You’re sitting there fumbling with the ties on the face mask they’ve given you, trying to work out how they’re supposed to fit over your ears, your fingers fumbling blind at the back of your head trying to tie a decent knot.
With the mask finally tied awkwardly on you feel the damp heat of your own breath press back against your face. Your mind sparks with anticipation and uncertainty, and you squeeze your eyes shut and take deep breaths trying to clear the worst of the anxiety. It helps; a little.
A nurse comes and says, “You can come in now.” And so you do.
The operating room feels small and utilitarian, almost industrial in a way. This is a place where form gives way to function; this is a place where work gets done.
Everything’s done up in stainless steel: stainless steel cabinet against the walls, stainless steel bowls and utensils, everything dully gleaming, slightly menacing.
Menacing too are the men in blue, the doctors and the nurses and the anesthesiologist, and yes, even you, all of you looking like the world’s worst Smurf cosplayers. And you’re all gathered around the woman in the center of the room, her arms splayed out straight from the bed as if she is being crucified.
A curtain hangs down from the ceiling to the woman’s chest, cutting off her view of her stomach. Most of the other dime-store smurfs are down there on the other side of the curtain, Papa Smurf gently but firmly directing his medical minions, as they start to cut into the woman you love.
You sit close to her head and look into her eyes. You say something then, it doesn’t matter what, just making conversation to help keep her mind off what’s happening beyond the curtain.
The action on the other side of the curtain intensifies, and you peek over the thin blue sheet at the site beyond, the lower half of the woman you love splayed open and bloody. Or maybe that’s just your impression of it. It’s hard to see with so many hands in the way.
You hear the doctor tell someone to push, and the woman starts to cry. You squeeze her hand as tightly as you dare and tell her how well she’s doing. And then there is something new on the other side of the curtain.
At first your eyes refuse to believe what they are seeing. This…thing, does not look like a baby. It’s dark blue, almost to the point of being purple, and for a moment some wildly inappropriate cluster of neurons fires off the thought, “He obviously put way more thought into his Smurf costume than we did.” But that is quickly surpassed by the bigger thought of how still the thing is. You had imagined him kicking and squirming and screaming, but in that first moment he simply lays there like a lump of dead flesh. Your heart skips a beat. Is something wrong? Has there been some terrible cosmic mistake? You see fear in the woman’s eyes too, and know she must be thinking the same thing.
But then there is a cough, a delicate sound at first, but definite and real. And then the cough is quickly replaced with screams, and you fight back the tears you can feel welling up inside of you.
The doctor holds him up over the curtain, still blue and smattered with blood, and you dutifully snap a picture, as if you needed proof that all of this was real. And maybe that’s close to the truth. Because it doesn’t feel real. This can’t be happening all at once. Sure, you’ve known this day was coming. You’ve seen the sonograms and felt the kicks from inside your wife’s belly, but this? This living, breathing, squalling…person? This is real. This is something from nothing. This is a soul in the world that wasn’t there a moment before.
You watch as the nurse towels off the excess blood, and the skin begins to lose its bluish hue. And as your son opens his tiny puckered lips and screams again at the terror of a bright and unfamiliar world, you realize you’ll never hear a more wonderful sound.