EDITOR’S NOTE: Every birth is a story. Each one represents a journey — often of joy, frequently of challenge, sometimes of loss. Sean Hawks’s retelling of his son’s birth story capture’s all of these things. Moreover, it captures the spirit of hope and determination many families struggling to conceive may recognize. We hope it touches you as it did us.
Your mother was a competitive skier growing up. She played on the Tufts University soccer team. She ran half-marathons.
During our courtship, we passed a light-hearted question back and forth: “Would you rather give up your arms or your legs?”
“Arms,” I answered. I loved running, swimming and other sports.
Your mother confidently countered: “Legs.”
“I want to hold a child,” she said.
Shortly after we were married, she wanted to make a plan to have children. Naively, I proposed we simply stop planning to prevent them.
Seeking help to meet you
When my non-plan approach yielded no results, we started seeing doctors and doing tests. It was nearly two years of appointments, monitoring and more testing before the invasive intervention we sought—in vitro fertilization (IVF) —was approved. Every month in that long wait felt like a sacrifice to a doctor’s “wait and see” and a loss of time we didn’t have.
I learned quickly that when science gets involved, the demands on the father nearly disappear while the demands on the mother become all-encompassing. I watched helplessly as your mother took high-pressure work calls immediately before and after painful procedures. She learned to give herself daily injections. Her abdomen became severely swollen as a common side effect of infertility treatments.
Finally, moving forward
On St. Patrick’s Day 2022, we finally advanced to the egg retrieval procedure necessary for IVF. We were hopeful and even celebratory. Following an in-patient procedure that took about an hour, I drove your mother home to rest and recover.
I went in to check on her a few hours after we returned home and when my hand grazed her belly as I sat next to her, she yelled in pain. We knew something was terribly wrong. I called an ambulance for the first time in my life. Your mother was nearly unconscious.
A painful and frightening night
At the hospital, the doctors were at first flummoxed even as we explained the egg retrieval procedure only hours before and pointed to abdominal swelling that was ever-growing in pain and size. At this point, the slightest movement from a lying position was intolerable and surgery was urgently needed.
Through the wee hours of that night, a doctor operated on your mother while I prayed a few floors below.
And yet, when your mom woke up, her thoughts were not of her health, but only of you. Her short-term memory clouded by anesthesia, she asked the nurse again and again if she could still be a mother.
The last mile to you
Eleven months later, we found ourselves in the same hospital. After a stunningly healthy pregnancy, your mother’s water had broken. But we might have known there would be hurdles ahead.
Your mother’s body overreacted to labor-inducing medications. The epidural didn’t work. And then, after a failed vacuum extraction, she was rushed to a different floor for an emergency cesarean section.
Once again, I could only wait—this time from just outside the operating room. I prayed, tears flooded my face and I silenced them only for fear your mother could hear them even while passed out.
I heard the beautiful sound of your crying almost immediately. I was allowed to step inside and to touch you. Only a few feet away, your mother was still unconscious and was being sewn up after heavy blood loss. While she recovered, the staff led you and me down the hallway, where I gave you your first bottle and held you for the first time.
Our first 90 minutes
Your mother had nine months with you before you were born. I had 90 minutes with you in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before she could rejoin us.
You were tiny and pale. Your head was misshapen and slightly bloodied by the vacuum that refused to hold. But your eyes were engaged, your arms were strong and your fingers held tightly. I told you the three of us would soon be together and softly sang the song “Here Comes the Sun.” I felt guilty and torn that I could be with you at this moment but your mother could not. Worse, I feared our family might be of only you and me.
A long-awaited embrace
A few hours later, your mother’s hospital bed was rolled down. She held you and overflowed with joy and relief.
In the many weeks that followed, your mother would suffer a surgical site infection that would again hospitalize her. Severe leg swelling required medication. She experienced skyrocketing blood pressure and fevers. And then suffered a new and different infection, too.
Yet if she were to write a headline for this story, it would have only one word: You. Nothing gives her more joy than cuddling you, bathing you and playing with you.
After all, she loved you for three years before you were born. She’d give up her legs just to hold you.