Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Finn Michael!

Finny, like a good wine, has only gotten better with age. Tomorrow morning he will be one year old. At this time, on this day, last year we didn’t know him. He was just a belly. Now, he is our baby.
In honor of this very special day, I thought I would share his birthday story. It is not something I could sum up in just a few words, so beware, it will take a while to read. But it is a story worth telling because it is the story of our son.

The Birth of Finn Michael

It is September 29, 2008 and this night, at dinner, David and I are sharing our last meal together as a two-person family. Our last supper as a solo couple. It is nearing the end of September, the school year is underway and all the neighborhood pools are closed because September is expected to be the beginning of a cool weather fall. It never happens like this in Cincinnati though. We often have warm weather well into October and even November some years. The leaves are changing and falling, but summer hangs on. So this September day, it is still warm enough for me to be sweating in a sundress, still warm enough to sit in the park and read a book, still warm enough to grill burgers on the deck. David and I are eating our burgers and chewing our corn on the cob under the bright lights of the kitchen island and we are unusually giddy this night. He makes fun of the haphazard way I chew my corn on the cob as usual and we laugh harder than I’ve laughed in a long time about a Far Side cartoon. Far Side cartoons, although mildly amusing, have never seemed as uproariously funny as they do this night, particularly the ones featuring cows. It all starts with the discussion of the birthday card I bought this day for his dad. There are three cows on it, which in and of itself is a recipe for hilarity, but it is how the cows are interacting with one another that really gets me going. The cows, like us, are grilling out and the entire scene makes me giggle. One of the cows is grilling hamburgers and his two buddies reproach him saying, “You’re sick, Jerry. Sick, sick, sick.” I cannot stop laughing about the absurdity, the irony, the hilarity of cows talking, cows grilling, cows passing judgment on one another.

This reminds me of another cow cartoon I love about cow poetry, so I proceed to try and explain the cartoon to David, but I am already so giddy from Jerry and the burgers that I cannot stop laughing long enough to describe the premise of the cartoon. It is that kind of contagious laughter that David can’t resist and soon we are both beside ourselves. The combination of the laughter and the intensity of the seven pound baby doing a headstand on my bladder heightens my pregnancy incontinence and I start to pee my pants, or dress in this case. As I laugh harder at the idea that I am peeing myself, I pee harder, until I am truly peeing all over the kitchen floor. It is a vicious cycle and because I cannot stop laughing or peeing as they are both the cause of the other, I make a mad dash for the bathroom, but in my great hurry to sit down on the toilet, I don’t take the time to lift my dress. So David, who has followed me to the bathroom, shouts through a mouthful of food, “Jill, you’re peeing on your dress!” And sure enough I am. Sure enough I have soaked my dress with laughter, which of course, makes us laugh even harder.

It is this very laughter, I am quite certain, that brought our Finny into the world. If we had not been discussing cow cartoons, if we had not been so giddily chomping away at our corn on the cob this night, if I had not peed all over my dress, I am sure, he would have at least held off until one of the first few days of October. But we were having too much fun and we woke him up. He wanted to be a part of the joke, a part of our dinner table giggles. It is only a few short hours later when I wet myself once again. This time it is not instigated by cow poetry, this time it is because my son is coming.

It is 12:00 a.m. when I get up to use the bathroom. The window is open and I can see the lights in the valley below. Things are cooling down now and I can feel the breeze of a September night that is about to fill with rain. I sit there once again on the toilet in the dark in the middle of the night. It is how I have spent every night this summer. The more pregnant I became, the more time I spent in the bathroom in the dark. When I return to bed, I lay there wide awake, waiting, waiting, wondering, always wondering when will it be? Will I know it when it happens? What will it feel like? How will it start? And then I feel the drip, the slow drip that could be anything. Could it be? Could be anything. Until it is no longer a drip but a gush. Until the dam brakes and I am not peeing myself, but I am filling the mattress with water.

“David, my water just broke.”
“What? No it didn’t. What? Did it really?”

“Yes, get me a towel.”

And so it begins and I know it is time to get ready to go. But when I reach the bathroom, the water stops and is it supposed to stop? I call the doctor.

“My water broke but it stopped.”

“It stopped? Are you having contractions?”


“Give it a couple hours. If more water comes or contractions begin come in. If not, wait until your appointment.”

My appointment is at 10:40 a.m. the next morning. Wait until my appointment? But my water broke. Wait?! Wait?! Okay, we’ll wait. We’ve waited this long; we’ll wait a big longer. David shaves. We both shower. We are preparing to meet our new family member and we want to look our best. “Should I wear my hair curly or straight?” I ask him. How will I look best through the long hours of labor? Which hairstyle will hold up best through the intense physical experience I am about to have? How can I best attempt to look pretty through such an agonizing experience? Curly. If I straighten it, it will no doubt begin to curl anyway through all the pushing, sweating, and grunting. Besides, I am feeling a little uncomfortable and I want to get some more sleep if I can.

