By Josh Van Gundy
As with most people during the pandemic, I had a lot of extra time on my hands. I did the usual, shopped around for hobbies and learned new skills. For a time, I was deluded enough to think I was going to get into miniatures. I wanted to recreate the street we lived on in Hollywood, 1/16th scale. Clearly, my imagination was larger than my apartment. I switched to something a bit more practical. I learned how to trade options, poorly I might add. But in December of last year, after the vaccines began to roll out and Trump’s presidency was in its death throes, it seemed like the world wasn’t going to fall apart. So, my wife decided it was a good time for a new hobby: making a baby.
I work in the entertainment industry, so we’re forced to live in Los Angeles. That means living in an expensive city away from our families, so starting our own family has been an imperative. Having kids was always going to happen next year, after we got that next promotion or bought that house. After a year of loss and fear and not knowing what the future was going to hold, it made us appreciate the time we have, and to make something of the time we have left. That, and even though we were turning the corner on the pandemic, we knew that we wouldn’t totally be out of the woods until the fall or later, so why not take advantage of all this time inside? Let’s do it. Let’s make a baby.
We decided to start trying in the new year. My wife assumed that because I’m “so old” - I’m 37, she’s 32 - that it would take a while to get pregnant. She tried to lower my expectations for conception, telling me it’s normal for a man my age to take six months or more to get the job done. In the face of six months of wanton sex with my wife, I was able to muster a brave face, “Even if it takes a year, we’ll keep trying.” We conceived the first time out. All those years of practice paid off, I guess. Me, a triptegenarian, inseminated my wife after only one try. It was a miracle.
We didn’t know what to think at first. I remember my wife declaring she “felt” the implantation of the fertilized egg, and I thought she had lost her mind. After the lowering of expectations, I was keen to not let hers get too high, either. I got a three-pack of the pregnancy tests, fully expecting to have to do this every month. I guess we’ll use the other two for the next kid. I remember staring at the test, watching the second blue line slowly get darker and darker. We both shrugged, “I guess we’re pregnant?” It didn’t feel real yet.
Since we didn’t get a chance to ease into the idea of having a kid, we went into overdrive. We moved to a nicer neighborhood, into a two bed with a washer/dryer in unit. We got all the baby books. Watched all the YouTube videos. Consulted every person who has had a baby. We engorged ourselves with pregnancy and baby information. The list of “bests” quickly started. We needed the best OB to deliver the baby. We needed the best stroller, to make our lives easier. The best car seat, to keep our baby safe. Bottles. Diapers. Doulas. Natural birth or epidural? The best. The best. The best. This kid is going to have the best. It still didn’t feel real, though. Like we were doing all this research for someone else. We thought it would be more real once we had the first ultrasound.
We were worried that I wouldn’t be able to be in the room for the OB appointments because of Covid-19, but as our pregnancy progressed, the restrictions loosened, so I’ve been able to go to every appointment. We have to wear masks, but that’s no bother.
The day of the first ultrasound, I was both excited and nervous. Excited it was finally going to be real, and nervous for the same reason. Were we really doing this? Am I ready? Is this kid going to hate us for bringing him into a world where the planet is boiling, democracy is crumbling, and there are nine Fast and the Furious movies? I felt if I saw the kid, or at least the semblance of a baby growing inside my wife, that somehow it would all snap into place, and I would ascend to fatherhood right there in the room.
I eagerly awaited as the doctor swooshed away the ultrasound wand looking for the little tyke. What I came to understand is that, at eight weeks, the baby doesn’t look like much of anything. The doctor is pointing and saying, “That’s the head,” and taking measurements, and all I can see is two gray blobs that may or may not be what she’s talking about. My wife began to tear up, and she looked at me and said, “It’s our baby.” I’m a terrible liar, so over the years I’ve learned to not even try, but I don’t want to tell her I don’t see anything. I want to share in this moment too. I think I was looking so hard at the image on the screen that it turned into a Rorschach test, and I saw what I wanted to see. My mind pieced together the pixels as best it could to make a face. Horrifyingly, it looked like a bat face, and because I have no filter between my brain and my mouth, that’s exactly what I blurted out. “It’s got a bat face.” Don’t worry, my wife is used to it. There was no emotional scarring.
