Sneak Peek at Failing at Fatherhood

C h a p t e r 1

Welcome Marley

I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord. (1 Samuel 1:27-28 NIV)

March 20, 2011—right now I am sitting here, wondering what the remainder of my life will entail. My life has been completely transformed in the past twenty-four hours, and I have experienced things that every husband should be prepared to face with his wife. My wife told me I should prepare by reading the books she had bought, but who wants to read books written by doctors? We have been married for nine years and have faced many difficult situations together, so I knew I would be prepared for this next step in our life. Unfortunately, as I sit here the day after our daughter’s birth, I am still overcome with fear, concern, and anxiety. Every ten minutes I walk down to the nursery to see if our daughter is still breathing or not. I watch my wife try to recover from labor by eating broth for her main meal. And, I am still shocked how inadequately I performed as a husband in my wife’s greatest time of need.

The miracle of birth and the heart-wrenching fear of labor were unlike anything I have experienced in my life. Watching the misery of my wife trying to dislodge this creature from her womb was a horrific event for me. “Helplessness” is the only word I can think to describe my uselessness yesterday. While I watched my beautiful wife who I had brought to the other side of the world grimace in pain, the only thought circulating in my mind was, “She is going to die.” No husband wants to phone his in-laws from across the world and explain that their daughter had died while trying to give birth to their first grandchild. For eighteen hours my wife suffered through labor with no assistance from painkillers, the medical staff, or me. The doctor visited us every few hours in the natural birth room saying that everything looked good and for us to just hang in there.

Listen you **** of a *****, things are not fine! My wife is in incredible pain and you think everything is fine? How about you do your job and help my wife get this creature out of her? She is throwing up, sprawled out motionless on the floor, and pleading for help, and all you can offer is ‘hang in there?’*

Of course, none of this was said because a good Christian man should not speak with this tone, but distressing moments can lead to some bitter thoughts. Watching your spouse suffer with no possible remedy can drive a man to madness. This leads to a desperate feeling of failure as a caretaker. How inadequate I felt while watching my wife suffer from unbelievable pain and neither the doctor nor I could do anything to relive her agony. Suddenly the contractions were disrupting Marley’s heart rate. This caused immediate distress and concern in the medical staff at the hospital. Marley’s heartbeat would hover around one hundred and forty beats a minute, but when Jana would have a contraction, Marley’s heart rate would drop below seventy. The doctor told us to prepare for an immediate C-section and the nurse wheeled Jana away to an operating room. Another nurse led me to a changing room and I was dressed up with scrubs and a hat. My wife was suddenly taken away from me and there I sat in a room wearing a ridiculous costume. After about twenty minutes the nurse came for me. She walked me into a room that only reminded me of those horror films where people become dismembered.

Jana was lying on the table with a sheet separating her head from the remainder of her body. The nurse directed me to a chair beside Jana’s head so I could talk to her during the process. Jana looked up at me and I could see the fear of life in her beautiful blue eyes. Immediately, I heard my father’s voice echoing in my mind: “Time to be a man. Your wife needs you and this is the time to forget about your own ridiculous fears and support your life companion. If you can’t be a man now for your wife then you will never amount to anything in this world.” Instantly, I took a deep breath and said, “Well, this looks like fun.” She smiled at me and said, “We’ll see.”

As the process began, I could tell the sedative was starting to take away Jana’s sense of awareness. Every few seconds she would ask me if we were almost finished. I kept assuring her that the doctors were almost finished as I gently held her hand. The entire event took about thirty minutes and I said very little to her during the C-section operation. Comforting her did not involve many words, but instead a willingness to hold her hand and reassure her that everything was ok. Oftentimes in life, we say too much when comforting others instead of listening, and this was a time Jana desired a companion and not a lecture. She didn’t need me fixing things with my words, but instead she needed me to be present experiencing the journey with her. Being beside her and holding her hand was the commitment she needed to feel safe and secure. Ten years earlier as we pledged our vows for life during an outdoor autumn wedding, I was simply thinking about the upcoming honeymoon night. But I am sure Jana was envisioning moments like this in which I would be there holding her hand as our first child entered the world. Funny how often men and women vary in thought process! Missing that moment for my wife would have been unacceptable in my role as a husband. Of course, you cannot always be there when the love of your life needs you, but when you can, make sure you are. Nothing should hinder our role as being fearless protectors when our wives are in their greatest times of despair.

