09 January 2009

Blood of My Blood

Two minutes. That is all it took. Two minutes and I went from driving over to get bagels for breakfast, to standing in the hospital crying through a hot mess of tears and letting the wall hold me up. Instead of ham and cheese on sesame, I was staring down at the blood on my hands and thinking, This may be the best day of my life.

Of course, it didn’t start out that way. It happened when I least expected it. That’s always the case, is it not? Ha. I should know that as well as anyone at this point. Sometimes I believe that I am a poster child for chaos theory in action, a swirling edge condition in my own loopy web of strange attractors.

I don’t mind it so much anymore. I have been seasoned by this randomness, like a cast iron skillet with fifty years of hot cornbread under its belt.

This particular burst of quantum activity originated, as so many of them do, with my daughter. Today was our weekly ‘Father and Daughter’ bagel day, so we were driving on our way to the bagel store in a nearby neighborhood shopping center. The land fronting along the road that borders the shopping center had remained undeveloped for a very long time, but late last year a building began to take shape at the corner lot. In a particularly timely bit of irony, the new building going up is a bank. A BANK, in this time of economic meltdown; it is to laugh.

Being an architect, I have been following the building progress with more than casual interest. Being the curious child that she is, Wee Lass has also been following the building progress. Every time we pass it, she comments on it (“Look, Daddy, is that bricks?”) or on the people (“Daddy, are they working on a Saturday?”) or the machines (DADDY! Did you see the big scooper? WOW!”); she also remembers what she saw on previous visits. She has commented many times on how many ‘sticks’ (her word for the metal studs) had been put up, or how many ‘rocks’ or bricks were on site. She even noticed before I did, that the aluminum windows had been installed after the roof was closed in. There has been very little she has missed.

This morning she was her usual chatty self as we drove past the new bank building. There has been a lot of progress recently, so much so that Wee Lass interrupted herself to excitedly exclaim “Daddy, the building is finished, are they going to be inside?” The building isn’t almost finished, as the professional in me noted, but she was excited and it wasn’t worth trying to explain. So I agreed and said that yes, they would be inside soon. She was going on about the bricks and the trucks outside, my attention started to wander. Then she started asking about other buildings.

“Daddy, did they build buildings when you were a little boy?” I laughed. (No dear, just straw huts. Jeez, am I pre-historic? Oh, well)
“Yes, they did.”
“What kind of buildings?”
“Banks, stores, other things.”
“Did they build a hospital for you when you were a little baby, Daddy?” What, where did that come from? I chuckled.
“Yes, there was a hospital when I was a little baby, sweet pea.”
“I was in a hospital when I was a little baby, daddy.” Yes, I heard.

By this time we had pulled into a parking space. Just as I was getting out of the car, she said “I cried when I was born a little baby, daddy.” I remembered that, too; I replied “So did I, sweetie.” She seemed incredulous. Then it happened. As I was getting her out of her car seat, she looked up at me and said “I cried when they took me out of mommy’s tummy, daddy.”

Thermocline. A boundary condition in the body of water in which I am drowning. Warm and thin above, cold and dense below. The temperature drops rapidly, sharply as I break the edge, swirling in turbulence. I am engulfed in cold density. I am in the hospital, wondering what in the hell just happened.

I remember noise, and light. There was a lot of beeping in the background, people in hospital scrubs and masks, voices low and professional talking about “blood pressure” and “She looks good” and “Are you alright?” It took a few seconds for me to comprehend that last question was directed at me. I turned my head slightly to see a nurse next to me, her face smeary through the flood of tears filling my eyes. Glancing over her shoulder, I could see someone lying on the table, body draped in bloodied surgical blankets. I remember then that it was The Spouse. She was kind of still, but no one seemed to be worried. A sigh of relief, she was awake. I told the nurse in a croak that I was okay, I’ll just lean on the wall for a bit. She smiled sweetly, and turned to attend to some other business.

I slumped there, still crying. I turned my head back to the right; the body of Wee Lass lay out before me on a stack of white towels in the warmer. She was trembling and pink, wailing at the top of her freshly opened lungs. There was a little cap on her head, blue and white knit clinging to her tiny skull.

She was beautiful.

On the table next to the warmer was a pile of gauze and some heavy stainless steel surgical scissors. The gauze was slightly stained, little crimson patches shocking against the snowy fabric. The scissors appeared to have been used. It was at that moment that I saw that Wee Lass no longer had the umbilicus attached to her navel. It had been cut. I reached out my hand to her, letting her tiny fingers grope and squeeze the tips of my fingers. I imagined it to be the caresses from the soft, wavy tendrils of a sea anemone. A fresh flood of hotness spilled down my cheeks. Through the watery haze, I could see a dark smear running along the side of my hand. I bent down for a closer look. It was blood, almost dried.

