The Book of DanielThe Official Blog of Daniel Douglas
Eastbound and Downs Baby
If I was forced to stamp a starting date onto the whip-flayed back of my particular brand of anxiety, I’d bang it somewhere around my twelfth year.
I once read that anxious personalities are born from a delicate mix of childhood embarrassments and traumas the emergent consciousness is yet to understand. Well, on both counts, I’ve had plenty.
Since 12, the anxiety has swelled gradually, like a symphony climbing to defeaning crescendo, setting the windows and seats to shaking ,until reaching its apex, the day I found out I was to be a father.
As I hinted in The Fine Print of Fatherhood, I’ve spent the early stages of Melissa’s pregnancy with a Woody Allen-esque fretfulness. There are simply too many ailments that can afflict a newborn. How does any parent remain calm?
Pick up any pamphlet or book and you’ll see a sundry of prenatal warnings that almost everything you have ever done in your life will curl back to negatively affect the baby.
“Did you once eat an eclair out of the dumpster on 6th Avenue? Congratulations padre, your kid’s now growing an arm out of his head.”
As a man who has subsisted on a diet of french fries – charred to a carcinogenic crisp after falling asleep with them in the oven – and pizza ordered drunk and pantless at 2 am, there is reason for concern that my child may not burst forth from the womb quoting Sophocles.
I can live with my baby being dumb. I mean, let’s face it, the bar is set pretty low for black people anyway. “Does he smoke weed and pull on women’s arms in the clubs when he wants them to talk to them? No? He’s a genius.”
But, good lord do I fear the Downs. I’m not going to lie, I thought with my luck, the kid was a lock for a developmental disorder. I know. I’m negative. Melissa tells me that regularly. But I swear I have excuses. Spending a childhood waiting for something to go wrong and then usually having said something go even more disastrously wrong than I’d imagined has a way of colouring each situation and person I find important with a shade of doom.
Our ultrasound appointment was to be my angst’s cutoff point. It’s easy to fret about an object you cannot see, especially when packing peanuts offer more protection than its skull. Yeah, the stick told me Melissa was pregnant and I’m sure the doctor at the prenatal clinic said something about it while I stared in horror at the posters but I hadn’t actually seen the baby yet. For a man who worries that the crows in a nearby field are getting increasingly vindictive, not worrying about an unborn’s health is a feat I am not capable of.
I promised that once I was able to see the baby, provided it wasn’t in the early stages of X-Men mutancy (which would be kind cool in an exploitative way) I’d calm down some and start to get sleep. So off we went.
A better writer than me would be able to articulate how it feels to see your child for the first time – even if the child is less than an inch long and seen through the otherworldly prism of an ultrasound machine. I can’t. I try to remember, to reassemble each sensation that overcame me the first moment I saw its gigantic head, spindly legs and T-Rex arms but the tableau shatters when I turn to describe it.
The closest I can come is to say I was in awe. But even this word is a pale imitation to what I felt; an emotional Daguerreotype.
And then the baby began to move, swim and turn.
“Do all babies do the electric slide like that?”
“This one is very active,” the technician said as she moved the wand to find the baby in its new hiding spot. Up until that moment, the baby was a concept, an idea. It hadn’t existed anywhere beyond the walls of my imagination and suddenly, as I watched it swim, it became a real person. It was creation. And it was wonderful.
We were given some grainy pictures that we obsessed over in the waiting room before being called back in to speak with a doctor on the child’s chances of Downs Syndrome.
There’s a fashion they can tell this, simply by measuring the baby’s neck, I believe. Anyone with better understanding of this concept can leave a comment to set me straight. The day was such a blur.
The executioner’s sickle hung over my head as the doctor leafed through the results. The wait, being longer than I’d imagined, portended ill. They don’t keep you waiting unless there’s something wrong, I said.
“Our tests show that the baby does not have a significant chance of Downs,” she said and if I wasn’t so adverse to public displays of emotion, I would have danced.
On our way home, still obsessing over the photos, I thought about how lucky I was to have what I had; a new family and the chiseled body of a Nubian God. Ok, fine. The body of the lumpy trumpeter that signals the Nubian God’s entry into every room.
I’ve had a shitty childhood and an aimless, disastrous young adulthood but to carry it around into the next room on my back like a weighted knapsack is foolish. Past troubles do not equal future ones. It’s time to let go. The future, I suspect, will be a bright one. But then, another voice spoke up, hoarse and croaky like Gollum.
“Oh yeah, Negro. What if it’s a girl?”