shortly after midnight, my cell phone rang over on the buffet. i know i was awake, but i still had a momentary feeling that brian was calling from being out late at night. i popped up and sprinted to answer. i suppose i saw my sister's name on the display and i suppose i knew what this meant, but i was still so disconnected from the reality that there was a human being curled up in my niece's womb that i just could not compute.
i answered the phone and waited for her to tell me. for all i know, i might have shouted right over her, "it's the baby? she's having the baby. is she having the baby." but no one was there in the kitchen with me but my adrenaline to verify the account.
my niece had gone out to an evening of taco bell around 6 or 7. several menu items were involved, including something described to me as the Double Decker. a woman came to their table to bless them and then stare at them for thirty minutes.
ashleigh went to bed and believed she was peeing herself around 10:30. she was temporarily embarrassed until she realized her water had broken. like she was in the middle of a blockbuster movie.
i suppose their friend drove them to the hospital, as i believe ashleigh's car was still suffering from an ill-fated starter.
i had fortunately showered that night. the first couple of moments on the phone with my sister, i believed i was about to get on the road to go participate in a birth. A REAL BIRTH. WITH A REAL BABY COMING RIGHT OUT. my first instinct was to begin making peanut butter sandwiches. i hung up with my sister and tiptoed into the bedroom to ask brian to come out. he obliged. i told him about the job duties of the mommy in our family that he would be temporarily usurping, and i realized i didn't need to make a sandwich for violet, as she does not eat lunch at school. it was somewhere in here that i went back into believing there was no baby coming out anywhere. i was not about to drive away into the night. the powers of denial travel a current that is swift.
i finished packing oliver's lunch and i made myself presentable. i packed a bag, grabbed a book i would never read, gathered cds and trail mix and filled a bottle with water. i considered packing a blanket and boy did i wish i had taken that advice. i managed to have the presence of mind to not take my car with the car seats in back, but i spent the second half of the drive worrying i had somehow managed to take the car seats, or something else vital, with me.
i filled up brian's car and was on the road at 1:19am. i traversed a minor wormhole and arrived at medical center hospital around 2:45. i took the long stroll through the skywalk. this is where i realized i had charged and packed batteries, but my camera was missing. i lamented this heavily for days. i still do, really. you know how i am with those cameras.
i was traveling through a part of tyler we used to frequent during my church-going youth, but now rarely have reason to haunt. old, decaying, beautiful. as a result, i had found one hundred amazing things to take photos of in the tyler mid night, before i had even reached the hospital. the red neon southern maid donuts sign. the catholic statuary store in the oddly shaped white building lined with the black wrought iron staircase. the handful of cars traveling under the skywalk. the canister-shaped buildings of medical center, inside one of which my grandma died in 1976. and, eventually, the lone patrons through the eponymously neon-lit window of liang's.
my sister brought her camera, but forgot the memory stick. i don't know if ashleigh even has a camera.
the second i transitioned from the newish skywalk area to the original hospital building, i had a rush of memories from my time candystriping there in middle school. i recognized everything. and i could smell the cafeteria in the elevator car. it smelled exactly the same. i received one of my many, middle school-era compliments on my apparently adroit posture walking through one of those waiting areas. I SHOULD BE A MODEL WITH THAT POSTURE. my smaller stature and 12 year old gawkwardness never minded. one of my jobs was to sit in a closet-like room in an abandoned wing of the sixth floor and play tapes on health issues for people calling in. things like alcoholism, heart disease, and STDs. once, i was asked if i was computerized.
i saw two inches of my mother as the elevator door closed on her on the fourth floor. she was off looking for me and dylan. she came back up.
i went in to see ashleigh. dylan and dusty followed. dusty asked if i was aunt beth and then asked if we had met. which i found odd. the awkwardness i had feared was easily compartmentalized. i am pretty good at that. the three of them talked like people much younger than me and made me glad to own some little piece of 39 year old sophistication, which i rarely notice i possess until i'm in such a situation. otherwise, i think i am 17 in spirit. boy. my spirit is NOT 17. thank god.
