Yesterday was my daughter’s 18th birthday.
I need a moment for that to sink in.
I’ve often joked that she was the most planned for and wanted child in the world. For months before her conception, I stopped consuming caffeine, alcohol, red meat, and non-organic fruits and veggies. I read all sorts of articles about how to improve the odds for conception. I even bought my hubby some boxers to help keep the boys cool.
Believe it or not, I got pregnant on the first try. I was thrilled! Hubby was hoping it would take more, um, practice, so he was a little disappointed it happened so quickly.
I didn’t realize I was pregnant at first, though I should’ve figured it out; the eggs were a dead giveaway. Up until then, I hated eggs! Suddenly, I was eating nearly a dozen every few days.
One day, I decided to go buy a pregnancy test. I had a strong feeling and I was right. I was pregnant, but only just. Everyone I told was excited and happy, except my husband.
Was it shock? Uncommonly strong reticence? New England stoicism? What the hell?
Two things finally broke through his steely exterior. First, there was a tiny pair of baby socks that I’d purchased (“the baby’s feet will be tiny enough for these little socks…”). Then it was hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the very first time (through tears, he asked if he could hear it again). Our baby was finally real for him, as it had been for me through all seven weeks of non-stop wall-to-wall morning sickness. I threw up so much for so long, I lost 10 pounds in my first trimester. Oy vey.
Eventually, I got my feet back under me and my appetite back. My belly began to grow and I prepared to welcome the baby who would make us three. We didn’t know if our child would be a girl or a boy. We were just looking forward to being parents.
I was determined to work until the last possible moment, mostly because we needed the money. My body had other plans. The contractions started about two weeks before my due date. They lasted a few hours and then stopped. They felt like the descriptions I’d read of labor contractions and not the “false” Braxton Hicks ones. But before they could settle into any kind of pattern, they were gone…
… for three days.
They came back again the day before a prenatal visit with our midwives. Apparently, they were real contractions, and they were doing their job. My cervix was beginning to open and soften in preparation for the delivery of our little one. But when? It could be at any time, so I was told (not asked, told) to go home and stay home. I could do light housekeeping, but mostly I was to go lie down and sleep as much as I could. I was also told to “date” my husband because these would be our last carefree childless days for the next twenty years or so.
Then there were the “let’s get this labor started” suggestions: evening primrose oil, spicy food, sex (since I felt rather like livestock at that point, it wasn’t as good as it sounds), long walks… and castor oil. I took the castor oil at the suggestion of the midwives and it worked — but only for its originally intended purpose. At the end of the day, I was still pregnant, but with a clean digestive tract.
One night, I cooked up a big dinner, packed it up, and smuggled it into a movie theater where I met my hubby after work. We saw Titanic. I was hoping that all that water rushing around might help get things started. No such luck.
My due date arrived two days later. I had a prenatal visit scheduled. It was a cold, damp day, the kind of cold that creeps into your bones. I awoke feeling enormous and swollen. I wanted to be relieved of my incubation duties. I was sick to death of carrying what had begun to feel less like a baby and more like a bowling ball. I waddled into the office with hubby, announcing that someone needed to get this baby out of me — or give me a knife so I could do it myself. Pregnancy had clearly lost its appeal for me.
The exam showed that I was very close to being ready to deliver. I was given two options: do nothing and have a baby by the end of the weekend (it was Thursday) or take castor oil — again — and have a baby sometime tomorrow evening. Our midwife left the room so we could make a decision.
It was a no-brainer.
Hubby and I left and went our separate ways, he to work and I to the drugstore. I had done this before, so I knew what to buy. I made my purchase and then made my way home on the subway. I dragged my belly up the long hill to our apartment building one last time. I watched tv with our two cats. My favorite shows were The Rosie O’Donnell Show and old reruns of Columbo. I cleaned a few things around the house and made a few phone calls. We had only just moved to this apartment 6 weeks before, so I had things to keep my mind and hands busy. I folded the newly washed baby clothes and packed the last of our things to be ready for a quick trip out the door. I ordered Mexican food for dinner. Gone With The Wind was on tv and I watched it as I ate my spicy dinner and waited for hubby to come home from working late.
I was to take the peppermint emulsified castor oil, mixed with a shot of vodka, the first time I woke up after midnight. It was about 1:30 in the morning. I took it and went back to sleep. All I could do now was wait and see.
I didn’t have to wait long.
I awoke at 5am in labor. The midwife on call advised us to wait until the castor oil… worked. The problem was I threw up soon after I woke up. Not to worry, she said, the cocktail had been in my system long enough. It would work. In the meantime, I was to get into a lukewarm bath and have hubby spoon feed me peppermint tea with honey.
Obediently, we followed the directions. Unfortunately, every time I was hit with a contraction, I hauled my enormous body out of the tub to sit on the toilet. After doing that two or three times, I abandoned the bath.
I clearly remember the hardest contractions, and the relief I felt when they were over. I went to lie down on our bed to rest when I was suddenly hit with the biggest and strongest urge to push I could’ve ever imagined.
I was still at home. This wasn’t good.
We called again. The midwife on call had changed and this one heard my voice while I was mid-push and told us to get to the birthing center. NOW!
I don’t know how he did it, but hubby got me fully dressed in seconds. He strapped on the suitcase and other accessories for our trip and ripped down the $20 bill taped to the back of the front door (I married the most prepared man in the world). I waddled down the hall to the elevator and scared the living shit out of the guy who was already on it when the doors opened.
My water broke before we reached the ground floor.
Through a comedy of errors not to be believed, we finally caught a car. The driver spoke practically no English, but he knew the key word: hospital. We got in the car and off we went.
It was Friday morning. During the morning rush. We got caught in traffic.
We made our way off the highway and onto Riverside Drive. Hubby was relying on the Lamaze training we’d received. It was a simple mantra: you can’t push and blow at the same time. Epic fail. The urge to push was beyond my control. This baby was coming on its own schedule, and that was NOW. Right. Fucking. NOW.
The baby had crowned. The top of its head was out already. I made hubby tell the driver to stop. The hospital was not an option now. We pulled over at the intersection of Riverside Drive and 104th Street.
It was a cold, clear day with temps in the low 20s. The sunshine was brilliant. Halfway around the world, the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics were taking place. Meanwhile, on the west side of Manhattan in the back of a 1997 Lincoln Town Car, a beautiful baby girl was born. She was born quietly, delivered into the waiting hands of her Daddy. He put her on my stomach and she looked right at me, straight into my soul. I was immediately in love.
We were three.
Of course the story doesn’t end there. There were firefighters and paramedics and an ambulance. There was a petrified cab driver who got interviewed by Spanish Language news. Apparently, our daughter’s birth was the talk of Santo Domingo that day…
There was poking and prodding by ER nurses before our midwife came to take us to our room upstairs at the birthing center. There were all sorts of tests and nurses and all kinds of stuff. The years have blurred the details of most of it, but they haven’t blurred the joy I felt when I looked into the face of the most beautiful child I’d ever seen. She was perfect.
Today, 18 years later, I think she still is. She’s not a 21 inch, 8 pound 7 ounce baby anymore. Now she’s 5’11” of badass, ready to take on the world. She is closer to having her own babies someday than she is to being one herself. She is smart and talented beyond her years. It’s hard to believe that I could possibly love her more today than I did the very first time I saw her.
But I do.