3am. For most of us, it’s a time for sleep and rest, an hour we don’t often see. Occasional parties or trips might bring us out during that hour, but mostly it slips by unnoticed. It’s also the worst time to be woken up by your partner in distress.

There’s a certain panic and fear that closes over you. Roused from a dead sleep, confronted with pain and confusion, you’re slammed into gear. You’ve got to be ready to go, ready to react, ready to comfort or aid however you’re asked.

In the dark it’s easy to fear the worst. Driving empty streets to the ER, you wonder whether this is the end of everything you know, the night the world takes a nosedive for the worse. And now, with my wife carrying our first child, that fear takes on an extra dimension of pain–is our daughter all right too? What would it look like to carry on without her mother? Without either of them? The darkness has teeth that bite and wrench.

Neither of the two occasions when Amber’s woken me at that awful hour has ended in a truly life-threatening situation. First time around was an bad reaction to a yellow-fever vaccine, the second a gall bladder attack that subsided half-hour after reaching the hospital. (On the plus side, when an 8+ month pregnant woman shows up in the ER, they ship her straight to maternity–no waiting.)

But in those first minutes I didn’t know that–only that she was in pain, telling me she needed help, we needed to go. I hope it’s a long time before I set off into the night like that again.