Theoretically, the fact that I’m allowed in here at all represents a step forward in the grand march of civilization, a chance for the father to empathize with the mother, to get an early start on bonding with the child and to gain a deeper insight into the miracle of birth.
But at this moment I can’t help but think longingly of the waiting room, where dads of yore thumbed tranquilly through golfing magazines while waiting to pass out the cigars.
Out of a sense of solidarity with my wife, I’m trying to look like I’m suffering. I have this anguished expression on my face, but it’s wasted since I’m wearing a surgical mask.
And anyway, the focus is really on her. The doctor is right there between her legs and he’s shouting, “Push!”
Indeed, the miracle is at hand — which gets me thinking.
There’s a famous painting by the Dutch master Pieter Breugel that depicts, in the foreground, a farmer guiding his ox and plow across a field. In the background is a glittering little bay where an elegant ship is sailing toward the sea.
If you look closely at Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, you can see a splash and two legs twistedly protruding from the water. These are no ordinary legs: They happen to belong to Icarus, who has just disobeyed his father’s orders, flown with his wax-and-bird-feather wings too close to the sun and plunged to his death.
Moral of the story: Always listen to your dad (which is especially poignant for this moment)! But the moral of the painting, whose focus is on the farmer rather than the fabulous mythical fall, is that everything depends on your point of view.
For the farmer, the important thing is getting the field plowed for spring. The great modern poet W.H. Auden has a poem about the painting called “Musee des Beaux Arts,” in which he reminds us,
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood.
In other words, most of us suffer from the delusion that it is our own lives, after all, and no one else’s, that are at the center of the universe.
And here, at the center of the universe, my wife is doing this incredible thing. She’s pushing yet another human being into the world, a world that so far seems to be pushing back.
And the baby is simply not cooperating. He’s very happy to stay there in the womb, thank you, and has no particular interest in entering the world, getting a job, taking out the trash, making mortgage payments and arguing with Verizon about data plans.
I can’t say I blame him, but his heartbeat is dropping, now down to 90, so the doc says, “Well, I think maybe one more try, then we do the cesarean.”
So things in the room really are a bit tense. It’s definitely a moment that demands a lot of attention, and my wife is gathering whatever shreds of strength remain in the shaking exhausted sleeve of flesh her body has become, the blood and sweat and fluids everywhere, the moment has arrived, and this was It!
When suddenly I hear the attending nurse standing just behind me saying to this guy in scrubs standing next to her (I think he’s the anesthesiologist’s assistant), “Well, just because Karen says she has a boyfriend doesn’t necessarily mean she won’t go out with you.”
And the guy says, his voice rising because my wife really is screaming quite loudly at this point, “Yeah, OK, I guess I should give it a try. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, other than getting shot down and looking like a total fool?”
And I’m thinking to myself, Hey, give me a break here, don’t you two realize that you are privileged to be in the presence of perhaps the most astonishing event in the history of the cosmos, something every bit as big as the Big Bang or the release of Abbey Road or the Cavs climbing out of a 3-1 hole to beat the Warriors for the 2016 NBA Championship? Are you not aware that what you’re witnessing in this room tonight is the supreme, transformational phenomenon that will change everything?
And the nurse says to the guy, as the doctor is shouting, “PUSH”: “Yeah, but hasn’t it been like a long dry spell for you? Aren’t you getting a little desperate here?”
And he laughs and my wife screams and the doctor says, “Yes!” And into the world comes the bloody head followed by the naked lovely bloody little boy, insanely ill-prepared for any of this, our own little Icarus falling, we hope, to a safe landing, and I guess the guy actually is going to ask Karen out, and I say go for it.