I get two safety pins from my mom’s sewing room and bring the baby and the cloth diaper to my mom. She diapers him up just like she diapered me 40 years ago. She says we probably need a waterproof cover so I get a plastic grocery bag and rip two holes for his legs. I tie it with two knots on the sides of his baby waist. The diaper is soaked and reeks when we get home but we make it without a leak.
I tell everyone it is my first Father’s Day and my eight-year-old niece gives me a Father’s Day card she has made during our family brunch.
My dad says, “You’re not a father.”
Tashi says, “Mommy, you can’t be a daddy. You’re my mommy.”
I get on my knees to Tashi’s level to explain that I can be a mom and a dad but as I am saying this to my now five-year-old child I wonder if maybe there are some things kids know better than adults do. Once a mom, always a mom. Maybe it is that simple even when it is this complicated.