The night before your birth day, you were too excited to sleep. I could feel you pulling and bouncing and spinning in my gargantuan belly the way I image you’ll pounce on our bed someday, wake me from a REM cycle and whisper things like, “Mom, I’m turning five tomorrow!” or “Do you know it’s three days until Hanukkah?” And in the same way as it’ll be an exercise in futility to ignore you or expect that you’ll go back to bed, and in the same way as I might (probably) acquiesce and let you sneak away to the kitchen to sample the icing on your special-order, fifth birthday cupcakes, the night before you were born, I cried uncle and schlepped downstairs to the couch where I lay, uncomfy, equally excited and fractionally terrified for the way it felt like you might tear through my belly button like a regular jill-in-the-box. I knew it: You were ready. Me too.
So the next morning, your father and I kept a regularly scheduled ultrasound to assess whether induction was really truly necessary. (I was exactly 40 weeks pregnant, with pre-existing diabetes and a blood clotting factor that put everyone – not least of which malpractice-weary physicians – on edge.) That’s when an otherwise conservative maternal-fetal medicine specialist informed us that an induction would maybe be a waste of time; you were measuring in at something like ten pounds. Macrosomic. I’d be wise to scrap my birth plan immediately and consider a C-section. I’d consider it, I said. And that’s when he told me he’d call upstairs to schedule the surgery. For that same afternoon.
This wasn’t how I envisioned it. I envisioned a quiet, dimly-lit labor suite, easing my pain in a birthing tub, Hypnobreathing our kid into existence, dad cutting the umbilical cord, putting baby to breast while she was still all slimy with vernix. A spinal block and a crowded operating room not so much.
If you want to make G-d laugh, tell Him about your plans. I did that once. In 2009. I said, “Dear G-d: You know that Costco-sized box of condoms we keep in the nightstand? It’s empty. It’s empty on purpose. So please, as it would be convenient for me, make it so the baby arrives before winter.” And G-d did. Just three years and IVF later. I should have known better. And maybe I did. I had packed an overnight bag.
So we went through the paces: forking over insurance cards and health care proxies and talking with nurses and doctors about what to expect which, truth be told, they couldn’t say. (Malpractice-weary.) Just this: The surgery was scheduled for 1:30pm. It would be over quickly. I might maybe be able to hold you in those first minutes but probably not. (If you were mostly healthy, Dad could.) And whether you were put to breast immediately would depend on whether your blood sugar was affected by the synthetic insulin in my system.
Plus, oh yeah, a brief stint on an electronic fetal monitor revealed I had managed, with your help, to go into labor spontaneously. Contractions were coming at four minutes apart. You agreed with our docs: It was an excellent day to be born.
So Dad and I slipped into hospital fatigues to match our doctor’s: a guy old enough to be your great-grandfather, by the way, with 4500 babies worth of experience to make us feel comfortable he probably had enough practice to get it right. Dad sat at my head. The nurse assigned to me stood nearby, holding up your first picture so I could see it and not be so scared this same old man might shake or die mid-incision. And because this was it. You were it.
I said what I guess was a prayer – not to G-d so much as to “Zoe,” your blastosib, the other embryo in that fertility clinic photo…the almost-baby whose only purpose was to live for a few days, trip an early pregnancy test early and make it so we didn’t have to tell our parents we were infertile sans any hope of resolution. (Instead we told them we were infertile and pregnant. Maybe, baby, with twins.) I told Zoe I was sorry she’d never have a birth day, and I asked her memory to make yours super special, to give you the wherewithal to see meaning in upset and to make you ever grateful, strong and fierce. I asked her to make me the same.
I can’t say exactly what happened on the other side of that blue curtain, but I have a good idea. I could, after all, feel so much tugging and pulling and stretching. I heard the clanking of metal, sucking sounds like a dentist’s office, a surgeon’s commentary: C-section indicated for macrosomic baby measuring 10lbs., 1oz. at last ultrasound…quite a lot of fluid there…suc-tion!…2 centimeters…lots of hair…looks like a big one, folks! And then: Dad, get your camera ready. You’re about to have a baby!
I held my breath.
At 2:17pm on June 22, that surgeon old enough to be your great-grandfather, with 4500 babies worth of experience and enough practice to get it right, held you atop that blue curtain: nothing, and absolutely everything, like what I imagined. 9lbs., 15oz., 20 inches long. A mop of black hair. Mischievous, midnight blue eyes. Chipmunk cheeks. The most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
From what I can tell, parenthood is like that, too. It’s nothing and absolutely everything like what I imagined: bedtime stories and sleepless nights and lullabies and diaper explosions and first baths and food allergies. It’s also really beautiful: That time we had to forego fireworks at the Esplanade on your first Independence Day because you were too little. I was sad because it’s my most-favorite, wait-all-year-for-it holiday, and I wanted so badly to share it with you. So we determined to break our no-TV for babies rule and watch those fireworks telecast on CBS. Of course, Dad fell asleep and so did you, and I was postpartum-devastated. And then, just as those first red, white and blue pops of light lit up the screen to a backdrop of Colbie Caillat’s “Brighter Than the Sun,” – the soundtrack to this new mom’s life – you woke up, quiet and bright-eyed, held fast to my finger and watched with me.
I swear you hit me like a vision. I wasn’t expecting, but who am I to tell fate where it’s supposed to go? Don’t you blink you might miss it… It isn’t every day you get the chance to say: Oh, this is how it starts, lightning strikes the heart, goes off like a gun: brighter than the sun.
Welcome, kid. I love being your mom.