And as I am every time we touch, every time we speak to each other, every time our eyes meet—I’m made new. There’s a past that led me to this moment, but it’s not holding me back anymore. Even in the dark of this New York City night, the only thing before me is sun.
Three years later
The camera sounds each time I take another shot. It’s the only noise in the quiet hospital room. Click. I look at the photo counter—eighty-seven. The memory card had been empty before we arrived. I’ve taken eighty-seven pictures. What can I say? I’m a proud father.
I move the camera’s focus from the bundle to Alayna and take another. Click. I lower the camera then and study Alayna. Her eyes are closed, but her breathing is irregular so I know she’s only resting. She looks wiped, and rightly so. It’s been a long road to this moment. Though we’d wanted to try for a baby as soon as we got married, she’d just had a birth control injection, which lasted three months. Then it was more than a year of trying before we could conceive. Her doctor said it was common to have trouble after injections. Common or not, it wore on her. And me. Alayna obsessed about the reasons she wasn’t pregnant. I wondered if it was a consequence of my past. Or karma, even. It felt like a miracle when Alayna finally walked out of the bathroom and showed me the stick with the faint plus sign in its display window. It had been her birthday. There wasn’t any gift I could give her that could compete with the one we’d made together.
The pregnancy itself went well. She had the typical issues—morning sickness, sore br**sts, moodiness. I’d wanted her to quit working at the club and leave Gwen in charge. Alayna had wanted to stay managing until she delivered. We compromised on part-time, and Alayna’s last day was a month before her due date. It gave us time to finish the nursery, which we’d decided to decorate in a children’s literature theme. Dorothy and the Tin Man make their way down the yellow brick road on one wall. Peter Rabbit scavenges Mr. McGregor’s garden on another. And the baby bedding features Alice in Wonderland characters.
Despite the last few weeks off, the whole thing has been tiring for Alayna, as to be expected. She’d barely gotten any sleep the last few nights. Then her contractions started just after midnight yesterday, which meant no more sleep for either of us. She labored through the day, and the baby wasn’t born until two-thirty this morning. I wish she would let the nursery have the baby so she could get some real sleep, but Alayna’s insistent on keeping her here. Not just in the room, but in her arms. She won’t let go of the sleeping bundle, which is understandable—and adorable—but every time the little creature stirs, so does Alayna.
I shift the camera back to our baby—my baby. Her face scrunches up and relaxes as if still getting used to the feel of air on her skin. I take another dozen or so rapid shots, attempting to capture each and every twist of her features. She’s amazing and beautiful, and there’s nothing like this bubble bursting inside my chest at the wonder of her.
Then why am I still holding this camera and not her?
Quietly, so as not to disturb my wife, I set my camera on the table and reach for my child instead. Alayna moves slightly at the sudden absence from her arms, but her eyes don’t open. Hopefully she’s finally drifting off.
Good. Daddy and daughter bonding moment to commence.
I smile down at my sweet girl, pushing away the blanket to better see her face. Her color has paled since she was bright red and squalling in the nursery during her bath. I’d studied each and every part of the tiny creature then—counted her toes and fingers, discovered the dark birthmark at the small of her back. Then had been the examining. Now, I’m simply swept away with infatuation.
I stroke her impossibly soft cheek and trace the curve of her small puckered lips. Instinctively, my body begins to sway to a melody I hear only in my head. I hum a bit. The words dance in my head, and a few lines slip out in my awkward tenor voice, “All of me loves all of you.”
There couldn’t be a more fitting motif for the moment. I’m completely and totally in love.
“Keep singing,” Alayna says from her bed, surprising me.
I feel my neck warm. “You weren’t supposed to hear that. And you should be sleeping.”
“But I’m not sleeping. And I did hear that. So keep singing.”
It’s near impossible to deny any request of hers, but this one I do. “Maybe later. Right now, since the easy part of all of this is over,” I meet her glance, “we should get to the hard work. It’s time to pick a name.”
We’d thought of many over the course of the pregnancy, and when we’d learned we were likely having a girl, I thought we’d finally settle on something. Alayna wanted to use her mother’s name—Louise—for a middle name, but she could never agree on a suitable first name. “I need to see her first,” she’d say. “I want her to have a name that fits her.”
And so here we are with a perfect, beautiful, nameless child.
Alayna’s tired eyes narrow at my remark. “You think all this was easy?”
I gesture for her to scoot over so I can join her on the bed. “I meant for you. It was extremely hard for me to hear you call me those things that you did—especially near the end. But I was trying to not make a deal of it.”
I really don’t think it was easy. The doctor had used that term, supposedly in comparison to other births she had attended, but as far as I am concerned, labor at all is hell. I’ve always known my wife is strong and capable of anything, yet I’d never imagined the exertion and endurance that would be required to push a seven-pound, three-ounce human being into the world. I’d also never felt so helpless. Of all the things I can do for Alayna, this thing she had to do primarily on her own.
I settle into the space she’s made for me and kiss her forehead. “I’m teasing and you know it, precious. I’m grateful and proud of everything you went through to get our baby here. It’s the best gift you could ever give me, and there are no words to express how amazed I am with you.”
Her face softens, and her eyes start to water. Again. God, I love this woman, but pregnancy turned her tears into overdrive. Today, I understand it. It’s natural to cry when in pain. And when the doctor first placed our scrawny, na**d baby on Alayna’s chest, I admittedly shed a tear or two as well.
Now, however, I’d prefer we’d not cry—because if she starts, I’m sure to follow. I glance at the clock. “As much as I could go on with how much I adore you, Alayna, it’s now almost seven. Our families are going to ascend on us soon, and I’d love to have a name for her before they do. Though Baby Girl Pierce does have a certain ring to it, I’m certain she’d be made fun of at school.” I lay a kiss on our sleeping daughter’s nose and return her to her mother’s arms before grabbing the tablet off the side table.