Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Journey to, and of, Fatherhood

Preconceived Notions
I've been a parent for 10 months and a week, now. I can honestly say, that in my young adult life, pre-fatherhood, I was scared of being a parent. I thought it was going to be hard and I thought I'd lose my own identity. But I also knew that I always wanted to be a dad.

An Extraordinary Woman makes me do Extraordinary Things
Sometimes it takes people to take you out of your comfort zone, though. I have that in my wonderful wife, Steph. She's always challenging me and pushing  me to do things that I don't think I can, don't want to or don't think I'm ready for.

It took Steph for me to finally buy an HD-TV, which is something I had studied and agonized over for damn-near a decade. If it wasn't for Steph, I might have researched buying a house for the same amount of time. With Steph, I walk into Best Buy, stare at every TV. Study the specs, look at the picture, analyze the price, etc. She see's this happening, walks up to a salesman and says, "We'll take this one." Done deal.

With the house, we went and looked at five or six houses one cold day in January. The last house we walked into just felt right. So because of Steph, we went after it.

Fast forward to deciding to have a family. If it was up to me, I'd have thoughtfully considered every detail about when the right time would be. Then, we'd never get there because something always would come up. With Steph, we got to a point and she just gets me. She knows when it's time to do stuff, whether it's buy a house, a TV, or have a baby.

These are just examples of how my life goes, now. Stuff like this is a regular occurrence. I feel like with Steph, I can do anything in the world (except run a marathon, why would I want to do that?).

The Journey Begins...
We got pregnant within a matter of a few months. For Steph, each month seemed like a massive failure. For me, I knew it was a process and was in it for the long haul and helped her avoid becoming discouraged or upset with results. But we were lucky, it took only a few months and we got the green light (or the red line, or whatever means "pregnant!").

We told our families when we were still only a few weeks along, very early in the pregnancy because Steph was to run the Minneapolis Marathon. This means a healthy dose of family and friends cheering her on along the course. But with Baby Deer in tow, she was backing out of the race (reluctantly, I might add).

So we arranged a big pre-race dinner for family and friends at Old Spaghetti Factory where they thought we'd be loading her with carbs and more energy (as if she needs more energy!). But to their surprise, we announced she wouldn't be running because we were pregnant.

Rocky Mountain High to Rock Bottom - Overnight
It was a super memorable moment I'll never forget. I think my dad even had a couple tears come out and I know my mother-in-law did! The emotions are so hard to explain but they are absolutely overwhelming. Everyone was overjoyed.

The next morning, something was not right and Steph was super concerned. We rushed to the hospital at some odd hour of the morning, sat in the ER for what seemed like an eternity, had tests done and went to get an ultrasound where the technician was stone-faced the whole time. She didn't show an ounce of emotion, and I'm sure she's trained to do exactly that. An ER ultrasound tech must be either directly trained or have had so many tough experiences that it's ingrained: stone cold no emotion. The ultrasound seemed to last forever, and I studied the little monitor for any sign of the baby or heartbeat I could.  It looked very similar to the ultrasound I had seen at Steph's clinic but I couldn't be certain. I can't remember if I had convinced myself  everything was fine, or if I had silently come to terms with what my worst fears were.

We went back to an ER room and waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally a doctor came in, and I could see it in his eyes. He started to speak and his voice trembled slightly as he confirmed our most horrific fears: we had lost our baby. It was such a horrible moment I thought we'd never recover. My heart screamed out silently for my wife, who I can't imagine how she had felt physically and emotionally; especially because of the pain I had felt for the loss. She was beginning to bond with our child in ways only a mother can know. And now...ugh.

When we left the hospital, Steph asked me to call her mother. Man, I don't even think I spit the words out I started balling immediately and she just knew. It was morning, but I don't know what time it was. The sun was out but it was one of the gloomiest moments of my life.

It was such a roller coaster. 12 hours earlier we had shared in so much joy with our family. My sister even got a "My auntie rocks" onesie for her new niece/nephew. We went from the highest high to the lowest low.

We'd struggle for the next few weeks. But we had each other and we helped each other through. We watched episode after episode of TV on Netflix, I think it was the Showtime series, Weeds. I think we watched five or six entire seasons of it in a matter of a couple weeks. Time was irrelevant.

