Tranquility and chaos rarely meet. Silver tools crashing against metal tables don’t calm nerves. Crackling plastic frantically ripped from sterile containers doesn’t slow heart rates.
But tranquility and chaos did meet, right there under the surgical, stadium lights of a delivery room where my wife rested in epidural bliss and I sat on a bench designed for inmates.
In the bedlam of a dozen scrubs, IVs screeching and yellow lights blaring, this was a moment that stops clocks. You don’t script slow motion. Among all the chaos, all the perfect panic, I found a calming clarity in “One.”
One month. That’s how long we had until our third child – our one and only daughter – was due for delivery. This was not a troubled pregnancy for my wife or our precious daughter. Every test came back perfect; every milestone met. But a few weeks ago, that changed. One ultrasound, then another, and yet another all confirmed that our daughter’s stomach had stopped growing. No need for alarm, but my wife’s wonderful doctor began to plan an early delivery.
One week. That’s what the doctor suggested. The steroid treatment for the child’s lungs began immediately, and my wife had enough time to write a few more briefs and mediate one last case.
Babies, on the other hand, care not for doctors’ calendars, nor do they care about mom’s clients. Our girl needed to eat; she wanted food she couldn’t get.
And so, exactly one month before her expected arrival, and one week before the doctor’s expected induction, our daughter gave a mighty kick and sent my wife into labor at 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 4.
And then we waited. Five hours. Ten hours. Fifteen hours. I don’t remember a single one of them, except the last. That’s when the silver tools crashed; when the crackling plastic opened.
One more push. After more than 16 hours of labor, that’s what the doctor and his nurses said in unison. And that’s what it took to deliver our stunning mess of a baby, erratic arms and blinded eyes all unfolding without a second ticking from the clock.
One breath. When a dad so lucky as me can stand and watch his only daughter squirm for dear life, you don’t count fingers, you don’t wonder if she has a perfect nose. You just want to see her take that first, gargled breath. Nothing – and I mean nothing – matters more. And I saw it. And my eyes swelled.
One cry. You see the first breath and your eyes tear. You hear the first squeal of your child, and you want to collapse. You want to grab her and squeeze, but you can’t. You want to kiss her and comfort her, but you aren’t allowed.
One hug. The first squeeze, the first kiss always – always – belongs to mom. I stood to the side of the bed – arms limp, eyes full – and watched as our four-and-a-half pound Eleanor Bo McElvy rested her head against Meghan’s heart. She didn’t move, and neither did Meghan. A baby that small isn’t supposed to hold her mother, but I couldn’t tell which woman was holding the other – unison as only God intended.
One sip. Our precious baby Bo came early, and as I write this, she’s still swaddled in a contraption they call an Isolette at the hospital, and she has a tube in her nose. Our daughter is healthy, she is hungry, and she’s protected by the hands of trusted doctors who will smile when she comes home. But in the 10 days she’s been in the hospital, Meghan and I have measured every single sip of food she has swallowed. We don’t think about things like that often. We rush our meals and hurry about to a new task. Yet this week, I’ve been enamored by the one sip she takes, each time she takes it.
One day. Eleanor Bo will be home soon with us. She’ll join big brothers Hank, 5, and Cal, 2, and something tells me she’ll learn quickly that a few things need fixing around this place. She’ll see the clutter of toys and restore order. She’ll see shards of Oreos scattered on the floor, and she’ll throw a napkin at the colossal mess of her brothers. Meghan, God bless her soul, will have a daughter who doesn’t capture crickets or dabble in dirt.
And me? I’ve heard stories about fathers and their daughters, but I’ll pay them no mind. Instead, I’m going to try my best to never forget the “One” that surrounded a delivery room on Dec. 4, 2018. My one daughter, her one breath, her one cry, her one sip completing our one family. She will be tranquility among chaos.
Something tells me I’m going to be one mess of a Dad.