I have tried to write the start of this story several times, and have yet to have it go anything like I planned. Sometimes it’s been because I feel like I’m violating Jacob’s privacy — telling his story, which isn’t really mine to tell. Or committing the modern day equivalent of men saying “we’re pregnant!”, and telling my wife’s story as if it were my own (she’s read this post and said she was okay with it, whew). Another couple of times it went off on weird tangents talking about my tadpole years, as I felt I needed to shed that part of the story first. Or maybe it’s because stories don’t have simple start dates and end dates, we just pick up in the middle, join the journey for awhile, and then spin-off into our own sub-stories.
Getting ready to be ready
For me, becoming Jacob’s Dad has been a lot like that journey. The foundational parts are relatively clear to me…my childhood, deciding the basics of who I wanted to be in high school, starting to nail down my career stuff in university, moving away from home for law school, creating an adult relationship with my parents, deciding on a career in government and seeing how that shaped up, completing my self-regeneration during my tadpole years to define much of who I became, working on finishing my MPA, etc. All leading up to meeting my wife back in 2002.
Of course, she wasn’t my wife then. And I wasn’t even sure if I would ever have a wife. There are some pretty rough edges to my personality at times, and I wasn’t sure if I was even suited to a long-term, stable, non-drama-filled relationship. I had hopes and aspirations, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to make something like that work. I don’t say that with a sense of insecurity, lack of confidence, etc., but an honest appraisal of the types of personality traits that are required to make a relationship work and my then-incapacity to demonstrate those in sufficient quantities with the right person. I had been a serial monogamist with several long-term relationships, but I wasn’t sure if I was suited to marriage, children, the whole nine yards. All I really knew was that I wanted them, if I met the right person.
Who I then met. Except I’m eight years older than her, which doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things, but we were on opposite sides of 30 when we met, which can be a significant gulf, and over the next six years, my scripts of a traditional relationship caused me some ongoing angst. I’m rather traditional in many of my views of relationships — not in a normative sense of what others should do, just in terms of what I want and how I behave — and for me, it looks pretty linear. I’ve never done a casual relationship, I’ve always been “all in or nothing”, and if there’s no pathway that I can see leading to a long-term future, I’m done. But the expected path was pretty “traditional” or at least “conventional”. Meet. Date. Take it slow. Travel together, spend extra time together in a crunch. Get engaged, get married, move in together, buy a house, have a kid. To be honest, I had never really questioned those scripts to see if they were important to me. As it turned out, most of them weren’t.
Despite being younger, my wife was far more comfortable with mixing up that order. We met, dated, and traveled together, sure. But we moved in together before the rest of the steps, and I have often said, “It was easier than expected.” Which isn’t to say we thought it would suck, but the actual adjustments were simpler than expected. We had some inklings when we traveled together — we went to the Bahamas for a week, and when we got back, rather than run screaming away from each other to have some alone time, we spent the next few days together too. We didn’t decide to move in spontaneously — we had talked about it, and thought we would wait, but then her landlords reclaimed her apartment, and she was “homeless”. When I asked what that meant for our moving in together, she said, “Well, I’m not moving twice.” We found a place, moved in, and things bopped along.
About a year later, I was ready to get engaged. I don’t know if I was ready for actual marriage, but I was ready to get engaged. She wasn’t, and not surprisingly, that knocked my head a bit sideways for a bit. It wasn’t rejection, it was simply that she wasn’t ready, but our communications hadn’t been very clear for part of that time, and I thought she was ready only to find out she wasn’t. And it messed me up for about 4 months or so. Not enough to end the relationship, nor were we fighting or anything, just a new perspective on things. Which led over time to a startling revelation for me.
I didn’t actually care if we ever got married, with one small caveat that I’ll come to in a second. Like most common-law couples, we were committed to each other and a piece of paper wouldn’t change that necessarily. In the eyes of the law, and most of our family and friends, we were already a couple (maybe not my mother, she probably convinced herself we were just dating and lived in different cities rather than living together in sin, but whatever!). And I realized that if my partner was never “ready” for that step, or decided she didn’t want it, I didn’t care. We bought a car together, we bought a house together, we were still moving forward. The paper didn’t matter.
