We were ready this time. The crib was set up with fresh, clean sheets. The tiniest clothes had tumbled through the laundry machines and lay folded in pretty white baskets that lined the closet shelves. New blankets of the softest material and in every shade of pink smelled sweetly of laundry detergent and lay on the shelf closest to the crib. The carseat and stroller shined after their good scrub down. A brand new baby swing waited in the corner of the living room. My hospital bag sat packed and ready.
And we waited.
Any day now, I told the children when they asked. Any day now, the children repeated to their teachers and friends.
I had reason to believe she would come early. All the other babies had. Some by one week, another by two, and little Timothy had arrived four and a half weeks before his expected time. However, the days on my calendar kept flipping by and we found ourselves coming closer and closer to that little square with the 11 in the corner and the little red box inside of it that read Baby Due!!!
Any contractions? Brian would ask each time he called from work. Any contractions? Brian would ask each time he saw me pause. Any contractions? Brian would ask any time he saw my face. Any contractions? Brian would ask every time he took a breath. And each time, for days that turned into weeks, I would either shake my head or tell him, again, that he really needed to stop asking that question. She'll come when she comes, I thought, though it was rather disheartening to be reminded over and over that absolutely nothing seemed to be happening. Most days and in the good moments I was able to find his question rather endearing because it gave beautiful illustration to the fact that he was just. so. excited.
Really, it could change in a moment, Brian said one day as we were driving along the road in our minivan, right?
Yep, I said. Any moment. He knew that answer of course, but somehow saying it out loud made us both feel better. Just because I'm not having many contractions doesn't mean all that much. My water could still break any second... progressive contractions could start any time... maybe we'll find ourselves driving to the hospital in an hour...?
And so it went. For days upon days. Always ready, always attentive, always waiting for the Moment of Change.
Here and there pockets of Bad Timing lurked. Some were little things, such as the evening Brian attended the temple with the youth, or each day he had to drive out to the furthest clinic for work. Some were bigger things, such as the few operating days on Brian's calendar where he had a schedule full of patients who had been waiting for weeks to have their eye surgeries.
Some of the Bad Timing pockets lasted an entire day, such as my birthday. You don't want to have to share a birthday with your mother your whole childhood, I whispered to her early that morning before I got out of bed, so stay comfy in there for today, sweetheart. Or April Fools Day. It's not a big deal, but if you want your very own day then you should wait this one out, love. Or the weekend of General Conference. Your brothers and sister looked so very frightened when I mentioned that if you came this weekend we would not be watching conference as a family this time around.
Speaking of General Conference, the whole idea of the baby's birthday mixing with it was very worrisome to McKenzie. You see, our church holds a General Conference twice a year where our prophet and his apostles and other inspiring leaders give incredible, inspired talks that are delivered in a giant assembly hall and broadcast worldwide, and it always falls on the weekend that contains the first Sunday in April (and then again in October). We make it a big deal in this house. We block off the days and cook and bake all sorts of delicious foods and have several small bowls filled with different kinds of candy that the kids eat largely unregulated. We pull out the picnic blanket and spread it in front of the TV and it is the only time during the whole year that food is allowed in the family room. The kids print out all sorts of coloring pages and pull out creative, quiet toys such as magnets or legos, and then we sit together as a family to eat and create and watch and listen for four hours on Saturday, and for another four hours on Sunday. Some of us take notes on the ideas and feelings that meant the most to us, and now that the kids are getting older we have some great conversations afterwards about the lessons we learned. It's a special weekend and we look forward to it with great excitement. McKenzie loves it the most out of all the kids currently, and was disheartened when she learned that the baby might have to share her birthday with such an important and special weekend on any occasion her birthday happened to fall on a Saturday or a Sunday. Which in McKenzie's mind put the Very Bad Timing stamp on all of the dates from April 1st through the 7th.
Timothy's biggest timing concern came with the presence of a Ferris Wheel that had appeared overnight and stood towering above our town. The traveling fair was almost ready to open during that first week in April, and the Ferris Wheel was almost ready to ride, almost... It was all lit up at nights and looked so incredibly fun that he wanted nothing more in his whole life than to ride it. So we promised him that we would take him as soon as possible after it opened - as long as the baby didn't come before then.