i chatted a little with ashleigh and i think they came in to do a girlie check, so we cleared out. she was still only 3-4 cm.
during my 3 or 4 hours hiatus from the room, ashleigh tried really hard to put off medication. i was impressed with her ability to get through the contractions without much fuss. eventually, though, they came for her. and she was given some stadol. she passed out for awhile until it wore off. i think they tried a second, less effective dose, and i imagine that was around the time she asked for an epidural. it was probably mid-morning by then.
most of the rest of us had spent the night sleeping in unfamiliar places. dusty's mom in her car. his friends and sister and dylan on the waiting room couches. i'm not a fan of sleeping in such a manner, like on planes. so i tried to entertain myself by popping apart on of those sliding piece puzzles from oliver's birthday party that i had in my purse. it took considerable time getting the pieces back together. i considered moving on to the easter-themed block puzzle also living in my purse, but i must have been distracted. that's probably when i left with lisa to go to the chik-fil-a drive thru to try and get chicken biscuits for dylan's breakfast. but we were thirty minutes too early and it took ashleigh no time at all to start asking for lisa's return. it was a nice break from the frigid temperatures of the hospital. i was given some kind of woolly outdoor blanket from the back of lisa's car to become friends with once back on the inside.
i didn't leave again until my mother, who had left at some point to go home and shower and pop into work for a bit, returned and we went to starbucks for a latte and an apple fritter for me. we went through the chik-fil-a drive thru a few minutes too late for breakfast and were told the chicken biscuits were shut down. when we got to the window, they asked if we would like a free order of chicken biscuits. interesting business practice there.
back at the old frigidaire of a hospital. everyone was coming and going and waiting and waiting. 3cm. 4cm. 6 cm. it felt like an age had passed. i didn't know what day it was or where i was or what had happened to my life.
i received a mid-morning call from the school reminding me it was a half day and i thought how strange that they now take the time to personally call everyone to remind them. then they mentioned someone had seen oliver's lunch box. oh yes. my powers of compartmentalization had oliver attending both a half day and a full day. brian's powers of letting me deal with all that had allowed him to skip it altogether. oliver was almost homeless for a bit there.
ashleigh's father, jeff, had needed to go into work early. he was the only one in charge and had to find a way to get out of town. he arrived around 10 or 11.
so the epidural. the big moment. ashleigh is a fellow needlephobe. apparently, so is dusty. he got himself an eyeful and nearly passed out. he was kicked soundly back to the waiting room. shortly after, ashleigh spent some time vomiting up her taco bell experience.
she experienced relief for a short time and then it started wearing off. it was one of those complications i had previously told her not to worry about. the nurse gave her a couple of somethings she was calling a bolus and we were calling a bacillus and they just really weren't doing a damn thing. and then it was on. full labor. it felt like two hours. it might have been less. i somehow managed to be in the room at the start of it. she was obviously in a lot of pain. she was beginning to cry with the contractions. it became hand-holding time. i wound up at the end of the bed, rubbing her feet and legs and dousing washcloths in water. she was burning up. it was difficult to watch. dusty took this time to "step out for some caffeine", a process that seemed to take somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 minutes to complete. it was okay, because it gave ashleigh a break from hearing his exclamations about her zero pain tolerance, which she had already proved untrue. and, besides, she belongs to us. she's ours to watch over. i graduated from feet to hands. after his return, he spent 15-20 minutes holding her hand before deciding to go sit on the couch against the windows. i stayed with her the whole time. i wouldn't leave unless expressly told to.