Except in one area. If you harken back a few paragraphs to my script, there was one aspect that I had in my linear chain. Marriage comes before children. As I said, I don’t care what other people do, and I don’t mean that in a throw-away sense — I don’t care if other people don’t get married before kids, it’s a personal choice. But for me, it wasn’t the need for a piece of paper, it was more that I needed to see the emotional commitment that goes with marriage — the emotional commitment that we saw as different for ourselves between coupledom and marriage — I needed to see that reflected in our actions before I would commit to having a child with someone. And I had decided if not getting married meant that I would never have kids, I would be okay with that. I wanted kids, but if I had to choose between kids and marriage to someone vs. being with Andrea, I would choose Andrea every time. Being with the right person for the right reasons, the only two reasons that matter — love, of course, and the realization that your life is infinitely better with them in it.
So, I left it up to her, and I stepped away from the idea. I let it go, basically. I told her that if she wanted to get married sometime, she would have to tell me if/when she decided she was ready. And, if she wanted kids with me, marriage had to come first. Which was fine with her, as she felt the same way about kids.
But there was something else lurking in the background. Our eight year age difference. Not as a “block” to being happy, or a gap in our relationship, but that my emotional clock was ticking. While guys can have kids into their 80s, my father was 41 when I was born and my mother 39. To me, they were always “old”. When I was old enough to notice, my Dad was always tired. Run down. Things that my siblings talk about doing with my Dad were long gone by the time I came along — wrestling on the floor, for example. Apparently he used to put coins in his pockets and they’d fall out when he rolled around and the kids could grab them. I had different experiences with him, ones that I recognize now as valuable, but at the time, I frequently saw him as tired and old.
So, I was worried that my son or daughter would have the same experience. And I didn’t want that. While I had waffled on a lot of other issues and thus couldn’t be 100% positive, I felt it was likely that as I moved farther and farther past 40, I would be thinking less and less about getting married and having kids.
Great story, but when does the story begin?
Why am I mentioning all this context? Because when I ask myself about becoming Jacob’s Dad, I don’t know where the story starts. Does it start when Andrea and I met? Moved in together? Perhaps. But marriage seems like a good start too, since for me and my story, it was kind of like an important “precondition”. Reading up to this point, you might have gotten the impression we got married just to have kids, kind of like a Pavlovian pre-emptive strike against someone getting knocked up. No, we got married because we wanted to get married. My age contributed to the timing of when to have kids, and that contributed to the timing of the marriage, I think, but it wasn’t the reason.
And so, we got married in ’08. And to paraphrase Elaine from Seinfeld, yada yada yada, we got pregnant on our honeymoon. While I heard a couple of jokes about all those years of contraception apparently being worth it, we were a bit shocked. But let’s focus on me, as it is the part of the story I can talk about reliably. I was shocked. Dumbfounded. Gobsmacked.
Married and pregnant, no waiting. We know a number of couples who were far from lucky in that sense, and I honestly don’t know if I could have handled a 2-3 year process that some of our friends have gone through. I’m pretty sure I would have been leaning pretty early on towards “If it happens, it happens” to try and smooth out the roller coaster. It would probably have been the only way my psyche would have survived.
Of course, we didn’t know she was pregnant until a few weeks after we were back. We researched reliability of different brands for the pregnancy tests, went and bought one, came home, got the result. It was digital, and it kept showing the result even long after the test was done — a semi-permanent record. It very clearly said “Yes”.
Pregnant. The biggest news of the year, even more so than the wedding. And we couldn’t tell anyone. The recommendation is to wait until 12 weeks to share the news. Which would make it early December for us. A long way away from our already knowing in late October.
My immediate thought was that I really missed my Dad. I would have loved telling him. The handshake, the hug, the “Right-o boy” that he would have shared. I know I could never have waited that long to tell him. I waited for my Mom, mostly because she had had miscarriages herself, and I knew she’d be excited but worried. So the big reveal had to wait.
The early stages
Andrea decided early on that she preferred a mid-wife to a obstetrician, which I was okay with, more or less. I wouldn’t have been supportive of a home birth, not by a long stretch, but then someone who was into home births and the all-natural life wouldn’t have married me in the first place. A totally different view of risk and mitigation than I would have been comfortable with, but the mid-wives in Ottawa have access to Montfort Hospital which is generally viewed as one of the best birthing locations in the city. Up to date rooms, a birthing pool option, blah blah blah. Everything the modern mom-to-be might want to see. Plus full medical facilities in case of a problem and a welcoming approach to mid-wives. Sounds awesome, right? We knew lots who had given birth there, including Andrea’s sister, so we were on board.
