** This was a piece I wrote for a freelance writing competition last Fall 🙂 (JH)

The anticipation – waiting

The anxiety  – fear

The excitement – pushing

The crying and then life begins…

It always starts and ends the same.  A baby.  Born into a family, born into a world, born into a life.

The birth of my daughter, a sister to William, would follow the same predictable set of emotions.  However, little did I know, that an hour after she was born, the universe would conspire to show me something that would forever change me, to show me something that would shake me to my core, and change the course of my future path and become one of the driving forces to write this book.

On an unusually cool spring night in March, the normally busy maternity ward has only 2 births on the schedule tonight.  I notice family names are scrawled on the dry erase board, family names with the corresponding birthing and recovery rooms.  The smiling nurses move fluently from room to room, monitoring progress, reassuring, and preparing for the arrival.

I marvel at their career, as they continually witness and assist with births sometimes several times in a shift and yet still seem to enjoy the miracle.  For parents, the birth is  life changing, for the hospital staff, the birth is part of the job.   I know the doctors are around somewhere, but I also know they only surface for the final round.

Within 45 minutes of each other, 2 little girls make their anticipated appearance.  For the 2 families, a new chapter begins…

After all the snuggles, hugs, kisses, and love – my wife drifts off into a well deserved sleep as I accompany Ellen, our omnipresent nurse, to the ‘baby cleaning room’.  I watch with amazement as our daughter Jacqueline, is transformed from a “fluidy mucuousy” screaming little baby into clean fresh screaming baby.  She eventually calms down and appears to look in my general direction.  I met her blurry gaze and say hello.  In retrospect, I wish I said something more profound, like “Welcome to Earth! We’ve been waiting for you” or “Yo yo yo baby girl” – but I went with the standard and formal, “Hello Jack, I’m your Dad”

She blinked, gurgled, and grunted… we shared our first moment as father and daughter – she may not remember that moment, but I will never forget…

Once she was re-swaddled into her pink blanket, Ellen began to wheel her basinet back to our room, when the universe enlightened me.

As my beautiful baby girl was being wheeled out of the baby cleaning room, we were joined by another pink gurgling, smiling bundle of joy.  This baby girl, swaddled in an identical pink blanket was wheeled out of what I guessed must be another baby cleaning room 2 doors down.

We must have looked like quite a team as we made our way down the long hallway – 2 nurses, 2 new babies riding side by side, and a bewildered Dad – marveling and relishing every moment.  The nurses spoke quietly to each other as both babies made their way down the hallway.  As I gazed down at the beauty and innocence of these 2 newborns, I was struck by the friendly blue eyes of both children as they stared up at the hallway lights.  I distinctly remember thinking that they could easily be twins.   But their side by side glide down the long hospital hallway came to an abrupt and sudden stop as the second baby arrived at her destination and was wheeled into her room.

With a quick curious glance, I followed the baby into the room, expecting to see another exhausted and elated family.  Instead, I saw a sight that I can still see in my mind, as vivid as that cool day in March.   The baby was handed back to a somewhat confused and tired mom, surrounded by social workers and a police officer…

My first hopeful thought was that the police officer was Dad, but his stern bored face led me to conclude that he was working, a fact later confirmed by Ellen as she filled me in on the sad story.  I was struck with the thought of what a life that little girl has been born into – the hand she was dealt, the uphill battles she might face, and the challenges that lay ahead.  In a strange way, I felt pangs of guilt as I looked down at my own daughter.

For one baby, a loving house is waiting – with a nursery is painted yellow.  A nursery fully stocked with diapers, wipes, and every crème for every symptom.  For the other baby, a foster house may be waiting – with only the bare essentials in place, either purchased with Salvation Army coupons or liberated from the hospital.

For one baby, video cameras roll as friends and family coo over the baby, take thousands of photos, and fight to be the next one to hold her.  Grandparents proudly sport “World’s Number #1 Grandma” and “My granddaughter loves me best” t-shirts.   For the other baby, a parade of social workers visit and converse awkwardly with mom and other family members.

For one baby, a father paces excitedly and nervously pondering his children’s future – with dream ebbing from coaching her tee ball team, to Father Daughter fishing trips, and someday walking her down the aisle at her wedding.   For the other baby, her father may still on the street, unaware that his child has been born.

Yet, for the briefest of moments, those 2 little girls were absolutely equal, both staring up with big beautiful hopeful eyes at the wonder of the hallway lights.  These 2 little girls may play at the same park, swing on the same swing, and slide down the same slide, yet these 2 little babies are headed towards very different childhood experiences.

For one baby, the future is full of love, prosperity, and opportunity.

For the other baby, the future may be full of love, challenge, and chaos.

I know life is what you make it, my mind cannot escape the prevailing thoughts about the other baby… what kind of a life will she have?  Who will nurture her, guide her, inspire and love her?   What role models will she have?  Who will provide that critical male influence in her life?  Life is sometimes so unfair… what did that baby do to deserve this starting point in life?

After much friendly prodding, I am finally urged to go home and sleep, Ellen has put our daughter into the nursery where the morning watch can keep an eye on her while mom recuperates.   I notice our new blue-eyed friend is there too… as if on cue, both babies begin to cry – one cries for mom, the other cries for a chance.

Until next time.