it became quickly apparent to me up there that my hippie deodorant had long since expired. i certainly had not been sweating, and yet i had the aroma of one thousand sickly sweet stinky things. i had tried scrubbing my pits with hospital hand soap and slathering them in zum body lotion. i resorted to apologizing to ashleigh for having the wavy stink lines traveling straight from my pits to her face and she said she was sure she smelled awful and i said, "oh no, honey. that's me." i worried it would make her vomit again.
my sister and i rotated hands and washcloths. her father was inserted into place bedside at some point when my sister needed to step out. i rubbed furiously at her temple and told her it was almost to the top, it was leveling out, she was on the downside, she was okay, she was doing a great job. i was choking back the tears. i wanted to wail, too. she's still a little girl of seven to me. each contraction brought great, encompassing cries. head thrown back, mouth wide open. sobs choking out. i could see a tongue, molars, esophagus. choking and choking out pain. tears kept coming to my eyes. she couldn't notice, she was somewhere far away with the pain. i was glad i was not contributing to a negative energy for her. you're not supposed to cry too much in front of the kids. the contraction would drop off and so would her eyelids. pupils peering out of half-drawn shades, staring at a faraway, imaginary horizon where the pain wouldn't keep coming relentlessly for her.
she was growing a little more weary with each contraction. they were ebbing away at her strength and composure. they were coming ever two to three and a half minutes.
the boluses had run out and the anesthesiologist was called. it felt like a lifetime before he arrived. he was perplexed. he injected concentrated gels into the catheter. he touched her hands and outer thighs with a wet wipe to gauge her level of numbness. she received a tiny bit of relief, but only to the point where she could breathe through the contractions instead of cry. i worried what would happen when she got to the transition and pushing. and tearing and stitching. it finally boiled down to continuing like that or trying to reinserting the epidural. she was so out of it, she couldn't think enough to make a decision. he finally decided to reinsert.
dusty, to his credit got up to hold her hand. and was quickly kicked out again before he could even get over there. he gave her a kiss on the temple and left. lisa and i each manned a hand and joked her through it. [CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?! I WAS WITNESS TO A NEEDLE IN THE BACK.]
she was at that point of the pain that an epidural didn't seem so scary anymore. the worst part was the removal of that back tape. that shit stings. she fucking handled it like a champ. the nurse hoisted her bed up as high as it would go and she sat at dizzying heights like the queen of the room. she didn't wiggle or cry or fret. she just asked if she was moving around too much.
and then, it was working. she went to sleep under a pile of blankets i had mounded around her now freezing body. dusty pulled the couch next to the bed and went to sleep also, holding hands.
the rest of us went and collapsed for a bit here and there in the main corridor. i chatted with dylan about the direction of his young life while staring out the window at the blue sky and wispy clouds. i wondered what it would be like to be out there. i heard good reports about the weather out in one of the garages and that there had been a gorgeous sunrise. i ate a couple of handfuls of nuts and finally though to sip some water. i eventually sat on a low window sill and passed out for five or ten minutes while dylan tried to take my picture without me waking up and giving him the stink eye. that was all the sleep i ever got. ever.
after a couple of hours, it was late afternoon. we were told ashleigh would likely be ready to start pushing around six. my mom and i hustled down to the fountain outside to warm up and get some air. the water churned with a midnight blue hue. it's been dyed blue for as long as i can remember. we discussed wisdom teeth and deep dental cleanings.
i started feeling like we should get back up there. it turned out she had jetted right up to 10cm and was ready to push a good hour earlier than predicted. you know, because you can't predict these things. of course, her OB had decided to play it lazy and assume she would take a long time getting to the actual delivery and so ashleigh was asked to keep from pushing for 20-30 minutes while they waited on his arrival. that is just plain fucked up. can you imagine the torture it would have been if she had not been epiduralized?
nathalie had sneaked back into the room after everyone other than lisa and dusty had already been kicked out and that turned out to be okay because she had a video camera. SHOTS OF THE BABY CROWNING! i was proud that ashleigh ended up asking for the old crotch mirror.
