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  • Writer's pictureMatt Keyser

I was terrified to be a dad. Then I heard my baby girl cry for the first time.

The flushing toilet startled me awake. As I rolled over, the bathroom light caught my eye. The noise from the bathroom grew louder. Although I tried to fight it, I was past the point of falling back asleep. Surely it was time to get up for work, I thought.

It was 1:18 a.m. on April 21, and I was so wrong.

“Matt,” Elissa’s voice echoed through the bathroom walls, “I think my water just broke.”

Elissa, my very pregnant wife, and I had nine months to prepare for this moment, but even so it seemed larger than us still. We were going to be first-time parents, a thought that terrified me. How do you prepare for something at which you’ve never done?

I immediately jumped out of bed—still dazed and sleepy—and walked into the bathroom to make sure she and the baby were okay. There were small puddles on the floor leading to the bathroom door. Unless our dogs peed or Elissa missed the toilet, the wet spots were certain enough for me.

It was time to have a baby.

In the final weeks leading to that moment, I was consumed by fear that I was going to fail as a dad, that I wasn’t going to be good enough to give our baby girl everything she needs in life, that I was going to be too strict or too carefree, sending her into a life of drugs and prostitution or who knows what other horrible outcomes.

My insecurities about becoming a parent were fueled as I watched Elissa’s excitement grow the closer we got to her due date. I knew from the moment she called to tell me she was pregnant that she was going to make a wonderful mom. In the months after, she was always buying or planning something baby related—spending hours on Pinterest or Hobby Lobby. She went as far to decorate baby girl’s nursery herself—from painting the walls to constructing the mirror that hangs over Emery’s dresser. I worried I wouldn’t come close to being the parent she was going to be.

As Elissa tidied up in the bathroom, I grabbed the hospital bag she packed weeks in advance and loaded the car, all with one goal in mind: Get her and the baby to the hospital safely.

We were both certain baby girl wouldn’t come so soon—ability to predict such things be damned! We were told of the old wives’ tale that first-time moms typically don’t deliver by their due date. A friend of ours was late with both of her kids and another was three weeks late with her fourth. No way was baby Emery going to be on time, we assured ourselves. So we planned our schedule around her induction date, which was four days after her due date. The doctor told us she didn’t want Elissa to go past 41 weeks because fluid levels in her uterus could begin to drop. So it came as quite the surprise when we realized, “Uh oh! Emery is on her way!”

The rush to the hospital was a mix of making late-night phone calls to our sleeping parents and ensuring Elissa was comfortable enough as her contractions began. There was no time for worry, to be scared, to fear failing.

We were admitted just after 2 a.m. after the nurse confirmed Elissa’s water broke and she was in the early stages of labor. As we sat in the dark, cold room, surrounded by beeping machines that monitored Emery’s heartbeat and Elissa’s contractions, it felt like the calm before the life-changing storm.

I imagined all the horrors I heard about labor from movies and friends—the pain, the screaming, the possibility of losing either Elissa or our baby girl during the delivery (my biggest fear of all). Throughout Elissa’s pregnancy, I heard that mother mortality rates during delivery were at an all-time high in Texas and no one knew why.

But luckily, that storm never came—I’ll forever thank God for that. Elissa began pushing at 8 a.m. and by 9:20, the doctor passed Emery into her arms. Tears flooded my eyes as I stared at our baby girl. Those tears fell down my cheeks when she let out her first cry.

The thoughts that haunted me in the weeks leading up to that moment vanished. I was no longer scared or worried or feared failing her. There wasn’t time.

Lying on Elissa’s chest was our little girl whose life depends on us.

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