Thankfully, almost all of Bad Timing pockets had melted away into the past by the time Friday the 7th rolled around. Brian was home by 10am with an entire work-free week ahead of him and we started to get serious about doing all we could to get something, anything, moving. We should go for a long walk, I suggested as he came through the door. So with tennis shoes and a stroller we walked briskly down to the local airport to watch the airplanes and helicopters take off, we walked briskly through the park and stopped for a minute to push Timothy on the swings, we walked briskly around the duck ponds and pointed at the brand new baby ducklings swimming along behind their mother, we walked briskly to the local burger place to grab some burgers to fuel more walking and, eventually, out of necessity, we walked briskly back home when the schools got out and Miles came riding his bike up our road at 3pm. Five hours after our walk had begun. And by midnight our final two Bad Timing pockets had melted away as Timothy's dream had come true on the Ferris Wheel and McKenzie's worry about her baby sister ever having to share her birthday with General Conference was laid to rest.
That night I felt really good. Comfortable. Restful. And slept peacefully right through the night.
Saturday the 8th I awoke and started in on the Saturday chores. Slowly, the dust bunnies disappeared and the house started to smell of citrus, though it wasn't long before I realized that I was not contributing much. Brian and even the children were cleaning in circles around my aimless wanderings and pitiful efforts to tidy and scrub. My spirits were down, and my logical self was making it worse by telling me that I was acting silly and reminding me that the due date wasn't even for three more days. My grumpy self knew this, of course, and tried to tell my logical self that even so, I had never been this close to my due date before and besides, feelings aren't always logical so butt out please.
What is it that makes Waiting so emotionally tiring? I knew I needed to get out of the house to take my mind off the Wait so we decided to go on a family walk, the long way, up to my favorite lunch spot 3 miles away. Of course, we knew the little legs in our family would not last for a brisk 6 mile round trip adventure, so bikes and strollers were allowed to join.
Sitting around the lunch table we all made guesses down to the minute as to when our food would come (I won), and around dessert the guesses were made down to the minute as to when the baby would come. That one I refused to play, mostly because the thought fed my grumpy self (she'll come when she comes) but everyone else joined in.
"We need to be clear," Brian specified, "that the time you are guessing is the day and minute mom and I decide to go to the hospital, or the day and minute her water breaks. Whichever comes first."
"Tonight at 9:00," McKenzie guessed, and I rolled my internal eyes that her guess was so soon because surely I was going to be the first woman to be pregnant forever.
"Tuesday at 1:45am," was Timothy's, and I rolled my internal eyes that his guess was so far away because surely the baby must be coming sooner than that.
And on and on it went with me feeling grumpy and frustrated and illogically responsible for the outcome.
When we returned from lunch I still felt grumpy (even grumpier?) and Brian suggested that I head out to Starbucks with my computer to write and to relax and to grab a hot chocolate. Often when I write I'm able to separate my current feelings from the feelings of the piece on which I'm working, and I had been wanting to blog about the overall sweetness and beauty of my pregnancy for a long time which, I figured, might be a good place for my brain to go. So I took him up on the offer and by 4:00 I was sitting comfortably in one of the soft leather chairs, typing away in my happy place. But by 5:30 I had had a couple of harder-than-normal contractions (though far apart and only 2) and by 6 I couldn't shake the thought of my water breaking right there in such a public space and on such a comfy chair. So the grumpiness returned and I packed everything up to come home.
When I walked in the door, Brian raised his eyebrows and drew a breath to ask any contractions?, but I put my hand up to stop him and said, "I just decided I feel more comfortable waiting here than I do waiting there."
"Still feeling down?" he observed.
"Yeah, I guess," I said, blinking back tears. The truth was that my feelings were all twisted up. I was feeling tired of waiting to be sure, but I had noticed that I also felt a little nervous about the labor and delivery this time around. Which made little sense to me because it's not as if I hadn't done it before. But I'd never done it here before, and I hadn't put much time and effort into researching all of the fine print regarding How They Do Things here. There were question marks... and question marks make me nervous.
