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Ronan Close Ups
Terry took these photos. Some people may think they are
objectifying Ronan, but I think they are really cool.

Sadly, it’s not a given that all parents love their children. It’s a learned emotion.

When Terry had a C-section, they took me to the nursery to see Ronan before I saw her in recovery. It was a profound moment for me, mostly because I didn’t feel the way I thought I would feel. I’d just been through a traumatic experience, watching the woman I love in groggy pain for what seemed like endless hours; having a son paled in comparison to my concern for my wife. As I watched this helpless, crying infant, all I could think about was how much I loved Terry and how scared I was for her and that I wanted to see her. It’s not a choice I would like to make again; see your newborn son or go seek information about your wife’s condition. I felt torn, and frankly, I was more than a little angry about having to choose.

So as I videotaped him leading all the other babies in making a lot of noise and driving the nursery staff crazy, I felt nothing remotely like instant love or attachment. In retrospect it was the letting go of a lot of tension, the release of nine months of worry over birth defects, worrying about what kind of birth experience Terry was go to have, and months of waiting and preparations. But at the time it felt like nothing. I was embarrassed and alone, because I didn’t feel like I could go to Terry’s bedside and tell her that after all we’d been through, I didn’t have a choking, heart-stopping mass of love for our child.

Terry had other concerns, mostly pain management after her abdomen was split open. She was much stronger than I would have been, gently asking, “I haven’t gotten any pain meds; could you see when that will happen?” Which almost led to my impression of Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, screaming “Give my wife the shot!” but luckily, I ran into her OB, who killed – killed – the anesthesiology resident dead in front of the nurses and the other residents, so I was more impressed with her impression of House meets Hell’s Kitchen. So with Terry sitting there, not drugged up, it seemed like the wrong time to talk about my lack of parental feelings.

I’m really good at setting myself up for these anti-climaxes. On February 20, 1987, I woke up, fully expecting that I would suddenly feel and act like an adult; I was sorely disappointed to realize that it was just another Friday, and I was still an insecure teen. When I was 19, I lost my virginity, and I thought I would feel and act differently, a confident and virile lover; but then, to my dismay, I found out I was still an insecure teen. When I finally, after too many years, got my bachelor’s degree, I thought I would suddenly be erudite and witty, but then I found out I was an insecure middle-aged man. So by the time I got married, I realized that it wouldn’t change me overnight, but slowly and more deeply. Instead of expecting to have some deep-seated love for Terry, I found it was already there by the time we married. (But I was still kinda insecure.)

But Ronan’s birth brought me back to the belief that I would feel something like love when he was born. I was surprised at how abstract pregnancy can be for the father. The books say that Dad doesn’t feel like it’s really happening because his body isn’t gaining weight or retaining water or  has a fetus pressing on his bladder. I felt more involved than that (at least, I hope I was) but I didn’t feel like Ronan was coming until Terry’s stomach completely flipped over one day. I was more scared than anything; I thought for a moment that he was coming early. The alien moving around in Terry’s belly suddenly seemed real.

Jump forward six months and it’s amazing how much my heart has changed. I enjoy being with Ronan, even cranky, teething Ronan, so much I can’t remember what it was like to not have him around. I think things started to change when he had a fever after his first vaccinations and he was crying. I put him down on the changing table to put a warmer outfit on and he when apeshit and extended his hand and grabbed my shirt. He’d never done that before, and there was a moment there when I had to break his grip to get a new outfit. Suddenly there was this emotional connection – “Don’t leave me,” – that really touched me.

The next time came when I was on the phone talking about some problems at work I’ve been having and I started to cry. I was holding Ronan at the time and when I got off the phone, Ronan was all sorts of concerned. He was making his I’m-in-slight-distress noises and I realized it was because I was crying. It was the first time I had cried in front of him and he was completely attached to my emotional state. When I cried, he cried. He wasn’t sure why I was crying, but he was worried that I was in pain. That was another deep emotional moment for me.

There’s a lot in between those moments and the present day. Moments of spitting up (too many) insanely dirty diapers (less than spitting up, but still many) and of comforting him after waking up. Of choosing to finish scarfing up my lunch before I pick him up and feeling guilty about it. Of staying up late with a sleeping child on my lap, who won’t go to sleep unless he’s holding my shirt in his tiny hand. And it was his charm, his almost constant smiles. His half-sleepy smile as he fell asleep on my lap. His duck-like grunting in disapproval of something he didn’t like.

And suddenly, on a very ordinary day, I had an epiphany. I loved Ronan. I loved Ronan almost as much as I love Terry, but in a different way. It wasn’t immediate and it wasn’t a sudden bolt of lightning but it was there, and it was deep and strong, and it was a powerful bond for me. I didn’t cry heartily but tears came to my eyes.

It’s a very powerful, very emotional realization that you’re a Dad and a husband and now there are two people who depend on you to add presence and illuminate their life. I think about the man I was standing before his incubator in the nursery his first few hours of life and I want to tell him it’s okay that the love wasn’t there. The love that grows over time is the best love of all.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 25, 2007 2:37 AM.

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