I dissolved one brief marriage, argued about post-decree support and custody with a bitter couple and her surly and snide lawyer and filed a few things with the clerk of courts. I passed another very pregnant lawyer in those echoey marble halls and grinned at her. We were like two freighters, motors in the back, prows jutting forward, trying to maintain a professional appearance despite our advanced states.
Finished, finally, I walked the three city blocks back to the office in a bitter wind. I filed loose papers, went over instructions with my assistant, locked my desk and said good-bye to my office mates. I planned to be out for six weeks or so. The baby wasn't due until January 6, but I built a little cushion in, so I could get some things done before delivery day. I hadn't washed a single outfit or bought diapers or figured out how to install a car seat. That's what the next couple of weeks were for: nesting.
Hombre picked me up in front of the Terminal Tower and we headed to a local Spanish restaurant where we met family for dinner. I ordered the Octopus Diablo, which I ate gleefully after having a bowl of deliciously pungent garlic soup. I treated myself to one glass of red wine. It felt good to sit after a busy day. It felt good to be with my Mom and Dad, my brother, sister-in-law and their girls. It felt good to relax and celebrate closing a chapter - my career before baby.
As we drove home, it snowed; big feathery flakes. I have always loved snow. We marveled at the beauty of it, the holiday lights and our excitement about the coming baby. We had hosted my family's annual Christmas party 3 days earlier at our home and talked Mom and Dad into staying for Christmas, rather than heading back to South Carolina as they had originally planned. Mom and I planned to get things ready for the baby the next day. We got home, let the dog out and headed up to bed. It was about 11.
As I brushed my teeth, I felt a strange sensation.
"I think I just peed myself!"
"That's weird! Are you sure?"
"There is something wet running down my leg, so yeah!"
"Maybe your water broke?"
"No way. It's way too early. Nobody in my family has ever had a baby early. If I have this baby by Martin Luther King Day we'll be doing good."
"Maybe we should call the doctor."
"Just to check and see if this is normal."
"Pregnant women pee themselves all the time. Nothing to worry about," I assured him.
And then, "Holy crap! I think I just had a contraction! Look at the clock - what time is it?"
"Okay. I think my water did break; it's still running down my leg. Will you bring me some underwear?"
"Here you go. Are you okay?"
"Shit. I just had another contraction. What time is it?"
"Crap! Call the doctor to see if we should wait this out or head to the hospital."
"Where's the number?"
"In my Palm Pilot; downstairs, in my briefcase."
"Okay; the nurse on call asked how far apart the contractions are, " Hombre asked, phone in hand.
"About two- oooh, there's another one- minutes."
"She said head in. Doctor Klein will meet us there."
"Dammit. I don't have a bag packed."
"Where's the What to Expect book? There is a list in there, right?"
"Yes, but we don't have time to be reading books. Just use common sense. Grab some underwear and some pj's."
"Should I wake your parents?"
"Yes. Tell them we are heading to the hospital while I get some clothes on."
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah. These contractions kind of take my breath away. I'll be okay. Let's get going."
We left the house at 11:31 by my clock. We drove though silent, snow covered streets with Christmas music on the radio. An enormous full moon lit up the now-clear sky. In between contractions we talked.
"So what are we going to name it if it's a girl?"
"I like Charlotte."
"No. No city names."
"What about Elizabeth? I want something dignified that won't embarrass her when she's older."
"I like Elizabeth. What for a middle name?"
"I like it. What about if it's a boy?"
"I like William a lot."
"Okay, but we can't call him Bill or Billy."
"Good; I like Will. How about David for a middle name, for your Dad?"
At the emergency entrance of Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, an attendant appeared with a wheelchair.
"I do not need a wheelchair."
"Honey, let them take you up."
"No. I am perfectly capable of walking."
"Have it your way."
The attendant merely shrugged. "Labor and Delivery is on 4."
No sooner had we entered the elevator, than another contraction hit, hard, and I wished I had taken the attendant up on his offer. I was excited but a bit anxious. I didn't feel ready. I am a planner; I like to prepare; to have things organized, details itemized, rehearsals complete. I had done none of that.
We checked in and a pretty, young nurse directed me to a changing area. As I changed into a gown, she told me that this was her first night on her own, after her training. She was very sweet.
She asked me when I last ate. I told her I finished dinner about 9. She asked me what I had to eat. I burst out laughing and told her.
"I wasn't planning on having a baby tonight or I would have had something, well, "milder.""
She made a face and said, "This is gonna be fun!" She walked me to my room and left.
Hombre and I looked at each other in disbelief. It was really happening.
