Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The dark side of Papa-hood

Sorry, but there are no pictures to accompany this post. The thoughts expressed here have been stewing (festering?) in my head for a few days, which mostly means that they're starting to get crammed together. But, let me first say, the reason for this somewhat-less-than-upbeat post is that I wanted to prevent WIS from becoming a place where the reality of raising a three-week old is censured and only sugar-coated fuzzy thougths are permitted. So here we go . . . a dose of brutal honesty.

I've been discovering that, as Janelle really only has one way to indicate her interaction with the world around her (she cries . . . really, really loudly), my response to that single-response varies from moment to moment. There are a number of times when I can take it, breathe just a bit more deeply, and talk to Janelle in an effort to calm her. There are other times when I feel like she's thrusting a screwdriver into my brain. This is particularly the case at 2:00 am, which seems to be the time she wakes up each night just to be awake. When all I want to do is to get some sleep, it seems then she is most determined to scream and cry and demand that one of us get up and spend ninety minutes or so dancing with her or singing to her or whatever.

I suppose all of this was to be expected. Certainly I can picture that knowing smile across my own parents' faces as they think to themselves, 'We told you'. (Luckily for everyone involved, they would never actually say those words aloud, but kids can always tell when their parents are thinking them.) What is a surprise to me, however, is how quickly all the amazing, overwhelming feelings of Papa-hood, which I have expressed elsewhere on this blog, dissipate and leave just one, very ugly thought in their place: 'I wanna chuck this screaming baby across the room!' It brings tears to my eyes admitting to everyone that I feel this way (and that my tenderness to my beautiful little girl vanishes as I'm feeling like this). Of course I would never ever throw Janelle across the room, but I have handed her to her mother with less care than she deserves, and to me that's just as bad.

All of this is just a bit abstract, I suppose. To be specific, last Saturday morning (at 2:00 am) I was overwhelmed by the desire to get as far away from Janelle as quickly as I could. Andrea had to take her away from me because I was not as careful with her as I should have been, and I stormed out of our bedroom and slammed my fists up against the linen closet door. I then slumped down in our hallway in the dark and wondered how I let myself lose control of my thoughts and feelings as quickly as I did. I'd always said I wouldn't be 'that type of father' (the one with the temper, I suppose), and yet, to my terror, this is the person I sometimes feel I'm becoming. Janelle deserves better than this. Andrea deserves better than this.

Here, I guess, is the point of my thoughts on 'the dark side of Papa-hood': when I let these feelings fester inside me, afraid of what might happen if I express them in public (for example, on a blog available for all the world to see), the sense of guilt and frustration and helplessness and hopelessness start to become intolerable. I can see how family life has driven better men than me to do things I find unimagineable (we'll leave these for you to imagine). But by releasing these feelings — owning them and then letting them go — I find myself broken and without confidence in my own abilities and instincts as a Papa. And in that moment, when my only thought is, 'I can't do this anymore', I find a Gentle Hand encouraging me onward to hold the child that is much too precious to be entrusted into my hands. I hear a Comforting Voice calling me to trust in a strength that is not my own. And I find myself standing up under the conviction that the True Father loves my daughter more than I could ever love her, and he loves me just as much.

Fast forward twenty-four hours: now it is 2:00 am on Sunday morning. Janelle, once again, is wide awake and crying, demanding to be cosseted when all I want to do is sleep. But this night I put on Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo Ole' and spent the better part of an hour singing softly to my little girl. It calmed her down and she eventually fell asleep, but it also showed me something of what being a Papa was going to demand of me for the rest of my life. Janelle may need me to show her that I love her at times when I'd rather be doing something else. But an important part of what it means to love someone is the willingness to lay aside what I'd rather be doing in order to tend to the needs of the person being loved.

I suppose that this, in the end, isn't very 'dark-side-y'; you'd be justified in suspecting that reality has been ushered out the back door as the sugar-coated niceties are welcomed in through the front. But I actually find this very scary. I am not a great enough man to lay myself aside for the sake of my daughter. And I have my doubts whether I ever will be. But I trust in Andrea and the rest of my family, and in my friends, and especially in my God, that the gap between who Janelle needs me to be and who I am will be bridged by the work of his grace in Janelle's life. I suspect, as she gets older, that my own Dark Side will require me to ask my little girl's forgiveness on numerous occassions. She's too young to appreciate it now, but at only three weeks old I already find myself begging her to overlook my faults as a human being. And as I own my weaknesses as a Papa, I pray that the good times my daughter and I share together are sufficient for her to know that I love her, regardless of how bad I am at showing it.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Silly updates only a Papa would appreciate (1.1)

On Sunday, 20 November 2005, at the age of eleven days, what was left of Janelle's umbilical cord fell off to reveal a brand-new belly button. Pictures, I'm sure, will be following shortly.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Grand godparents? God grandparents?

