This gate at JFK, where I’m departing from today, brings back vivid memories. It was December 19, 2012, and I walked through TSA in Terminal 4. After assembling my briefcase and carry-on, I glanced at my phone as I walked to this very gate.
One missed call. One voicemail. I listened:
“Hey babe, it’s me. Listen, my water just broke. I’m at J’s school and I’m headed to the hospital. Call me when you get this message.”
Baby D wasn’t supposed to come along until January 25, over a month later, via a planned C-section. As he was the second child, we procrastinated. Nothing was ready. Hell, the baby shower wasn’t even happening until after the New Year. And my wife going into labor was never part of the plan.
I panicked. It was one hour before boarding. And a six-and-a half hour flight from JFK to Seattle. And 45 minutes from the airport to the hospital. And three minutes from the garage to the elevator. And so on.
On the phone, she attempted to calm me down by saying she was driving her sister home to tend to our older son and then would drive herself to the hospital. I panicked more. That’s not how it works in the movies. The dad always drives the expectant mother to the ER, overnight bag in hand, with everything she needs.
The flight boarded. And then came the delay. Finally, take off an hour later. When the beverage cart arrived I ordered a double vodka tonic. Or two. Honestly, it might have been three.
In the exit row aisle seat, fairly numb, I looked at my iPad periodically and would watch messages from her appear on the screen. Every three or four were accompanied with a selfie. Heart monitor around her belly. Lots of wires and screens and timers. White, vertical, parallel lights surrounded her. She was smiling in every image, transmitting calm up to 34,000 feet. Doctor’s updates translated through blue text bubbles. “Contractions are X, dilated Y, medication administered each hour to delay labor Z minutes, Dr. will wait as long as possible, if baby drops to a certain point they’ll start the C-section, don’t worry babe, everything will be fine, you’ll meet our son when you get here.”
This was no drill. Baby boy was coming tonight. And I was probably not going to be there for his birth.
She, fully in control. Me, fully out of control. Restless half-way into the flight, I stood up and walked/stumbled to the back of the plane. The flight attendant asked, “how are you?” I responded, “my wife…she’s in labor”, to which she interrupted, “WHAT ROW AND SEAT IS SHE IN???” After I clarified her actual location, she instructed me to relax. She would do what she could to get me off the plane quickly upon landing.
Just after 10PM, 9 hours after my wife’s first voice mail, the flight touched down in Seattle. During taxi, the flight attendant walked up to our aisle. “Get your coat and suitcase and follow me.” It’s the first time in my life I’ve stood up or walked in a taxiing commercial airliner. Pairs of eyes followed me as I made my way to the front of the aircraft. At the entry door, the cabin still dark, I stood and watched the flight attendant pick up the P.A. headset. “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t be alarmed. This man has to deplane first, as his wife is at the hospital and is about to deliver their baby!” Clapping erupted.
I ran as fast as one can run with a roller suitcase, briefcase and remnants of six ounces of vodka in your blood. Up, through, down, across and out. The perfectly timed pull-up of a friend’s car and on to the highway. Up the elevator and into the surgical delivery area.
There she was. Still smiling. Still calm. Still pregnant. “Glad you could make it.” The OB/GYN walked in a few minutes later. “Glad you could make it. Are you ready meet your son?” They’d had some time to plan this moment.
He was born just after midnight, December 20. Not at all pre-mature, just ready to make his appearance to the world on that particular day. Mom was just fine. Everything was just fine.
I reclined into a chair in my wife’s hospital room at just after 3am, holding our new son. My day started early in New York — nearly 24 hours before. Rushing from one meeting to the next. The noise. The pressure. It could have been any other day, any other trip. Here I was now, with him, sitting in silence. My day changed at this airport gate — gate B20. Our Boy, born December 20.