What a Beautiful Baby!…?!

I have always been a kid person. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always loved to be around kids and babies. I don’t think this is anything I learned; it’s just the way I’m wired. But anyplace there are kids, I’m in my element. Maybe it’s because most of them will still laugh at my jokes, or because I’m closer to their size than most grownups. I don’t know. But wherever there are kids, I’m happy. So when the word finally came that the Stork would be paying a visit to the Key home, I was ecstatic. And that’s not a word you get to use very often to describe how you feel.

I also have what some might describe as an ‘overproductive imagination.’ Couple that with a love of classic tv, and you might have an idea of how the whole birth process would work had played out in my mind over the years. Me sitting in the living room, reading the paper and smoking a pipe, the suitcases neatly packed and ready to go by the door. “I believe it’s time!” she says, and I quickly help her into her coat, out the door and into the car. Then a quick commercial break, as we move to the waiting room full of family and friends. They are chatting happily together when the door swings open and I burst into the room, waving a handful of cigars and saying “it’s a boy!”

I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not that dumb. At this point in my life, I understand that there is much more to it than this. And even though I still cling to this black and white tv fantasy version somewhere in the back of my mind, I know it won’t really happen that way. And I’m learning more and more all the time.

Like when we drove from St. Louis to Kansas City just as a show of moral support for two of our best friends, Greg and Shelly, who were at the hospital for the birth of their first son, Sam. This was a few years before Josh was born. When we got there, Shelly had already been in labor for some twenty hours. Now they had her up and walking around the hospital. I’m still not sure what this was supposed to accomplish, but I remember at the time thinking that maybe they were hoping it would shake the baby loose somehow. What I do know is that it didn’t take me too long to figure out that this was not a happy time for either parent.

Greg is a lot like me. We have the same dry sense of humor, and neither of us gets upset or scared or even frustrated very easily. He’s always been calm, cool, collected. But when we got there that day and saw him, before we saw Shelly, he looked bad. Almost unrecognizable. Like someone had taken his lunch money and beat him with a stick. He explained what was going on, and that Shelly was walking up and down the hall with her mom. And we sort of just sat there and listened and wondered if maybe Greg was just not the guy who does well in these situations…and then Shelly walked in.

Now, I tease Shelly a lot. We’ve been good friends for a lot of years, and she knows that that’s what I do with my friends. And she knows that I would never make fun of something serious, or in a way that would ever be meant to hurt her feelings. She is a great homemaker who works hard to take care of her family and friends and is a gracious hostess to countless people. But when she walked through the door that day in a purple robe and slippers, with her mom holding her arm, I nearly wet my pants. She looked like whatever is the next step in the scary scale to a zombie from Night of the Living Dead. I literally checked for the quickest escape route in case she started biting people, or her head started spinning, or God knows what. The difference between normal Shelly and this Shelly was night and day.

I’m no rocket scientist, but this event gave real legs to the knowledge that giving birth is not always an easy process. I still don’t know how she made it through that. It would be another twelve hours, after we had already made our way back to St. Louis, and after the discovery that he had somehow managed to wrap the umbilical cord around his own neck, before Sam was born. And Sam, if you ever read this, you should know that it would not be wise to give your mom too much trouble, because if she could take that to bring you into the world, I’d lay odds that she could pretty easily take you out, if you know what I mean.

I’ve also been around for the whole we’re-at-the-hospital-having-a-baby event. When Sharon and Nate had their first baby, I was right there. I was even in the room for a while holding Sharon’s hand during her contractions. I swear to you that I still feel an ache in that hand when it rains, because that is the hardest grip I have ever been subjected to. I didn’t need a rocket science degree then, either, to know that this wasn’t really classic tv kind of stuff. But a few hours later, when I went back in and there was Sharon holding a tiny, pink, clean, beautiful baby, I knew right away that she thought it was worth it. That was almost thirteen years ago, and now Victoria Elizabeth is taller than me and the oldest of three very beautiful girls. And I know that if you ask Sharon she’ll tell you that no matter how bad the pain was, it was worth it.

