Three Words

by Mike Helsher


"Honey… my water broke."

I’m floating, dreaming, I think.  Something heavy seeps into my nose, sinks down into my stomach. The words swim between my ears, come together behind my eyes—they snap open. I slide my hand over toward my wife. The sheets are damp. There's a smell of roots and early springtime in the bedroom.

“I'm having a contraction," Karen says.

I turn the bedside light on. She’s sitting up, holding her bulbous belly. Her face is twisted. But before I can freak out, she recovers, smiles wide-eyed. She’s glowing. I blink my eyes. I’m not fully awake yet.

"Can you make it to the hospital?" I ask, imagining myself delivering a baby in the car on the side of the road.

"I think so, but we should go," Karen says.

I wake up Jessie. Technically, she’s my step-daughter, but I’m the only father she knows, and she’s my only daughter. She’s four. I tell her she’s about to be a big sister. Karen gets her dressed. I pack bags, put everything in the car.

Karen calls the Portsmouth hospital. They tell her to come right in. She calls her mother to ask if she can watch Jessie. She’ll meet us at the hospital. It’s is a forty-minute drive from Barrington, an eternity that tugs on my innards like a pending hurricane.

I’m doing 75-mph in a 40-mph zone, imagining I get pulled over for speeding and then escorted by the police, sirens wailing, as they should be.

We arrive safely at the emergency room. Karen gets wheeled into the maternity ward. Jessie goes with her grandmother. An eerie calm, the eye of the storm, passes through me. I hope I can remember all the coaching I practiced in the months prior.

The last few minutes take longer than the previous four hours of labor. My coaching skills are worn out. Contractions are only minutes apart, but there’s no progress. The nurse asks Karen to try squatting. I help her into position. She arches her sweaty head over, pushes, screams, squeezes my hand so hard it hurt.

“We’re having a baby!” the nurse who had been with us all night yells over the intercom. I look down to see my son’s head crowning. It looks deformed. There’s some blood. I look away, help Karen lay on her back.

Another nurse enters the room. “The doctor is asleep downstairs, she’ll be right up,” she says. I want to murder them both.

The doctor rushes into the room a few minutes later. “Oh boy,” she says, after surveying my son’s head. “Hold on. I’m going to have to make an incision.” A nurse hands her a scalpel. I close my eyes, lean over and try to say some encouraging words to Karen. I’m crying. My hand hurts.

Another big push and… "Oh, my God!" exclaims one of the nurses, as Jakob makes his entry into the world, with a screech that rattles me to the marrow. The doctor lays him on Karen’s chest. He’s squirming, bloody, and slimy. His head seems normal. I think I might be dreaming again.

The doctor asks me to cut the umbilical cord. I’m squeamish, but I do it. She holds up the dripping placenta, gives me a lecture on the wonders of the embryonic sac.

Another nurse comes into the room. “Oh My God!” she says. Now I think he’s deformed again, because of the bug-eyed look on her face. “I’m just going to clean him up.” She wraps our son up, whisks him off to another room, where I hear gasps and shrieks.

"Is there something wrong with him?" I ask the doctor.

"Oh no," she says, “he looks fine. They’re all placing bets on his weight, is all."

While the doctor is tending to Karen, a nurse comes in and hands me a brand-new baby boy. "Nine pounds, fourteen ounces,” she says. “Everything looks good. Congratulations!"

It’s 6:30 AM, September 19, 1997. He’s ten minutes old. The sun is coming up outside, shining through the cracks in the window blinds. I pull him close to my heart. Three words well up in me in a way they never had before.

"I love you."