Maybe a warm bath will help my mood, I thought. So after dinner I disappeared upstairs to try and soak away all the negativity. I read my book and watched a show and listened to Brian wrestle all the kids into bed (he's so amazing) before letting my wrinkly fingers convince me that it was time to get out. I felt a little better and had let my logical self gently remind me as I soaked that I really wouldn't be pregnant forever... even though it seemed that I might. I had worked to harness the faith I have that things have a way of working themselves out, and I had (for the moment) laid my nervousness aside by reminding myself that my body would do what it needed to do. I knew I'd probably have to give myself those little pep talks frequently in order for them to keep working, but for that moment, I felt better.
Which felt good. And rather ironic, because as I stood to reach for my towel the Moment of Change arrived with a gush of warm water. I stood there for a few seconds processing the situation - after all, I'd just been sitting in a giant tub full of warm water so it was kind of hard to tell... did I really just feel extra water, or was it all just the same water. Either way, I grabbed my phone and shot off a text to Brian.
"I'm pretty sure my water just broke," I typed. "Come."
Less than 30 seconds later, Brian came rushing into the bathroom, "Really?!"
"I think so. What's the kid situation?"
"All the boys are asleep. McKenzie is reading in her room and just about ready to turn out her lights."
"Okay, let's give it a little bit to make sure... maybe go tell McKenzie that she can keep reading until we make a decision?"
I got dressed quickly and, taking necessary precautions, lay on the bed for a few minutes to see if I could induce any more gushing. Sure enough, when I stood a few minutes later it was unmistakable; my membranes had ruptured and it was time to go to the hospital.
We had had several plans in place for the other children depending on what time of day this moment arrived, and the plan for the All Children in Bed and Asleep scenario was that McKenzie, bless her sweet little responsible and mature heart, would be left in charge through the night.
"I cannot believe how perfect this timing is," I said to Brian as we placed the last of the items in our hospital bag. To have hit that sweet spot between when all the boys were asleep and before McKenzie was asleep felt divinely orchestrated. It was late enough that she didn't have to worry about putting excited kids to bed, and it was early enough that we didn't have to worry about waking her up. "Why don't you go tell her the news," I said, "and invite her to come sleep in our bed for the night just in case Teek comes in here looking for us."
Moments later she came bouncing into the room with wide open arms just for me. "Mom!" she exclaimed with nothing else to say.
After a moment of hugging she pulled away and said, "Man, I was so close!"
"Close to what?" Brian asked.
"Guessing the right time! I guessed it would be tonight at 9:00, remember?! It's 9:20."
"...McKenzie, wait..." Brian said as he pulled out his phone. "You were closer than you think!" He opened his text messages. "Mom sent a message to me right after her water broke - let's see what time..."
9:01pm. And it feasibly took me a minute to get the text off.
Coincidence? Probably. But even so, something about her perfect guess seemed so fitting to my heart and it filled me with warmth and joy. The joy was in the connection, I think, the connection I felt flowing from big sister to little sister, little sister to big sister... a connection planted in the richest soil of family, of sisterhood, that could grow and fill them both with a sense of belonging, of comfort, of love throughout their entire lives. How beautiful it is that it was this sweet moment, the moment at nine o'clock on a Saturday night, the Moment of Change, that was the very first thing they shared.
Before we left we asked, again and again, to make sure that McKenzie felt comfortable staying the night on her own, "It would not be a big deal to pack you all up and take you to the Calverts," I offered. But she reassured me that she wanted to stay home and that she was excited about getting the boys up and dressed for church the following morning. So we hugged her and kissed her and double-checked all the doors, and as we pulled out of the driveway I knew that the next time I pulled back in things would be so beautifully different.
I took one deep breath in the car to connect with myself and then reached for my phone to send a message to my friend, Alycia. The Calvert family has four children who are all remarkably close to the same ages as my own kids, and Alycia was graciously excited to be on stand-by to help with any of the child needs when this moment came. She was thrilled to hear we were on our way to the hospital, and I asked if she would please sleep with her ringer turned up just in case McKenzie needed anything in the middle of the night. I also explained that my kids would get themselves all ready for church the following morning and were planning to walk the short distance to the chapel, but asked if Alycia wouldn't mind saving a seat on their bench for my children to join them. Alycia responded quickly with all the reassuring answers I needed and then asked if McKenzie might feel better if Emma, her own 13-year-old daughter, came to stay the night with her. Generally we don't do sleepovers (and neither do the Calverts), but the thought of having the two of them together felt very comfortable and good to my heart (even though it seemed rather ironic that our No Sleepovers rule was about to be bent for two 13-year-old girls to stay in a big house with absolutely no parental supervision at all (which, I suppose, is a great mark of their goodness)).