When we went to the midwife clinic, we were at about the 11- to 12-week mark. The midwife who would be following us had not started yet in the clinic, so our intake was handled by another midwife. The woman was less than stellar, and if she had been our intended midwife, I would have suggested we request a change. I wasn’t getting a very good vibe from her, and I chalked it up initially to just being a bit nervous. It honestly felt like, “You’re a man, why are YOU even here?”. No biggie, but a little off-putting. We went through the various elements, and I had a question about the various tests you can do on the baby at that point. I knew, from reading the book you’re not supposed to buy or read because it has so many worst-case scary scenarios (What to Expect When You’re Expecting), that certain tests could only be done at that point in time, and if you miss the window, there are others around Week 18-20 but they’re more invasive. So I asked about them, wanting to know more. Her reaction was immediate, harsh, condescending, and offensive, “Why are you [even] asking about those tests?!?”.
Now, I know why some people want to know about the tests. Some people want to abort if the tests show high abnormalities. I have no idea, at that specific point in time, what I would have thought with info of that sort, but I wanted to know about the tests because I viewed them simply as a way of having more information about the health of the baby and if there was anything we should know or prepare for when the baby arrived. Did we plan to abort if there was something wrong or if it wasn’t a boy? No. But here’s what pissed me off. My reason for asking about the tests was none of her f***ing business. Certainly not in an emotional, get in my face, harsh reaction. Yes, as part of health planning, sure, but that wasn’t what or how she asked me. My wife noticed it too. I explained I wanted the health info, if info was available, but not if there was a risk to the baby. Her reaction was very dismissive, and quite frankly unprofessional. She had had no intention of mentioning the test, or telling us it was available, and if it had been something we wanted, we would have missed the window to do it because she didn’t like it for her own personal reasons.
I was not impressed, regardless of whether I share her views on how it should be used or not. I am a strong believer in personal choice, and even when it isn’t a choice I might make, I do believe in knowing the options. Patients make decisions, medical experts should make diagnoses, provide info and offer options, preferably with a recommendation. Fortunately, we were not helpless passive wallflowers, we did get the info we wanted (well, that I wanted) about the tests available, and we chose not to do any of the tests. Later, once we had seen the first ultrasound, we could probably have never made any related decision, no matter what, which would have negated her concern anyway, but we still should have been given our options for tests.
However, moving on….as part of the intake assessment, we asked about two specific health issues. First, my wife had hydrocephalus as a child, which at the time created pressure on the brain, and we (i.e. I) wanted to know if that presented any specific risks to my wife during the intensity of a natural childbirth. Second, my wife had sleep apnea. Probably not an issue, but would it create challenges during a c-section if there was an anesthetic required? We didn’t know, the midwives didn’t know, and we were referred to the high-risk clinic at the Ottawa General. In the end, the clinic didn’t actually care about the hydrocephalus, but they wanted to check into any potential risks of oxygen not getting to our baby if my wife was having sleep apnea. At the time, I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as pregnancy-induced sleep apnea — mostly because of the strong link between weight gain and increased apnea — and so it was a relatively straightforward issue for them to see. Combining the two issues, they decided to follow us simultaneously with the midwives up until they determined there was low risk, probably somewhere near the start to middle of the third trimester at which time they expected to fully discharge us back to the midwives for the birth.
Some people might have been stressed by all this medical stuff, but it was mostly precautionary. Just dotting Is and crossing Ts to make sure everything was going along fine.
I don’t have a clear memory of telling people. Two couples got married at the same time as us (one before, one after), and they too were interested in having kids quickly. I remember worrying about the weirdness of telling others who were in the same boat, so to speak, or other friends who had been trying for some time. But the only clear memory I have is telling my mother.
We waited until we had reached the “safe” zone of 12 weeks. We could have waited a few more weeks and told everyone at Xmas, but it was time to share the news, so we made a special trip back home so that we could tell everyone in person. For my mom, we were giving her a photo and a brag book from our wedding too, so we combined the experience. The photo frame was a folding one, with room on both sides for a photo. On the right, we put the wedding photo souvenir. On the left, we put a small note in the frame that looked like a coupon and said that she could redeem it for a photo of her grandchild, but that she couldn’t use the coupon until June.
She looked at the photo, and looked at the note. And then looked at the photo, and back to the note. Then she looked up at us, and went back and looked at the note. Then the reality dawned, her eyes lit up, and she said, “Really???”. My mother loved babies. Not as much as my sister loves them perhaps, but it was clear where the love began. And it was awesome to see her eyes light up like that.