I’m not an insensitive person. I know I’m not supposed to make jokes about that which we hold sacred… but sometimes, I can’t help myself. The words “bat face” kept rattling through my head, and inevitably, I started singing Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” which of course has a line that goes: “roly-poly little bat-faced girl.” I played the song all the time. To the point that my wife told her mother about it.
Now, an important piece of information: My wife is Chinese. Her family is Cantonese, and apparently in their culture, it is customary to hang a picture of beautiful babies in your room when you are conceiving in order to ensure your child is born beautiful and healthy. After we were married, my wife’s mother gave us a poster with two highly airbrushed babies on it to hang over our bed. I refused to put it up. Pictures of babies don’t really put me in the mood. Our compromise was that the poster was in the room, just rolled up and in the closet. That totally counts. Well, now that I had made too much of a joke of our baby’s potential looks, my mother-in-law insisted we hang the poster. It’s prominently positioned over our headboard, and ironically enough, it’s the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen.
We decided to hold off on telling most people until after the first trimester, which gave us enough time to find out the sex of the baby before we told people. We are completely befuddled by “gender reveal parties”, so we’ve been telling everyone the sex of the baby without any fanfare. To us, it’s not a piece of information worthy of a party. Do people really care and highly anticipate finding this out? All we cared about was that the baby was healthy. Finding out the sex didn’t help make it more real for me. This generic baby now had genitals, which presented a new problem. Do we circumcise?
We’re having a difficult time determining whether to snip the little fella. We’re told that circumcising for hygiene reasons is wildly overblown. It is not difficult to clean. My sister is a nurse and said that it does become an issue for older men with uncircumcised penises. Okay, so later on in life, but that doesn’t mean they’re inherently unhygienic. Leaving him uncircumcised could have other drawbacks, though.
For instance, in America, uncircumcised penises are uncommon, and anything that is uncommon becomes an outlier, and labeled weird or undesirable. Keep in mind, I’m only 5’7”, and my wife is 5’0”, so our son, at best, will be around 5’7”. I never had to deal with the dating apps, but I hear that people are heightest when selecting a man based on purely superficial reasons. So, if our son turns out to be only 5’5”, and he makes it over the hurdles of being short and an Asian man–who are the least selected men on dating apps–we would really hate for him to drop his pants and scare away a prospective partner with his uncircumcised dingus. Now, we never thought we’d worry so much about our son’s future sex life, but it doesn’t seem crazy to take it into account.
For these reasons we felt, yes, he’ll be circumcised, but after we spoke to a lot of my friends and finding out who is and isn’t snipped, much to the horror of my wife, we’re thinking maybe we won’t. They don’t even give the baby anesthetic when they do it, which seems barbaric, not to mention the fact they’re cutting his genitals. And we found out that more couples are opting to not circumcise, so maybe it won’t be such an uncommon thing in twenty years. We still haven’t come up with a good answer for this yet.
Thinking about these kinds of things started to make him more of a person. More real. But it wasn’t until we landed on a name that it all clicked for me. It’s a perfect name. There’s something about giving him a name that suddenly imbued my wife’s belly bump with personhood. He’s real now. A name suddenly gave him personality. I can see him. I walk around the house referring to him by name. I daydream about playing in the backyard with him. Kicking around a soccer ball. Taking him to a Dodgers game. Watching my favorite stand-up comedy specials with him. Imparting advice. Imagining how I’d discipline him, but always use it as a teaching moment. Will I be as patient as I am in my daydreams? Will I be as kind? As loving? I think so. My daydreams have turned to dreams when I sleep. It’s like he’s already here, but a ghost at the same time. I just want him to be here already. I can’t wait to meet my new best friend, Miles. Only three more months to go!
Josh Van Gundy is a military veteran from the suburbs of Detroit. He moved to Los Angeles in 2013 after graduating from Columbia University, where he majored in philosophy and film. He soon began working in production on such shows as The Fosters and Good Trouble, while writing several feature screenplays and pilots. He married the ever-patient Karen Huynh in 2018, who works as a housing policy consultant. He was a 2019 WGA Veterans Writing Fellow. He co-created the television series Camp Victory, an animated comedy about his experiences while deployed to Iraq as an intelligence analyst. Starburns Industries is attached to the project as the animation studio. Most recently, he was hired as a Consulting Producer by The Great Company to write the pitch for their miniseries Vincent, the true story of the brutal murder of Vincent Chin.