After the wedding and graduating residency, we moved to California to begin our new lives together and our new careers at Kaiser Permanente. We had some issues to work through that first year, like many couples. Of course, it was usually my fault, either by something ignorant popping out of my mouth or doing something unknowingly inconsiderate. I just looked at myself as a wild and undomesticated caveman who needed to be trained and humbled into husband-hood.
I tried my best to charm her family through my efforts of learning the Persian culture. The first Persian (Farsi) word I learned was “Joon” which basically means “dear.” It is a friendly and endearing way to say the names of those they are close to, like Baba-Joon and Nana-Joon and Pooneh-Joon, and always brings out a smile, especially if coming from someone who doesn’t speak much Farsi. Then she taught me some common phrases like “How are you doing?” “This is delicious!” “Good morning and Good night.” I quickly learned the names of my favorite Persian dishes since she wouldn’t prepare any unless I asked for it by name. Honestly, I had never eaten anything comparable—the most exotic food in Munster, Indiana being Chop Suey and some Greek restaurants.
The most important and useful phrase I learned (for Pooneh at least) is “I’m Sorry” which is pronounced “bebakh-sheen.” It almost always worked like a charm to soften her up after inadvertently doing something to upset her.
Anyhow, when Pooneh became pregnant with our first baby, I felt like I was ready to embark on a new journey in life. Even though I was still adapting into my new married life, I was fully aware that these changes are trivial compared to the new priorities and sacrifices demanded by a new baby, and a new family.
Yet I was undaunted, and my excitement grew right along with her belly. We went to Lamaze class together, practiced the breathing techniques and exercises, and all that good stuff. On the day of her ultrasound appointment, I was supposed to meet her at the clinic with a video camera to capture the first mysterious images of our growing, intrauterine baby. Whoops! I committed my first mistake of fatherhood—forgot to bring the videotape. (No, we did not have cameras on our phones in those days). The look of disappointment on her face made my heart sink. Oh well, we had the still images of our healthy baby and later got one of those 3D Ultrasounds that was way cooler than the plain old ultrasound, so we were both happy.
Since he would receive my last name, we wanted to give him a Persian first name. I actually liked many of her suggestions because they all had some kind of meaning behind them, unlike most American names. I just had two conditions: first, it should be easy for Americans to pronounce. I didn’t want my family to have to strain themselves trying to make that “khh” sound from the back of the throat, like in the name Khosrow. Second, I didn’t want the name to sound like a funny English word that would invite ridicule from other kids.
We both liked Kaveh (pronounced Ka-vay) since it is easy to say and sounds exotic, strong, and elegant at the same time. The clincher was when she told me about the origin of the name. Kaveh was a legendary character in a famous epic poem called the Shahnameh, written by Ferdowsi in the tenth century, a mighty blacksmith that led a national uprising to overthrow their evil, foreign, tyrant King. His name forever after became symbolic for unity and resistance against foreign rulers. “Oh, hell yeah! How can you get better than that? Kaveh it is!”
The time finally arrived with the onset of her labor contractions. “Great, let’s go!” I hopped out of bed, ready for action, leading the deep breathing, encouraging her that she would soon deliver a new baby into our lives and how all this misery would be worth it. The contractions fizzled out though, and after an hour or two we were back in bed. Well this went on for the next three nights, always starting at 2:00 am. She would try bouncing up and down on her big blue inflatable exercise ball with me massaging her back and coaching those obnoxious breathing drills into her ear from behind. Since I had to wake up early for work each morning, my “coaching” and support became less enthusiastic, and of course she grew even wearier and more exhausted than me. By the fourth night, she ended up agonizing in another room all by herself, with me knocked out in bed. She wasn’t very impressed. Looking back, I can kick myself for not understanding that even though she didn’t need me to tell her how to breath, she just needed me to be there with her.
Since she wasn’t progressing, she was admitted for induction the next morning. Starting early, we were optimistic she could deliver the baby by evening. We brought her big blue ball to bounce upon and even a cute tiny, little bear that our Lamaze instructor told her to focus on to distract from her pain. We chose the little bear because we used to take turns putting it in random places for each other to find; a way of letting the other know we were thinking of them when not at home. But hour followed agonizing hour with one contraction after another. She bounced a few times but ended up kicking it across the room when I stepped out. Even though I was up for more breathing and massage with renewed vigor, she found it completely ridiculous at this point. Trying my best to think of something to help, I warily presented our sentimental little bear to her. “Sweetie, I know it’s hard but just try and focus–” and with that she promptly whacked it against the wall. She evidently didn’t want to be spoken to or touched during these relentless waves of pain.
She finally ended up getting relief with an epidural block, but by 3:00 am the doctors decided she wasn’t making progress and the baby’s heart rate was becoming abnormal, so she had to deliver by C-section. I had the video camera this time! Our son, Kaveh, was plucked from the uterus, as healthy as can be with a full head of dark Persian locks. He literally needed a haircut already since it had already grown below his ears. He was a big boy too, at eight and a half pounds, which made me very proud. “Put a hammer in that mighty blacksmith’s hand!”
The part that I didn’t expect as I was trying to look across the room at him through the crowd of doctors and nurses attending to him, was when he tilted his head backwards and peered across the room, calmly and directly at me. I know that newborns can’t really see very well, but that didn’t stop him from looking directly into my eyes as I walked toward him the whole length of the room. I felt recognized and loved by someone I had just met, who rewarded me with an immediate sense of what it meant to be a father.
By the time we got from the operating room to our hospital room it was around 6:00 am, and we hadn’t slept in 24 hours, not even including the four nights of labor before going to the hospital. Baby Kaveh was still in the nursery, and Pooneh finally got a chance to rest. I was exhausted too, but when I looked around the room, I realized that there was nowhere for me to lie down. I kissed Pooneh goodbye and left for home to get a couple hours of sleep. I knew I wouldn’t be getting much in the days to come. After a refreshing shower, I stopped to pick up some flowers and returned to the hospital later that morning.
I expected to see a pleasant smile on her face as she gazed upon our new little miracle. Instead she looked tense and totally exhausted as she tried to get our new little miracle to shut the hell up. She darted her blood-shot eyes at me and asked where I’d been all morning. Apparently right after I left, the nurse brought Kaveh back to her and she had been awake ever since. She said the nurse acted surprised that I left her alone since she really wasn’t supposed to be holding the baby so soon after her C-section. She was also having trouble breast-feeding, so he cried all morning from hunger. I felt so terrible that I already failed within the first few hours of being a father. I didn’t know what to say except that I didn’t realize the nurse would bring him out of the nursery so soon and there was nowhere for me to lay down. I tried to articulate my best “bebakh-sheen” that I could muster, but she countered with a sharp “Oh shut up, you’re not even saying it right.”