His third birthday just passed, and his sister will join us in just a few weeks. Coupled with the fact that this blog didn’t exist in 2009, I figured this was as good a time as any to recreate in long form one of the best days of my life. I’ve had many different versions of this post saved as a draft since I started the blog last year, so it may meander or be long-winded. Enjoy the Reader’s Digest condensed version, though, and expect another post or two when what’s-her-name shows up. I’m assuming that I’ll have time to type those posts between late-night feedings.
We were lucky, he was born exactly on his due date, but that’s getting ahead of myself. The pregnancy was pretty much normal, and in our last sonogram we saw his face in a 3D image. It was like a negative of an old sepia-toned photo from the 1920s, and the left side of his face was obscured, but there he was. Old what’s-his-name, since we hadn’t decided on a name for him yet. Through that sonogram image, we were meeting our son for the first time, and it was nothing short of awe inspiring. I wanted to speak to that image; failing that, to speak to my wife’s belly and the little boy inside, start the fatherly advice in utero. There was so much I wanted to share with him, and I couldn’t wait to start.
We’d accomplished almost all the new-parent tasks besides decorate the nursery. And let’s face it, is decorating the nursery more for an infant who can barely see past 6 feet and only cares about being fed and changed, or the parents’ egos? We had bottles, nipples, a bottle drying rack, breast pump, crib, white Carter’s onesies with hand protectors, blankets, baby sheets, white noise machine to help him sleep, baby monitor, baby bathtub that fit in the kitchen sink, and the obligatory rocking chair/glider. We thought we were ready. We had no clue.
My wife had been in the hospital for a few days already, and I’d been sleeping on the reclining chair in her room, taking my meals in the hospital’s canteen and feeling grungier by the day. Every now and then, we would hear the screams of other women in nearby rooms as they went through labor, and it was just as well that my wife was delivering via Caesarean. My wife got so sick of me at one point that she ordered me out of the hospital, told me to go to the diner or a book store. As she put it then, I’d only be a few minutes away, and she wasn’t going to have the baby without me, so go. As usual, she was right, I felt better, and the baby hadn’t arrived during my one-hour sojourn.
The day he came, though, was just another day at first, and then it wasn’t. Good news, we had a time for the C-section. Bad news, my wife would be put under general anesthesia because her condition wouldn’t allow for an epidural. This constituted major surgery, which meant I wouldn’t be allowed in the operating room. We were crushed, because we had been so looking forward to meeting him together. My wife was terrified, because as she said, what if she didn’t wake up? I had no idea, but tried to reassure her that we were in one of the best hospitals on Long Island, and they wouldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t let them, I’d do anything and everything in my power to force them to save her if I had to. At least, that’s what I told myself then, and I probably even believed it.
Then we settled on his name. We’d come to the hospital with a top three: Daniel James (after me and my brother in-law, and because she didn’t want a Daniel Junior), Henry James, and Ryan. Justin was thrown in there too, but as a fallback option. I wanted Henry, because the Southerner in me looked forward to calling him Hank, but the grandmothers had hated that name, so we went through all the other possibilities before deciding on Ryan Daniel.
There would be not one, but two anesthesiologists, including the chief of that department, and no one told us if that was a good thing or a bad thing. There would even be a nursing school student who asked us if she could observe the delivery as part of her studies. Sure, the more the merrier. Somehow, we remembered to ask the head nurse to take our camera in with her, and she agreed. I told my wife that I loved her more than anything in the world. My mother in-law came, and I still don’t know if she was there more for me or my wife, but she was invaluable for me to just lean on emotionally.
At 3:35pm they wheeled my wife away on a gurney, surrounded by a small phalanx of people wearing scrubs, and someone told me and my mother in-law to wait in an unused delivery room. I never thought I’d be that guy, the expectant father pacing in a waiting room, but there I was, literally pacing, while my mother in-law kept telling me to sit down and try to relax. I don’t take advice very well, a trait I’ve unfortunately passed down to Ryan, so there was no sitting or relaxing for me. If I’d had a cigarette or a drink, preferably both, that would have been ideal, but there are these pesky no-smoking rules and my flask was at home.
