Saturday, June 14, 2014

Becoming a Father: A Wife's Perspective

With our oldest having just turned 5 and Father's Day coming up tomorrow, I felt inspired to reflect on the wonderful gift that it's been to watch my husband become and grow as a father.

It's sort of a funny thing, the way life works. My husband and I began dating between our Junior and Senior years of high school. While the feelings of lust and infatuation often lead to daydreams of happily-ever-afters, I think it's fair to say that no seventeen-year-old truly and adequately imagines a life beyond drive-in dates, love notes left in lockers, and the ever-pressing dilemma of studying for the big Calculus test or snuggling with your cutie.
At 17, my husband never wanted to get married and definitely never wanted kids. Yeah, he was one of those. lol. At 17, I dreamed of us being together forever. I assumed the white veil and the bouncing baby would come at some point, though the idea of it always seemed kind of like that distant 4th cousin you have that acts on Broadway. You know it exists. It's there somewhere, way in the distance, and one day it'd be cool to cross paths.

Eventually, those ideas became more real. Our life together grew and blossomed into something I don't think either one of us could have imagined or predicted. We walked down the aisle at 19 and 20 and within two months from that day, that boy I knew with the newly acquired title of "Husband" was off to serve his country in the United States Navy.
By that point, I was a bit older. You know, 20 years old. Completely ancient. I was in a rush to start our family. I assumed my PCOS would make it a long, difficult journey and it was one I was anxious to embark on. I'm not sure my husband would have said the same. We were just beginning such an incredible endeavor with the military life, we were going to be out on our own and "living the dream". The world was our oyster and I don't think a screaming, pooping, sleep-depriving pearl was what he had in mind. But, we both knew we wanted a family. Again, eventually. But we had no idea when that day would come.

We spent 4 months apart from each other and at that point it seemed like forever. Now, 4 months seems like nothing. You grow immensely and realize your strength as a military couple. But that's another day, another blog.
On August 28th, 2008, I joined my husband in Great Lakes, IL and our "married life" truly began.
On September 7th, 2008, I got pregnant with our first son.

Because of my PCOS and some wacky cycles, I had no idea what my body was doing. I knew I felt "off" but it could have been anything. I tested, and it was negative, and so I went on thinking that my period would come any time. On my 21st birthday, I chose to test again. Big fat blue plus sign. I remember tears streaming down my face. Happy tears. It was my birthday..and the first one I spent away from home. I got phone calls from my friends, my family, my mom. I was screaming inside but I wanted my husband to be the first to know so I held it in.
6pm, he comes home. I'm waiting on the bed with the positive test. For 12 1/2 hours I'd kept the biggest secret of my life. I was ready to burst. He walks in the room "Happy birthday, baby. I'm sorry we can't do anything. I'm so upset that I can't take you out, but you know money is so tight right now. Duty was awful, as usual."
"Can we talk for a sec?"
"Maybe in a minute. I need to take a shower and unwind."
"Just a second. Listen, I know you're upset about not having any money, but I'm okay, I promise. We don't need to do anything big for my birthday. It'll be memorable regardless..."
"I doubt that."
"Hey, sometimes we think things are supposed to go one way and they go another. And sometimes the second way is a better way, after all. God only gives you the things you  can handle.."
"I know, I know. I'm going to go shower and maybe I'll feel more like talking after."
"Robin, seriously. We can talk in a minute. I'm just really stressed out.."

Okay, this wasn't going how I expected. But I'd waited long enough. Another 20 minutes would seem like an eternity. I blurted it out..
"We're having a baby."
And then something happened that I wasn't ready for. My husband literally jumped for joy. His entire expression changed. He ran to me, hugged me, kissed me, looked at the test with shining eyes. "We're having a baby!!!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "Woohoo!!!"
And it was true. We were having a baby and our lives were changing. Our lives would be forever changed.

On June 3, 2009, Xander Wesley Lunsford came into this world. He put up a fight and this mama was exhausted but he was glorious. He was precious and perfect and amazing.
I remember my husbands expressions changing over the course of labor and delivery. Disbelief, confusion, fear, encouragement, excitement, pure joy. Tears of happiness filled his eyes as he looked at his baby boy. It was a beautiful moment, forever etched in my heart.

From that moment on, life was an entirely different creature than it had been before. Our time was not our own. There was someone else, far more important than we two, to think about. Every decision was made in the interest of that boy. 
I remember the great things: my husband enjoying dressing our baby in the silliest of outfits, the times when Xander would giggle and then Robert would giggle and then I would giggle and we'd all be in a full-on laughing fit before we knew it, the moments when Robert would come up behind me while I was nursing or rocking the baby and just stare at us in amazement. 
I remember the bad times: my husband pacing the floor while bouncing a screaming baby.."I don't know how to help him", he'd say in desperation. I remember the sleepless nights. The exhaustion and stress induced arguments between us. The fear that we were doing everything "right" but somehow we were messing it all up. 