Though my parents do not yet know this, in my senior year of high school I failed first-semester English. This fact becomes relevant because I am about to try my unskilled hand at crafting a poem in thanks of Chris and June, parents of Janelle’s godparents, Greg and Julie. The former gave us shelter last Sunday night so that we could make Janelle’s Monday morning appointment in London to report her birth abroad and get her first passport. The following has rhyme (kind of) and metre (of a sorts), but it still lacks a certain something something. You’ll see what I mean. Feel free to leave your comments, suggestions, and/or rude remarks, but please also realise the heart-felt thanks I am intending to convey.

An Ode to Chris and June:

A lovely wee woman from Scotland
(The mum of a mis’rable git)
Extended a kind, helpful hand
To me and my wife and my kid.

Her soup was quite warm in our bellies;
Her bread was quite nice in our mouths.
She treated us like we were rellies;
Her kindness is rare in the South.

And Chris — I can scarcely forget this —
Withheld not one smidget of care:
Through Google and AA he gave us
The d’rections we needed to get there.

His ’structions were clear and precise;
He even covered our parking.
His spare room was spacious and nice;
We heard neigh a dog rarely barking.

A writer once tried to exhort us:
Hosp’tality ought always be shown,
For, though it is not always told us,
We might welcome angels unknown.

So thank-you, Janelle’s grand godparents
(Or ‘god grandparents’ should you be famed?).
God-bless as your children ’come parents;
To you, love and joy in His name.

an original poem by R Rodríguez

Janelle Rodríguez, International Traveller

I find myself once again bombarded with requests for photos of my lovely daughter to appear online, and I know I'm only making things worse for myself by giving in to your incessant call for more pictures. But alas, here I am succumbing to your demands: here are more photos of Janelle and her beautiful mother. We spent last Saturday night with Greg and Julie; Greg and I went out for a curry while the girls had pizza brought in. (I say 'brought in'; Julie went out and got it and then . . . well, brought it in.) Here's a lovely picture of Andrea holding Janelle and laughing at something (undoubtedly yet another humourous story that I told with inpeccable timing and delivery).

I was quite glad I got evidence of this shot. You've all seen pictures of the well-spoken Dr Greg Brown, a House Officer at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and named 2005's most influential Sheffieldian (the award is, alas, quite dubious, but we can testify that Dr Brown is, ahem, quite influential in certain, if somewhat miniscule, circles). But here he is caught red-handed with my precious little girl in one hand and a bottle of finely brewed Marston's Pedigree in the other. Some of you can instantly identify why the good Doctor and I were instant friends. We are, you could say, a concrete example of the UK's and America's much-touted 'special relationship'.

At any rate, on Sunday night Andrea and I drove our little girl down to High Wycombe, where we were graciously given shelter by Greg and Julie's parents, Chris and June (cf. the next post). Here June is lovingly holding Janelle. There was another picture I could have posted here, in which Janelle is much more settled, but I am a bit concerned not to portray her to you, our gentle readers, as a docile and sweet baby girl. As much as I love my daughter, you should be aware that she is a royal pain the butt. 'How can you say that and claim to love her?', you may be asking. 'Easy,' I would answer, 'I also love her mother . . .' (At this point I realise I've probably crossed some sort of line, but we'll let the truth stand uncensored.)

Moving swiftly on, we drove to High Wycombe on Sunday because we needed to be in Central London by 9:00 Monday morning. I had wanted to schedule Janelle's appointment at the US Embassy (so that we could report her birth and apply for her passport) for Wednesday, 30 November. Unfortunately, when I went online to make the appointment, I found that the next available appointment wasn't until January. Obviously that was going to complicate our plans for flying out of the UK in December, so the Embassy graciously agreed to see us on Monday, 21 November. It was quite last minute, of course, but we were glad to be able to be seen in time to ensure we didn't have to leave the UK without Janelle. (Of course we wouldn't have left her in England . . . most likely.) As a relatively quick aside: did you know that there are some legal complications in the instance that my baby girl would choose to run for President of the United States of America? There is some legal debate about whether she is a 'natural born citizen' (I think that's the right term), and the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue. As far as I can understand it, on the one hand both of her parents are American citizens, but on the other she wasn't born on American soil. She is free to run for Congress or the Senate (though, the flyer is quick to point out, residential requirements still apply), but there's a piece of legislation slowly oozing through Congress that would declare her (not specifically her, but natural American citizens born abroad more generally) eligible for the White House. If you have the time, might I suggest you contact your local representative on this important issue?