We had planned a trip to Colorado, and one of my SID-friends who works at Metro State even helped us get really good Rockies' tickets which meant I got to cross Coors Field off my baseball stadium bucket list. But as the trip approached I just didn't feel like going. I was not myself. So I cancelled my plane ticket and told Steph to have fun with her girlfriends.

Back on Top
Then came unexpected, super good news. We were pregnant again!!! We were much more apprehensive about when we'd tell family and friends, but with Steph's impending trip to Denver, she was forced to tell her friends because she wouldn't be enjoying any adult beverages, and she is horrible at lying.

So we kind of started telling people right around that time in the summer of 2010. The next seven to eight months seemed to drag for me. I made it my mission to be at as many appointments as I could. It helped me learn about what was happening, I enjoyed meeting Steph's doctors and nurses. And knowing my crazy weekend schedules, it was a really easy thing for me to be able to do.

The Rocky Road to Baby Logan Begins...
We had some hurdles along the way, like Steph's kidney stones on Thanksgiving weekend. She had a few "spotting" spells that scared the shit out of us. Most of all, her high blood pressure was a constant source of stress for me.

I constantly worried she'd be put on bed rest or we'd have to deliver insanely early. I also frequently worried about complications during birth. I couldn't imagine coping with the loss of this child, and I couldn't imagine coping with life without Steph. There were times when I had a hard time calming myself down from my worry.

Which is another reason I was excited to go to Steph's appointments. If I had concerns, I could ask the doctor directly. AND I DID! Many of you know Steph. She is not a good patient, and she does not necessarily relay information accurately. She wouldn't have been good at the telephone game as a child! So going right to the source (doctor) was a very calming aspect of the pregnancy for me.

I think anyone who knows us well knows our labor/delivery story. Steph was very open about it, and it was well-documented. The short version: at about 37 or 38 weeks (Feb. 28), a Monday night, Steph's face was super swollen. She had puffy lips, I had never seen anything like it. So we made the usual route to the hospital.

On that drive, I just knew I'd be meeting my baby shortly. I was so excited, but very nervous for Steph's health.

It was very hard to balance, especially while concentrating on driving. But I'm already a careful driver, so it was all good.

The Delivery
When we got there, they did all the usual tests. We had a home playoff basketball game that week, so I brought my laptop to do my regular game notes. I had plenty of time to work on them, so I got after it while we waited and Steph watched some crap on TLC on the shitty TV in the room.

After the tests were, etc., they came back in and said, "well, I hope you are ready to have this baby because it's gotta come out." I believe they diagnosed Steph with pre-eclampsia which meant the only cure was to have the baby.

Welcome to the World, Son!
Fast forward to Wednesday early evening, at 6:17 p.m. and out came Logan Jay Deer.

When he came out, it was the most amazing moment of my life. It was like being hit by a semi-truck full of emotion. I cried my eyes out immediately when I laid eyes on him.

But his color was super pale, and the first thing I hear Steph say as she grabs him to hold him was "why isn't he breathing?!"

She doesn't remember saying this, but it totally freaked me out and I was internally panicking and overjoyed at the same time. But everything was normal, so the nurses cleaned him off, got the stuff out of his lungs, etc.

I was on the other side of the room from him with a hospital bed, tons of medical equipment and a bunch of people separated us. It was nerve-wracking. I wanted to be with him immediately!

Finally, after Steph, Laura and Joanna held him, I got my turn. Meeting him was a brilliant moment. Completely perfect.

I have only held a few babies in my adult life, and none this small. None this new. None this fragile. I had been nervous or scared to hold other babies, including my nieces.

But not Logan. He was mine, I'd protect him from anything; and he knew I was his dad. It was amazing. It felt so real, so right. I loved him with every ounce of my soul immediately.

The Beginning of Fatherhood
The next few days, I changed my first diapers, and did all sorts of other stuff I never thought I'd be ready for, never thought I'd be able to do. The nurses and staff at Abbott were great in helping me learn, but it was all natural.

And it has been ever since. Being a father is the most natural thing I've ever done in my life. It's the best part of my life, too.