Meanwhile, Brian and I were almost to the hospital. I felt all sorts of calm as we drove around in search of the front entrance. No pain, no contractions. This was significant because the idea of managing pain and racing against time while trying to navigate to and through a hospital we had never seen before had been one of the biggest stressors in the back of my mind for months. A silly stressor, really, because it was one that could have easily been soothed by one car ride into the city to become familiar with the route and to locate the correct entrance. I'm not entirely sure why I never made it a priority to do that, it certainly wasn't for lack of opportunity, but I think it had something to do with the thought that maybe I wouldn't like what I saw if we drove around the hospital. Due to a mid-pregnancy insurance change (coupled with the lousy coverage of said insurance), delivering in this hospital was the only choice I had and I think there was a little fear in the back of my mind that if I didn't like what I saw I would worry about it for the rest of the pregnancy. So I exchanged that worry for the worry that we would be rushing the clock or fighting the pains while we searched for the correct entrance. Turns out, as is usually the case, I needn't have worried about either. The hospital was wonderful and well marked and we drove right up to the maternity center with no wrong turns, no confused searching, no hassle. We parked close to the front doors in a big, quiet parking lot and the whole experience was pleasant and 438 times less stressful than parking at Costco.
Oh boy, I thought as we approached the big sliding glass doors. "We're going to need to make this check-in quick or I'm going to start making a biiiiiiiiiig mess," I whispered to Brian from the corner of my mouth. Every couple of minutes as we stood waiting for the nurse to come and take us back, more fluid would gush and it wasn't long before all the protection I'd taken had become quite insufficient. "I hope they don't make me sit in a wheelchair," I mumbled to Brian, "because I'm pretty sure sitting down at this point would be a really bad idea." So I was relieved to see the nurse come through the doors with no wheelchair in sight; however, she was not so relieved and with a frustrated, "Oh dear, there is no wheelchair out here," turned around to go back through the doors to retrieve one.
"Actually!" I said, holding up my hand. "I'd much rather walk if that's okay... I am leaking quite a bit and if I sat down I'm pretty sure I'd squish all over the place."
"Oh," she said, pausing to think for a minute. "Great. Okay. Follow me." As she led us through the doors she turned over her shoulder and asked, "Are you sure your membranes have ruptured?"
"I'm very sure," I responded feeling the wetness seeping down my pants. "In a few more seconds I fear I'm going to start leaving a trail behind me."
"Alright, then we'll skip the assessment room and just take you straight back to labor and delivery."
An hour later I was propped up in bed contemplating three things: number one, how does every single hospital I've ever been to have the exact same blue print hospital gown? Don't they know there are thousands of fabrics out there? Wouldn't it be rather delightful to be surprised with the color and print of your hospital gown once in a while? Number two, I wonder how common it is that other women leave such giant messes in the bathroom while they're changing into these (remarkably boring) hospital gowns. Because dang, I left a big mess in there. Also, turns out meconium in the fluid makes the mess way grosser. Number three: I do believe that this is the most uncomfortable bed I have ever had the misfortune to meet. My feet are actually dangling uselessly several inches off the edge, which is terribly unfortunate because the tilt of the bed seems to have me sliding, ever so slowly, right off the end of it. And it sure would be nice to use those feet to slide me back up... was this built for a toddler?
But no matter. It's amazing how something as abstract as your mood can change the whole way you perceive things. If I had met any of those three things in my morning grumpy mood, they would be frustrating, but now that I was in a good mood, the whole situation was rather funny. As was the situation with my nurse.
"What do you think of your nurse?" Brian asked when we finally had a minute to ourselves, and I confessed my true feelings, "Sheeeeee's kind of nuts!"
"I'm glad your vein didn't burst!" he laughed. "Were you worried about it?"
"Um, YES!" I said, and we both laughed thinking back to the moments before the needle pierced my skin.
"Okay," the nurse had said as she positioned the needle over my vein, "Oh wow, that's a giant vein. Good! I like giant veins! Usually... though... sometimes those are easier to burst. Okay, whew, I've gotta calm my muscles down a bit." At this, she shook her hands by her side for a second. "My husband and I always watch UFC fights on TV, we just love it and we've always done it, and tonight there was a big match - that's why I was late and the other nurse checked you in - so because I was coming in to work afterwards I didn't have any beer, but I had, like, four Red Bulls so my muscles are so jumpy! Okay, let's hope I don't burst this vein..."