a large group had gathered out in the hall. me, mom, jeff, dylan, missie, missie's boyfriend, nathalie, a cousin, the two friends who had waited through the night, my cousin susan and her husband, and ashleigh's very pregnant friend emily (of the florida 2008 family vacation) and her husband. a mob scene. we waited through the pushing and cleaning and stitching and measuring and parental greetings. we moved with slow viscosity, closer and closer, until we were clawing at the locked maternity ward doors, scratching at the glass for a glimpse into her room, threatening to burst through with the sheer weight of our anxious energy. we were ready for a denouement to our epic vicarious experience.
it had taken ashleigh no time flat to blow that baby straight on out of there. i'm still not sure how this happened, but ashleigh held the baby and lisa held the baby, but dusty never did during that time. lisa whispered to me on at least two occasions how she got to hold the baby before dusty. i weakly admonished her.
maybe dusty missed his chance because he had come out to the waiting area to tear off the end of a package of cigars wrapped in clear and baby blue cellophane. he began distributing them to everyone around me, excepting me. there were whispers, probably from his mother and sister, and then he returned to me and offered me one. FOR MY HUSBAND. there were whispers, probably from his mother and sister, and then he returned to me and offered me one for me. i'm certain the straight-edged skin of jeff began to visibly crawl when he was offered a cigar and called grandpa. never mind the one given to 15 year old dylan with a big brotherly warning to wait a couple of years to light it up. i dropped two cigars into my purse with a crinkle and recommenced with the waiting.
eventually, the first tier of relatives broke from the herd and made for the light at the end of the tunnel. me, mom, jeff, dylan, missie, and nathalie. and then, there he was. bradley robert (last name still not known to me). 7lbs, 4 oz. 21 inches. 5:42pm. feet going on for days. his face that of a baby and that of an old man. he was very calm, as long as you didn't accidentally point his face at the bright overhead lights.
we passed him around and blew cooties in his face. camera shutters snapped. or beeped. whirred and pretended to click.
some more members of the group couldn't stand it any longer and burst forth. we didn't want to overtax the poor dear and so we began to slowly trickle out, unsure of where our lives were headed after this point. no longer adjusted to life on the outside. we would have shielded our eyes from the sun and squinted fiercely, had night not already fallen. it was after 8pm.
jeff and dylan returned to mansfield for dylan's regional trumpet competition the next morning (3rd chair!). my mother disappeared to meet a friend for dinner and i began to know hunger. bottomless, ravenous, all-consuming and never-ending hunger. i dragged myself to liang's (photo op!) and couldn't not return to my parents' cutlery quickly enough. i was dumping chinese take out cartons into a bowl with great abandon. i felt i would be eating for the rest of my life without sating that hunger. i dedicated my fortune to bradley and handed it over to ashleigh the next day and hoped it didn't hit too close to home. something about no more misery.
after consuming every last crumb, i attempted to work. fortunately, i only had five minutes worth because my brain cells had pretty much all gone to sleep. i sat on the phone with brian, making half sentences containing conjunctions that were nothing but extended silence while my mind flew far away. i threatened to fall asleep sitting up.
i passed out on the couch at 9:30 and woke with a start at 11:30. my mom wasn't home and i realized the fact that she hadn't really slept either and had driven far away to likely have a couple of drinks was probably not a good idea. i ran to the garage to look for her car and instead saw her sitting on her bed. and i went back to the couch until 5:30am. i finally moved to bed and woke again at 9:41am. it was my first full night away from violet. my second overnight from oliver. my first time childless in five years. i experienced a cocktail of elation and sadness. i had slept for twelve hours and knew if i didn't get up, i would possibly sleep another twelve. i was horrified to feel my head still buzzing heavily. i tried to figure out if i was confused about time and hadn't really been asleep that long. i worried i would never be able to sleep enough to make up for the deficit. and then, slowly, it dissipated.
guess what, guys. medicaid doesn't pay for circumcisions!