I really didn’t think we were going to make it. Amelie’s due date was June 18, and my mom and I were scheduled to arrive on the 16th which, in hindsight, was cutting it rather close. She started having contractions on the 14th and by the next day I was convinced we’d never get in there in time. I prayed that he’d wait for us but it was pretty clear by then that the baby would arrive before we would.
Somehow, despite multiple airplane delays and three days of threatening labor, my mom and I arrive to California, pea still in the pod. He waited for us after all. We arrived late, and everyone was tired, mostly Amelie. As we all turn in for bed, I tell Amelie and Keegan to wake me up if anything happens during the night. I don’t want to miss a thing. I am weirdly excited getting into bed, the way you are on Christmas Eve as kid. I finally get to witness the miracle of life. Score.
Roughly 5 hours later, still very dark outside, I wake to Keegan whispering in a firm voice at my door. Mary. Mary! I am still half asleep, Wha? I mumble. Her water broke. We’re going to the hospital. Yes!! This is what I had waited for. I knew something would happen tonight! I dressed quickly but hesitate a moment about what to wear. Are jeans appropriate labor attire? In my peripheral I spot Amelie, walking ever so cautiously down the hallway toward the stairs. She’s in a bathrobe, moving like a ghost, groaning in pain. Are you OK? I ask, dumb question probably. Hurry, she says. We need to go. I quickly put her arm over my shoulder and we walk gently in unison, a conjoined ball of sisterhood floating down the stairs. Where’s Keegan? She asks. I assure her he’s coming. I lie, I have no idea where Keegan is, but I assume he didn’t run out on us.
We walk out onto the driveway, the tiniest bit of dawn peaking at the horizon. Amelie is barefoot. I help her into the front seat of Keegan’s man van. I climb in the back but notice there are car seats on both chairs. Obstacle! I wedge my large butt into the bigger one, which doesn’t really work, so I sit perched up on top of it with half of me hanging off the side. Just as she’s about to ask where Keegan is again, we both see him, a spectacle headed our way; Keegan, running out of the garage as the door descends on him, holding a giant blue rubber ball in the air with both hands, as though it’s a trophy. What is THAT? I ask. Amelie tells me it’s some kind of birthing bouncy ball thingy that helped progress her first labor. But I don’t need it this time! she says, but Keegan is already stuffing the large balloon ball in the backseat, trying to wedge it between me and the two carseats. It’s making the rubbery noise that balloon animals make when being configured. I am laughing but only to myself. I don’t know if laughing is appropriate yet. You never know! he says, and gets into the driver seat. As he starts to shift the car into drive, Amelie stops him with a request: OK, I need you to go slow over the bumps and turns and stuff. But seriously go fast because I don’t think we have a lot of time. I hear Keegans signature cackle. OK, he says, hitting the gas, but easing down the curb of the driveway like a champ.
Now we’re driving fast on the California highway and the roads are all ours. Amelie tells Keegan to call the doctor on the way. I am rubbing her back like a boxing coach, but she says it feels good so I stick with it. Keegan talks to a woman on the phone, which then Amelie takes from him. She tells the woman she’s “In full blown labor”– A phrase both her and Keegan will use numerously in the next hour. This also makes me laugh. Please make sure he knows I’m in full blown labor this time. Keegan has been running the red lights, but now we approach one and there’s a state trooper in the lane next to us. Planning to run the light and then continue speeding, Amelie tells Keegan to let the guy know so he doesn’t pursue us. Keegan rolls down his window and the trooper does the same. Keegan: My wife is full blown labor. Cop: OK. Keegan: I’m going to run this light and then speed. Cop: OK. The light turns green and we speed off in the van. Dude couldn’t have cared less.
I notice Amelie is taking really short breaths from the pain. I remind her to slow them down and try to exhale through her nose. It actually works, she begins taking good breaths. I don’t totally know what I’m doing, but I know deep breaths are better than shallow ones. And they say it in all the Hollywood labor flicks. I rub her shoulders and the big blue ball drifts over to my side again, crowding me back there. I laugh to myself again. I know I will remember this car ride forever.
