My first child was born in Japan. Getting a copy of her birth certificate will always be a tortuous wild goose chase where the geese have been cross-bred with piranhas and are packing laser rifles. They say you always remember the big milestones in your life with a distinct clarity, and aside from my twenty-first birthday, that’s proven true. The birth of my first child was the most terrifying experience in the history of all my experiences. The terror has only grown with time.
Whenever I tell people this, they smile and nod with that knowing “Yeah, pal, it’s terrifying for all of us that first time around” smarmy look. But looking back at everything that happened, it was objectively horrifying and not simply my emotions getting the best of me.
My wife decided early on to go to a midwifery in Japan. I will forever refer to it as the “spawning vats.” It was this two-story building hidden in a back alley that exuded all the welcoming feelings of a rugged youth hostel crossed with a Soviet-era elementary school. Lots of little spartan rooms with cold tile floors where new mothers would stay with their new babies for a week after birth to ease everybody’s transition into their new roles in life.
The place was run by an ancient obstetrician and associated with a hospital and this was supposed to allay my fears about how dangerous this sounded. Once we had to go to a class that I *think* was supposed to teach us how to not kill the baby. I’d barely been in Japan a few months and my language skills weren’t all that up-to-snuff so I only caught about one in every fifty words the doctor said. Mostly it looked like an inscrutable puppet show to me. I remember it being very hot, and falling asleep once, and my wife jabbing me in the chest with her elbow because I’d been snoring. You know, maybe I deserved the ensuing terror.
The day I got “the call”, I hopped on my bicycle and sped off to the midwifery in this sleepy little neighborhood well north of Tokyo. It was the fastest way to get there as no trains ran close by, calling a taxi would take too long, and we had no car. I got several texts that morning from my wife after “the call” but the one I will always remember simply said “Ouch.”
When I arrived the nurses hurried me into my wife’s room where she was to stay for the week and there was a complete lack of wife in the room. Just me and the bed and the clock. They instructed me to wait, shut the door, and shuffled off with no indication of when they’d be back. I hadn’t gotten a text in a good hour or two at this point. I’m not sure how long I was in that room, but after the minutes faded into half-hours and the half-hours faded into hours and the shadows from the sunlight streaming through the window had moved across at least two floor tiles, the nurses came to retrieve me with a simple “It’s time.”
They took me to a bench in a white hallway lit with a flickering fluorescent light that cast a sickly green glow on everything. Beside that bench was a door and from the other side of the door came the screaming. Not just any screaming. I could pick out at least two distinct voices screaming. Possibly three. My heart went into overdrive as I tried to figure out why so many people were screaming, and why nobody was letting me go in there. One of the voices had to be my wife, but what of the others? Had something gone terribly wrong and the nurses were screaming about how awful it all was? Were there, in fact, eldritch horrors in there screaming with the voices of the damned? I sat there helpless under the lights.
Soon enough they let me into the room and I hesitated for a second. I wasn’t sure I wanted to face whatever was on the other side, but then my wife could be in trouble so I convinced my feet to move. It was a scene directly out of a horror movie. First there were curtains everywhere making what looked like a rather large room feel very claustrophobic. The screams came from behind these other curtains. Another woman had decided to give birth at the exact same time as my wife and the staff were making-do as well as they could.
Second, the room was dark. I mean very dark. The doctor’s theory was that the baby should ease into the world without bright lights, and slowly ramp up the light level as she got accustomed to her new surroundings. Funny, nobody ever thought about a slow ramp for the sound level. A part of the ceiling overhead was unfinished and there were pipes and wires and tubes and all sorts of things you see in a creepy abandoned warehouse hanging up there. And in front of me, behind a curtain, was my wife all splayed out on some chair-like device, gripping onto a bar as if trying not to be snatched away by some awful creature, screaming and giving me a very, very angry look.
And to top it all off, the doctor was standing at the “business end” with a camcorder aimed directly at the action.
What. The. Hell.
We have that cassette tape. For seven years I’ve managed to come up with excuses as to why we don’t need a VCR. Because I know, as soon as we acquire one, my wife will pop that cassette in and I will hear the unholy cries of the damned once more.
In the end my daughter came out all nice and healthy and they handed her to me and I was terrified that I’d drop her on the tile floor but somehow I survived the encounter. Honestly everything after they gave my daughter back to my wife is a blur. I spent the next week making that bicycle ride 2-3 times a day to visit, always bringing a requested snack from the local grocery store, having fun videotaping this crazy new creature that was my daughter.
But as objectively terrifying as it all was, it was So. Worth. It.
Happy Birthday, Emily. May I live long enough to embarrass you with this and many more stories at your wedding.