It hit me that it wasn’t my blood, it was hers. It must have happened when I cut the cord earlier. I am stunned, a fleeting spike of revulsion through my gut, to be replaced by a wave of warmth. My daughter’s blood, the very stuff of life, highlighting the wrinkles and lines of my skin. Curious, I raise my hand to my lips, placing them gently on the crimson stain. The blood is not wet, and I kid myself that its warmth is what remains of the heat as it left my daughter. A light blooms in my skull, and I know what I must do. This blood is not the oil of Exodus, but it will suffice. I brush my hand over my brow, blood against the skin anointing me. On the warmer, my daughter wails at the top of her lungs, a tiny hurricane welcoming me into the Church of Life.

Thermocline. Flailing desperately to free myself from the viscous deep, I swim hard into the warm water above. The surface breaks over me in a million silver drops. I find myself blinking hard and Wee Lass is looking up at me again, half out of the car. She says it again:

“Daddy, I cried when they took me out of mommy’s tummy.”
“I remember, sweet pea.”

I cried, too.


  1. And now I'm crying.
    I don't really remember those first moments. I wish I did... on second thought, maybe I don't.

  2. Stunningly beautiful. I'm weepy too.

    You know that you are a tremendously gifted writer, right? You have to submit this to parenting magazines. Editors will fall all over themselves for this!

  3. *sniff*

    I've read your posts about Connor and Emma (in fact, I went back and read nearly all of your posts), so this is not the first time you've elicited a *sniff* (or two..or three) from me.

    You have no idea how hard that is to do.

    I hope you're blogging when she's 14, so I can laugh at, er, with you too.

  4. Stunning. A gift to your daughter.

  5. That was absolutely BRILLIANT writing. I've got chills (in a good way). My daughter is now 18 months, I can't imagine what it must be like to have a conversation like this with her. It must be overwhelming. I am overwhelmed when she says byebye and daddy.

  6. I was reading the other comments just now. There is no doubt in my mind that magazines would pay for this article. It is incredible. It made all the emotions of my daughter's birth day come back to me.

  7. That was absolutely one of the best posts I have ever read. I take my hat off to you IG. Wee Lass is so lucky to have you as a father. Although I bet sometimes it feels the other way around.

  8. Ahhh...nothing changes a person more then becoming a parent. Do not show how upset you are when the day comes - and it will - that she doesn't want to hold your hand anymore. (Somewhere between 9 and 12 probably.) She will step away from you. Then a few years will pass and that's when your memory of her birth will mean the most. We often said to each other during the 'teen' years..."Hey honey...remember back when the kids loved us?"
    She will invite you back into her life. Share this story with her then. Most likely when you see your first grandchild...you'll be crying then too. :)

  9. You're writing is like a complex movie that I have to be in the "mood" to watch, but am never regretful that I did.

    That was just breathtaking. Truely.

  10. Well.. now you've done it, haven't you? You've gone and rendered me speechless..

    and honestly? there's just nothing I could say to that without having a good cry myself..

  11. I love your writing, and I agree - submit this story to someone!

  12. Stop that! I have to go out in public and now I'm all misty eyed...

    I remember my girl was heaved up to my chest, and she looked at me. I was whole.

  13. Oh for the love of pete, must you make people all weepy on Friday afternoon? I mean seriously. Here I was, making new file folder.... sticker, file, sticker, file...now I'm goddamned crying. Sigh.

    Do it again!

  14. The fresh tears of a parent are the best to release. I am so glad that you shared this with us. You are truly talented and I am proud to call you friend.

  15. ...and We can go from all that beauty and splendor to, "Will you pleeaaase stop eating Cherrios out of the Dog dish. And, just an FYI, kid, crayons aren't for eating. Just like the Play-Doh, it looks yummy, but it's not."

    Magic moments.

    Good stuff, Pardner. Good stuff.

  16. I've been reading your blog for a while now, wondering, 'When is he going to pull out the stops on the BIG pipes?' 'When is he gonna gun the motor for what it's REALLY worth?'

    Oh. It's today.

  17. I've had to come back here like 4 times today so I could finish reading this. Really strong finish. So I'm glad I came back for it.

  18. Aw...Irish! That was beautiful...A man remembering the birth of his child, amazing!

    You are so gifted in your writing...

  19. I had my wife read this and of course she cried. I keep having to read it over and over again. This belongs in a magazine. More people need to read it.

  20. Dude, you can write.
    Thank you for sharing. Have a great weekend.

  21. my son I agree with all of the
    comments.if you don't send this
    blog to someone.i'am coming up
    there and climb up a latter and
    kick you in your Irish a--.

    hug my irish darling for me

  22. wow. that was amazing! you truly have a gift.
    Is anonymous your mother?

  23. i'm so happy to be following your blog. you are a great author.

