I took three weeks off work to be there for the baby’s birth, starting from the week before the EDD. I hoped to get at least a week or so for bonding before I had to return to work.
My first week was spent going on long evening walks with Cynthia around the neighbourhood. My mom called them our lovers’ walk. At the end of the week when we went to the hospital, the doctor said it didn’t look like the baby was ready to come out at all. To help hurry him along he gave Cynthia a membrane sweep.
I thought the hardest thing for me to bear would be the sight of another man putting his hand in my wife, but I wasn’t prepared for the blood-curdling scream that accompanied the action. I stood there and tried to be strong while she squeezed my hand and bit into my arm. Come to think of it, maybe the scream was from me. We were asked to return on another date and, if the baby was still sitting pretty, labour might be induced.
We returned to the hospital and the doctor said the baby didn’t seem like he was ready to come out. Who would blame him? Between the sun beating down on the earth, and the chaos that was Lagos, I wouldn’t want to be born just yet either. The doctor gave us an appointment for two days later.
On the drive home with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on Cynthia’s stomach, I had a conversation with the baby. “Hey bud, I know you know this is your daddy. I took three weeks leave to be here for your birth and two weeks have gone already. Where will this stubbornness take you? How about you come out tonight? I won’t mind driving at night, if that’s your concern. Co-operate nau, ehn?” I rubbed the belly and carried on driving.
“Babe see,” Cynthia said, looking at her stomach and it was distended. There was a bulge where my hand was. I rubbed the hardness there.
“My man,” I said in my best Denzel voice and smiled, “glad we’re on the same page.”
We were not.
Two days later, at 5:30am with bags packed and my mother-in-law in tow, we bundled into the car and headed to the hospital.
We were led upstairs by a nurse to a hall that was partitioned into sections by curtains. Behind the curtains were pregnant women in different stages of labour. Cynthia settled into her section, changed into hospital garb and was posing for pictures feeling cool until a nurse prepared a castor oil milkshake for her. I’d never seen her rush so fast for the toilet. If it wasn’t because of the seriousness of why we were there, I would have found it funny.
We were there from about 6am till about 3pm without Cynthia dilating seriously. When the doctor suggested caesarian section, we only took a minute to decide yes.
I watched as the nurses prepped her for surgery. We were in this together, I told her. When she was wheeled into the theatre though, I couldn’t trust myself so I stayed out and paced the corridor with my mother-in-law the only spectator. Even as I asked any nurse coming out of the theatre about my wife, I judged myself. Surely they’d tell me once they had any news. It didn’t stop me asking.
I thought I heard a baby wail, but I wasn’t sure. I looked at my mother-in-law and she wasn’t sure either. A few minutes later a nurse came out of the theatre and headed in our direction. At first I couldn’t read her face behind the mask, and then she slid the mask off and said “congratulations…” I didn’t hear anything else she said.
“What about my wife?” I asked as soon as I could get a word in.
“She is fine, would you like to see your son?”
Try and stop me.
The first thing I saw was Cynthia on a gurney, I think, with people around her finishing up.
“Hey you,” I took one hand in mine and she squeezed. And then I looked at the bundle in the cot to the right. The ruddy cheeks and light skin didn’t fool me; all I did was look at his ear to know he would be dark like me.
I leaned over him and whispered “Hey bud,” and he squirmed. If my heart could, it would have exploded then.