The story goes that my mom and dad couldn’t make it back to El Paso in time for my birth, so they went to a birthing clinic in Juarez to deliver me. Mom’s labor was long and painful, as those things tend to be. By around 8am on a cold and snowy Sunday morning, I was born. And then the first thing dad did was run across the street to a park to empty his bowels. “The prospect of being your father scared the (poop) out of me,” he’d tell me years later.
I had the same feeling at the first sight of my daughter on that warm Saturday last summer. I did not, however, have the same physiological response. I was present in the moment as much as I could during my wife’s labor, but I must have been just a little dissociated since I remember snapping to when the doctor asked me if I was aware enough to cut the umbilical cord.
To be honest, the last year has been a bit of a blur. The first few weeks were so sleep-deprived that my wife and I both wondered if we were going to make it alive. The question to how people in different professions get stuff done on one or two hours of deep sleep a night (or per week) was answered when we became parents. How we got through the first few months is beyond me.
A pretty bad and very scary infection with the Respiratory Syncytial Virus made things worse. I stayed home with Baby Ren while she fought through it. She had high fevers. She had trouble breathing. In once instance, I jumped in the car with her and took her to the emergency room, where her mother’s colleagues quickly tended to her. In another, I sat in a steamy bathroom praying to God that her cough would subside.
She got through it like a champ, something I wish I could say about all other babies who contract the infection.
Then there was the time I dropped her off at daycare for the first time. It took a lot of Jedi mind tricks on myself to walk away from her. A little piece of me, of my entire life, was left to be cared for by people whom I did not know. After a few days, it became apparent that they were very dedicated and loving people who would do anything for the Baby Ren. After a few months, they’re like her second family, and she has lots of friends her age who she seems to look forward to seeing every day we take her.
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that the good times have outnumbered the bad times with this baby. We call her our “trick baby,” as it seems that she is tricking us into having another child. (We have decided that she will be our only biological child, and we will think seriously about adopting in a few years.) She has the cutest smile and the biggest cheeks. Of course, I’m biased.
For all the smiles and good times, this little girl has also brought in fear. I fear any harm coming to her. I fear any harm coming to her mom. I’d never make it on my own without that woman. And I fear something happening to me and missing out on all the things to come. (So I’m swimming more, and going for more walks, and thinking twice about the fried foodstuffs.)
But she’s also brought me hope. I get to guide this little one through a world that is full of unbelievable nightmares, and she gets to — hopefully — learn from my mistakes. I’m filled with hope that she will do things at least a little bit better than her mom and I did, managing to bring good to the world as she does. There’s a lot of hard work yet to be done, and I don’t think it can be done in my lifetime. So it will be up to her and whatever lives she touches in her own lifetime to get a lot of that work done.
After all, the Baby Ren is a bridge between two worlds. My world, one where Spanish is the primary language, tacos are a type of currency, and music is full of flavor and beats. In my world, I am an alien in a strange land, looked down upon by people because of the color of my skin and the pronunciation of my name. And my wife’s world, one where English is the “official” language, multigenerational wealth is the standard, and opportunities pop up out of nowhere. In that world, there are a lot of expectations, and success is there for the taking. In my world, success meant sacrifice and leaving everything behind to get a whole new set of “everythings” in this strange land.
So here’s to the next years and decades of worrying out of my mind because she can walk, then run, then go somewhere alone — or with friends — and then travel clear to the other side of the planet because why not? Here’s to the next years and decades of raising this little life alongside my wife, a most wondrous woman. And here’s to seeing what this little, take-home version of us will come up with next.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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