I wake at six-thirty feeling like crap and roll out of bed because I’m too big to get up like a normal person. My father-in-law wants to strap warning lights around my enormous middle and announces, “Here comes the QE II,” whenever we go to my in-laws for dinner, which is almost every Sunday. My own father snaps a photo of me and says, “You’ll look at yourself in a couple months and feel so good.”
I feel like Moby Dick right now. People think I’m having twins. I’m not. I am now officially three weeks late and four days away from induced labor.
I take a shower and pull on one of my husband’s sweaters and the last maternity outfit I still can wear, a huge black jumper that could double as a tent and shuffle downstairs. I stare at the Christmas tree in the family room. Dan and I spent four days putting it together. I broke a chair trying to climb up to reach an upper branch, but it’s finished now. I’d turn on the lights, but that would require me crawling behind the tree to reach the switch, and I’m not sure I’d be able to get out.
“Hey, you’re up early. You okay?” Dan comes down in a pair of pajama pants, no shirt. He’s never cold.
“Just kind of blah.”
“You think it’s the baby?”
“Maybe I should take a shower just to be sure. Do I have time?”
“Have a blast. Want breakfast?”
He shakes his head.
It snowed last night, and a thin carpet of white coats the ground. Frost makes lacy patterns on the window, and I think it looks so nice and Christmas-like. Just like a postcard. The baby starts to kick. This baby is either going to be a soccer player or a field goal kicker, I believe. Dan thinks this is fantastic; he should be the one carrying the kicker around all day.
I’m about to start a pot of coffee when I feel a tiny squeeze, not exactly a contraction, just a squeeze. I ignore it until I open the coffee can and throw up in the sink. Not a good sign.
He can’t hear me, so I waddle up the steps. He’s just getting out of the shower.
“I think it might be the baby.”
He blinks for a moment, his blue eyes wide. “Oh. Oh shit. Are you packed?”
“Kind of.” I’m not really. I don’t have any clothes that fit, but I go around the room throwing my big nightgown and some underwear in a bag. Heading to the bathroom, I grab a toothbrush and the extra toothpaste tube Dan bought. I throw in some lipstick and a little eyeliner, not that it will do much, but what the hell.
Dan leaves a message on my doctor’s service.
“Jesus Christ, rush hour on Christmas Eve.”
He kisses my head. “Let go.”
We make it out to his car, but once he pulls out of the garage, we realize that not only has it snowed, there is a fine coat of ice on the ground. The wheels spin and the car fishtails slightly until we reach the road. I can see the white outlines of Dan’s knuckles. Traffic is crawling, and we live twenty-five miles from my hospital.
“Why did you have to pick a doctor in the city?”
I shrug. “I like him.”
When a real contraction strikes now, I wish Dan and I paid more attention in those birth classes, instead of clowning around with our friends. The second contraction comes five minutes later.
“What the hell?” Dan looks at me half-crazed. “Those contractions are supposed to be twenty minutes apart.”
“I can’t help it. It’s not a picnic for me either. Oh shit, here comes another.”
He’s trying to weave in and out of traffic, but it’s slow going. Dan is cursing and banging the steering wheel. “Goddamn it! Jesus Christ, move! I’m not delivering this baby!”
“Oh shit! Oh shit! Oh shit!”
“I can’t breathe! It hurts. You breathe!”
“Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.”
“If you know so much, you have this baby. Arrrrrrrrrgh!” I bend over, which is difficult because I don’t bend very far. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”
We finally reach the edge of the city at which point Dan decides to give up on traffic laws altogether. “Hold on,” he says.
With contractions coming three minutes apart I don’t argue.
“Arrrrrgh. It’s coming. It’s coming. I feel it.”
“No, it’s not. Cross your legs! Breathe!”
“You breathe!” I’d hit him, but I’m afraid we’d have an accident.
Just like in the movies, we run every light, cars honking, people jumping out of our way. Because this morning has been a traffic accident bonanza, however, there are no cops. Miraculously, we have avoided hitting anyone, but my heart must sound like a race horse.
Sweat runs in rivulets down Dan’s face. If he grips the wheel any tighter, I think it will break.
We screech around three corners and finally Dan wedges the car into a space in front of the hospital where two cops and the valet approach the car.
She’s in labor!” Dan says. The cops look skeptical at first. Until they open the door.
I can’t get out of the car myself. Dan grabs one arm and a cop takes the other. As soon as i stand, my water breaks. I think, my boots are ruined.
Dan pats my back.
“Jesus Christ, get this girl a wheelchair!” the cop says in semi-panic.
Within moments I find myself in the relative calm of the the Labor room, my enormous belly wrapped with a monitor strap. A resident does a quick pelvic.
“You’re eight centimeters, dilated, Mrs. Gardiner. I’m afraid it’s too late for an epidural,” the resident says. “We’ll wait for your doctor. He’ll be here in five minutes. He’s just finishing with another delivery.”
“I want drugs!” I’m crying now, and Dan tries to put his arms around me.
“You can hit me,” he says. I take the opportunity to land a good one in his stomach.
“Maybe we can get her a little something to take the edge off,” the resident says.
After the shot of whatever, I’m a little calmer, but still in pain. The doctor comes in from time to time to check me. Nurses offer me ice chips and sandwiches to Dan. I don’t know why they offer him sandwiches, but I’m too tired to care. Time stretches out and looses meaning. At some point my doctor comes in to tell me that the baby isn’t moving down and is going into fetal distress. He wants to do an emergency C-Section.
Silently, Dan and I both nod. I want Dan in the OR, I say. It’s not a problem. While they prep me, they send him out. I feel like a big slab of beef. When I say that to the nurse, she laughs, and says, “It’ll be okay, honey.”
The funny thing is after the epidural, I feel no more pain. Dan holds my hand, and they wheel me into the OR. I tell the anesthesiologist that anesthesia makes me sick. He straps a bag to the the pole. “Don’t worry. I have something for you,” he says. “Let me know if you feel sick.”
When I do, he does something, and suddenly I feel all better and kind of floaty. I smile and squeeze Dan’s fingers, though I really want to kiss the anesthesiologist.
“Have they started?” I say, and Dan smiles.
“Baby, you’re opened up like a Sunbeam Alpine with it’s engine being rebuilt.”
Dan likes classic cars. I guess it’s better than comparing me to a gutted fish.
“You have a little girl,” my doctor says. “Congratulations.” He looks around. “What time is it?”
A nurse double checks. “It’s exactly two seconds after midnight. You have the first Christmas baby in the hospital, honey. Now there’s a real present.”
When they wheel me out, the anesthesiologist attaches another bag to my IV. “This should take care of everything,” he says. He’s really cute. Tall, dark, and handsome, and he has good drugs.
“I love you,” I say.
He laughs. “That what all the women say.” He’s gone, probably off to break another heart.
Dan appears with the nurse and our baby who lies in an incubator. We decide right then to call her Caroline, which is kind of Christmasy, but not. Dan says being born on Christmas kind of sucks. Just the same, baby Caroline is an excellent Christmas present, and she does have beautiful blue-green eyes that sparkle under the long black lashes she inherited from her Dad.
Just as I’m finally falling asleep at three-thirty I hear a baby wailing. The nurse comes in to take my vitals, and I say, “Oh, boy, do you have a wailer.”
She gives me a look that’s somewhere between amusement and pity. “Honey, that one’s yours, and she’s mighty hungry. I was just about to bring her in. Merry Christmas.”