That night, while Steph was recovering, Logan and I sat down and flipped open my laptop to watch our first game together. Our men's basketball team was hosting Winona State - a perennial Division II power - in the first round of the conference tournament. To host a team of this caliber means you had a really good season. I was excited about this game, but I was more excited to sit with my son and call it our first game together.

Little did I know that Logan was not ready to live life without interruption for two straight hours! So we didn't watch the whole game, but rather bits and pieces here and there between diapers, exams and baths. I was even able to text a few fact corrections to our play-by-play broadcaster to which he gave a shout out, something like, "and, oh, a fact correction from Josh Deer, the sports information director at Concordia who is away from the game for the birth of his son..."

But I had more important things to worry about besides a basketball game. It was a big night that changed my life. I had been a little sick that week and obviously had not slept much and had a lot to learn, so the details of the game completely escape me after the shout out other than we had lost.

The next day, I remember holding Logan in my arms out in front of me so I could see his little face and I'll never forget the first time he peeked his little eyes open and made eye contact with me. I felt like I was looking at myself as a baby, if I had to put it into words. WOW! My little boy!

Ready to be a Father, question mark?
That moment set the tone for the next 10 months. Logan, we took you home that Friday, just your third day in the world. We got home and realized we had no clothes small enough for your little body. Your mom's high blood pressure did not allow you to fully grow, so you were just a peanut.

Mom still calls you peanut. Even though her heart didn't let you grow big in her belly, your brain got every ounce of development it needed. Your organs were developed, and you were just ready to start growing on your own!

But without clothes, or even diapers that fit, we got home and panicked. We had a breakdown. First, mommy  lost it. Then, I decided to go take the dogs outside (we still had Ryder) and get the mail. On this short walk to the mail box I lost it.

But just like we helped each other get over losing Baby Deer before you came, we got each other through our first few days at home, and of course had to make a couple trips to the ER for jaundice.

You slept that first night for something like eight hours. We were thrilled, until we learned that was a bad sign. You needed to wake up when you were hungry, that's what your doctors told us.

So we focused on feeding you often and you started to grow up really fast! The doctors at Children's Hospital even put a strict plan together that got you back on the growth charts!

My First Letter to Logan
Mr. Logan, you have been a joy to be with. From the mornings when mom brings you into bed and you wiggle your way around to me as I sleep peacefully to wake me up with your little laughs and wiggles. I wake my sleepy eyes to see you chugging a bottle, sitting up like a big boy resting on mom's pillow.

Always smiling and laughing, you've been such a joy to raise. So many unforgettable moments we've had together. We'd do anything for you.

Yes, there have been times I've been so frustrated I have had to leave the room with you wailing away in your crib. Times when we've been alone together and I didn't know how we'd make it through the day. Those moments were just that: moments. They always gave way to happiness, laughter or simply peaceful naps because you were too tired to do anything but cry!

I can't explain how much easier being a parent is compared to what I had made it out to be. Diapers? Piece of cake! Bath time? No problemo!

I must admit, a big reason why I've enjoyed being a parent so much, is because of your mother. You have supermom on your side, and so do I. We are truly lucky dudes. Your mom can do anything, and she is such a good mom that it makes it impossible for me to fail as a father!

Most importantly, though, Logan: we have fun as a family just about every day!

Watching you grow up is the most rewarding part of my life. Leaving you in the morning is a challenge, but you always smile at me before I go. Coming home to you at the end of the day is a feeling I can't explain. I love walking into the house and finding you, and seeing your eyes light up when we greet each other.

You have your own little personality and are a perfect combination of your parents. You have your mommy's enthusiasm and energy for life, and you smile like your Grandpa Randy. Your mom will tell you all about him as you grow up, I promise.

It's been a while since I've blogged. Tonight, I was inspired to write by your Grandpa George. You know, he writes about you often. He keeps a journal of letters he's writing to you.

So I've decided to do the same. Hopefully I'll be able to write Letters to Logan on a regular basis for the rest of your life, or at least until you tell me to stop because it embarrasses you.

I still remember telling my dad not to call me "Goober" anymore because it embarrassed me. We were driving up my old street, Finch Way, in the car to the house I grew up in. I don't remember how old I was, maybe eight? But I know I regretted telling him that shortly after, but never wanted to admit it.

So now, one of your many nicknames is "Goober" and I hope that's okay with you.

I love you, son!

Love, Dad

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