Nurse McSweetie reappeared with a needle.
"Let's get an IV in you, so you'll be ready for anesthesia."
"I'm not planning on anesthesia. I think I can handle this okay. I really don't think we need an IV."
"Let's call your doctor's office to confirm that it's okay with them if you don't have an IV."
"Why is it up to them?"
"It's a matter of courtesy."
She returned a few minutes later.
"The nurse on-call said a hep-lock is okay."
She poked; I winced; she clipped and taped. I was slightly annoyed.
A few minutes later, a young female resident appeared.
"I'm Doctor So and So. I am going to see how far you are dilated, " she announced.
"8 centimeters. Fully effaced."
She wasn't done yet:
"Oh my god! I think I touched a nose! Nurse! Go get the attending!"
I looked at Hombre.
"What the fuck?"
A young man appeared, in a white coat like all the others. A couple of even younger looking white coats trailed slightly behind him. I began to worry a bit. Why were all these people here? Where was Doctor Klein?
"I am going to check the baby's position," he said.
"Posterior. Face presentation."
"I thought so," said Dr. So and So, smugly. I didn't like her.
"What does that mean?" I asked, very worried.
"It means that instead of the baby's spine being towards your front, it is against your spine, which is not that unusual, but the baby is also face-first. Usually, the baby's chin would be kind of tucked, so the narrowest part of the head comes through the birth canal first. In your case, the head is tipped back, so the baby's face is pressed right against your cervix."
"Is the baby okay?"
"Fetal heartbeat is fine, no signs of distress. We'll just keep an eye on everything. This is your first, right? "
"Then it will probably take a while for things to progress. Don't worry.Your doctor will be here soon."
The crowd dispersed. Nurse McSweetie reappeared with ice chips.
"How are you doing? That resident isn't the nicest, is she?"
"I'm doing great."
She dimmed the lights, checked the baby's heartbeat and my blood pressure.
"You're sure you don't want an epidural? If you wait any longer, it will be too late."
"No. I'm doing fine."
Oddly enough, I was.
I had begun yoga when I was about 4 months pregnant and had gone to my last class just a week before. I had never taken yoga before, but I loved it. I loved the flexibility of my enormous body and the sense of peace I left each class with. We had learned focused yogic breathing: breathing out with contractions; isolating the area of pain and relaxing the remainder of the body. To my amazement, it seemed to be working!
Soon Dr. Klein strolled in, dapper in his navy blazer and tie. It was about 1:00 a.m. He greeted us and said he'd be back shortly, after he changed. He seemed jovial, almost ready for a party.
When he returned and examined me, he was blunt:
"The resident told you about the way the baby is positioned?"
He gestured with his hands, demonstrating the way the baby would have to navigate through my pelvis.
"I know you want to do this naturally, but I am only going to let you push a few times and if we don't see that the baby is progressing right away, we are going to have to do a caesarian. The most important thing is getting that baby out healthy, alright? That is what we are going to do."
Usually he was so solicitous, so mild. I had not seen this side of him before, but it was clear that he was in charge.
He had travelled a long road with me toward this night. Six years of trying to have a baby. Six years of hormone pills, invasive and painful tests, one emergency surgery and many, many disappointments. He was right; the most important thing was not what I wanted, but what was necessary. Tears spilled from my eyes and down my cheeks. He patted my shoulder.
"The baby is doing fine and we are going to make sure it stays that way."
Hombre held my hand. "You are amazing," he said.
"You should see her, Dr. Klein, the contractions come and she goes into this zone and breathes and then when it's over she goes right back to the conversation like nothing happened!"
Dr. Klein grinned at me. "I'm not surprised."
The night wore on; the contractions came closer and closer; they became rougher and stronger.
Finally, the time came to push.
"Give it everything you've got!"
"How's the baby?"
"Fine. Push again! HARDER!"
"You are doing great! One more time - HARD!"
"The head is out. One more big push and you're done!"
"You've got a baby girl! Come over here and cut the cord, Dad."
I shook and shook. I was cold. I was sweating. I heard tiny cries.
"Where is she? I want to hold her. Where is she?"
"They are cleaning her up. She'll be right here."
Finally, finally, they gave her to me. My tiny baby, 6 pounds 4 ounces. Her face was red, except for a perfect circle of purple from the bridge of her nose to her chin.
"She's a little prize fighter," Dr. Klein said.
I cradled my Elizabeth Grace in my arms and she held her head up and looked straight into my eyes, studying me, memorizing my face. She looked like a little owl to me. So wise and solemn. I felt like I had known her forever.
(I'd post a picture, but we forgot to bring the camera to the hospital.)