She stood up, and gave my wife a big hug, and congratulations. Asked her how she was feeling, put her hand on A’s stomach. I stood up to get my hug too, and my mom totally IGNORED me (!) and sat back down. I’m like, “Hey, what am I, chopped liver?” So she laughed and blushed, stood back up, gave me a hug too. It’s probably the nicest memory I have of the three (almost four) of us together.
The first ultrasound
We had our first ultrasound, and we told them we didn’t want to know the sex. Andrea and I both felt that it was a girl, and since we had become pregnant on our honeymoon, we chose a name from Hawaii, Liana. Likely to be Liana Nicole…we both liked the name Nicole as a middle name, and we have a good friend by that name, so it seemed like a good synergy.
We didn’t know what to do for a boy’s name. We ran through family names pretty fast, and eliminated a bunch. We pretty much eliminated anything staring with J, since my brother has a Junior, Jeffrey, Jennifer, Jason, Justin and a Joshua, and there were plans for multiple names under them too. Jacob wasn’t taken yet, and while I liked it, Andrea didn’t like Jake as a short-form. So Jacob fell off the list. Liam was on the list for a long time, also a good name and the name of a good friend, so more synergy. But nothing was gelling for us. We knew we wanted McKenzie as a middle name, a family tradition on my wife’s side. I briefly considered John or Jack (my Dad’s name), but they didn’t hold my interest. His middle name had been Vernon, and that was DEFINITELY out. We went back through a bunch of names, and Jacob popped back up. Not as Jake, just Jacob. Andrea knew it was one of the most popular names of the year, but it wasn’t a concern for me. But it also didn’t really matter, because we were having a girl, right?
The high-risk clinic
We continued with the rest of the normal everyday stuff people do when “they’re” pregnant. Like saying “we’re pregnant” when we mean “Andrea’s pregnant, and I’m along for the ride”. Standard stuff — she had nausea, worse than some and better than most, being tired, etc. I tried to figure out what to do to support her, mostly it was just me staring at her. We followed along in the books. For awhile, since we didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, we called “her” Olive, since it said the baby was the size of an Olive at one point. I often wonder if that is how Gwyneth Paltrow ended up naming her kid Apple, i.e. it was a nickname at one point and it stuck. For a brief time, we wondered if we should stick with Olive, but Liana was more compelling.
And we went to the high-risk clinic for regular ultrasounds and met with numerous residents. Most were awesome. One I actually had to rat out to her boss though. Each week, same process — do an ultrasound, then wait for doctor / resident to see us. As she came into the room, no hello, nothing, she said very matter of fact, “So your baby has hydrocephalus”. We were shocked for a second, both with the bluntness and the news, before we realized there was a small interrogative at the end of the sentence. She had spent 30 seconds reading the chart, and missed that my WIFE had it as a child, not our baby (as far as we yet knew). She got 2 other big details wrong and I just about sent her packing — when we met with her boss the next week, she asked how we’d been doing with the other residents, and I thought she should know, since a high-risk clinic for obstetrics is probably not a place you want to play fast and loose with diagnostic details.
Overall, though, we felt relatively comfortable with the clinic, even though we knew we wouldn’t be dealing with them when the time came — we would get discharged, and we’d be back with the mid-wives at Montfort. The clinic had mostly stopped worrying about the hydrocephalus and sleep apnea, were getting ready to decrease their monitoring, and we were both feeling on track and ready to be discharged.
We enrolled in a childbirth education class, offered through a group we heard about from the midwife clinic, as we were nearing the 25-26 week mark. It was run over two weekends in March. We did the first weekend, relatively straightforward. No scary birthing videos yet, mostly just the basics to get our feet wet in the experience. We looked around the room and wondered if we would bond with other parents, maybe some of the kids would play together when they were born. Some of the guys were even older than I, which was oddly comforting. Some women were there with friends or other relatives rather than partners, which seemed scarier to me, that your partner either wasn’t your first choice or wasn’t available. But all full of optimism, a little nervousness, and looking forward to our second weekend.
Change of plans
Andrea and I didn’t make it to the second weekend. At 26 weeks, and five days, Andrea woke up and she was soaked. Her water had broken.
As we called the midwife to meet us at Montfort, all I could think was, “But it’s not time. We’re not ready. I’m not ready. The baby’s not ready. We don’t even have a name yet, we don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, and dear God, we’re about to lose our baby.”