Sometimes we read On the Night You Were Born —mostly because you are enamored with the polar bears dancing under the moon on the cover—because it is a great story about,well, see title. And the words couldn’t be truer, how miraculous it is, how wonderfully and fearfully we are all made. But every story is unique; some are happy, some are excruciating, some scary, some confusing, some joyous. This one is yours—a little bit of everything, with the happiest ending of all:
The evening your father and I checked into the hospital,fourth floor, there was a full moon scheduled. It was a Friday in the middle of a blazing hot August. There was no room in the Labor and Delivery Wing. Even more women were laboring away in the Mother-Baby recovery rooms in the adjacent wing.
The influence of the moon is great, son. It causes the oceans to flood and ebb. It wields control over the tides, that small, cold rock in our orbit. Its own gravitational pull is a force to reckon with, causing huge, salty bodies of water on Earth’s surface to slosh, to swell according to her position in the skies. This is undisputed. But folklore (and werewolf movies) suggests that the moon has power over other bodies too, namely our own. Even great philosophers believed that a full moon could induce lunacy (punny, right?) and that night, many moons ago, I believed that maybe it could induce labor, which is only a little like lunacy.
I was no stranger to the fourth floor. I had been there once a week for the past three weeks for non-stress testing. You were a handful, kid. But handing my insurance information through the little glass window for the umpteenth time, I was ready. I was 38 weeks pregnant,wearing maternity jorts (jean-shorts, it’s a thing) and I was r-e-a-d-y. I was relaxed and non-sweaty (compared to all the squirmy women being wheeled around me) and excited to think that the next time I left this hospital it would be with you in my arms.
Your Dad left work early and we settled into our room where I was to be induced. According to the Doctor, it was no big deal that we didn’t have a laboring room ready. She didn’t expect to see you for 24 more hours,at least, which was when she was on-call again (but she, not the practice’s mid-wife, had to be there anyway because you were what they call “high-risk”).
“These rooms are more comfortable, anyway,” added the nurse. Which is funny, because comfortable is not a thing you are in hospitals. Nope.
So they induced me with some drug, the name of which I can’tremember, not Pitocin. They stuck me with needles and hooked me up to monitors so they could keep tabs on you. My parents stepped right off a transatlantic flight and came to visit us. We watched T.V. and I ate graham crackers and sipped watery juice.
Sometime before dinner the nurse forbade me to eat anything else and removed the induction drugs. Something on the monitor had alarmed her and she rushed into our room with a handful of pillows and started rolling me around in the bed. Your heart rate had dropped, but she got it back up again. The Doctor came to visit and said if that happened again (it didn’t) we would be going into surgery. She also said that if I planned on getting any sleep that night, I should take an Ambien. I declined, and she said she would write the script anyway—just in case. At shift change, the new nurse brought me a little blue pill in a paper cup.
“What’s this?” I said.
“Ambien. The script was in your chart.”
“Oh, I don’t know…”
“Trust me, you’re going to want this,” she said.
So I succumbed to the peer pressure, and this is where the story gets hazy. The following is an account I’ve had to piece together from eye-witnesses (mainly, your father):
Sometime in the middle of night, though in hospitals it’shard to tell what’s day and night, I stumble with all my monitors and accoutrements into the bathroom to g-e-t-s-i-c-k (don’t like any of the words to describe this, so, going into details about labor…well, I’ll just skim over most of the icky). Then I paged the nurse for anti-nausea meds. Several times in a row.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, what’s your pain?” the nurse continually asked. I just couldn’t understand this question. What’s one? A splinter, a stubbed toe…but don’t those hurt terribly? What is a ten? A missing limb? And if I’ve never experienced any of these,how will I know? Two seemed like a good answer. I didn’t want to be a drama queen about it. I stuck with a solid two throughout the night. I’m not impervious to pain but I just have a hard time feeling it in numbers.
Finally, the night nurse got smart and thought that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t feeling this pain-scale of numbers thing. Give me colors, words: What’s your pain on a scale of purple to silver? Purple being a happy pain and silver being excruciating? Ok. Anything but numbers.
The nurse checked to see if I was dilated. I was 5 cm. F-I-V-E centimeters and feeling two. You can give me a pat on the back someday for this.
It was time to roll me into a just-ready-5-minutes-ago labor and delivery room.
“Epidural. Epidural,” I was trying to mumble through my Ambien-coma. It was around 5:30 a.m.
I got one, but it was too late to feel its sweet effects. In the time it took the nurse to run-walk me to the delivery room, I was 10 cm and good to go.
(Skimming over the icky here).
Let the record show that your father was a trooper, my rock, and strong through it all.
After an hour of pushing I sobered up a bit and committed to actually holding you in my arms before the nurses had to change shift again at7 a.m.
You were born, however, on a Saturday at 8:34 a.m. on August13th. While other people in our time-zone were sleeping-in, or starting the coffee and thinking about doughnuts, (or going to bed in the case of our night nurses), we were welcoming you.
