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Lance Somerfeld Headshot

Thrust Into Fatherhood 'Heart' First

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My wife jolted me out of a deep sleep at 5 a.m. She mumbled something didn't "feel right." The fear in her voice scared me.

I slowly followed her into the bathroom.

"Something feels wet," she replied. My wife wondered aloud, "Did my water break? I thought there's supposed to be a pool of water on the floor? That's what it's always like on TV." Within minutes we were in a taxi headed to the hospital.

After the battery of tests, the doctor confirmed my wife's suspicions, then ordering for an emergency c-section within the hour.

At this moment, life froze and an incredible sense of calm washed over me. Like an athlete pumping himself up for a playoff game, I took my wife's hand and said, "We need to mentally prepare for what's about to happen. We are going to go through this together."

My failures to prepare for this moment immediately flashed through my mind: We didn't pack a bag for the hospital, the car seat was still in the box, the furniture for the nursery wouldn't be delivered for two weeks, I never cracked a page in any of the parenting books stacked on my shelf, and never glanced at the websites recommended by the veteran dads. If there were an expectant dad exam, I'd have scored a zero. Perhaps it was this shocking realization that somehow numbed me into conveying the calm and collected demeanor my wife needed upon learning our baby would be born today -- a month earlier than expected.

Before long, I was donning a pair of scrubs in the delivery room. All the while, clenching my wife's hand, kissing her forehead, and whispering confidently about how we were going to be such amazing parents.

A pause. A commotion. I saw the doctor whisk our son over to a team of nurses.
I locked on my wife's eyes. "Where was the cry? Is everything all right?" she said. The seconds felt like hours. Finally, a blissful, shrieking cry.

We were parents! I was a dad!

Save the Children released their State of the World's Mothers Report, in part focusing on the first 24 hours of a newborn's life. In the report, the United States is noted as the number one country in the industrialized world with the highest level of infant mortality. As I reflect back, thinking on those first moments holding my son, Jake, I feel lucky to know that my wife and newborn son received such great health care in a country where some mothers and newborns are without.

My own first 24 hours of fatherhood became a comedy of errors.

Wanting to be an engaged father, I was anxious to get some hands-on training while my wife observed from her hospital bed. I slowly unhinged his diaper and removed it before lining up the new one. That cost me big time! A stream of pee shot my way and onto my shirt. My wife and I were hysterical with laughter. Is this what parenting was going to be? Would we live by the mantra: "The one who can laugh at himself will never cease to be amused"?

Our birthing class instructor stressed becoming a "swaddle master" because babies loved that snug feeling that only a tightly wrapped blanket could provide. I reached into our baby supply cart and started fluffing and folding the blanket for my first swaddle. I mummified our newborn. Pieces of blanket stuck out in odd places. The wrap was loose. This was, suffice to say, oddly challenging work. I called a nurse for guidance and she whipped our son into a perfect cocoon. I felt small. Wasn't there a way to do this more easily with duct tape or with Velcro?

The nurse gave me verbal instructions that sounded simple so I headed to the nursing lounge because I believed the warm and inviting setting would foster success. I tried to put the bottle's nipple on his lips and nothing happened. "Does it smell right? Why won't his lips latch on? Am I holding him properly?" After 20 frustrating minutes, I brought our son to the nurse's station and asked for help.

Bottom line: The first day of fatherhood is a humbling experience -- not to mention a blow to the ego. I found myself quickly outside my comfort zone and not very good at addressing our son's needs. Consequently, I understood that with any new job, there exists a learning curve. You've got to get into the trenches, practice, and follow your gut instincts. Most importantly, I established a positive partnership with my wife from the get-go and found how much easier parenting can be when we help each other and share in the responsibility.

I suppose above all I'm glad to have been granted those first 24 hours to begin with -- trial and error included.

With the release of the State of the World's Mothers report and in honor of Father's Day, Save the Children and Johnson & Johnson wanted to share a father's perspective on the first 24 hours of their newborn's life and the first 24 hours of being a dad.