My nine-day old son (my son!) is asleep in the other room, wrapped up like a little parcel in a blue blanket, wearing the hat with the pom-pom that they gave us in the hospital. His eyes are scrunched up and a tiny wrinkle persists at the top of his nose, and it’s time for me to start telling this story. Every day the story grows with the boy, and if I don’t start soon I’ll have a book’s worth: the same book that every new mother would write, but it’s all new to me.
The weekend before last I was 38 weeks pregnant and my husband, B, was at a conference in Dallas, a mere two-flight hop away and within reach of any emergency phone calls. Of course there wouldn’t be any emergencies and he’d be back on Monday evening to the loving arms of his still-pregnant wife and the orderly home of the pre-baby era. I had a friend and neighbour lined up to be on call just in case anything should happen, and I spent the weekend alternately being efficient and taking it easy. On Saturday I treated myself to my long-awaited end-of-pregnancy pedicure. My little fat feet were so swollen that all the girls in the salon exclaimed over them. The colour I picked for my toenails looked funny on, and the lovely lady did them all over again with a nicer, deeper pink, and said she’d pray for me and my baby. Everyone marvelled at our self-restraint in not finding out the sex of our baby beforehand. Like most of Brownsville, they assessed my all-out-in-front shape and decided it was a boy anyway.
On Sunday morning I hung out on the sofa and re-read a Dick Francis. I admired the pink toenails on my little fat feet and got all domesticated making banana bread. Later I took a quick trip to the supermarket to get the last of the things on the baby list – using various coupons to buy a selection of newborn-size nappies, and some baby bath wash – and bought eggs so I could make that chocolate-chip cookie recipe again. There was a brief moment when I thought perhaps I really was nesting, as I got out the swiffer to do the kitchen and bathroom floors and then took an old toothbrush to the grout at the base of the bath, but really, it was quite gross. I don’t know why it hadn’t bothered me before. Then I decided that, having done so little all day, I should take some exercise in order to sleep well that night, so I went to the pool and did twenty lengths. (They’re very short lengths. Really.) There was a family in the pool – mother, father and a baby who was about a year old, having a great time with a beach ball. As I emerged the mother said in surprise, “Oh, you’re pregnant”, and I basked in the glow of my nice maternity swimming togs. At least I got two swims out of them. And so, some hours later and after a spousal phonecall assuring B that yes, I was still perfectly pregnant, to bed. It’s funny how you never know things are last times until afterwards. In retrospect, it all looks so obvious.
At 2.00 am a “flub” of liquid in my nether regions woke me. I knew what it was straight away – this was no ambiguous trickle – and cursed the gods of irony, or hubris, or whatever it was that had led me to think I’d get away with sending my husband to a conference at T minus two weeks. (T? What does T stand for? B, let’s say.) I jumped up to try to save the mattress, ran to the bathroom and ministered to myself as much as I could, given that it just kept coming. I had already stocked up on jumbo-size pads for after the birth, and while woefully inadequate, it was the best I could do. All hyped up and wishing I hadn’t gone for that swim because I might be needing the wantonly expended energy, I draped a towel over the chair beside the phone, sat down, and rang my midwife, Vivienne.
Vivienne’s phone went to voicemail. I left a message and then had to ring back with another to leave my mobile phone number, which I can never remember. I thought it was a fairly calm and collected message, all things considered. I knew she’d been away for the weekend too, in San Antonio, but was pretty sure she had come back the previous evening. Small mercies. Next to call was the clinic – I was certain they’d tell me to go straight to the hospital, but I had to ring and find out. The person on call said they’d get Dr T to ring me back. Okay. I knew I had plenty of time, really, except for all the messiness emanating from me, so I left the calls at that for the time being.
(This next bit might sound ridiculous, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit to it. I had washed my hair after my swim but not done anything to it, so it was all fluffy and curly and annoying. I looked in the mirror and thought “I’m not having a baby with bad hair; it’ll drive me nuts”, so I plugged in the straightening tongs and straightened my hair while I waited for Dr T to be woken up. I didn’t do a very good job, but on the whole I think it was the right decision. It made me that much more comfortable in the hospital later on, to know that my hair wasn’t as bad as it might have been.)
I hopped around the apartment putting the rest of the things I needed to take into my bag. I showed remarkable presence of mind by sticking the chicken I’d bought for Monday night’s dinner into the freezer so we wouldn’t be under pressure to use it up. The clinic rang back:
“Has Dr T spoken to you?”
