My son would be nearly 27 if he were alive. Since I can't share any birthday cake with him this August 25th, I will post this memory that I wrote here.
Happy Birthday, Daniel!
The first time I saw Daniel, I understood why my sciatic nerve had been sending electric shocks up my back and down the backs of my legs. A ten-pound-seven-and-a-half-ounces newborn doesn’t just come out gracefully; he sprints. And cries, louder than small babies cry, because his lungs have already grown in proportion to the rest of him.
The first day of his life was a Wednesday. I woke at four in the morning to blessed contractions and nudged David. “Teo is coming!” Teo was our nickname for the baby in the womb. We’d called him Teo long before we came up with real name possibilities—ones I liked that David didn’t and vice versa. Naming a baby can be exhausting. No wonder some cultures wait to name a child until he is seven days old. When we found out through the sonogram that our baby was male, I said, “How about Daniel Paul?” and even though David had nixed his middle name for Teo’s middle name, he said, “Okay.” Later I asked him why he gave in. “The way you said it was so cute.”
“It’s finally happening,” David said as he sat on the edge of the bed in his summer pajamas. “You aren’t going to be pregnant forever.”
Teo had been seated on my sciatic nerve for ten days and was four days late. When I’d been a day late, David, two-year-old Rachel, and I went to the State Fairgrounds’ flea market for the sole purpose of me walking the baby out.
“When are you due?” a vendor selling furniture and knick-knacks asked. She smiled the way middle-aged strangers do at pregnant women—tender, kind, sympathetic.
“Yesterday,” I said.
“Walk,” she instructed.
“I have.” I’d walked as much as one could when sciatica pinched at every step. I didn’t tell her about the sciatica, I just smiled and wobbled toward David and Rachel who were looking through a box of comic books for sale.
On the morning of August 25th, I loved every contraction. I got out of bed while David made his way to the bathroom. His mom had come from South Carolina to care for us, and when she woke, we’d eaten raisin toast and were packing for the hospital. As we hugged her good-bye and left for the hospital, I thought how excited Rachel would be when she woke to know that her sibling was about to arrive.
On the way to Durham Regional Hospital, David and I stopped to get gas, and at the convenience store bought purple candy called Alexander the Grape, just because we liked the name. David picked up a word search book. This was our second time to have a baby; we knew it’d be a long day. I was not a quick deliverer.
Once situated at the hospital, David asked for a memo pad and recorded the timing of the contractions and an account of the day. When the contractions set me into heavy breathing, he put his pen down, but knew not to rub my back or hold my hand. I wanted him with me, but I didn’t want any physical contact. A young, skinny intern entered and massaged my shoulder. She cooed, “You are doing great, Mrs. Wisler. So good, Mrs. Wisler.” I felt David bristle and knew he was afraid I might shove her onto the floor.
When the doctor checked my uterus and told me it was time to push. I grunted and groaned and thought my body would explode. Three more hard pushes and out came the baby. Slippery, fleshy, bald.
The nurse weighed him, and laughed.
The doctor leaned over to look at the scale. “Ten pounds, seven and a half ounces,” he announced before she could. “He’ll be walking out of here!”
Minutes later a nurse with red hair and a wide smile entered to see this big baby. She’d been in the delivery room five minutes, when another came in.
The second nurse looked at Daniel, who was now warm against my chest. “Congratulations! How are you feeling?”
“She delivered this baby with just a small tearing,” said the doctor.
“And no epidural.” My husband smiled at me.
We were asked if Daniel could be on TV, some program filmed at the hospital about smart moms and healthy babies. He’d be filmed in the hospital bassinet in the background while two hostesses discussed a segment of the show. I signed the papers in agreement and jokingly said that this could be the beginning of his film career. A friend in our neighborhood had also had a baby boy. She had a scheduled C-section, so while I was pushing, Mandy was done and drinking a cup of coffee in her room. Mandy’s son and Daniel were on the program together. The babies slept through their first-ever screen appearance.
That evening, in the hospital room alone with Daniel, while the news on TV showed the catastrophe in Florida from Hurricane Andrew’s fury, I breathed in my newborn’s scent and smiled into his eyes. “Thank you for being a boy. Thank you, thank you. Now I can hang up those maternity clothes for good.”
Daniel wasn’t the content infant that his big sister Rachel had been. He fought naps and bed times, and yet each day, I thought, he’s growing up. He’ll grow out of this and once he grows out of this stage, that’s it. No more babies. When he pulled himself up onto the changing table at seven months, I grabbed the camera. At nine months he was taking steps and before he was two he had had it with diapers and peeled them off. I bought him big boy pants and showed him the plastic potty we’d used to train Rachel. He took to it immediately which busted that myth that boys are slower to be potty-trained than girls. Of course, having a reward for using the toilet was a huge incentive. That bubble gum dispenser positioned near the sink encouraged Daniel to pee as often as he could. Sometimes only a few squirts came out, but he felt he was still deserving of putting a penny into the gumball machine and getting a piece of gum. Sometimes he managed to get two out at the same time.
I didn’t know how much fun having a boy could be and felt a bit ashamed that in previous years when I’d observed moms of male toddlers I’d been sorry they had to chase boundless energy through puddles and around swing sets.
Our family’s dynamics were a source of joy and pride. We made up jokes, we crafted our own songs; we went to Atlantic Beach in the summer and enjoyed the colors of Boone in the fall. Rachel was learning to read with the Hooked on Phonics series we’d invested in, Daniel was learning words he found important like ball, stick, and mud. Perhaps I was too proud of my children. Perhaps I loved them more than life. I knew that I loved them more than I loved God.