So these are some of the things that were in my mind that night in November when I got a call at work. The call. The big one. After months of growing, and cravings, and birth classes, this was it.

“I think it’s time,” she said. And I sprang into action. “I have to go – it’s time!” I told my coworkers. “We’ve got it covered – go!” they said on cue. I got in the car and quickly missed as I tried to put the keys in the ignition. They bounced off the window and fell on the floor, so I had to get out and fumble around under the seat to find them. Note to self: the missing shoe we’ve been searching for is under the driver’s seat of the car. I sped out of the parking lot and raced home, hoping that I’d get pulled over so I could tell the officer “my wife is having a baby!” and he’d say something like “Good God, man, follow me!” and give me a police escort all the way home. That never happened. I don’t think I really went too much over the speed limit anyway, but it sure seemed like I was.

I pulled into the driveway, left the car running and ran inside, expecting her to be laying on the couch, waiting for me to carry her outside. When I got inside, she was nowhere in sight. I walked through the house, wondering where she could be…and then finally, there she was – in the bathroom… fixing her hair and makeup? She looked like she was getting ready for church, not for a race against time to the hospital. For the next forty-five minutes or so I wandered frantically around the house while she packed everything she needed (and then some) (and then some more…), fixed her hair, touched up the makeup…I thought I was going to explode. This particular scenario had never, ever even entered the farthest reaches of my imagination.

Finally we were on our way. The next thirteen hours were more typical. The labor, the hand squeezing, the guttural monster voice saying “Give. Me. Drugs! NOW!” There is also a vague memory of my mom coming into the room at two in the morning with a camcorder with a spotlight on it…but that’s a different story. And so finally, after thirteen long hours of labor…

The doctor decided to do a C-section.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about this process. Partly because it’s…well, gross – but mainly because I don’t think I actually remember everything the way it really happened. For instance, I’m pretty sure there’s no way the doctor could have actually reached in up to his shoulder to remove my very defiant child from the comfort and safety of his residence, but that’s how I remember it. And all of a sudden he found what he was looking for, and with an “aha!” forcibly introduced one Joshua Caleb Key into the world and held him up for all to see. The next paragraph are the events of the next two seconds, exactly as I remember them.

“What a beautiful baby boy!” one of the nurses cried, amid oohs and awws from the whole group. I have to admit, I’m not sure if she was serious. If she wasn’t, she should get an oscar, but what I saw the doctor holding was not what I would have labeled ‘beautiful.’ It was this tiny, purple, squirming, angry, dripping…thing, clenching its fists and looking around the room with one eye open. For half a second I thought I should hide because it was obviously getting ready to spit fire or attack the doctor or – something. I remember thinking, if this is what the beautiful ones look like, what about the ugly ones? And then…

He cried.

That’s when it all became real. All the books, the articles, the advice from family, friends and people I’d never seen before. The years of holding other people’s babies, playing with their kids and making them laugh, all of these things faded into the background. This was it. The real deal. My son. I knew from that second that nothing would ever be the same. In that instant, I changed. That’s where this journey started, and I still can’t wait to see where it leads.

The Bible, in Genesis talks about Adam’s family tree. It starts with Adam, and goes like this:

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Adam lived 930 years, and then he died.

It uses the same wording for several more generations, but then it changes. When it gets to Enoch, it goes like this:

Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

Did you catch it? After Enoch became a father, he walked with God. It changed his life. It changed his life so much that he never died – he walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. I don’t think it’s an accident that having a child led to this amazing relationship with God. I think being a dad changed Enoch so much that he really began to understand God, and how much God cares for us, and how he wants us to grow and know him.

I hope you have a great relationship with your father – your dad. It makes me sad to know that many people don’t. Whether you do or not, let me encourage you to learn that there is someone who loves you more than you know…and he has set the standard for what fathers ought to be. Enoch got it.

So do I.