There is a first one for every parent. The diaper. For Ronnie and his newborn daughter it was also their first duel. Here’s who won.
“Would you like to try changing a diaper?” the nurse asked. My daughters, Helen and Molly, had been in the neonatal intensive care unit for ten days, and I had yet to change either one of them. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I had never changed a diaper. Not ever. Babies were strange and terrifying creatures. My family could see, in the way I pressed my palm to their bare stomachs in the first days, that I was enthralled.
“Um—well—I’ve never done it before.”
“I’ll help you.” She smiled. She was pretty. One of the few nurses who remembered my girls’ names. The only one I trusted enough to stay with them overnight so I could go home and shower.
“Alright.” I walked toward Molly’s incubator like a house cat on snow. Every step was soft. Inquisitive. Out of place.
The nurse handed me a diaper. I felt absurd holding it. It was smaller than my hand, soft, but also strange. My face was hot. I felt all the eyes in the room bearing down on me like small summer suns. My mother. My wife. Her mother. All of them grinning ear to ear. How many times had I avoided this? Thirty years old, and I had only ever held one baby.
“First, you want to put the clean diaper under Molly.”
“Won’t it get dirty when I’m changing her?”
“It might. But better the diaper than the sheets.” That certainly made sense. I did as I was told. “Now, see the tabs on either side of her waist? Pull them away from the diaper.” I was a dutiful apprentice. “Next, you need to fold down the front of the diaper towards her bum bum, wiping downward as you go.”
“Easy enough.” I wiped down the front of the diaper slowly, carefully.
“You need to move faster than that, Kyle,” my mother chimed in. Everyone else stared, unbelieving.
“Hush, mom. I got this.” The nurse handed me a wipe. Thankfully, there was nothing too terrible in the first diaper. “It’s not so bad.”
“Okay. Wipe down to clean Molly off. Remember, you always want to wipe down with girls. Wiping up can spread infections.” I concentrated on the statement, committing it to memory.
“Always wipe down,” I said, mostly to myself.
“Once you’ve wiped her off, you’ll pull the dirty diaper out from under her, pressing the front and back together, then roll it up and throw it away.”
“Got it.” I pulled the diaper from beneath Molly. “Roll it u—” Just then Molly pooped, right into the clean diaper. It poured out of her like a fountain of tar. “Wait—Molly—Um—Quick, someone hand me another diaper!” The women were doubled over. The nurse handed me another diaper, choking back her own laughter. “Damnit, Molly. Why’d you go and do that?” I was as amused as the rest of them.
“She’s just helping you practice, daddy,” my wife’s mom, Beth, chuckled.
I repeated the process, though the job required three wipes this time.
“Is it always this sticky?”
“With breast milk, it can be. It gets better after the first month or so,” the nurse answered.
“Ok. Pull the dirty ou—God bless, it, Molly!” She was pooping. Again. Right into the clean diaper. “Quick. Another diaper!” The ladies were having a good time with this. My mother and Terri were in tears. The nurse handed me diaper number three, and I went to work again. Already I moved through the steps like I had been doing it for years. “This is it, Molly. Diapers aren’t cheap. Now you get it all out, baby girl. I don’t want to see you waste another diaper, you hear?” I paused and watched to see if she was done. A minute later, I slid the dirty diaper out. “There. All do—Jesus! Watch out! This one is high-powered!” This time Molly didn’t just dirty the diaper. She sprayed the walls of the incubator, the monitors and my hand. “That’s it. I’m out!”
“I have to wash my hands, mom. You handle it!” I knew full well Molly was antagonizing me. Not even two weeks old and everyone knew: she was just like me. Rotten to the core. Full of mischief.
Molly’s mother stepped in with a fourth clean diaper. She had more confidence and went straight to work. Molly had her own ideas. As soon as the dirty diaper was pulled away, she peed all over her mother’s hand.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” I laughed.
The nurse pulled out a fifth clean diaper. Having exhausted herself, Molly fell asleep before her mother finished fastening it shut. We breathed in as one, before the laughter started again. It was the first time we had laughed since Helen and Molly had been born. Our chests rose and fell. Tears dotted our red faces and, for the next few minutes, no one worried about a thing.
Top Photo: Flickr/Eric E Castro