So after we reported Janelle's birth and arranged for her passport to be mailed to us, we realised we still had half a day in Central London to do anything we'd like. We walked around Grosvenor Square (where the US Embassy is located) and came across Maze, a Gordon Ramsey restaurant. We toyed with the idea of eating here, but Janelle wasn't very impressed. While it would have been something to say we've eaten in one of Gordon Ramsey's restaurants, we had our doubts that they would have been very keen to welcome two weary American travellers and their twelve-day-old baby. So we gave it a miss.

So we walked along Oxford Street a bit, visiting a few of the shops and smelling the roasting chestnuts as an unending stream of red busses passed by. Eventually we left Oxford Street to find somewhere else to eat, and we found Il Pizzaiolo, a lovely Italian restaurant where one can overhear the staff talking amongst themselves, oddly enough, in Spanish. But nevermind, the food was nice.

So this, then, represents the first time Andrea and I have been able to go out together since Janelle was born. Overall it was a good experience (and at £21.00 it was a very reasonable lunch, especially considering that we were in Central London), but as we were leaving Janelle decided to kick off and scream a bit. Andrea and I, of course, are fairly used to it by now. But the rest of Il Pizzaiolo's patrons were somewhat less amused and showed just a bit too much enthusiasm as we left the restaurant. Certainly the clapping was unnecessary. Nevermind, though; Andrea and I had a really lovely lunch.

Needless to say, the whole trip was exhausting. It took us a little over an hour to get out of Central London and back to our car, which was waiting at a train station just outside the M25 loop. It took us just over four hours to make the drive back to Sheffield, partly because we had to stop and feed Janelle after about ninety minutes on the road and partly because it took over an hour to drive the last two miles into Sheffield. Apparently there was an accident involving a bus just at the end of the parkway leading into the city centre. Janelle, like her papa, hates sitting in traffic and spent most of the time indicating her displeasure by screaming. I was sympathetic. But we did make it home, and this picture indicates the exhaustion we felt afterwards. I know I've said this before, but aren't my girls just lovely?!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

PSA from WIS's Board of Publications

Astute readers will notice that the last photograph of 'Back by popular demand' has been changed. This has been done at the request of the wife of our chief editor, also known as The Decision-maker, who decided that our crack editorial staff quite obviously chose the wrong photo to share with the rest of the world. The person responsible for this mistake has been . . . shall we say, 'taken care of'. For those of you who missed the original picture, we regret to say that all evidence of the previous mistake has also been 'taken care of'.

That's my girl . . .

For all of you sending me e-mails telling my how cute my baby girl is, I thought you should see this. This is a picture of a girl who has just peed all over her papa as he was changing a previously dirtied nappy. Cf. my previous thoughts concerning the word ‘patience’.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Back by popular demand

The barrage of e-mails in my in-box requesting (nay, demanding) more pictures of my beautiful girl has succeeded. Here are more pictures of her for you to coo at. [BTW: for those of you who have e-mailed me over the last week or so but haven't received any response, please know that I plan on writing each of you eventually. Please don't wait breathlessly by the computer, though; my response may take as long as it took Ringo Starr to respond to Marge Simpson, which, I believe, was somewhere on the order of twenty-five years. Nevertheless, I am extremely grateful for all the kind words and the encouragement; I will be printing off all the appropriate e-mails for a scrapbook for Janelle to read when she's older.] Without further ado (indeed, without much ado at all): my daughter.

I know that a lot of these pictures feature Janelle peacefully asleep in her Moses basket. Aaawwwwwww . . . isn't she just precious?! But please, do not allow yourselves to be fooled. Janelle is only just beginning to sleep in her basket; she still usually requires either her mummy or her papa to hold her and comfort her to sleep. Even here she was placed in her basket only after she fell asleep, and, in fact, the reason that so many of these pictures show her sleeping so peacefully where she belongs is because I rushed to grab the camera just to remind myself later that she really can sleep here. But alas, she still refuses to sleep in her basket at night, so we still end up holding her, for the most part, while we try to catch up on our own sleep. [Note: the word 'we' in the previous sentence is meant to refer primarily, if not exclusively, to Andrea.]

