It has been almost 3 months since little Z made her debut earth-side, but it feels like a lifetime ago. (And, for the record, I have been writing this post for more than 3 weeks, so that bodes well for the future.) Partly because I have never taken this long of a break from blogging in all the 11(!) years I’ve been tapping away, and partly because kid number 5 has utterly transformed our family – and my motherhood – from “yeah, I guess we do have our hands full but it’s pretty manageable” to “why is my coffee so cold?/I’m in a Jim Gaffigan level of aquatic distress here.”
Don’t get me wrong, she is a good, good baby. (I’d tell you how well she’s sleeping but I don’t want to inflict pain on parents of typical newborns who might be reading this.) But we’ve finally scaled beyond what I can handle under my own power, and I am at last fully dependent upon God’s grace to survive the day by day.
And on the days I don’t tap into that? Hoo boy.
So I’m learning to be more flexible, more resigned to bouts of insanity, and more desperately reliant on regular prayer – not just in-the-moment Hail Marys – including morning Scripture reading and a daily rosary (that nice little 4 am feeding session ensures that I finish any lingering decades). And even though I know how desperately I need prayer in order to function, I’m a miserably slow study and I keep trying to forge ahead under my own unimpressive power. Then something stops me in my tracks and flings the spiritual complacency back into my face like a rejected vegetable side dish, and I am made concretely aware, once again, that I am borderline incompetent apart from God’s grace.
One recent morning, for example, my darling 4 year-old threw a tantrum that, as I relayed to my siblings via our group chat, was of “Youtube viral video proportions.” In a Starbucks packed with no fewer than 5 dozen spandex legging-clad high schoolers, she flopped off her barstool, flung a bag of million-dollar organic potato chips on the floor and screamed all the screams that her tiny body was capable of producing because, I guess, someone touched her? Took a salt and vinegar chip without asking? I’m actually still not sure.
I blinked at her in mild annoyance and then proceeded to pack up the other 3 kids (biggest brother was at school) and schlepped our complaining procession out the door, Evie flopping like a wounded tuna on the floor as I gently tugged her along by one arm, which is thankfully still connected at the shoulder socket. Any of the horrified high schoolers who had been on the fence about eventual parenthood will hopefully make good choices and avoid the activity that oftentimes results in parenthood for a good while longer after witnessing our parade of chaos. For some of our adolescent observers, however, I fear the fracas may have pushed them firmly into Camp Dog-Mom, and for that I am truly sorry.
But where was I? Oh yes, the birth story. The longest lapse between “hello, baby” and “here you go, internet” that I’ve ever allowed. Mea culpa. But as you see from the above material, it was unavoidable.
(The fact that I’m almost 500 words into this bad boy tells me two things: first, I have lost neither the ability nor the desire (yay!) to write. Second, this will be at least a two-part saga, so consider yourself warned.)
Zelie’s pregnancy was pretty great. I was sick in the first trimester but only in a vague all-day-motion-sickness sort of way, not actually barfing. Which is great but also probably resulted in my all-time weight gain record (we’ll get to that later on). I stayed pretty active until Thanksgiving and then I think I just sort of gave up on life/ever being not pregnant again. She wasn’t due until New Year’s Eve, by the way, so that’s kind of a long slog of apathy and poor milkshake choices. We had a family wedding, 2 birthdays and Christmas to get through at the end of December, so I had been hoping to go either really early (like my oldest, a 37-weeker) or else maybe on Christmas night, once all the festivities had passed. Once the wedding was safely in the rearview the weekend before Christmas (and having unsuccessfully coaxed her out on the dance floor) I was even resigned to a Christmas baby, and in fact, had to depart from our family’s Christmas Eve festivities post-haste because I was contracting every 6 minutes and an hour from the hospital.