And with that measure of confidence she had lowered her head to start the IV.
Thankfully my vein had cooperated, so it was easy for Brian and I to laugh about it after she was gone.
The doctor wanted to start pitocin since I wasn't having regular contractions, but I asked to wait for a while to see if things started on their own. "I'm not in any hurry," he said, "so if you're not either I say that's just fine." I wasn't either.
My body knew exactly what to do, and by 1:30 in the morning the contractions were hard enough that I had to remind myself to breathe and frequent enough that I was ready for the epidural. Which was a giant relief and took the edge off of the pain. I rested for a little while after that (as much as I could in that ridiculous toddler-sized bed), and Brian fell fast asleep until about 3:05 am when things changed instantly. The extreme pressure paralyzed me and I knew it was time. I was on my left side and the nurses call button seemed miles away behind my shoulder.
"Bri?" I whispered to wake him gently. Nothing. "Brian?" I whispered a little louder. Still nothing. The pressure was so intense that it seemed that the baby was pushing and shoving and elbowing her way out right that very moment. "Hey! BRIAN!" He jolted awake and looked over in my direction. "It's time... I need you to come push the call button." He blinked a few times and rubbed his eyes slowly and blinked again trying to clear away the daze. "Bri! I need you NOW!"
"Right!" he jumped up from the couch and started stumbling around in unproductive circles, still half awake, knowing he was looking for something but not sure what it was. "The CALL button!" I reminded him. "It's on the bed right next to my shoulder... I can't move, and I can't reach it... I need you to push it!" By the time he got to the button, he had regained his full consciousness and soon the whole room was buzzing with activity and life.
"Here comes another one..." I said as the pressure started to mount. I wasn't sure if the doctor was ready, but I was, and felt to inform him of that fact.
"Yes, would you like to push?" the doctor asked, finishing up his preparations.
I didn't answer verbally, but the green light from him was enough and four pushes later, at 3:09am our little lady arrived - screaming and healthy.
I hope to never forget what it feels like to have the weight of my own baby placed on my stomach just a second after birth. It's an incredible feeling really - for months her weight was part of my own and in that one beautiful moment it became all her own, separate from me, lying on top of me, subject to the gravity that pulled her body in softly for that first real hug. It's so beautiful. And the warmth of that moment... the warmth of her soft, new skin filled me almost as completely as the warmth that originated from my heart.
The cord was wrapped all around her, tangled in her limbs and grasped in her little fist. We unwove and unwound before Brian cut the cord, and just like that, she was entirely separate from me. But even as the physical bonds became a thing of the past, the emotional bonds grabbed hold of us and soared forever into the future.
The nurses wiped her off and put a hat on her head without even taking her from me, and I stared at her little face. "Brian!" I said, so full of emotion, "Look at her! She is so, so beautiful." Indeed, she was. Her big, dark eyes were open and alert as she tried to make sense of her new surroundings, and her head was covered in beautiful, dark hair. Her cheeks were so soft and smooth, and her nose turned slightly upwards in a dainty softness. Her fingers were long and straight and her fingernail beds were tiny and perfect. Her lips formed a perfect pout and her little ears lay straight back on her head. She was beautiful.
"Oh, Linds," Brian said as he peered over the top of her head to get a better look, "she is so cute." Cute, beautiful, perfect, we couldn't stop saying over and over just how lovely she was. "Look how sweet she is." "Her face is just so beautiful." "Oh, she is so cute..." "Look how beautiful her eyes are." "She is perfect." I kept expecting the nurses to come along and take her to the nursery to bathe her and check her and do whatever else they do when they take the new babies away. But they never did. Eventually I asked when they were going to take her and was pleasantly surprised when the answer was, "We're not. She's all yours."
And so we held her and snuggled her and talked to her and fed her for all the quiet, earliest hours of the morning. I didn't think much of sleep because how could I possibly sleep when I had such a beautiful, brand new face to look at? But eventually sleep did come for all three of us with the happiest of feelings in our hearts.
I even forgot how uncomfortable the bed was for a while.