We weren’t supposed to be in the hospital on January 4, 1999, as your due date was later in the month. However, your mom was recovering from a 24-hour flu when the two of us went to see her doctor for a checkup. Just as a precaution, the doctor admitted your mom into the hospital for the purpose of replenishing her fluids. While she was hooked to IVs, it was hospital policy that your heart rate be monitored the whole time. Surprisingly, your heart rate was running high, and hospital policy dictated that we stay until it came down. Hours later, after it would not come down, the doctor decided it was time to deliver a baby. Labor was induced and your mom spent a long night living through contractions, while all I could do was rub her back and talk her through the pain.
January 4th became the 5th and you still were not with us. In the early afternoon, the doctor discovered that your mom had placenta abruption, a complication that could have proven very dangerous for both of you. She was being rushed to the operating room for a cesarean section. Though I was afraid, I had complete confidence in the doctor. What kept me grounded was the knowledge that in a short while we would be holding you, and our life as a family would begin.
The rest of that time is a series of snapshots. The operation. The doctor lifting you into the world. Cutting the umbilical cord. Hearing you cry for the first time.
Your grandparents arrived from Arizona, having left very early that morning. Your Uncle Mike (who lived in California back then) floated around, giddy. Your Uncle Budd and Aunt Karyn were also there, eager to meet their new niece and the first granddaughter of both the Malchus and Flynn families. Phone calls were made. Pictures were taken. It was a joyous time.
Eventually, visiting hours ended, and our tiny hospital room became home for the night. As the hospital ward grew quiet, we prepared to turn in. By chance, I happened to look down in your cradle, and noticed that you were having difficulty breathing. A couple hours earlier, the same thing had occurred. At that time, a nurse was on hand to demonstrate how to help you cough up saliva you’d swallowed. It seemed simple — a slap on the back should dislodge it and everything would be fine — but try as I might, my efforts weren’t successful, and you continued to gasp for air.
Like the hand of God reaching down, that same nurse decided to check on us as she was ending her shift. She took over for me, yet after only two attempts, the nurse wrapped you in her arms and called out, “I’m taking this baby to the ICU.”
And then we were alone.
I stood in shock. Your mom, bedridden from her surgery, finally blurted, “Go. You have to go with her, Scott.” Walking blindly to the nurses’ station, I was directed around a corner to the secure doors of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. For the first time in my life, I didn’t hear a song circling around in my head. No happy melodies brought me solace. There was only silence. To enter the NICU, I had to speak through an intercom to have the staff buzz me in. An eternity passed between pressing the intercom button and someone answering.
As I spoke, my voice was unfamiliar. I was in a dream. No, it was a nightmare. This couldn’t be happening. You were just born! The doors swooshed open and a nurse intercepted me, giving instructions to sterilize my hands in a long metal sink, and then she took me into a small waiting area where a television was broadcasting some inane reality program. However, I caught a glimpse of a doctor and nurses gathered around you, my tiny daughter, working furiously. I sat staring at the TV, not knowing what to do; not knowing how to act. One thing that never entered my mind was whether you’d live or die. You couldn’t die. I wouldn’t let it happen.
Finally, the doctor greeted me, wearing a look of relief. “She gave us quite a scare,” he said, a slight smile creeping into the corners of his face. He must have been happy to save a life that night. While he explained in pseudo-layman’s terms what had transpired, the only thought I had was “Take me to Sophie.” He led me to you, laying in a Plexiglas case with monitors attached to your skin and an IV pumping antibiotics into your fragile arm. This moment was unlike anything we’d prepared for in those baby classes.
When I finally returned to your mother’s bedside, I fumbled my way through the doctor’s explanation. Tests were being done to make sure you didn’t have a heart defect (which you didn’t) and that your lungs were healthy (which they were). Most importantly, you were okay. The two of us prayed, then tried to sleep. Eerily, at exactly midnight, the clock in our room stopped. After what we’d been through over the previous 24 hours, you’ll have to forgive our superstition.
I raced back to the ICU to make sure all was well. You were fine. Back in the room, I decided to call your Uncle Budd. My voice must have been full of dread, because he shouted, “What happened?” That’s when I broke down and my tears began to flow.
Early in the A.M., I wheeled your mom into the NICU. Frightening as it felt, we were the lucky ones. All around us, smaller, sicker infants (most of them preemies) lay in their own cases, each with longer roads ahead of them. We looked down at you, our precious baby, and squeezed hands. For the first time, I noticed music playing from a small transistor radio in the nurses’ station. Something innocuous, I’m sure, but it was surprisingly soothing. Then, the familiar piano chords of the intro to Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.” Julie and I looked at each other. How appropriate that this song of devotion and love would begin playing. You see, at that point, I really began to feel the weight and responsibility — and the pain and the joy and the love — of being a parent. I thought to myself, “This child will look to me for guidance and inspiration — and, of course, love. I will do my best provide her with a good life. A fulfilling life.”
You would spend another nine days in the hospital, and I can’t describe how empty and sad it was to return to our apartment without you. It was a bittersweet homecoming. When you did arrive home, the three of us all snuggled on the couch. At last, we could begin the journey we’d waited so long to commence.
A couple of weeks later, I was browsing through a record store, an old habit that used to clear my head. I came across the CD single for that Bryan Adams song. I didn’t think twice about laying it down at the cash register, no matter what kind of look the Gen X store clerk gave me. I wasn’t sure how often I would listen to “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” but I knew it belonged in our record collection.
Everything I do, I’ll do it for you and your brother, Sophie. Only, I’m not able to do it with the raspy voice of Bryan Adams, the thunder of a “Mutt” Lange snare drum, or heartfelt strings arranged by the late Michael Kamen. Oh, I know there are hipper, cooler songs out there that I could dedicate to you, Sophie. But aren’t most songs that fathers dedicate to their little girls cheesy anyway? At least this one was co-written and produced by the guy who worked the boards for AC/DC and Leppard, and another guy who arranged strings for David Gilmour and Metallica.
The truth of the matter is, you don’t choose a song like this one. When it’s two in the morning, you’re numb from the train that hit you early that night, and your wife, who can not stand, is by your side while you gaze upon the miracle that is your child, whatever song that comes on the tinny little box in NICU has the potential to become a part of you. For the rest of my life, I will no longer associate Bryan Adams’ masterpiece (if you can call it that) with a mediocre Kevin Costner movie; I can forget the millions of times I heard it in the summer of ’91. Roll your eyes all you want, Sophie, but this work of melodic rock power balladry will always be your song, and it will always have a rightful place in the Basement.
Happy Birthday, baby girl.