As I said, a lot of these pictures show her in her Moses basket. Here you can see the toy dog given her by (I believe) her American Godmother Joni Miller. (I would've referred to this toy as her 'stuffed dog', but in the Boyer family any animal described as 'stuffed' was probably eaten and is now a living room decoration. This, fortunately, was not the case with Janelle's dog.)

I think this might be a picture taken when we first brought Janelle home from the hospital. Do her sleeves look just a bit long?

For some reason Janelle usually sleeps with her arms up above her head. Maybe all babies do this; I don't know. But this has become one of the things I love about her, so I took her picture. Unlike her mother, Janelle wasn't mad at me when she awoke to find I'd taken her picture while she was asleep.

When she gets older, this will be one
of the pictures Janelle will be most glad to know that I posted on the world wide web. This is just proof - for all of you who needed it - that I change dirty nappies. And trust me, my gorgeous little girl makes some dirty nappies!

Just in case you needed a second photo to actually believe it. This really must be true love.

I thought I'd end with the cutest picture I have of my baby girl. Yesterday (Thursday, 17 November 2005) Andrea was cuddling Janelle as she slept, and Janelle accidently found her thumb and started sucking it. She started sucking her hand as soon as she was born (and perhaps earlier, I suppose), but this is the first time her thumb found its way into her mouth. Isn't she gorgeous?! I didn't think it was possible, but I love my little girl even more now than I did when we first brought her home!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The joy of passport photo regulations

In case any of you are unfamiliar with the requirements for an American passport photo, click here for fun reading during your next trip to the loo. For anyone out there with a week-old son or daughter, I highly recommend devoting one free afternoon to trying to get him/her to pose looking up (or out) at the camera, with eyes open, without hands, feet, or miscellaneous limbs obscuring their face. My many thanks are due to the anonymous photographer on Ecclesall Road, next door but one to Uncle Sam's. He took nearly a dozen photos and managed to get one that, by prayer and petitioning, should be acceptable to the good men and women at the American Embassy in London. Now we just have to pray for an appointment!

[Postscript: This is in no way meant to disparage my lovely daughter who, despite being a royal pain in the butt during the photo session, still enjoys the unconditional love of both Papa and Mama.]

New appreciations (1.2)

Patience [n. 'pA-sh&n(t)s] is defined, perhaps less than helpfully, as: 'the capacity, habit, or fact of being patient'. (To be fair, on Merriam-Webster's website the word 'patient' is a hyperlink.) I now have a much more helpful definition; if one of you could be so kind as to e-mail this post to we'd be very obliged.

The Editorial Staff
What I'd Save . . .

Main Entry: pa·tience
Pronunciation: 'pA-sh&n(t)s
Function: noun
1 : the ability to wait approximately five to ten minutes after first hearing a new-born baby fill his/her nappy so as to avoid witnessing the euphemistically entitled 'refill'

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Our first night home . . . aaarrrrrrggggghhhhhh!!!

I was able to bring wife and daughter home last night from hospital, so the reality of ‘papa-hood’ is starting to become just that much more stark. We stopped off at a local chippy before coming home to eat. Then Andrea needed a couple of hours to catch up on some sleep while I cuddled Janelle and watched a bit of Friday night telly. Of course, as in America, Friday night is the night everyone goes out to be with friends, so the offerings on tv are a bit bleak. I think I watched some sitcom reruns before Virus, a Hollywood flop from 1999 starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Sutherland, came on and I fell asleep. I had stripped Janelle down to her nappy and she was sleeping on my chest, which was nice until she woke up at 1:00 am. It’s amazing how difficult it is to dress a screaming baby when you’re not really awake. After one night of having Janelle home, this is what I look like.

[Janelle laying with the toy 'chicken' generously given to her by Paul and Jen (the inverted commas are necessary; this toy's relation to a real chicken is about as ambiguous as anything you could find at KFC). My prediction is that this will quickly become one her favourite toys, the one we can't leave the house without if we don't want her screaming the whole time we're gone.]