But you were maybe not ready for all the hustle and bustle,the hoopla, the blazing hot summer, the moon and its tides, the numbers assigned to pain. I admit, the world can be a crazy place but we wanted so badly to welcome you into it. Safely. The nurses grabbed you up and I waited to hear you cry. I waited 10 seconds I turned my eyes toward the table where the nurses were suctioning out your mouth.
Twenty, maybe thirty seconds passed and still, I waited and hoped. I had seen this before on TLC’s:A Baby Story. I remember thinking that it always turned out fine. Fine, fine,fine. Buttons were being pushed. Rubber-soled shoes were squeaking, hurriedly around the room. Time seemed to pass so slowly.
Reinforcements. Another team to work on you. A doctor in blue scrubs rushed in, she was wearing red One-Stars for her shift that Saturday morning.
“Out of the way,” I think I remember her saying. There must have been 20 people in the room,or maybe just 7 or 8. I remember feeling so helpless. In those slow seconds, I think Dad and I got to know the Man Upstairs a little better.
Finally, after a whole 60 seconds you came back to us. I heard a weak cry, as if to test your pipes out, and then you really let loose with the wailing. When the doctors and nurses were satisfied with your pinkish color, I was finally able to hold you for the first time.
Of all the times I had imaged holding you for the first time, it never occurred to me you'd have no teeth. Staring into a wailing pink hole your smooth shiny gums were so strange to me, so beautiful to me. You were perfect.
But they took you away after that. Wheeled you away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and your father followed. I had to stay behind for a little bit, until Icould feel my legs again, and the nurse tried her best to get me to eat something while I entertained visitors. Family members who were on their way to the beach passed through. Family members who were still jet-lagged stepped in. Eating and entertaining were not things I felt like doing, son. That half-hour felt like a life-time, missing you. When everyone had cleared out, and the nurse helped me into the wheelchair, I began to cry. And that sweet nurse (sadly I cannot remember her name) said:
“Oh, you’re just like me; trying to be strong for everyone…waiting until everyone is gone.” And I cried harder because I was not strong at all. And then she hugged me while we both cried a little more. We were worried for you,son. We were all rooting for you.
On the short ride to the place where they were keeping you,I thought of the hospital tour your father and I took during an all-day childbirth class. “And this is the NICU, God forbid you have to go in there,” the guide said. And, suddenly, I was mad because we were the “God forbid” people.
(God bless you if you ever have to walk in those shoes. And bless the NICU workers everywhere…theyare special people.)
I was overwhelmed with all the tiny beds and cubes and whirring machines in that room and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to recognize you,my own baby, since we had spent such a short time together. But then I saw all the thick, black hair, and knew it was you; that you were mine, and I was yours.
Though the good doctors said you wouldn’t have to stay long in the NICU, there were still some things you had to learn how to do before you could leave: breathe without taking any extended breaks and eat (two things at which you now excel).
Sadly, I could not take you with me when we checked out of the hospital two days later. Imagine not wanting to leave the hospital. Imagine it. I wanted to curl up on the floor and sleep next to your little bed in the loud, beeping, rubber-soles-squeaking NICU.
In the morning, the transporter arrived with a chair to wheel me downstairs. It was time to go. It seemed like a million years ago that I had been excited for this moment—the moment where I got to leave the hospital with you in my arms. I thought that if I could just sit there in that hospital bed a little longer, things would surely have to go my way. The way I had imaged it. The way I had planned.
The transporter waited.
I crossed my arms.
“Checking out today?” she said.
“Do I have to ride in that thing?” I said.
“I think so…well, you’ll want to anyways.”
And, so it goes. While your Dad packed up the car, I was wheeled down to the lobby carrying not a fat, sleepy baby but a leafy-green potted plant—some congratulatorygift—while the woman in front of me held a freshly bathed baby.
I will admit that I was so angry, son. I just wanted you home with us. Why, oh why did I have to be one of the “God forbid” people? I stupidly wondered.
But you were right where you needed to be with people who knew how to take care of you, and the people that loved you (who are many) visited often. Although you stayed in the NICU for only seven days, it felt like a century. Your father and I were there five times a day, feeding, changing and bathing you. We called every night at 3a.m. to check on you. We got to do the normal things. It just wasn’t how we planned it. There’s a saying that goes, Tell God your plans…
And that is the story of the “marvelous, wonderful [morning] you were born.” I’m sure Dad and I will tell it to you many times. And maybe the details will become more imaginative over time—the doctors: superheroes, the moon: a powerful force over human actions. Or maybe those things were already true. No matter, this story will go down in family history forever and ever as the greatest, most miraculous and trying, but definitely most rewarding experience.
I leave you with this passage from another great book I hope you’ll also enjoy reading one day:
Love suffers long, and is kind; love envies not; love vaunts not itself, is not puffed up,
Does not behave itself rudely, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, keeps no record of evil;
Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
-1 Corinthians 13
Reading this verse, I always chuckle a little when I reach the last line. It reminds me not only of child-bearing,but also of polar bears dancing under that big, beautiful moon.
May you always love and be loved,