Sweetsie turned five on Saturday.
(My children are now ages three, five, seven, and nine. It has a nice ring to it, no? Every time I spout off those numbers, I feel organized and in charge of my existence—which is a very pleasant little illusion to have.)
Actually, she is only one-and-a-quarter years old since she was born on Leap Year, something Yo-Yo and Miss Becca Boo love to point out to her; however, she doesn’t handle the age reduction too well, so we’ve made that topic taboo. I imagine that her future holds all sorts of dumb jokes revolving around the date of her birth: she’ll be the youngest in her graduating class, her husband will be accused of robbing the cradle, her children will delight in being older than she is, and so on.
Her birthday was a much anticipated event, as in she has been talking about it since last spring, and for the last couple weeks we have been counting down the days according to how many “sleeps” were left. The special day was filled with Lucky Charms and spaghetti with meatballs, a playmate, much impatient waiting for the after-dinner gifts, and then lots of shrieking and hand-clapping over the rings and bracelets and necklaces, socks and dresses, two soft seal/dolphin puppets (that she wears as mittens), and a portable tape player.
At suppertime I put a table cloth on the table, lit candles, and filled wine glasses with ice water. We had four courses: salad, pasta, dessert #1 (cake), and dessert # 2 (cones). As we ate, I recounted the tale of her birth. She giggled and smiled, bashfully proud and pleased as punch to be the star.
What follows are some excerpts from her birth story.
I was nearly two weeks overdue. February was soon over, and I did not want a March baby—this was supposed to be a middle- or end-of-February baby. My girlfriend Dee Dee, a labor and delivery nurse, would be leaving for Hawaii on March third and I had very much wanted her to be present at the birth. And the midwives were threatening to induce me and I did not want to be induced.
The baby dropped at thirty-five weeks. At thirty-eight weeks I started having bouts of false labor. I was sick and tired of laboring for several hours at a time some night, losing sleep, having my emotions rise with excitement and then plummet. It felt like everything was happening—cramps, contractions, tons of pressure—and yet nothing happened.
So early Sunday morning on February 29, Mr. Handsome ran to Wal-mart and bought a bottle of castor oil and a case of root beer. At 7:30 that morning I whirled a half cup of root beer and a quarter cup of castor oil together in the blender and chugged it—bleh! Then I laid in bed, read (Love in the Time of Cholera—ha!), and got lots of exercise running to the bathroom.
At two o’clock that afternoon when I was laying in bed with my hand on my lower belly, I felt a loud snap, like the baby had snagged some elastic or broken an arm. It sounded like someone was cracking their knuckles, and I could actually feel the snap with my hand. I lay still for a couple seconds. Was the baby okay? Had I hurt it by drinking castor oil? Then it dawned on me: maybe my water just broke. I eased myself off the bed and as soon as I stood up, water (all clear!) gushed. The water didn’t stop coming and every time I shifted position there was a fresh gush of hot fluid. I finally got tired of sitting on the toilet, so I tucked a hand towel between my legs, put on some undies to hold it in place, and went about packing and cleaning up. I was shaking, teeth chattering, more out of nervousness than anything else.
Within ten minutes of my water breaking, I started having contractions. We called people. Katie came first, then Ann and Sara, and Anna and Rachel. Ann gave me a hug and I cried, fear overwhelming. I rushed around giving orders and then perching on the kitchen stool or leaning against the counter when a contraction came. The girls (nursing majors) took turns putting their hands on my belly to feel the contractions, which were coming two minutes apart. When I was alone I would drop on all fours and rock. The pain was manageable, but also quite real.
Three hours later: In the hospital and time to push.
I bore down with the first pushing contraction, and the head crowned. I bellowed. Breathe, push a little, breathe, push a little … burning, but not as bad as I feared … and then the head was out. I looked down—there was a wrinkled, blue thing sticking out of me. The midwife said something about it being a big baby.
Then things went faster. They told me to push. I couldn’t feel my contractions; I couldn’t hear my body. But they were in my face, demanding that I push. I said I couldn’t. Yes, you can, they said. Push NOW! HARD! I yelled; they yelled. As the shoulders came free, I felt a pop (Mr. Handsome said he heard it), but the baby still didn’t slip out—I had to push for the whole body. It was 5:07 pm.
The midwife immediately handed the baby to me. Someone checked the sex and anounced a girl. Sweetsie!
When Dee Dee began to rub the baby, I noticed, for the first time, that she wasn’t moving or making noise. Somebody commented that she was blue, and more hands joined in the rubbing. I pleasantly inquired, all relaxed and dopey from the relief of pushing out a nine pounder, if she was going to be okay. Nobody answered. She silently flopped about on my tummy as they kneaded and patted her, coaxing her to breathe.
Someone pressed a pair of scissors into Mr. Handsome’s hand, saying, “Dad gets the honors.” They were pulling her off my stomach as he snipped the cord. Within a few seconds of putting her on the table, she began to cry, and after giving her a little oxygen and cleaning her up, the nurse handed her back to me, still naked. The put her right on my belly, but they had already smeared the ointment over her eyes so she couldn’t see me. (Mr. Handsome told me later that as soon as Sweetsie was born, Dee Dee went over and pushed the code blue button and the resuscitation team rushed in to help.)
The first thing I noticed was how fat her lips were—absolutely huge. Her face was all purple; I thought it was just a lingering effect from not breathing, but later I learned it was because of bruising. She had enormous cheeks and I could never tell how much was baby fat and how much was swelling due to bruising. The skin around her eyes was purple and the whites of her eyes, especially the right one, were bright red. The poor girl looked like she had been through a war.
As a result of her birth, I developed a hematoma—that pop we heard as she came out was a blood vessel rupturing in the birth canal. So, a couple hours after a non-medicated labor and delivery, I found myself in surgery, getting neatly put back together. I was disappointed and angry at the turn of events, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the heated socks they slipped on my feet when I entered the operating room. Dee Dee stayed with me for the surgery, later reporting that they doctors and nurses had a jolly time, cracking Mennonite jokes.
The day after her birth, Sweetsie developed pneumonia and was in the sick nursery (ie behind locked doors) for five days. I hung out in the windowless room, nursing her often and long, and crying buckets. And then it was all over and we were home again, home again, jiggity-jig.