Crossing the Bridge

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    The sound hits you the moment the elevator doors open. Then you step out onto the hospital’s maternity floor and see them there, behind the glass, crying, wailing, screaming to no end. More than a dozen pink-faced newborns, all wrapped tight as enchiladas in tiny flannel blankets, lined up in the nursery and letting the world know they’ve arrived at the tops of their high-pitched lungs.

    It’s enough to jangle anyone’s nerves, and maybe yours more than most. After all, you’ve never had a baby before, never even been around babies all that much. All these years, you’ve just been a guy: uncomplicated, easygoing, happy enough that someone out there thought you were husband material. So you stare through the window at all those brand-new infants, and wince a bit at their constant racket, and wonder if you even have a clue.

    But then your beautiful mother-to-be stands next to you, and gives you a smile that says, “Are you ready?” You draw a breath, and turn to follow the nurse through the big double doors that lead to the birthing room that’s been prepared just for you, and realize the moment has finally come. By the end of the day, you, too, will have a child of your own.

    The hours pass, the labor accelerates, and you think back nine months to the beginning. You remember squinting at the first sonogram and seeing just a few faint streams of blood casually intersecting—the first sign of a fetal heart in the making. Later, you wondered why you needed to go to birth classes. But then you grew fascinated with the mystery of pregnancy, by how the chemical and physical cues, step by step, set birth in motion, and by how Nature truly seems to think of everything. And now labor is peaking, and the baby is coming—almost here now—and all the beeping monitors and medical machinery in the room can only stand by with you and witness the miracle.

    In the hours that follow, you fetch juice and Jello and anything else an exhausted mother might want, and you try not to bother the nurses too much. But later on, in the long, quiet middle of the night, you hold the baby and watch her sleep. You realize you have never looked at another person’s face for so long. She wrinkles her nose and mouth as she settles into your arms, and her eyelids flutter slightly as she seems to dream, and you wonder: What could a newborn baby possibly dream about?

    And then Nature offers up one, last miracle moment. You’re rocking little Lucy all by yourself, and as you gaze down at her, suddenly you feel yourself cross the bridge. All at once, your old self falls away, and everything you used to be goes with it. Today, you and that dozing mom have given someone a life. And you cross over to the other side, where your new life as her father is waiting.

    Three days later, you wheel mother and child down the hall, back through the big double doors, and onto the elevator. The babies in the nursery are still wailing in unison, but this time, the din sounds strangely different. Now the cries strike you more as music—a siren call to the life that begins right now. The doors close behind you, the sound of the babies fades away, and you think how much you’ll miss them, all of them. Because you’re not just a guy anymore. You’re a dad.