The decision to become first-time parents together was the easy part. Which, in retrospect, seems hilariously short sighted. I lived in NYC and he lived in Sav La Mar. It's probably a good thing we didn't think about the details too carefully since it might have derailed our little family before it even came to be.
I'd been watching him tend gently to the little ones in the family yard, always patient and with a warm smile. At first, I wondered if some of these pickney were his; it seemed logical, given his age and what appeared to be a common practice in that rural community. There were a whole heapah babies and Baby Mudda's but not a whole heapah wives and husbands with intact families. Not a lot of family planning going on.
He snorted at my question. "NO. Mi no haff no pickney. Mi coulda have one whole ARMY a pickney by now, but mi no wan' dem fi grow up like a mi: fadda-less and in the ghetto." That gave me goosebumps. He grew up never knowing his father, with barely enough food to feed him and the 6 siblings who arrived after. I had underestimated him. He was not the happy-go-lucky yardie, just out for a good-time party and cruising the back roads in a fast unit. He carried a heavy heart.
And it seems he had been watching me more closely than I realized. After multiple trips, including our intense, hair-raising accident early on, he began to gently ask me my intentions. "When yuh tink yuh wan' give me one yewt, Veektoddyah?" When did I want to have his baby? He'd said it with a gentle laugh and a smile but a sideways glance. Couldn't put too much of his heart out on the table if I was going to stomp on it real quick.
Timing, as they say, is everything. And it was the right time for us. Before too long, I was pregnant and we were both over-the-moon at the thought of it. The story of my husband's journey up to America is one I'll leave for another day, but suffice it to say that it was arduous and stressful. We both wanted him to be here before our baby arrived and he made it with just about 4 weeks to spare.
I should have known we were headed for trouble when we attended our first Lamaze class together. I'd been to several alone already, the odd single pregnant woman in a class of parental pairs. I was delighted to finally have him at my side. He, on the other hand, found it all ridiculous. The stop-watches, the odd breathing, the idea of being my "coach" were all more-than-foreign to him.
"All dis fuss over one likkle baby?", he asked, shaking his head.
Altho he'd been born in a hospital, his 6 siblings had all been born at home. And home was a two-room board house without indoor plumbing nor electricity. His granny had been the midwife and brought the other babies into the world with only a kerosene lantern to see and an outdoor wood fire to boil water. The facilities of Beth Israel Medical Center in lower Manhattan struck him as overkill. Altho' I had hoped to take advantage of the Midwifery Clinic at B.I., my insurance carrier had other ideas, so we were in the hands of my young, no-nonsense and very hot female OB/GYN. Dr. Fischer was sassy and brusque, but with a quick smile and a reassuring confidence.
And when The Day arrived, I gently poked my husband. "I think it's time," I whispered. He cracked open one eye and then closed it back again.
"Mi no wanna be in dat room," he whispered back.
"Oh, YES, you ARE going to be in that room," I smiled back at him.
"Seriously, veektoddyah, mi no really wan fi be in dat room."
To be frank, I wasn't looking forward to the experience in That Room either, but I had no choice. And neither did he. It was not up for discussion and I made that clear. I did not jump through a thousand bureaucratic hoops, hire an immigration attorney, pay outrageous Embassy fees and even called in a favor with a college friend working in the Clinton White House -- all just to make certain he got here in time for The Day, in order to go to the Labor and Delivery room alone. While he sat in some posh waiting area with his inlaws.
No. He was going to be in That Room. End of discussion.
I will spare you, gentle reader, all the details of that day. Labor and delivery room stories are usually only very interesting to those present. But our unique pairing did give us a few twists to the usual birth-day accounting.
When I was finally wheeled into our room, which was really less clinical than we'd imagined, more like a small cozy private hospital room with a few additional high-tech devices plus a comfy rocking chair, my husband headed straight for the far corner. He hunkered down, trying to be invisible. He wore huge dark aviator sunglasses and had quickly wrapped up his dreads in a red-gold-and green striped winter scarf. It was November, after all.
When Dr. Fischer strode in the room, took one look at him and his attempt to melt into the wallpaper, she knew right away that he was going to be a less-than-dependable assistant in the day's endeavor. Noting his dark glasses she snorted, "What, is it a little too BRIGHT in here for you, dads?" and then turned to me, raising her eyebrows. I sighed, "He really doesn't want to be here, he gets a little queasy at the thought of it all." So Dr. Fischer kept him busy with anything that could take HIS mind off of the queasy details. As if she and I didn't have enough to do.
But he made it, god bless him, without keeling over. He held my hand, rubbed my back, quickly agreed to leave the room whenever asked in order to get me a cup of ice chips (he loved that mission), and made repeated visits to the waiting area to keep the two sets of grandparents apprised of my progress. When he was obligated to remain in That Room, he held his station up by my pillow, sunglasses intact, probably gazing at the ceiling tiles most of the time. He did not want to see any head crowning, thank you, and no, he had no interest in cutting any kind of cord, thank you VERY much, not today.
But when that beautiful baby girl was placed on my chest, her eyes wide and blinking at us both for the first time, those sunglasses whipped right off and he knelt down to get a very close look. If you are a parent, then you know the feeling of that moment. As the attending nurse took her from me and prepared to whisk her off to the nursery for a bathe and the perfunctory weighing and measuring and so forth, my husband leaned down to me and whispered, "Mi gwan go follow her. Mi haffi mek sure she don't get SWITCHED."
If I hadn't been so wiped out, I think I would have burst out laughing. I just gave him a quizzical you-can't-be-serious look. "Ummm, what?", I said.
"Mi granny tell me to follow 'im, to nevah let mi eyes offa mi new baby. She seh in American hospitals, deh baby dem ALWAYS get SWITCHED. And true, our baby so nice and pretty, someone will want fi tek she, so me gwan stay by her side and mek sure it no happen."
And he did. He never left her side until she was brought back to me in my own room.
The small phalanx of nurses in that maternity ward, the bulk of whom were West Indian, found his protective and watchful eye over his new daughter quite endearing. Each one who came to the room packed my bag full of extra baby blankets, diapers and such, more than the standard issue of rations. In fact, it seemed that each nurse on that floor made an extra visit to our room to hand us "just a few extra supplies" to take home, having a soft spot for this new faddah from bakka yard.
"To hear 'im talk, yuh tink HIM give birth to dat lickle girl him SELF," one Jamaican nurse told me, when she was settling me and our daughter into my room for the night. "All he can talk 'bout is when he gwan tek him new baby bakka yard and show her to evry-baddy and show her all 'roun Jamaica and rae rae rae." She kissed her teeth but then smiled. "You an yuh dawta haff one good baby faddah, yuh know."
So it didn't matter that he resisted watching every second of her arrival, and that of her baby sister two years later, -- once those babies were here, his watchful, loving eyes have never left them. Although I love the flowers, cards and made-to-order breakfast on Mother's Day, those watchful, loving eyes are the greatest gift.
Then again, that i-phone you gave me today, honey? That's a really close second.......