The Carnage

Do you ever pass a car accident and know that it's best not to look, but you somehow cannot help your natural inclination to see the carnage? Well, I looked over the curtain about halfway through the C-Section procedure to see what was happening “down there” with the doctors. “Great Scott!”- to quote our fabulous character Doctor Emmett Brown - were the only words I could summon to describe what I saw on that operating table. Certainly there are things w e should never see unless we are medical doctors. The destruction of flesh I watched transpire over the head divider would make the strongest men flinch. It reminded me of a toddler eating pasta with spaghetti sauce. The entire lower part of Jana’s body had been turned over to two children with forks pulling and pushing through her organs like they were eating their first bowl of spaghetti. Even now when I watch monster Marley tear through some scrumptious pasta, I have to suppress images of the doctors that night cutting into Jana’s womb to retrieve our first child. While blood and organs were being thrown around like ziti shells, the nauseating sound of suction would happen every few seconds while a nurse would “clear out” an area so the doctors could see. The climatic moment that brought me back to reality was when the two doctors were pulling on Jana’s abdominal cage, with all of their might. I quickly realized that it was time for me to return to my spot of comforting Jana on the other side of the curtain. The picture of watching two doctors play tug of war with Jana’s internal organs was enough medical interning for me. Holding Jana’s hand and reassuring her that everything was going to be ok seemed like a great job at the moment compared to the other side of that curtain. But then I heard a cry.

Joining the Club

Seeing your child for the first time is the purest form of love that you can ever experience as a father. Watching this bloody mess emerge from my wife’s womb was astonishing. We were taught about it in school, watched simulations of it on TV, and read about it in books, but when that moment of life materializes in front of your own eyes, describing the event is virtually impossible. Marley was just a figment of my imagination until the moment she left Jana’ s womb and embraced the world. Or course, I would feel her kick in Jana’s womb and watched the misery of pregnancy caused by her for the past nine months, but for me the reality of Marley’s existence did not happen until I heard that fierce cry from the other side of the curtain. The love I thought could never be duplicated for another person besides my wife actually magnified ten times at the precise moment my new daughter arrived. I literally felt like the Grinch at Christmas when his heart grew after embracing the spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately, the concern I had for Jana during the entire procedure was stripped immediately from my mind because of the abundant joy I felt by being part of the new life I had help create. Fathering a child and watching her enter this world is one of the few moments that can never be corrupted by anything or anyone. Observing Marley take her first breath will forever be one of the single greatest moments of my life.

Once they pulled Marley out they began performing numerous tests on her. If I had read the books that Jana left by my bedside every night, then I would have known this is a common practice know as the Apgar test. Watching them pull and push on Marley aroused a protective fury in me, and I started to stand up and confront the situation. The doctor, maybe sensing I was not well rehearsed in newborn procedures, told me she looked great and had passed the Apgar tests. Dumbfounded I muttered “ok” and continued to stare at him with no clear direction on my next move. The doctor, knowing I had lost all rational judgment, told me they needed to take Jana to the recovery room for a few hours and that I should go down to the nursery to see my daughter. “Jana. That’s right—Jana is still here and needs me to comfort her. How could I forget so quickly about her?” Even though Jana was still partially sedated, she smiled up at me and said, “go.” I kissed her and stumbled down the hallway looking for the nursery.