“Okay, we’ll call him again.”
About five minutes later I heard from the man himself, who said yes, I should go to the hospital. That was that, and Maria – friend, neighbour, husband’s co-worker extraordinaire – was summoned. On the first ring her phone disconnected, and as I re-dialled my mind played over a brief scenario where I called a taxi, or even an ambulance, because (a) I wasn’t sure which apartment number was hers, even though it was a thirty-second walk away, and (b) she wouldn’t hear my knocking from her bedroom anyway – none of the apartments have doorbells. The second time she answered, sounding alert and prepared for anything – especially exactly what I said: “Maria, I’m really sorry to wake you but my waters have broken and I have to go to the hospital.” She was on the doorstep in about a minute.
In the meantime I made my final call. I’d let B sleep as long as I could and it was time to wake him up. I knew that once I did he’d never go back to sleep, out there in an anonymous hotel room in the far-off metropolis of Dallas, but on the other hand, I couldn’t exactly not tell him. He answered his phone sleepily.
“Guess what? My waters have broken.”
He was incredulous, and I was giddy. He said he’d get straight on to finding new flights as early as possible, we exchanged mutual “Oh wow”s, and then Maria was at the door, picking up my bag full of new pyjamas I didn’t get to use, ridiculously tiny white (gender-neutral, of course) baby clothes, sundry massage implements, and a big blue bottle of Gatorade; the “birthing” ball (otherwise known as a plain old rubber exercise ball); and my waterproof-pillow-cased extra pillow.
Later I found out that, as I suspected, Vivienne would probably have told me to stay put and not go to the hospital till morning. She apologised profusely for having switched off her phone, the quicker to charge it when she got back from her weekend away, and said she’d have asked me about the colour of the fluid – to make sure there was no meconium in it – and whether I felt anything in my vagina which could have been a prolapsed umbilical cord, and assuming that was all okay – which it would have been, she would have said to stay at home, try to sleep, have a nice digestible breakfast of oatmeal or cereal, and come in when the daytime nurses had started their shift. However, on the whole and given the absence of spouse, I was happy enough to go in straight away and mess up someone else’s sheets instead of my own.
As we bowled down the empty highway at 2.45 or so, Maria apologised for having cut me off the first time I rang. She’d set the alarm on her phone to wake her at 7.30. When it rang the first time, she sleepily looked at the time, thought “Stupid phone,” and turned it off. Then, deep in the recesses of her mind, something registered that it had been the phone ring not the alarm sound, and that there was, just possibly, one person who might be calling her at this time of the morning. Luckily for me. She regaled me with tales of her daughter’s birth in Ecuador 14 years ago, when she started having labour pains during a bullfight. We were both giggly with excitement and missed sleep, I think, and I was only having the mildest of cramps, every now and then – nothing I would have thought twice about without the incontrovertible sign of the wetness that was even now seeping through my tracksuit bottoms, into the towel I was sitting on, and hopefully not onto Maria’s passenger seat.
We drew up to the Emergency entrance, where I knew I had to go to get into Labour & Delivery after hours, and trailed in, bag, ball, pillow, pregnant tummy, wet trousers, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. I think it was fairly obvious what I was there for, and I looked with pity at the people in the waiting room, who presumably had much less happy reasons for being in hospital in the middle of the night. A nice security guard took us to the L&D admittance window, and phoned the woman who should have been sitting behind the glass. After an age, she showed up and made me fill in yet more forms, despite the fact that I’d already pre-registered and had my little pink card with me to prove it. Eventually she said “Follow me through the doors”, and I hugged Maria and thanked her profusely and told her to go home and get some sleep. There was no point her waiting, as they were obviously going to keep me in now I was in their clutches.
It’s remarkably easy to talk nonsense to a baby, or even to sing nonsense to a baby, even if you were never much of a nonsense-talker before. I just thought I’d mention that. He’s on my lap now, trying to wake up for one of our regular nipple-torture sessions. I changed him and he immediately produced a lovely stream of bubbling dottle (as I like to call it) in the new nappy. I think I’ll take my chances and wait for Daddy to come back and change this one. In the meantime I’ve just put his blanket over the cushion, the easier to be washed if the elasticated sides of the Huggies don’t hold up. We’re undecided as yet in our nappy try-outs, and we still have the packet of Luvs to open. The rest of the story will have to wait for another chapter.
(Names have been changed for Google-proofing purposes.)