Overall, however, I’d say our first night was a success. Whenever we put Janelle in her Moses basket she would only sleep for about an hour (don't let this picture deceive you; Janelle does not like to sleep unless she's physically imposing upon either her mother or me; it's one of the things I like about her, if I'm honest). After 1:00 am Andrea was pretty well awake, so she mostly took care of her. But at about 3:30 it was my turn to quieten her, a task which was proving impossible. It was round about this point that we realised that she slept much better out of her basket and on one of our chests. This means that if I’m to get any rest at all I have to sleep with her sleeping on top of me. Consequently, I have to stay aware enough of her that she doesn’t fall off of me or that I don’t roll over on top of her. But I was able to sleep from 3:30 to 9:30; with just a brief wake-up so that she could feed at 6:30. All in all not too bad.

So after just over eighty hours of papa-hood my preliminary judgement is that this is all pretty cool. It’s probably a good thing that Janelle is so amazingly cute, because she can be a pain in the butt. (Andrea has a slightly different perspective on this but is in overall agreement.) But I already find myself longing to be closer to her, even if she’s just on the other side of the room with her mother. A (very) small part of me looks forward to when she’s sleeping through the night a bit more and to when she’s babbling incessantly and melodiously. But the overwhelmingly larger part of me knows that she’ll grow up fast enough, so I’m trying to make sure I enjoy everyday for what it presents. The last three have been unbelievable; here’s to the next 6,571 (an arbitrary number; Janelle turns 18 in 6,571 days).

The last of the pictures from the hospital

A rare moment of rest for mama. Andrea's room in the post-natal ward at Jessops was shared with four other women and their babies (and their visitors), so even when Janelle wasn't kicking off it was a phrenetic environment. But here she manages to get a few minutes of sleep. Her rest is aided by her wonderful husband, who's attending to Janelle and keeping her quiet. Of course, it isn't so great that he's setting off the camera's flash just feet from her face. Hey, I said I was wonderful . . . not perfect.

One of my favourite pictures. I'm amazed at the biological or emotional mechanism (or whatever type of mechanism it is) that makes a mother bond so quickly and tenderly to someone who's caused so much pain and trauma on her way out. Here you can get just a glimpse of how tender and sweet Andrea is as a young mother. The cannula still attached to Andrea's hand is evidence of the measures taken to keep her well during and after labour. Some of you will appreciate how much Andrea enjoys being jabbed by needles.

Here we see Andrea holding Janelle. I'm not sure I can add anything to this picture, so just look and appreciate.

Some of you have asked for photos of all three Rodriguezes together, and you can't get much better than this (at least, not with me in the shot). As I look at this picture I'm surprised by how happy we look. We are that happy, at least, but we're also shattered, particularly Andrea. The untold story, of course, is that I'm not allowed to stay overnight on the post-natal ward, so I've been trekking up the hill to Rich and Helen's house to get some dinner, check e-mail, and sleep undisturbed. (Rich and Helen have a six-week old son, but his crying in another room is nowhere near loud enough to bother me.) While I'm at Rich and Helen's, Andrea is alone with Janelle, which means she has to tend to her every time she wakes up while I'm able to sleep like . . . well, not exactly like a baby. Truth be told, it was kind of nice having them in the ward, but don't tell Andrea I said that.

Mmm hmmm. And you all thought Janelle was just cute. Here's a side of her she'd rather keep from the public, but she's only more than happy to unleash this on her loving, attentive parents. (Funnily enough, her cry isn't really all that off-putting. But she has this extra setting, which she doesn't engage very frequently and which transcends any earthly baby cry. When she does pop it into that higher setting, blood trickles down from my ears. Luckily, evolution has equipped my body with an instintual reaction to this super-cry, in which my arms automatically and involuntarily stretch outwards and hand Janelle to her mother. It's a survival mechanism.)

I don't know what it is about this picture, so I thought maybe you could provide your own caption for it. Is Janelle waiting to see how we'll respond to her recent crying? Is she challenging us, as if to say, 'What are you going to do about it, papa?' Is this just a glimpse of the contempt I can expect from her when she's fifteen? If you, equipped as you are with your psychic powers, have any idea what's going through her three-day-old head, please leave it in the comments area.

There we go . . . mama and baby wearing matching outfits and relaxing together on the bed. If these two ever join forces against me I won't stand a chance.