At the hospital we get Amelie into a wheelchair outside and Keegan throws me the keys to go park the van. In the wheelchair Amelie informs the nurse that she’s in full blown labor and instructs the nurse to run. The nurse reminds Amelie that she is going to be OK but that they aren’t going to run. By the time I get the car parked and up to the room, she is being hooked up to IV lines and monitors with all kinds of wires emerging in every direction. There is a surprisingly large number of staff hurrying in and out of the room, performing respective tasks. Amelie has one concern; the epidural. I’m ready for the epidural as soon as possible. Can you make sure they know that? That I’m ready as soon as they are? They are asking her a ton of questions and typing in answers or writing them on a chart. I imagine that she wishes the questions would stop. I’m familiar with this position; being in pain, needing help that only someone else can provide, but first having to answer question after question–none of them seeming more important than the pain. The nurse tells her as soon as she’s checked into the system, she can have the epidural. The Holiest of Holy’s.
I am standing to the right of the bed, watching a machine hooked up to her which monitors the contractions. It looks like a seismograph. It strikes me what an interesting device this is. A qualitative way to witness someone else’s pain, to measure it even. This part sticks with me. I try to talk her through the bad ones. Since I can see them peak and descend on the monitor, I’m able to tell her when the worst part is over. I remind her to breathe deep. There’s not much else to do now besides refill cups of ice, which Keegan and I take turns with. It’s just like the movies. Amelie informs another nurse that she IS ready for that epidural, just so she knows.
Finally, the last of the questions are answered, and the man with the miracle appears in the doorway. He is glowing yellow and angels sing in harmony as he makes his entrance. Amelie perks up. Absurdly afraid of needles normally, she couldn’t wait for this one. It only takes a few minutes, and then the magic starts to work. You can tell because Amelie has color back in her face and relief in her eyes, as though she can suddenly breathe again. Not to mention she’s smiling, and much more chatty.
Now everything slows down. Keegan and I take a nap. I guess numbed up Amelie continued to labor. When I wake up a bit later, my mom has arrived with coffee and food. We eat and re-energize and prepare for the big show. Just a couple hours later, to the nurses surprise, Amelie is eight centimeters and the time has come. This is it! Yeah! The only problem is that the doctor is not here yet. He’s on his way from another hospital, but he is in traffic. Note: California traffic is different than Louisiana traffic. My mom and I sit at the bay window, on the lookout for Doctor James as the nurses quickly turn the room into a saran wrapped tent. There’s another doctor there in case hers doesn’t make it, but Amelie likes sticking to plans. It’s kind of her thing.
The nurse tells us he drives a gun-metal grey sports car. Of course. No sign of him yet, so my mom and I start singing Amazing Grace aloud in a two part harmony. She taught us this years ago– something about the vibrational energy of that song. We have sung it ever since when we’re in a bind, and somehow it always comes through. There we are, Amelie trying to hold off pushing, the nurses preparing the room like busy birds, and two women at the window singing in decent enough harmony, (I may have been a bit flat). By the third verse, a small silver sports car pulls up and a tall doctor rushes out. He’s here!! We all cheer. Amelie looks like she’s about to have a baby.
The doctor can barely get his blazer off and the scrubs on before she’s on her second push. I stand to the side between the doctor and Keegan. I even hold a leg! It all happens really fast. On the third push we can see his head. It is crazy. Amazing. Five pushes later, he is out. He doesn’t cry right away and the silence is paralyzing. I am worried but don’t say a word because neither the doctor or nurses seem concerned. It feels like forever but was probably four seconds. As Amelie gets both hands around him and brings him to her chest, he finally cries out. That weak, pathetic, entry level cry. The cry of alive. As soon as I hear it, I start to cry too. I never used to be emotional like this. But it feels good. Happy tears. He doesn’t even cry long. He gets swaddled and passed around to everyone like a perfect soft package. I watch his parents hold and love him, both grandparents, and then it is my turn. I can almost feel the love he’s been given already radiating from him. I think about his entrance to the world–how every baby should be this lucky. He’s alert, blinking slowly as he takes it all in. How he can already smell so good, I have no idea. I hold him and cannot fathom that any of us were ever this small, this helpless. Why do we ever convince ourselves we are meant to do this alone? Holding him I feel solid relief. Not just that he’s OK, but that the world is OK. In this moment, he embodies the world. Everything will be fine. He’s here. It’s perfect.
Health, Happiness, Happy Birthday James.