On Feb. 26 at 7:33 a.m., I became a father. And I cried. I cried while holding my baby girl, Roma Sofía, and placing her on my wife's chest. Then the three of us cried out of sheer indescribable happiness.
The previous 24 hours in the hospital had been an emotional journey I never imagined I would travel. I learned new terms for pain, terms that took it away and terms that led to me holding a 7.4-pound living joy in my arms.
After an all-night blurriness of fading in and out of self-awareness, I realized that what I was looking for wasn't there. As hard as I searched, the accompanying instruction manual wasn't to be found. There was our baby, her skin still wrinkled as if she had just gotten out of a tub. She looked defenseless, in need of protection. And now what?
My wife, Alpana, having been opened up and stitched together, was exhausted amid so much happiness. That's when the health-care system kicked in with its amazing network of nurses and doctors of whom I had heard so much but knew so little.
A nurse who had been silently in the background in the delivery room now took charge. She brought us to the recovery room, promptly checked my wife and made sure she was comfortable so she could take a well-deserved rest.
Then, always sensitive to our newness to parenthood, she guided me through my first real diaper change. No dolls this time, as we had practised in prenatal classes a few weeks earlier. I was hesitant and the diaper change took forever, but the nurse calmly said, "She was pretty patient with you. She's going to be Daddy's girl."
The nurse handled the baby like a parade baton, swaddling her up in a pink blanket and putting her to sleep before she even attempted her next scream. "Dad, go rest, call family, eat something. Mom is going to need you rested," she said in a reassuring tone.
Without my noticing, that was the first page of the manual and she had just read it to me. So I did as told. When I returned, the nurse was guiding my wife on how to latch the baby on her first attempt at the breast, not an easy task.
A few hours later we were on our way three floors up to the maternity unit. My wife and baby were rolled into a shared room. Next to us were a couple from out of town who had been there for almost a week after the birth of their premature baby.
The nurse assigned to us in the maternity ward was calm and seasoned in her craft. She came in and out of the room with painkillers and IV replacements, suggestions on what to do with the baby and what to expect over the next few hours.
Under the nurse's wing we felt safe. If in doubt, press the red button and she would show up. And in doubt we were. But the first few pages of that manual I had thought came out of an imaginary baby-making manufacturing line were slowly being drafted by the careful handholding of the many nurses who helped us. Those precious first instructions would provide enough ink for my wife and I to hesitantly grab the pen of parenting and keep writing our common path with our little girl.
It was almost 8 p.m. when our night-shift nurse came by, displaying a short temper and making it clear she was busy. Almost intimidating at the beginning, she later let her guard down, probably after looking at our sleep-deprived faces and seeing that we were just tired, worried and sometimes clueless.
In an attempt to give my wife a few hours of sleep, I would take Roma, wrapped in her pink receiving blanket, and walk the hallways with her in my arms, singing, swinging and pacing. The distant baby cries coming through the doors sounded like an off-key choir warming up for a performance.
I wasn't lonely on my walks. Looking down the hallways, I could see another half-dozen dads attempting to give their partners a break. It was like a scene from a movie, with sleepless zombies roaming the halls holding colour-coded packages in their arms, passing each other with little eye contact in their eternal sleepwalking. I was one of those zombies for five nights that melted into one very long one. What kept me going was my love for my daughter and wife and my anxiety over not knowing what to do.
But the nurses were always there to rescue us from despair. At one point my wife and I must have looked so tired, they took our little one away for a few hours to allow us a power snooze. At the turn of each shift a new nurse would come through the door to keep us on course.
Those five days did something to me. They not only transformed me into a more fulfilled human being but they elevated my appreciation of women going into motherhood, my respect for new parents and my sincere gratitude to the hospital team who showed us how to walk the first few steps on this path.
Germán Piderit lives in Toronto.