On January 1, 2002 at 23:25 p.m. my mind was altered. What happened was an ordinary event, the birth of a child, in this case mine. I was standing there feeling like a spare part in the delivery room, listening to the intermittent high-pitched beep of the heart monitoring machine when suddenly it began to race. Immediately a mass of commotion took place. Next the doctor placed something on Valérie’s stomach and then in an instant, the room was empty. Well not quite, for there he was. Nothing could’ve prepared me. What shocked me the most was the baby seemed to have a personality, evident in his face. An individual made his appearance on the stage. Other people’s babies had always seemed like generic units to me, personality-less. In a millisecond, that changed forever. And though I strongly believe in human freedom and choice, my feelings about abortion also underwent a radical shift.
What also amazed me was the baby was complete and didn’t need to be assembled. I think somewhere in my mind I'd thought babies were like the Aurora monster model kits I used to build as a kid where you get a bunch of parts, some glue and paint, then follow the instructions. That sounds naive, but when you think about it, the idea that a full-formed baby is alive in a woman’s body is the stranger reality.
When I first learned I’d be a father I walked down the street and as people passed me had the feeling that any of them could be my child, my brother, sister, etc. Too bad that feeling passed because it was great to see the world that way, for it was as Schiller wrote: Alle Menschen werden Brüder.
I equated having a child with fulfilling the basic life contract my father used to talk about. This contract is easy to sum up: you’re born, you grow up, you reproduce, you die and whatever you do in the meantime is icing on the cake. That still seems like the truth to me.
When our baby was born I was happy I attended the classes for expectant mothers, though at the time being in a room with 30 pregnant women was almost too much for me to take. It seemed like an estrogen-filled pressure cooker. But there I went, right into the “tent of the woman” to use a biblical image. The high point was when we did a tour of the delivery rooms. The atmosphere in the place didn’t do much for me, it seemed closed in, airless, suffocating. I peeked inside little cubicles and saw a series of women laying down under soft blue lighting, waiting. There was a framework at the bottom of each bed with leg supports, which was eerie. We were walking around when suddenly I heard a cry like I’d never heard before, it was from the depths of time. I turned to Valerie and said in an alarmed voice “Can you believe it? They let children in here! ” Stunned, I realized that the baby whose cry I just heard hadn’t been there a second earlier. This shocked me so much that I ran for the exit, to the amusement of the group of expectant mothers and the embarrassment of Valérie. But, in the end, when the main event did occur, I was prepared and conducted myself with the proper protocol.
The other mind-blowing aspect of becoming a parent is that reality shifts forever. In the time between learning that one is to be a parent, right up to the moment when the child is born, the period that Whitman called “the nine-month midnight,” time is like a dream, you imagine how things will be, make plans together and create reasonable structures in your mind, the future seems infinitely extended and remote, time stands still as the nine months slowly pass. You feel in control. And then suddenly reality hits and it’s intense. Life, time and reality re-establish themselves. It’s easy to forget that the period of pre-birth dreaming is taking place between just two people. When suddenly there’s a third person in the room it all changes and there’s no time for dreaming because the baby is hungry, smiling, screaming, or staring into space, which, when the baby is yours, are all equally interesting and passionate events.