“You wanna meet her?”
When the nurse asks me, I don’t know what to say. Obviously, yes, but the word gets stuck like a cotton ball shoved into the back of my throat. The last time I’d seen a hospital under these circumstances, it was the worst day of my life; the last time I heard that question, I crumbled in tears. The nurse starts laughing, making me aware that I’ve just been standing there staring at her for way too long. The woman sitting beside me laughs at me too. She’s waiting to see her niece; while waiting together, she told me all about how she drove through the snow in a last-minute decision to be there for the birth. When she asked me if I was a new father or a relative, I told the truth, but I didn’t feel up to sharing the circumstances. I still hadn’t quite figured out how to talk about it, especially to strangers.
I’d spent hours weaving through judgmental comments to gather anything informative about this whole process, I wasn’t about to invite it in-person.
“Those new dad nerves, huh?” The woman chimes in beside me, patting me on the shoulder, as if congratulating me, but I don’t have the heart to tell her not to. “My husband about passed out when I had my first.”
I humor her with a laugh, though that isn’t a particularly fond memory for me either. “I think I’ll be okay. Nice talking with you.”
The nurse remains stoic in the face as we pass through crowded hallways, suffocating amounts of noise happening on either side that she’s taught herself to ignore for the sake of professionalism, but not me. I mull over how funny it is that I have a traditionally loud occupation too, yet I can’t handle a hospital; then I remember all the other times I’ve walked these halls and wonder how someone can do it every day.
“How’s Hannah?” It suddenly pops in my head that no one’s said a word about her.
“She’s doing well, she’s awake now.”
Pleasantries in hospitals make you feel like you’re on another planet.
Finally, we get to the room. Hannah is in bed, holding the baby in her arms, so close to her chest I can’t yet make out her face. It’s weird seeing your little cousin in a hospital bed. The way she’s looking at me, I almost feel like I’m not supposed to be in there - or like I’m dreaming it. We’ve had a million years worth of conversations about all this in the past, but we’re completely speechless once we actually see each other.
People used to call us twins separated at birth when we were kids because we did everything together. Sharing something like this feels fitting and otherworldly all at the same time.
“Hey,” she finally cracks first.
I can’t help but laugh a little at how casual she sounds, but maybe that’s because I’m the one with tears in my eyes. I always was the weak one between us. She could best me in a wrestling match any day of the week. Even when she’d asked me about adopting her daughter, she talked like it was any other conversation - like it was an insignificant favor neither of us would remember the next day. “Hey. You feel okay?”
“Yeah…” Hannah looks down, then back to me. “You wanna hold her?”
The question has me stuck again, obvious answer right at the tip of my tongue. I finally get a good view of her face when she’s in my arms; her little nose - the family nose; tiny hands idly wiggling around like she’s testing them out; entire face stained a weird mix of red and purple that makes me wish I were a painter, not a singer. I can’t help but smile even while tears break out embarrassingly across my face. “She’s cute, huh?” Hannah leans her head into her hand.
Sitting beside her, she’s all smiles, still so casual it doesn’t feel real. Maybe I’m in shock. Maybe it’s because the last time I was in this situation in any capacity, we were both crying, not celebrating. Maybe because this was the part where we were supposed to let go of our composure and sob in each others’ arms, and now without that, I have no idea what to do. “She’s awesome.”
“Sooo, Imogen, right?”
A name had been the first thing we discussed and agreed on. A smile finally seems to break the stupid stream of tears. “Imogen,” I agree. “Imogen Paige.”