Here's a short series of pictures of Janelle in the arms of non-related but well-meaning admirers. This is Julie (of Greg and Julie Brown fame), a physio at the adjoining hospital who's come to visit Janelle during her lunch break. You won't be able to tell, but Julie is herself about twenty weeks pregnant. I tried to offer Janelle to her, but she was adamant that she wanted to have her own baby. Picky picky.

Julie with her husband Greg, who's a doctor at the same hospital where Julie works. Work has just ended for them so they've taken some of their precious time to come and admire my baby girl. She remains, however, singularly unimpressed.

Paul and Jen here are two of the coolest people I have the pleasure of knowing. Both of them are fairly laid back and easy going, and Janelle seems to have noticed and is doing her best to appear to be 'going with it'. Yea, man; I dig it.

Pawel (pronounced 'PA-vel') and his wife Agniezska (the chances of me having spelt that correctly are slim; my apologies) also came to visit. Pawel is a first-year PhD student in my department; he and his wife have come from Poland to pursue his degree. After less than three days, then, Janelle has already begun to attract international attention! I hope it doesn't go to her head.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New appreciations (1.1)

I imagine that I'll be learning to appreciate things in new ways as I adjust to being a papa. As an example, I began to reappraise the signifier 'useless' and my own existential experiences with the reality 'useless' intends to convey. Per the standard protocol of the editors of What I'd Save . . . (as well as of Verily Verily; cf. here for more information), I checked the online Merriam-Websters Dictionary for the meaning of 'useless', which was given as 'having or being of no use'; 'ineffectual'; 'not able to give service or aid'; and 'inept'. I would like also to add 'the dominant emotional state of a father attending his wife through labour'. Perhaps someone could let the proper authorities at know of this update.

Any words of wisdom?

I thought it'd be interesting to solicit the advice of those who come to visit my blog, particularly if you have any experience being a parent. So, toward this end, I would appreciate it if you'd leave in the comments area to this post what you consider to be the most significant or meaningful piece of advice you were given as you became a father or a mother. In about a week or so I will announce which ones I think will prove to the be most helpful and which will be the least. In the bigger picture, I hope your comments will help me be a better papa.

Introducing Janelle Helena Rodriguez

After making an endless number of phone calls to friends and family late last night, it became clear that the question everyone was keen to ask was not, 'So you're okay, Rafael, after all the exhaustion and trauma you experienced with the birth of your first child?' No, it was, 'So when do we get to see pictures?' So I present to you this photo essay to introduce you to Janelle Helena. The story of her birth can be found in the raptuous prose of the previous post.

As you can see from the first pic, Andrea gave birth in one of the birthing pool suites at Jessops. I don't know if being in the warm water made the whole experience 'easier' (I use this term advisedly in reference to labour) or less painful, but it was something Andrea was really keen to do. As they only let you do this if you've had a completely normal pregnancy and no real complications, I was particularly glad she was able to do this. Here, then, is one of the first pictures ever taken of Janelle (without the aid of the Royal Navy's sonar equipment). Mama and baby are well, despite the impression to the contrary.

Shortly after Janelle was born I got to cut her umbilical cord and she was given to me so that I could have some skin-to-skin contact. This, then, is my first time holding my daughter. They sorted Andrea out and she got to come lay with us. Under the bundle of towels in my arm is my baby girl. What you can't see from this angle is that, under the towels, my lovely girl is stealthily coating me with a layer or two of meconium.

As a follow-up to the previous photo, this is Janelle's first bath, occasioned by (you may have guessed) the fact that she covered me with her lovely baby-poo. She clearly isn't happy as Nicola, the midwifery student who observed our birth, washes her off in preparation for her first feed. What you can't see is that I'm in the bathroom pulling the exact same face as I, too, removing the offending substance off my person.

I had to get a special dispensation in order to make this photo available to you. After her bath Janelle was promptly introduced to the labour ward's cafeteria. Andrea is still enjoying the effects of her body's endorphines, but she's handling the baby with all the instincts of a mother (well, a good mother, anyway). I learned through all of this that babies come in all different shades of colour. Not different babies come in different shades; our baby girl is herself exhibiting a number of different colours, including pink, red, and in her hands a lovely, spring-time shade of purple.

So here we're starting to get past the traumatic first moments of life-after-birth, and you can see mama and baby holding each other close after what has been a supremely difficult morning. Andrea is still a bit dopey from being in theatre to undo the damage Janelle caused. Aren't these two of the most gorgeous women in all the world? If you haven't already sussed it out yet, I am the luckiest man alive.