Over time, I watched my husband totally get the hang of the "dad thing". I hated seeing the heartache in his eyes every time he had to leave us. He missed first words, first steps, and birthdays. But he would always jump right in the second he got home. 
We loved being parents so much that we thought, hey, let's do this thing again! When Xander was about 15 months we started trying for baby #2. We were excited to find out I was pregnant just a couple months later, but we felt the truest form of heartbreak when we lost that baby. It's a phone call I'll never forget. My husband had gone underway that morning. He called to check on me, as he knew I'd been feeling bad and experiencing some concerning symptoms. I heard his voice crack on the phone when I uttered those words. It was so difficult and I knew that more than anything, he longed to be home with me and Xander in that moment. 
After that underway, we decided to try again right away. We had a limited amount of time  before he would be leaving again, for his second official deployment. My doc gave the go ahead, and a mere 3 weeks after we experienced our loss, we were pregnant again. 

On New Years Eve, 2010, I excused myself into a hotel bathroom for just a minute. It was too soon to test. It was too late in the day to test. But I just felt I needed to. "I just want to make sure I'm not before I have a drink tonight.", I told Robert. A dear friend of ours, Jenifer, was there with us while we awaited the arrival of some of our other friends. I walked out of the bathroom and they both looked at me. "Still waiting. Gotta wait 3 minutes."
So we did. We talked about how excited we were for all of us to be back together and spending the holiday together, save Jenifer's husband, Ryan, who was deployed at the time. "I wish Rybo was here", I said. She and Robert kept talking and I walked back into the bathroom to check the test, expecting to immediately toss it in the trash and go on about our night. 
"Oh my gosh." I said. Kind of quiet but audible. They both turned to me, silent..waiting. "It's a yes! It's a yes! It says pregnant right on it!!" I yelled. We all jumped up and down together. And we totally took a mirror selfie of ourselves with a positive pregnancy test and confetti blowers. 

On September 8, 2011, just under two months after my husband returned from deployment, Archer Reichen Lunsford was born. That morning my husband was taking the advancement exam at work and--he wasn't allowed to miss it. I was scheduled to be induced at 7. He breezed through the exam and got to the hospital at 9. I hadn't even been seen yet. "Sorry about you having to rush.", I said. "Of course I rushed. I wasn't going to miss our son being born because of some Navy bs." He wasn't even close to missing it. Archie came at 6:02pm. But my hubby was there through it all. He failed the exam, though. I think he'd say it was worth it. 

We spent the next year and then some in familial bliss. We were all together. Of course, we had our bumps in the road, but things were really good. My husband was so happy with his two little boys. I loved seeing them grow into funny, active, charismatic little people. Mini versions of their Daddy. I could see how much he loved being with them. We'd spend afternoons at the park, watching our big run and climb and our little, early bloomer, trying to keep up. We'd have dance parties in the living room. Robert bought a bike trailer and took the boys on rides around the neighborhood. I think he loved that as much as they did. 

In February of 2013, my husband left for deployment #3. It was by far the most difficult of deployments we'd seen. He was leaving an extra loved one behind this time. He had been home for over a year, aside from a few underways, and we'd gotten into a routine of being a family of four. Now we were being torn apart again, for the longest time we'd had to be--hopefully for the last time, but that was no comfort. 
After 9 long months, my husband returned. Our boys had grown up so much. A lot changes in 9 months when you're a child. My husband had already missed nearly half of Xander's life. And that 9 months alone was a 3rd of Archer's days spent on the Earth up to that point. 

Now, looking back, it seems like such a short period of time. It drug on, but the time passes so fast when you're looking back on how your babies have grown. I couldn't imagine being in my husband's shoes--having to sail away for huge chunks of their lives. Having to see milestones through emails and pictures. Having to ask yourself "What is my son like these days?". 
But my husband did it with strength. He did it with grace, with commitment, with dedication. I thank him for that, and I know someday our sons will too.

Tomorrow will be my husbands 6th Father's Day. It will be only the 2nd one that he's been able to spend with his kids. I know it's just another day of the year and I hope he feels loved and appreciated every other day, as well. But tomorrow is a special day. It's a day for my sons and I to look at him and say "Thank you for being an amazing father." 
So, Babe, thank you. Thank you for finding so much joy in teaching our sons new things. Thank you for getting down on the floor and playing Hot Wheels and building Lego dragons. Thank you for spending hours watching Disney movies and for having coloring contests. Thank you for being here, even when you've had to be away. Thank you for taking training wheels off of bikes and then putting them back on again. Thank you for filling pools, for setting up tents, for spending countless Christmas Eve's piecing together the most complicated of play sets. Thank you for apologizing when you lose your patience. Thank you for being my savior on some of the longest, most challenging days of my life as a mother. Thank you for loving, for caring, and for spending time. Thank you for growing..for becoming not only a man and a husband, but a daddy. A million times, thank you. We love you.