I stood outside the nursery ward peering in the window, contemplating two things before opening the door: how was I going to find my daughter; and how was I going to talk to the nurses when they could not speak English? For the past eight years, I would just abandon the situation when I could not communicate and move on without the item or answer to my question. I began to smile at the thought of sitting in the waiting room for hours not seeing my daughter because I was too scared to go in and try to communicate with the nurses. Jana would certainly have had some choice words for me if our daughter spent her first few hours alone because her father was too cowardly to cross a language barrier.

I could not resist any longer and no one was coming to help me even though I was staring in the nursery like a child at the zoo. All of sudden I swung open the door, charged past the changing area, and started walking around the various cribs looking for the little white baby. All at once, nurses appeared from every corner of the room and began yelling at me while swinging their arms. An older nurse grabbed me by the arm, and lead me toward the door I had just entered. As she pushed me out the door, I quickly became angry and started walking back towards her—I wanted to see my daughter. She raised her hand and gave me the universal stop motion. I stopped and looked her straight in the eyes. She smiled and pointed toward the main thing I had missed before barging in the room. There, beside the door, was a little sign that said in English, “Please change shoes and clothes before entering the nursery.” I lowered my head in shame and slowly started changing my clothes. After I had finished, she asked me in broken English for my child's name. I wanted to scream, “Probably the only white kid in the entire nursery right now,” but instead I just said, “Marley Barr.” Once again she smiled, and led me to a crib in the corner of the room.

Overwhelming emotions took control of my body while looking into that crib of pale skin and blonde hair. I started to cry so the nurse put her hand on my shoulder. Marley was so beautiful. The little creature was the most beautiful thing I had ever witnessed in my life and by the grace of God I was part of her life. The nurse brought over a stool and I positioned myself beside her. In a few minutes the nurse left us alone, and without asking permission from the germ police, I reached in the crib and held her hand.

Talking to Marley

For two hours I sat beside my daughter’s crib when she was first born. While Jana was in the recovery room sleeping, I was in the nursery staring amazed at the being laying in front of me. Marley mostly slept during that time but the awe of the moment kept me by her side looking at her. I could not comprehend that only twenty-four hours earlier, she was just a possibility—n ow she was a reality entrusted to me for the remainder of my life. As my mind tried to steal the moment with thoughts of responsibility and fear, I suppressed those thoughts and truly enjoyed the moment of life. There are very few times in life that I “remain still” and absorb the richness of the moment, but on that night I did. Sitting in that nursery with my daughter is an experience that I will never forget, one that can never be altered by the evil of this world. For two hours, my daughter was a perfect little creature completely made in the image of God. As we bonded in that nursery, I began telling Marley stories about her family and living in Thailand. Obviously she could not understand me, but there was an enormous amount of information I had to pass on to her during those moments. I talked to her about Jana, my father, our family in the States, our family in Thailand, and mostly about how much I already loved her. She slept peacefully after the traumatic experience of birth, but I continued talking non-stop about life before her arrival, and what I envisioned life being now that she had made a grand entry into this world. As admiration for my daughter quickly grew in those first few hours in the nursery, little did I know that the birth of my daughter would not be the most significant life-changing moment that weekend, but instead the news we would receive three days later as we were preparing to finally go home as a family.

Relive the Moment of Birth

The overwhelming sense of joy you felt, as that first child was being born needs to be shared with him or her. I only have one child so I am not sure how the feelings duplicate with multiple children, but I can tell you when Marley arrived in the world, I felt something exhilarating. Sit down with your child and tell him or her about that marvelous moment. You don’t have to be graphic but share the joy you felt. Tell him or her about the time leading up to the birth, the rush to the hospital, the chaos of labor, and the overwhelming love you felt as he or she was born. Maybe you were not there. If you were not, then I would encourage you to sit down with someone that was there and have that person tell the story to you and your child. Sharing about your child’s birth is an exciting thing and will strengthen that bond we sometimes are not able to experience as fathers of newborns.