Alas, it was the stomach flu. A horrifying strain that ripped through every adult in our extended family during the week between Christmas and New Year’s (but spared the children, oddly and mercifully). As I was barfing and timing contractions (now 4 minutes apart) late into the night on what was now Christmas morning, I began to doubt that I was going to survive this labor. I’ll spare you greater detail, but it was a rough ride, and the contractions that just would not organize into any kind of pattern turned out to be the result of dehydration. My father-in-law and sister-in-law graciously stayed the night on Christmas Eve and got up with the kids to open stockings while mommy and daddy clung to life upstairs. By about 11 am we were able to open presents and the contractions were gone. Womp womp.
The next 3 days were rough. Really hard emotionally and physically. I almost went into the hospital just to get a bag of fluids but decided (with my doctor’s approval) to drink my weight in vitamin water and get my fluids the old fashioned way. I was exhausted by the prospect of a pre-delivery hospital visit and I didn’t want to be induced, so home we stayed. I was big, I was dehydrated, I was sore from days of constant contractions, and I was mentally exhausted from life itself. On December 28th my little sister came over with chocolate shakes from Chic-fil-a (I swear, I have no idea how I gained as much weight as I did) and we tried to watch a terrible Hallmark movie. I had to keep pausing it to reposition myself because I was so uncomfortable (foreshadowing) and eventually she raised her eyebrows and asked “should I go home and pack a bag?”
I agreed that it probably would be wise, and she ran squealing out into the dark winter night. It was around 8pm, and I lumbered upstairs to add a few finishing touches to ye olde hospital bag (which I barely touched during our 30 hour stay) and attempted to get some sleep. At around 11pm I conceded to Dave that this was probably (at last) real labor, and that I wanted to take a shower before we headed out. Into the shower I jumped and apparently into action he sprang, because when I waddled back into our room 15 minutes later in my towel turban there he stood, fully dressed to the shoes, and holding our suitcase at the ready.
Ladies, the man is a professional labor companion at this stage in the game.
I, however, was not quite ready to actually go to the hospital, so I wept and begged that we try to sleep just a little longer. After about 20 minutes I finally allowed myself to be herded into the car, and this is where the real fun began. We’d driven about 5 minutes down the road when I frantically grasped Dave’s arm and barked to him “turn around!”
“What’s wrong?” he asked with some alarm, thinking we’d forgotten some essential item.
“They’re going to send me hooooooooome,” I wailed melodramatically, traumatized to envision myself as the shamefaced grandmultipara sent packing by L&D on a cold December night because she (snicker) didn’t know what real labor felt like.
So my sweet husband, bless his heart, he turned that car around and we trudged back up the driveway and onto the front porch. My sister threw the door open with some alarm as it was now going on midnight and she heard us bumping in the night, and out from between her legs shot our naughty, non-negotiably-indoor-at-night cat. I uttered a few choice words not suitable for general audiences and sprang off the porch in hot pursuit, cursing a blue streak that not only were the kids going to wake up to mommy and daddy gone (sob. But y so devastating every time?), but also their beloved cat was going to be eaten by the mangy coyotes whose goings-on had been blowing up my NextDoor feed as of late.
That cat was coming back inside, if all one billion contracting pounds of this angry pregnant woman had anything to do about it. Dave tried to coax me back into the house, cold and contracting and frantic as I was, but to no avail. I was beyond reason at this point in the evening (and well into labor, as it would turn out) and he recognized a losing battle when he saw one.
He gently allowed the storm door to swing shut, standing there for the better part of thirty minutes silently observing my late-night gymnastics in the street, watching and laughing (laughing!) as I crouched and tumbled beneath parked cars, darting in and out of our neighbors’ yards and chasing that damn cat from driveway to driveway, beseeching her to surrender herself into my desperate outstretched arms. Oh my gosh, nobody in my family is dramatic.
Tia told me later that she marched right back upstairs and crawled into bed because my bad cat-titude had confirmed for her that I was definitely in labor, and that she’d be safer in the guest room.
Well, she was right. And as soon as the bleeping cat was safely in my arms and in the house I realized that those disorganized contractions were now 3-4 minutes apart and coming on long and strong. Was I the first woman to ever employ a cat doula in the history of the human race? Maybe.
Stay tuned for part two, where my labor transitions from feline to human supervision and we accidentally give our daughter the wrong name for the first 15 minutes of her life.