The OR was past two sets of double doors, so even though I had my ear pressed against the first door, I couldn’t hear anything. I paced, and my mother in-law sat, and she told me this wouldn’t matter in the end, that the end result of holding my son would be its own reward. I hate when wise people are right. At 4:06, one of the anesthesiologists came out through the two sets of doors, and walked past the room where I’d been waiting. I looked at his scrubs to see if there was any blood, but of course there wasn’t. Through his mask, he said, “Congratulations, your son was just born.” I wanted to ask him what was going on, but I kept looking down the hallway, and the anesthesiologist was gone in the opposite direction.
Three minutes later one of the doctors came out. No blood on his scrubs, either, and I started to breathe a little easier. My face probably said it all for him, and he said, “They’re doing great, everything’s all right.” I started to ask him what that meant, but both sets of doors opened again, and this time I heard a baby crying. There was only one delivery in this part of the hospital, so I knew those cries were my boy’s. My bad knee started to twitch, and suddenly I wanted to slouch like I was a marionette without strings. My eyes started to water, but I wasn’t going to lose it in front of a stranger whose face I couldn’t even see, so I took a few deep breaths. At 4:16, Dr. G the head gas passer came out and said, “Congratulations. They’re finishing the stitching, they’ll be out in another ten to fifteen minutes.”
To borrow the old fashioned turn of phrase from birth announcements in the 1950s, Ryan Daniel Kim was delivered of Mrs. Daniel Kim at 3:58pm on Friday, February 6, 2009. Mother and baby are well.
I met Ryan Daniel at 4:28pm, exactly half an hour after he was born. The nurse and the nursing student brought him out, and my God, was he loud. He sounded angry, like “I was warm in there, why’d you do that?” The nurse said she’d taken some photos right after he was born, handed Ryan to me, and all of a sudden I couldn’t see through my tears. This was my son, my blood, and all I could think to say to this crying infant was “Hi, Ryan, I’m your Appa.” He was so little that for a fleeting moment I was afraid I’d hurt him by holding him incorrectly, but I managed.
My first emotion was relief at hearing that my wife had gone through the procedure with flying colors. More relief that my son had 10 fingers and 10 toes and was pronounced 100% healthy. Then, with both of us still crying, I felt love. I haven’t been part of any organized religion since Bush Sr. was president, but if you’d asked me at that moment, I would have told you I felt God watching us and smiling. I thanked God for watching over me when I was a stupid young man, often heedless of my own safety, so that I could live to meet my son. I pledged my life, all I am and all I will ever be, to the crying baby I was holding. I thought of the old saying, “If you want to be a man, you need to see a man,” and promised Ryan I’d teach him how to be a good man. I promised Ryan I wouldn’t skip out on him and his mother like my own father had. I felt scared, that I might not live up to Ryan’s expectations; what if paternal failure was some kind of inherited gene in my family? I promised I’d be right beside him for every booboo, every report card, every teenaged heartache, every success or failure, unlike that other guy. I felt proud, that this was our son, we’d made a little person, and damned if he ain’t cute. Loud, and already trying to escape his bundling, but also the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
My mother in-law held him next, and watching her meet her grandson was just as magical as when I’d held him. They brought my wife out on a gurney, placed Ryan in her arms, and we all rolled to the recovery room together. We spent the next three hours there until my wife came out from under the anesthesia cloud, with the little man alternately crying, feeding, or sleeping. The next few days are a blur of changing our first diapers, waking up every hour or so because we wanted him in the room with us, friends and family visiting, learning how to feed and bathe him.
I’m probably going to ride that emotional yo yo again in a few weeks, when we meet our daughter. This time, however, we know what to expect. This time, too, there’s Opa [Korean for big brother] as another variable in the equation for Kong-ju [Korean for princess]. If you’ve followed my tweets over the last few months, you’ve probably figured out that Opa is only grudgingly coming to terms with having a baby sister, but it isn’t like he actually has a choice here. After some hiccups and jealousy, I’m sure Ryan will be a loving, supportive and (most importantly) protective Opa.
We’re more ready now than we were at a similar point before Ryan arrived, living proof of this quote from Cervantes, “to be prepared is half the battle.”