I am 100 percent effaced; I am also nearly fully dilated at 9 centimeters. And still no baby. We got to the hospital in the early morning; it's nearly nighttime now. "Let us know when you feel the urge to push," says our midwife. "Not just pressure, but a real urge to push." Nancy starts watching out for what she calls my "pushy face," then asks if she can get her own epidural. That's Nancy; cracking jokes, making everyone feel at ease, and still remaining a tower of strength for me to lean on. That morning at home she sifted through a bowl of jellybeans and brought all the purple and orange ones—my favorites—to the hospital. She slips a couple of them to me—a simple, throw-away gesture between a husband and a wife—but it strikes me yet again, as it does every day, that I could never, ever have done this without her right by my side. Nancy gets up to straighten my sheets and touches my face with her hand. She says, "You're nose is really cold, like a puppy."
A nurse gradually fills my IV with pitocin, which is supposed to increase contractions and speed along my labor. "Your uterus is really tired," the midwife tells me, and I think, "That makes two of us." We're going on twelve hours now, but the nurse assures us, "That's the average length of labor for a first-time mother." Nancy gently corrects her by asking, "What about for a first-time father?"
A little earlier, our midwife brought over a red velvet sack filled with little slate tiles, each shaped like a heart and bearing a single word. "Pick one out and that will be your focus word," she says. Now I reach in, pull out a pink heart and show it to everyone. "Serenity!" says the midwife. But in fact, it's misspelled on the tile as "Sereinty." How perfect, I think—even my focus word is mixed-up, nonsensical, a deviation from what is known and expected. That has been the story of my entire pregnancy—no one has known quite what to make of it, or been able to truly understand what it means. To me, it couldn't be simpler. I am a person who is deeply in love and wants to have a child. But, just like my jumbled focus word, what I know it to mean and what the world reads it as, are two very different things.
"Remember, Thomas, sereinty," Nancy tells me later. "Try to be sereine."
Things suddenly get serious; a doctor is hustled into the room. It is time for my baby to be born. "Let's get busy and push," the midwife says, and I push harder than I ever thought I could. The pain is searing, and I think I might pass out. But I keep pushing. I hold tight to Nancy's hand, and every once in a while I steal a look at my white, laminated hospital wristband. Just like my wife's hand, it's a source of strength for me. There's nothing all that unusual about it, unless you know my whole story. But a single thing on that band—a single, solitary lettervis, for me, a symbol of the most emotional and triumphant battle of my life. On the band, in simple type, it reads:
NAME AGE SEX
Thomas Beatie 34 M
Never before in history has someone delivering a child had the letter "M" typed on their wristband.
"Okay, here we go," says doctor. "I can see her head."
Now it is time for me to meet my daughter.