David checks his email. Tells the guys he won’t make it to softball, asks Kerry if she wants our Ryan Adams concert tickets. I put in a load of laundry, pack my bag. David makes a sandwich, gets dressed—jeans, belt, shoes and all.

“Should we pick up some videos on the way?” He wants to know.

“Maybe,” I say. But what video stores are open? “Let’s get some sleep first. It’s not time to go yet.” I say this as I am drying my hair, trimming and filing my nails, feeling a gradual, nudging discomfort across my lower back. Feeling a gradual, nudging pain. “Let’s go back to bed and see if the contractions start.”

We turn out the lights once again and I lay wide awake on a towel. David who can sleep through anything begins to snore—how easily he can fall asleep! When should we go in? Nudging pain across my lower back. Five minutes and thirty seconds. Nudging pain across my lower back. Five minutes and thirty seconds. This goes on for thirty minutes. It is bearable after all and I want to be sure. Shouldn’t get there too soon. Shouldn’t go unless it’s real. Don’t want to be one of those ladies they send home with false labor.

4:30 a.m. “David, we should go now.”

Very suddenly the pain does not seem so gradual; it is no longer so quietly nudging. It is like a wave, a wave which stops me in my tracks. Five minutes and thirty seconds. But could it be that the last one was only three minutes and thirty seconds ago? Couldn’t be. Must’ve timed it wrong. I try to get into the car. Struggle to get into the car—three minutes and thirty seconds. No time for videos. No video stores open at five a.m. anyway.

On the way to the hospital, David calls our parents, tells them we are on our way. I grip the car door, beg for the seat warmer to be turned on; my back is throbbing. By the time we arrive after only a fifteen minute drive, I struggle to walk from the car to the hospital door, struggle to stand in the elevator, struggle to focus on anything but the pain across my back. When we arrive at the nurse’s station, there is paperwork. Name, birthday, insurance. Halfway through writing VanHimbergen, I have to put the pen down and grip the side of the desk. The nurses are unphased. They see this everyday, but how can they be so calm when I can barely stand.
They take us back to triage. The pain is coming quickly now. I cannot lie down on my back as she has asked me to; the pain is too intense across my back. She hooks me up to monitors; she checks my cervix. She tells me I am four centimeters dilated. Did she lie? Did she know then that I was actually much farther along than that? I try to politely ask for the epidural.

“When is the epidural coming? When can we start that?”

“Soon,” she says, “First we have to admit you and we have to take your blood.” So many papers to fill out, to sign. Liability, waivers. She explains them to me, but I don’t know what they mean. All I know is the throbbing across my back. All I know is the sweat around my face. All I know is the grip of David’s palm. It is all coming so quickly. She checks me again—six centimeters. Time to move me to the labor and delivery room. In between contractions we make a break for it. When we get there, I lay on my side gripping the side of the bed, eyes closed, wanting ice, wanting a fan, wanting something to ease the pain, the heat, the sweating, wanting someone to stick my lower back in a tub of cool water or remove it from my body all together. The nurse is sticking an IV in my hand. Doesn’t take. Sticking the IV in my arm. Needles all up my arm and I am still signing forms. In the meantime, I can think of nothing but my back. I am growing impatient. Breathing, just trying to breathe and think about my breath rather than the pain. There is David’s hand to squeeze and music to focus on coming from the ipod, but where is the epidural?

“Soon. It’ll be here soon. We just have to admit you and wait for your blood work to come back.”

She is being purposefully elusive, won’t give me a time. Soon. Any minute now. But can’t she tell? Can’t she tell this thing is coming sooner than soon and no one is moving quickly enough. The only person in the room with any sense of urgency is the baby. “Hand!” I yell to David. All I want is his hand to squeeze. I don’t need any massage or labor techniques we learned in the birth and labor class, don’t want the rice sock, don’t want to stand and lean into him or sit on a birthing ball. I don’t need him to look into my eyes because I can’t even open mine. All I want is his hand to squeeze and some ice chips. Where are the ice chips? And a fan. It’s hot in here. Could someone turn on a fan? Where is the damn epidural? The doctor—where is he? Shouldn’t he be here? Shouldn’t someone act as if I am in labor? Shouldn’t someone act as if I am about to birth a child. Why is no one else feeling the urgency I’m feeling?

7:00 a.m.

“I feel the urge to push.”

“You do? All right, let’s check you again.”

“Well, you’re about nine centimeters. Let’s go ahead and start pushing.”

Start pushing? But where is the doctor and where on God’s green earth is the epidural?!

“There’s no time for the epidural. We’re gonna go ahead without it. You can do it.”

