There are two peaks: one is called Mount Exhilaration, the other the Summit of Terror. To swing back and forth from one to the other, that is parenting. But as my wife so wisely said, “This ain’t no Disneyland ride.”
August 29, 2015. We walked out of the hospital into a grey, still world. There’d been a powerful wind storm and we had missed it. The parking lot was littered with broken branches, torn from their trees. A desolate silence filled the air.
We’d been here before, three months and one pregnancy ago. That time, I had sat in a dark room as a technician waved a wand over my wife’s belly, and I watched on the screen a tiny teardrop shape flutter wildly. While the technician frowned and clucked and scratched his head and told us that he was not allowed to tell us anything, I found myself willing the little heartbeat to grow stronger. I imagined the day I would tell that child of the great fright it gave us and how I saw its heartbeat and how it gave me hope. We found out a few weeks later that there never was any hope: the heartbeat was too weak to begin with.
On the day of the Great August Storm, three months later, we were supposed to go to a friend’s wedding but instead found ourselves making the familiar drive across the train tracks to the hospital with a sense of foreboding. “Here we go again.” The thought banged around my head, taunting me while my wife showed the nurse her care card. CLUNK. The heavy door opened and we were admitted. It’s hard to resist, despair. You want to tell yourself you haven’t earned it, that there are people out there who try for decades to have children. Those are the ones who are allowed to sigh at the coming of the inevitable. Outside, the storm wreaked havoc, ripping out trees by the roots. The power flicked on and off once, maybe twice, while we sat waiting in the ER but we had no idea what was going on.
It was somewhere between a paragraph of The Bell Jar and some doctor telling us – once again – that everything was probably fine that the wind changed. I looked across the room and saw a little boy with his father. I watched as the kid sat patiently, swinging his legs, and I remembered my cousin in California, who years ago was making (what seemed like) weekly Facebook posts about taking his firstborn to the hospital. I thought about my life and my siblings, how each one of us made our own dramatic trips. When my brother thought medicine was candy and needed his stomach pumped; when I fell down the stairs and smashed my face into a radiator; when my sister came face to face with the mumps and lost; when my other sister stabbed her thigh with a X-Acto blade. I’d thought about it before, of course, along with poopy diapers and cleaning up vomit but it hit me that this was my first foray into the world of parenting.
Soon after, they discharged us. We stood blinking in the windswept parking lot. “What happened here?” We got to the car and with another prayer and another feeble hope, we drove away. We decided that if the power was off at home we’d get Pizza Hut.
One cheese pizza later we crashed on the couch. Now we wait. Wait to see if this baby was gonna make it.
I’m glad to say he did and here I am ten months later sitting in a rocking chair typing on my phone with the little fella sprawled out on my chest. But dodging another miscarriage would be just that. It didn’t take away the fear. In fact, quite the opposite: while this one bad thing didn’t happen, it only meant the next bad thing might and on until there comes a point where you start to lose your mind a bit. The cyclone spins around you. Your feet leave the ground. You don’t know which way is up and which way is down.
After the storm, we didn’t have power for three days and three nights. Then in the middle of the third night, our lights came back on. All of them, all at once. We had some spoiled meat and curdled milk in the fridge we had to throw out. Months later, I stabbed a frost-covered pail of ice cream with a spoon and realized it was a forgotten remnant of that day.
That’s what despair is like sometimes: an old pail of frostbitten ice cream. Then the power is restored and all the lights come back on at once. You see, although my wife and I swing over regularly to the Summit of Terror, it’s the other peak that we live on. Processing my fears gives me more words to talk about them but the rest is ineffable, caught in the irresistible smile of an infant, in the weird shape of his nipples, in the twinkle of his big beautiful eyes.
The rest is joy.