Okay, now we're getting to the pictures everyone wanted to see. Here Janelle is happily playing with papa. No, I haven't yet taught her to pull my finger, but there is plenty of time for the classic gags still to come. I'm clearly quite chuffed with what Andrea and I have made together. You should also know that I dressed Janelle in this very cute outfit. If you look carefully you can just see my spine bending painfully as I get myself hopelessly wrapped around my baby girl's little finger. I'm going to be hopeless when it comes to refusing anything my daughter asks for. I know she's only a couple of hours old at this point, but is that a smile I see on her face?

Here's the money shot: a close-up of my little girl playing with her papa. I don't deserve this, but for some reason I have been blessed more than most. I am nearly completely subdued into submission to Janelle's will at this point, and any discipline Andrea wants doing in the future is going to have to either be taken care of by herself or out-sourced to someone else. (Astute observers will notice that I look particularly good for having spent over twenty-four hours awake waiting for Janelle to be born. Alas, these last three photos were taken after I nipped home for a four-hour nap, a bath, and a change of clothes.)

The last photo . . . for now. I'll be sure to put more online for you very soon, but I invite your comments and well-wishes, which I promise to pass on to Andrea in a timely fashion. This photo, though, is particularly prophetic, I would imagine. Here we see a loving, doting father trying to show his affection for his eldest daughter, but she's having none of it. In truth, she's actually pulling this face because of her mother, who keeps snapping photos and setting the bright flash off in her face. But it doesn't matter. I know that, fifteen years from now, when Janelle pulls up on my driveway and gets off some punk kid's motorcycle, this is the look she'll give me everytime I try to kiss her. All the more reason for me to get them in now while I can, before she's big enough to resist!

Labour Day

Tuesday, 8 November 2005, was . . . an interesting day. It started off normally enough; I was working from home during most of the day, and Andrea, now over nine-months pregnant, was just doing what she could. On Tuesdays she normally has lunch with some friends, so she headed off in the early afternoon for sandwiches and girl-talk. I was happy for this because, well, basically, it's much less distracting when she's not around, and I can get more work done.

Andrea came home from lunch at about half two and announced (rather nonchalantly, considering the circumstances) that she was having 'minor contractions', and she suggested we should start monitoring them. 'Okay', I said; she said, 'Ooohhh, there's one now'. So I wrote it down (14:36, lasting for ten seconds). 'Ooohhh . . . another one'. So I wrote that down (14:39, lasting for eighteen seconds). 'Funny', I thought to myself; 'they're only three minutes apart. Must be an anomaly'. (I really do think these words to myself.) However, with only one or two exceptions throughout the next fourteen plus hours Andrea had a new contraction every three to four minutes, with them coming every minute or less in the later stages of labour. Anyway, to make a long and involved story somewhat less long, I attached my wife to the TENS machine we were borrowing from our midwife just after 15:00. We called our midwife - a saintly woman named Mary - who showed up at our flat sometime after Andrea's contraction at 16:17 (four minutes after the previous contraction and lasting 45 seconds). Andrea was dilated about 3-4 cm, and we decided to make our way to the hospital at around 18:00.

So we phoned our friends, Greg and Julie Brown, who speedily made their way across town to pick us up and drive us to the Jessop Wing, where Andrea was to give birth. Mary was already there when we arrived, and I set myself about unpacking things we would need over the next few hours while Andrea dutifully attended to ever-strengthening (if not consistently more frequent) contractions. I quickly realised that I hadn't eaten since mid-afternoon, and by 20:00 I was starting to feel sick with hunger. Just then (well, sometime after 20:30) my mate Rich Hawes turned up with a burger and chips [french fries], which Andrea made me eat in another room. This deserves special mention because Rich had just got off work - which was particularly unpleasant, by the sound of things - and battled his way home in the typically English wind-driven rain. After trekking up the back passages of Mt Conduit (only some of you will know how funny this is) with nothing but the thought of settling into his comfortable chair with a cold Continental beer in one hand and a warm Japanese remote control in the other to keep him pressing on, his wife, Helen, informed him that I had earlier called and asked him to pick up said items (burger and chips; stay focused) and bring them to me. He nevertheless did so, and I am particularly grateful . . . especially as I'm sure I would have been cursing under my breath if the tables had been turned. Thank you, Rich.