“Oh shit!” I scream and then apologize for swearing. I’m in the most intense pain of my life and still somehow wanting to be polite to this nurse who is a stranger, to this nurse who took her sweet and precious time with the epidural and now there isn’t one. Now the epidural is off the table and I’m on the table and about to experience a pain I cannot imagine.

“Well, when the doctor comes, can he numb the area?” I ask. At least the area, right? If they can’t make the contractions in my back disappear, can’t they at least protect me down there?

“The baby’s head will numb the area.”

The baby’s head? Oh God! Doesn’t she know I want the area to be numb so that I have no sense that there is a baby’s head in the area or even in the neighborhood? Doesn’t she know I just want the baby to appear; I don’t want feel the impact upon arrival? And where is the doctor? A light drops down, the bed changes shape, my feet go up. I can’t open my eyes. I can’t see anything. And now I have to lay on my throbbing back because they want me to push. I am going to have to push. But how? How do I do it? They told us in the classes, but now I am actually going to have to do it. How do I do it? I am in so much pain. I want it to stop. But the baby can’t stay in. I know the baby can’t stay in and yet I don’t want the baby to come out either. The nurse insists the contractions will feel better if I push. She is right, but what about that head? What about the fact that that large head is pushing through my pelvis, is pushing through what I know to be a rather small opening? But what else can I do? I am out of options.
So I push. Pull my legs up and bear down. David holds one leg. “You’re doing great, Jill.” The nurse holds the other. “You can do this. You’ll be fine.” Still no doctor, but I push again.

“You’re doing such a good job, Jill,” David keeps saying, the nurse keeps saying, coaching me, keeping my spirits up, seeing what I could only feel in the other world of pain I was in, seeing that I was beside myself with pain, that I was worried, concerned, sweating and panting.

“Okay, let’s push again.”

7:15 a.m.

Dr. Ortiz arrives. They can see the head.

“Push again, Jill.”

“I can’t do it. This can’t happen. I don’t understand how this is supposed to happen.”

“You can do it, Jill. You can do it. It’ll be fine.”

“Lord, God please help me. Please be with me. Please carry me.” I need something much larger than myself to lift me through this. I need God. Without Him, I do not have the strength alone.

“He’s here, Jill.” David. “He’s here.” It occurs to me in the hazy split seconds of warped time that this all seems to be occurring in, that I can survive death if only God will carry me.
And so I push long and hard and I hold this push so long I feel as if my head might pop right off. But it doesn’t. Instead the baby’s head pops right out. Oh, I feel it finally push through the pelvis, push through that tiny opening that is perhaps not so tiny after all. A relief, but I have to push again. He is still not out.

And then, there he is. I can’t see, can’t open my eyes. But, I can hear him crying, flailing across my chest. I can barely look at him. He and I have just been through quite a difficult journey and neither of us can seem to look at the other. We are panting, crying, shaking as if we have just been washed up onto shore after weathering a terrible storm. We are wet and weeping and just happy to have survived. And so they take him away, take him away to be cleaned off, suctioned, weighed, cared for. David takes pictures; he is my eyes when I cannot see, and I lay there open, wondering why I am still feeling pressure. Why won’t the pressure go away?

The doctor. “You still have to deliver the placenta. You won’t have to push. It’ll come on its own any second now.” And it does. And I have never felt so relieved, so tired in my whole life. I lay there and shake. Everyone around me takes care of my son and I just close my eyes and shake with relief.

It is a few minutes before I hold my son again. It is a few minutes before I can hold him swaddled and bundled and really see him, really understand that he is there breathing before me and that’s when I really cry, that’s when I fully realize what has happened. And it is exactly as they say it will be—worth it.

It’s gotten a lot easier and I’m adjusting now to this new role. I miss the time to write. I miss the time to do things at my pace. But sitting here for the past hour and a half writing this story, our story, I miss more than all of that, the soft backs of his hands, the most kissable spot just under his ear, the tiny head snuggled up beneath my chin, and the tiny body sprawled across my stomach.

Giving birth to Finny is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done and it is certainly the most pain I’ve ever experienced, but what a story I have to tell. All summer I couldn’t wait to know what my birth story would be, what my labor experience would be like. I am not disappointed. Everyone asks me if next time I will have the epidural. I can only guess that once again in that moment of delirious pain, I will be begging for the relief that those drugs promise, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t have that relief this time. I’m glad I have such an exciting page turner to tell. My novel may be muddled and confusing and stunted right now, but God wrote me a nonfiction story I never get tired of telling. I never get sick of delivering the climax with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm and am never disappointed by the reactions on my listeners’ faces. Finny, like fictionalIsaac, truly shot into this world like a rocket and we are all the better for it. There is no more waiting to know the story. The birth story is told and the chapters of his life I will live right along with him. Everyday is something new and even though I still cling to David’s hand, now my eyes are open for it all.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful story Jill although I almost passed out when the birth began and the placenta came out. Haha!