I had held babies before.
My older brother and my younger brother had kids. I had seen many of these little squirming beings who made little “nga-nga” sounds. They seemed so fragile and nondescript.
I could never figure out why new parents would spend so much time staring at them in wonder and debating whom they resembled.
Most of them looked the same to me, just little people with wrinkled faces. And I didn’t think they resembled anyone. They just looked like babies.
So, you can imagine that I felt a little trepidation when faced with the certainty of holding my first-born child.
“Would I feel anything? Would I just think of my own kid as another little wrinkly-faced creature?”
Nine Years of Waiting
My wife Caroline and I had waited nine years before trying to have kids. Both of us love languages and culture, and we had spent many of those years living and traveling in places like Japan, China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Alaska.
Although I personally knew I wanted to have children, I realized that Caroline was the one who would go through the pain of childbirth, so I told her we would wait until she was ready.
She was ready after she finished her master’s degree in Japanese Translation & Interpretation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. We weren’t even sure we could have kids, but, after trying for 3-4 months, that little plus sign appeared on a home pregnancy test.
“Oh my gosh! It was happening!”
Reflecting on the Responsibility of Having Children
Having kids is a big responsibility. We are Christians, and we take the Bible’s instruction seriously. Psalms 127 speaks of children being a gift from God who are like arrows that parents shoot into the next generation. The Bible also speaks of how important it is to train children in love, kindness, and goodness in order for them to have a powerful impact on their world.
As international travelers, we also wanted to prepare our children to live as effective citizens in a multicultural world. Having traveled a good deal ourselves, we imagined our child(ren)’s future to be even more intercultural than ours, with easier modes of travel forcing diverse cultures to relate.
And right around that time, the internet was emerging for the average person, at least in the U.S. Little did we know then just how watershed a moment we found ourselves in.
We knew this child, and any following, would likely need skills in languages, intercultural communications, and even the basics of traveling effectively for him to thrive in an increasingly diverse, interconnected world.
Because we knew this coming child was going to drastically change our lives, we mentally prepared ourselves to shoulder this weighty responsibility. Still, how does one raise a morally responsible, culturally aware and relationally skillful child?
Our pre-baby conversations centered on these kinds of questions as we awaited our first baby’s birth. At that time, however, we were truly clueless. It is ironic, but people often have to experience the travails of raising kids in order to learn how to do it.
How Everything Unfolded
The contractions began about ten o’clock. Not having experienced this before, Caroline was nervous and tense. The contractions were painful, and I tried to slow my racing thoughts.
I said, “Okay. Breathe slowly. We have the bag packed. We’ll call the hospital and get you up there.”
Meanwhile, in my head I was thinking, “We’ve never done this before! Is she going to have the baby in the car? Are painful contractions normal? Am I doing this right? Is my wife going to be okay?”
Outwardly, however, I tried to appear calm. The ride to the hospital was uneventful, and we had to walk around the halls of the hospital for several hours before labor began in earnest. I was so proud of how Caroline stepped up to the challenge of bearing a child.
It’s such an ordinary thing in some ways. People have babies all the time, but the experience of having your own child is never ordinary. It’s scary, full of uncertainty, yet also so holy and beautiful, filling you with the awe of being near a miracle: the gift of life, the mystical appearance of a new person!
Then the Moment Came
After 13 hours of being in the hospital, our son Justin emerged into the world. I got to experience it all and even cut the cord.
And then my moment came… to hold Justin for the first time.
“How do I do this? Will I drop him? Damage him before we even get started?”
The nurse handed him to me, showing me how to support his tiny head.
I looked down at the little wrinkled, nondescript face, and… suddenly…
Someone poured a giant pitcher of love into my whole being.
“This is my son! He is so incredible. He is a product of the love between Caroline and me. He is so beautiful! He is miraculous. He is so beautiful!”
I began to cry. (I rarely cry.) Where did this love come from?
“From me,” I heard God say, “and I love you more than you love this baby.”
Even now, 23 years later to the day, those words of God’s echo in my mind and bring tears to my eyes. I could not imagine that any person could love another more than I loved that tiny newborn boy at that exact moment. And yet God’s love for me (and every person he's made) is even greater.
Once more I looked down at that little face, and it was no longer nondescript. He looked like me… but the shape of his face was like his mom’s. But his eyes, they resembled grandpa’s or maybe his uncle’s?
If you are a parent, how did you feel the moment you held your first child? Can you relate with Dale's story?