In the 1970s fathers were staying in the hospital delivery room and “helping” their wives through the ordeal of natural childbirth. Our first child, a girl, was brought into the world using this Lamaze method, and, for our second child, my wife decided to add a little twist to Lamaze.
It was kind of like Lamaze meets the washtub.
The idea was to have me, the Dad, give the newborn – and I mean minutes old – his first warm, soothing bath. We took a refresher class in the Lamaze method, which included how to bath a newborn. Man, I was ready – tub, water and washrag.
Then came the day.
I’m not saying the old obstetrician was a medical curmudgeon. But, when he bluntly sighed a grunt upon seeing me walk into the room, it was strongly hinted at.
Getting ready, he barked an explicit order. “Don’t touch anything.” His words were stern, and his dark eyes above his surgical mask scoped me like a loaded Luger. “Anything,” he repeated for emphasis.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” I assured him, nodding and mumbling through my surgical mask, which steamed up my eyeglasses. He glowered back as I spoke, doubting the veracity of my every word.
I felt clumsy in the pale green, ill-fitting and wrinkled surgical gown draped loosely over my Levis and T-shirt. Unlike the beloved mother, the skilled OB nurse and the old curmudgeon physician, I blended into the sanctity of the delivery room like a centipede at a snake convention.
It was almost time. The nurse helped my wife into the birthing apparatus, and like a champ, she was exhaling rapid breaths like she’d been taught in Lamaze classes. Per delivery room protocol, the nurse spread a gossamer-thin surgical cloth over my wife. I saw right away that it wasn’t done perfectly, which bugged me. A corner of the cloth hung haphazardly, raggedy-like, exposing some of my wife’s body.
No. The damned cloth just wasn’t right. At home when a floor rug is askew, I straighten it. So . . . I reached across to tidy-up the surgical cloth.
. . . Wham.
“Ow!” I yelped, recoiling my hand.
The doctor had slapped it with a steel instrument. I don’t know if it amounted to medical malpractice, but it sure in blazes hurt. The spot turned red. I felt like a kid in Catholic school who’s just had his knuckles ruler-whapped by a nun.
“I told you not to touch anything,” the doctor scowled, holding the surgical tool like a weapon, ready to strike another blow.
I backed away, rubbing my hand. “I was just trying . . .”
“. . . To touch something,” he finished my lame sentence.
With me in full retreat, he turned earnestly to the task at hand.
Remember I told you about the “twist” my wife had added to the Lamaze method? I was assigned to give the newborn his first bath, washing off birth stuff. Our Lamaze teacher had told us that this bath in warm water for five minutes helped form an everlasting “bond” between father and child. (Truthfully I figured it was to give Dad something to do. Or, maybe now I realize, so he wouldn’t touch anything before the birth.)
Well, our son arrived and it was time for me to shine.
The nurse brought a shallow stainless basin of water, and then handed the little naked guy to me. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving much. With my hands firmly under him, I dipped his backside into the water, like I was taught.
“My, God,” I thought. “It’s cold.”
He had come on a morning in December. It can get cold overnight in the Mojave Desert where he was born. Maybe the nurse ran the warm water too early. Maybe I was mad about getting slapped and my body temperature was still simmering, making the water feel cold to the touch.
Whatever, the water wasn’t even lukewarm!
It took only seconds for the little man to confirm my fear, and, for him to realize he wasn’t in the warmth of the womb any longer.
I watched him writhe like a twitching tadpole in the water, flailing his arms all around in protest.
“He’s shivering,” I thought.
Now his legs wriggled too in angry splashes.
“He’s turning blue,” I thought, squinting at him.
His color went from white with red blotches to white with gray blotches.
“I’m hurting him,” I thought, thinking back of ice fishing as a teen when I had fallen through the ice of Lake Huron. It took my testicles three days to come out of hiding.
In a panic I yanked him like a perch on a pole out of what, by then, I was convinced was icy water.
I frantically handed him to the OB nurse. “He’s freezing,” I exhaled, emotionally at her.
She quickly wrapped him in a blanket, back into what I imagine he thought was the kind warmth of his mother again.
All I know is that his first encounter with Dad wasn’t a warm and fuzzy affair.
And I hoped that on some future Father’s Day he would forgive me.
©2014 R.D. Byron-Smith & Pilar Publishing.
R.D. Byron-Smith is published by Pilar Publishing of California. His books include, Dinner With A Killer, Epitaphs, Image of Evil, Back In Saigon, The Heart Never Sleeps, Murder Under London Bridge, The Collector, Killing Socrates and 7 Stories of Flash Fiction. His books are available at Web booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.