  24. geez, just when i have given men up in general as complete emotional illiterates, I read your blog and remember you are human, flesh and blood and emotions and feelings, just like women...and it makes me glad to know they are men like that out there and sad to know they mostly all feel so compelled to keep it hidden. Are you sure you aren't just a chick posing as a man??? Never having know childbirth myself, other than my own, which I don't remember, this paint s beautiful picture....thank you, again

  25. A stunning post Gumbo - for so many reasons.
    I think it's my time to sit quietly with a Scotch and French cheese and crackers ...
    June in Oz

  26. I don't have anything new to say. Your writing is stunning. I'm moved and thoughtful and so glad I stopped by today.

  27. It's 5 a.m. and I can't sleep, as usual. I'm still visiting my sister and I'm sharing a bed with my daughter. I'm sitting up in the bed beside her, tap-tapping softly on the laptop keys. I read this post and had to rest my head back against the wall and take a moment to remember...it wasn't optional. My hand rested on her as I went back almost 17 years to hear, "It's a girl." And I counted 10 little fingers and 10 little toes. My life changed with this little miracle...

    Thank you. Your writing is compelling.

  28. omg that was beautiful.

    Your writing is not only incredible, it is woven in a way that is unlike any others. You took us on a surprising journey.

    **clapping right now*****

  29. Oh wow, did you have to make me cry so early on a Saturday? What a beautiful, gorgeous post. I've never thought about what the delivery room must be like through a Daddy's eyes...you need to submit this one somewhere...it's amazing!

  30. Darling, absolutely darling. I hope you print this out so she can go right to it when she gets older. What an awesome and brilliant father she has!

  31. IG, you have a knack for giving me goosebumps. The good kind, not the shivering cold kind. Thanks for sharing your stories.

    There are banks going up left and right around us. It's baffling.

  32. Wow. Just wow. Every comment above is echoed in mine. Wow.

  33. Wish I could express myself as
    you do. Was beautifully told.
    Keep this to show your daughter when she's older.

    ps I had just come on to tell you
    to ask Cpt Dumbass about his terrible past with the Angel Fish
    (his sister is not the only
    fish meanie).

  34. Mr. Irish Gumbo, this was one of the most touching blog articles I've ever read, which is why--when I stumbled upon your blog via Only a Movie--I said to myself, "Self, this is a GOOD blog to have in your reading rotation."

    My wee lass was C-sectioned out of me, so we didn't get the thrill of all the blood, but it still tops my list of The Most Beautiful Life Moments. What I remember is how she immediately started frantically sucking both her hands. And to this day, this is how she self-soothes.

    The other day, I attempted to try her technique, but I couldn't get even one of my hands in my mouth. It just didn't have quite the same effect, sadly, so I sighed and went back to my bag of soothing peanut M&Ms. Those fit right in my mouth, almost like they'd been made just for me.

    Also, I would comment on your comment about the coincidence between our 2 daughters' birthdays, but then I would be blogging on your blog and one of my 2009 resolutions is to stop blogging on other people's blogs.

    Like, I bet if you printed this comment out it'd be 5 pages long.

  35. Amazing. I can't piece together anything younger than four years old.

  36. Now that was really worth reading. Wow. I am so in love with you right now.

  37. There are days when you are touched by miracles. You captured that moment with breath taking beauty. Bravo!

  38. holy holy....I said I would be back but actually I'm still here more blown away by this post than the first one ... A story told in a way I will remember...stunning.

    Okay I think I'm hooked on ya gumbo....

  39. You're killin' me man! One of the best pieces I've read in a very long time!

  40. Wow. You hit that one clear out of the ballpark. I've never even imagined a father being able to capture this moment so well.

    Amazing Irish.

  41. i have never read anything like that. sort of speechless.

  42. Wow, how did I miss this! Very few things make me cry, this is one of them. Please save this post, PLEASE, and give it to her when she's older (maybe on her wedding day? or the day she gives birth to her first?) amazing!

  43. Shit...I cried.

    That was beautiful. I never knew there were men like you out there. Good to know.

  44. Wondering whether you'll make it to the bottom of this pile of comments, I had to echo the above.. beautiful, extraordinary in every way. I love the sea references.

    Just dove into your blog from Fawty (from Interstitial-Life) but I love it, I'll be back (T2 style). cdb

  45. Hello, Irish Gumbo. I'm here as the result of reading an exchange between you and that girl. I'm so glad I came, and this post was a marvelous gift.

    I will certainly be back to your open-hearted blog.

    Thank you.

  46. Oh what a wonderful post...
    I wanted to read this because you said it was one of your favorites. I can see why.
    Your daughter is the light in your eyes...I can tell from just reading this one blog that you wrote. I came here from Eddie's blog because of your roast....and I am so happy that I did.
    What incredible words of love are written here...

  47. Written before I "met" you, glad I'm getting to read it now. Very nicely done, Irish. You captured the moment so well.

  48. You are right to select this. It is beautiful. And it is just one more reason...among so many...


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...