There we were, sitting in a dimly lit room preparing ourselves for our 24-week ultrasound. The sonographer reached for the gel bottle as my wife unveiled her emerging baby bump. She gave the bottle a gentle squeeze and not-so-gentle sound broke the silence. I am not sure what it is about these gel bottles, but I am convinced they were designed in the same factory as the Whoopee Cushion. My wife and the sonographer did not flinch. I, on the other hand, was in trouble. I bit my lip and reminded myself that I would soon be responsible for raising a newborn baby girl in sixteen short weeks. The more I told myself not to laugh, the more a Mount Vesuvius sized giggle was readying itself for eruption. As I neared DEFCON ONE giggle status, I quickly ran through my mental Rolodex of sappy songs and ended up on the Boys II Men classic, “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday”. By the time I reached the chorus, I had the giggles in check. Bullet dodged. First-time Dad test passed.
The ultrasound proceeded without incident. I’d been to a few of these already and knew the routine. Click. Type. Measure. Click. Type. Print. Heartbeat sound. All polished off with the sonographer touting my daughter’s cuteness. At an earlier sonogram, I made the mistake of debating with my wife whether or not “cute” was the accurate word to describe the black and white fuzzy images coming out of the printer. This was decidedly a grave mistake. This time around, I responded with three simple words: “She is beautiful”. I could hear the bonus points being deposited in the bank. Cha-Ching.
Next up, the cervical measurement. Prior to pregnancy, I never would have thought I would be excited to know my wife’s cervical measurement. Honestly, prior to pregnancy, I don’t think I even knew what a cervix was let alone that it could be measured. At week twenty-four, however, the length of my wife’s cervix was important. It turns out she had a procedure done a few years back that could potentially cause her cervix to shorten prematurely. A result she was at an increased risk for pre-term labor. Each and every ultrasound, I would hold my breath waiting for a big number. Up until today, we always got that big number. Up until today. This time around, an appointment that started out as a routine visit in the sonographer’s room ended up landing us in a labor and delivery room.
As I sat and waited, it suddenly hit me. The huge lights mounted in the ceiling were meant for the actual delivery of my baby. The steroid shot my wife just received was meant to boost my daughter’s underdeveloped lungs in case my wife went into labor. Even the the doctor’s “high risk maternal fetal medicine” title suddenly lent itself to the gravity of the situation. Things just got real. And, as the reality and magnitude came into focus my emotions spun out of control. I am convinced of one thing; I became a father in this moment, long before my daughter was born.
Up until this time, being a dad meant putting together a crib, picking out paint colors, having a gender reveal party, and convincing my wife that a co-ed baby shower was not a good idea. Prior to the mad rush up the elevator, my main emotions were straight out of a Hallmark movie: excitement, joy, and happiness. While these feelings are certainly part of being a dad, the onslaught of emotions I felt waiting in that room made me quickly realize that I had only scratched the surface. Sitting in the labor and delivery room was the very first time I had to figure out how to manage the “other” emotions that inevitably come along with being dad. While excitement, joy, happiness, and love were still within me, in that moment they were drowning in a sea of worry, angst, anger, fear, and dismay. This is when I realized that being a dad was about opening myself up in way I never had experienced before. It meant embracing and managing a full range of emotions that I otherwise avoided or ignored to protect myself all my life. It meant being vulnerable and accepting help along the way. This is when I truly experienced what being a dad was all about.
As I celebrate my second Father’s Day, I will always be reminded of how my daughter’s journey into this world opened me up and changed me for the better. I’m so proud to be my daughter’s “dada”. I only hope one day she will stop calling me “mama”.