So labour went on. Andrea was quite impressive through the whole ordeal. She is frequently described by words such as 'delicate' and 'fragile', and I can understand such things. But she has considerable fortitude. She handled labour like a pro (I told her she ought to write a book and call it, Giving Birth and How to Do It); had I been in her position I would have wept like a little boy and asked to be dealt with in a more merciful manner. I would have in mind specifically beheading. Anyway, Andrea continued to weather the contractions, and by sometime around 0:00 or 1:00 she was dilated about 8-9 cm. At this point she got back into the birthing pool (she had been in the pool earlier, but it had slowed down her labour), where she experienced the blessing that is 'transitioning'. If you don't know what this term means, then read on in blissful ignorance.

Once again making a long story slightly less long, after a considerable period of time enduring contractions followed by another considerable time being told to push for Britain, out popped my first-born daughter, Janelle Helena Rodriguez. 'Popped' may be too euphemistic a word; perhaps 'was painfully and forcefully expelled' would be more accurate, but certainly it loses something for being that much more descriptive. Here the endorphines released by Andrea's body came in particularly handy. Not that she didn't experience every painful sensation (she depended solely on the TENS machine and the Entonox for pain relief, and in the last half-hour or so she had neither), but the look of calm and fulfillment on her face as she held our daughter for the first time went some way toward making it all worth it. I say 'some way' because, as the husband/father, I am never allowed to comment upon what could make labour 'worth it'. Nevertheless, I refer your attention to the venerable words of St Paul (or one of his followers) at 1 Tim. 2.13-15 for another man's comment on child-bearing and point out that I didn't say it.

After the birth things continued at a similar level of excitement. I was able to hold the baby skin-to-skin for a while so that the midwives (besides Mary, we had a student midwife, called Nicola, attending to us so that she could observe her first water birth) could attend to Andrea. I was thrilled, of course, but after about a half-hour I tried to pass Janelle on to her mother so she could feed. At that point I realised that I was absolutely covered in baby poo. Some of you might want to point out that it wasn't poo; it was meconium. Yea; meconium is poo. So Janelle got her first bath, and I got my first Janelle-inspired cleaning. May many more of both be in my future.

But then the doctors and midwives turned their attention to helping Andrea's body recover from its ordeal and things got scarry. First, it turned out that Andrea's tearing was worse than they originally assessed, so they had to take her to theatre to fix her up. Second, Andrea lost a lot of blood (and she's already somewhat . . . pale, even when she's not border-line anaemic), so they were trying to insert yet another cannula into her wrist, take her blood pressure, and make sure she wasn't bleeding internally, all while trying to explain to her why she'd have to go to theatre and what that would entail. Third, not all the staff at Jessops are very good at helping its patients relax, and that's all we'll say here about that (except to point out that Mrs Julie Humphries was a god-send and deserves a raise, whatever her current rate of pay). Finally, all of this was happening around the 8:00 changing of the guard (not to be confused with the somewhat more ceremonially involved Changing of the Guard down in London), so we had two groups of staff talking to us, to each other, and just generally getting in the way of me and Andrea enjoying our first morning as parents. But in the end the staff did their job, and did so with a commendable level of professionalism and competence. I owe them my gratitude. Speaking of gratitude, it was at this point that I was sobbing like a little boy, and I owe some thanks to Julie Brown for coming down to Jessops so early in the morning to help me cope with the various emotional sagas I was experiencing all at once.

There is, of course, more to say about 8-9 November 2005 and the birth of my first child. I have scarcely described the emotions I felt toward my wife, toward my daughter, toward my God, and so on, throughout everything described above. And there are lots of pictures to post. And Andrea will certainly have a different perspective on the day than I do. But these are the basic facts as I am interested to relate them to you. In the end I am extremely grateful to the Lord for all his blessings poured out on me, which I blatantly do not deserve. I am also indebted - and rather heavily so - to a number of men and women who have made the experience of becoming a Papa in a foreign land rewarding and exciting rather than lonely. Greg and Julie, Rich and Helen, Mary, Nicola, and Julie, to name just the most immediate. Thank you to everyone who helped me and Andrea as we became parents for the very first time.

Welcome to 'What I'd Save . . .'

This blog finds its genesis in my personal need to reflect on the events surrounding the birth of my daughter, Janelle Helena Rodriguez, and to enable our friends and family around the world stay informed of the goings-on of our family. Please feel free to make any comments, though I reserve the right to remove any I find offensive (this means you, Papa). Read on, gentle readers; read on!