My husband Jeff pecked me on the cheek and practically skipped across the hall into the bathroom to the shower. I lay in bed unable to move from the impossible weight of impending doom and dread. It was the day after I stood with an electronic EPT test in my hand. It kept blinking the word “yes” over and over until the motion of that, coupled with my utter shock, made me feel dizzy and faint. Let’s be clear. This was NOT the Hallmark commercial moment where the wife runs out to the kitchen and falls into her partner’s arms whispering “You’re going to be a daddy” and they both sob and bubble over with sheer unadulterated bliss. I was sobbing when I told my husband about the baby, but for an entirely different reason.
Parenting my teenage sons was challenging. Every day I struggled trying to match myself to the perfect mother I had envisioned in my head. It was a constant reminder that I was nowhere near doing a great job. Now, I know that there were many other factors that made my role difficult; absent grandparents, and an ex-husband that was hell bent on parenting the exact opposite way of me. All of these struggles were exactly what was going through my head that fateful day that I held the pregnancy test. I had had enough of parenting.
My husband Jeff had an entirely different story. He had done his best as a step-father. He came from a family of 10 siblings and has longed deeply for a child of his own but according to the best doctors in the country, that had been deemed an impossibility. I am sure you can imagine then that this news was shocking to me, but would be a glorious surprise for him. One that even my fear couldn’t squelch.
He was so excited at the news and as I lay listening to his cheery humming from the shower, I tried not to sob. I placed my hand on my belly and squeezed my eyes shut. Massive anxiety of having to start again, to experience the hardship and resentment of a role that I was just NOT cut out to do. It seemed cruel, not only to me, but to the little living being inside me.
Fear seized me. “I can’t do it,” I said to the air, to the universe, to the ethers. “I won’t do it.” However, it wasn’t the ethers that needed to hear my decision. It was my husband. I sat up on the bed and planted my feet. I dashed across the hall to tell him, “I can’t. I won’t.” This chant, “I can’t. I won’t,” hijacked my mind and wouldn’t leave until they were formed into words and spoken by my own voice.
The shower turned off but Jeff’s singing kept on in a rollicking tune. My feet halted just before the bathroom door. I felt a heavy dread mixed with an aching guilt. Who was I to take away his one chance at being a father? Did I have a right? Questions muddled my certainty and I decided to wait to have the discussion at our weekend breakfast date. Yes, a public place may soften the sharp emotions that were bound to come.
Sitting across from him in our favorite booth, I half listened to him chatter as I tried to formulate how I would begin the discussion. What did these words, “I can’t” and “I won’t” really mean? I was just about to speak when the hostess seated a family of three in the booth behind my husband. They were a young couple with a two-year-old daughter. As her father left for the rest room, the toddler immediately began jumping up and down on the cushioned seats and my husband turned to engage her.
“Hi!!” He beamed. The little girl immediately ducked down behind the booth and my husband did the same. As she slowly lifted her head to see where Jeff went, he popped up and exclaimed, “PEEK A BOO!!” The girl plopped down on her bottom, belly laughing. The peekaboo game continued for a few minutes until her father returned to his seat. I saw this as my chance to pull Jeff’s attention away and blurted, “Hon, there is something I need to talk to you about. It’s important.” He glanced at me with a beaming smile on his face but turned again towards the little girl and her father. Upon seeing her father arrive at the table, the man’s daughter flung herself at him and snuggled up underneath his arm and pressed herself to the side of his body. Rubbing his forearm she began chanting, “Daddy Daddy, I love you. Daddy, Daddy I love you.”
Watching Jeff watch them, I felt my certitude waiver. If I allowed this to go on for much longer I wasn’t quite sure I could go through with my declarations. “Jeff.” I said. “JEFF,” a little more urgently, and he turned towards me…tears streaming down his face. Suddenly, fearful that he knew what I was about to say, I reached out across the table and grabbed his hands to steady him as well as myself.
“What is it?” I asked. “Why are you crying?” I braced for him to admit that he knew the four words that I was about to say. I held my breath. He swiped at the tears at the corners of his eyes and to my astonishment he smiled.
“What? What is it?” I asked desperately. “Someone is going to call me ‘daddy’!” he whispered incredulously and then louder. “Someone is going to call me ‘daddy’!” His eyes twinkled with puddling tears as he gazed directly into my eyes with a look of sheer amazement. He gasped with disbelief.
And like a speeding locomotive suddenly putting on its brakes, the four words that just a millisecond ago were so urgent came to a screeching halt. Those tears—those tears full of elation, an overflowing heart and dreams fulfilled—were the antidote to “I can’t” and “I won’t”. Suddenly they were replaced by, “I must.” Of course, I must. For the love of a husband and his child growing inside me, I must.
Suddenly looking concerned Jeff said, “What was it that you wanted to tell me?” Taking a deep breath and with tears in my own eyes I declared, “I can’t…I can’t wait to hear our child call you daddy! You are going to be a wonderful father!”