“She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows.”
~ The Rolling Stones, “Ruby Tuesday”
My little sister had a heckuva pregnancy. Pretty similar to my last one with the vomiting and the lethargy, but with (what seemed to be) a massive amount of additional hormones! There were times she felt alone. There were times she felt like a first-time mom-to-be who was pissed that her body was falling apart and her husband “could never understand.” There were times she felt confused, afraid, abandoned, inadequate or unsure. And I always got a phone call at these times, and with every one, I hung up and prayed that the day would come quickly so she could experience all the new wonderful times and have all these old questionable times fade into the distance. That day came…six days past due date. Not as quickly as I had prayed, but regardless…
The story of my new niece goes like this.
Julie was overdue by four days, so when my phone rang at 11:45 pm on October 14, I had a feeling this was it. She had what I couldn’t tell was fear or excitement in her voice as she told me she was having contractions and Lance was going to take her to the hospital. Months earlier, I was honored to accept their request to be in the delivery room to help welcome baby girl into the world. I was anxious and fearful of the unknown (being that my children failed to exit via va-jay-jay like babies are rumored to do). She told me over the phone that I didn’t have to come to the hospital yet because they had to determine whether her water was broken and there was a possibility she might be sent back home. I doubted it, packed my own bag, threw my hair into a ponytail, put on a sports bra, kissed my husband and sprinted out the door knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway. I arrived at the hospital and made my way to the Family Birth Center, slightly embarrassed to realize I beat them there. I walked around looking for a soda machine to kill time. I felt silly. Finally, I got a call from Julie that they were getting things checked in Triage and that I could come down if I wanted to. My feelings were dithering because I didn’t want to be an imposition during these memorable moments. I wanted Lance to have his time. But I wanted to support. So, I said a big-sister “screw it” and went.
After determining she was there for the duration, the staff moved them to a room in the Birth Center. This would be the room where everything went down – well, everything except the physical birth of the baby, but more on that later.
It was a true test of patience waiting for her to dilate. Around 4 am, my parents arrived (to no surprise). They helped to keep the mood light, telling fun stories and keeping things calm. With every contraction, we held our breaths and hoped for the best. Julie was already so strong (also to no surprise). That first day was a bit of a haze – I know we sat through lot of abnormally-painful contractions and determined she was experiencing the misery that is “back labor.” I remember shopping in the gift shop, purchasing lots of coffee, and getting paninis with my parents in the downstairs cafe for dinner. I recall my husband bringing our kids for a visit and explaining to Coen that he was going to have a new cousin soon. I text messaged lots and lots (and LOTS) of people who were checking in on the status of mom and baby.
One of the moments I recall most fondly from that day was when Julie was nearing push-time and family was waiting in the lounge unsure whether they could continue to visit or not. My Aunt Dawn came in to give a final good-luck hug and broke down in tears. She looked at me and said, “It’s just so wonderful when your babies have babies.” I cannot yet imagine it, but still…I believed her. I’m already so proud of my kids at their young ages. When they grow up and start a family with someone they love unconditionally and you just know they will be raised with an over-abundance of care, kindness and compassion – how can there be a better feeling than that? Thanks, Dawn. You made me teary for the first time during the whole ordeal.
Followed by a close second: Mom was in the room with us, and she knew it was almost go-time, but I could tell she didn’t want to leave. And I didn’t blame her one bit. “OK, I’m going to go now and you’re going to experience all this horrendous pain but there’s nothing I can do about it, so yeah, peace out, kid,” said no mom EVER. Mom had back labor with my brother and told me earlier that day that was her biggest fear for her. When it became a reality, you could just read the fear in her eyes. She kissed Julie good luck and gave me a hug. I held on to mom. And held and held. I don’t know if it’s because I knew she was scared, or if it’s because I was scared, or both. She told me to coach as best I knew how, and I told her I’d take good care of them. It’s rare that I see my mom cry, so I knew she was distressed. Who could blame her? I get frazzled when Mabel’s foot gets caught in her crib rails, and that’s not even in the same pain ballpark as pushing a human out’cho lady parts!
At 11:40 pm on October 15, the nurses told her she could start pushing. Lance and I manned our posts, one on each side of the bed, apprehensive of our roles and scared out of our freaking gourds. In the next three hours, my sister pushed and groaned and cried. She remained positive for much longer than I ever would have, and in moments of pride, would even make jokes (like when the nurse complimented her latest push and she responded in an Elvis voice, “Thank you, thank you very much”). She wailed in a way I’ve never heard a human wail because she thought her back was breaking. We heard all the cliche TV-sitcom phrases including “I can’t do this anymore,” “I need more drugs,” and “Why aren’t they just using the vacuum?!” Every three minutes, I held up a leg and supported her neck and I remember after two hours, no sleep and no food caught up with me at the most inopportune time. I was going to throw up. I grabbed a stool and sat on it between contractions, doing everything I could to draw zero attention to my side of the bed. Lance looked at me from across the bed and mouthed silently, “Are you OK?” I nodded and we were right back to it. No time for rest. No time for distractions. No time for ANYthing but focusing on crossing that finish line.
In this babython, Julie was running hard but losing steam. She had two worried cheerleaders and a coach who kept leaving the room. Seeing the frustration grow in her face, I told the nurse that she needed to stick around and rattle off some sort of mile-markers – give her something to aim for. Being there for someone so close to you makes those moments easier because your similarities give you the answers you need since you’re doing for her exactly what you’d want her to be doing for you. Did that make sense? Basically, you know what they need to hit their end goal. TELL her what’s happening, even if it’s nothing. Is anything progressing? Tell her. Something. Anything. And they did.
They told her that baby girl wasn’t going to come out on her own and she needed a C-section. First person I looked at was Lance. Stone-faced. No expression. White as a ghost. Discouraged. I feel the same way, bro. Nothing is harder to hear. And poor Jules was beyond distraught, sobbing because you’re angry they didn’t say that hours earlier or that you put in so much work. After all your efforts. After being told everything was looking good. After trying SO darn hard. It’s not going to happen that way.
Julie just kept saying she wanted the baby out. I think she felt some relief amidst all the anguish. Lance and I got our scrubs on so we could join her in the operating room. I sat down on the long bench in the room and put my head between my legs, staring at the floor. That’s when it happened – I cried. And I cried and cried and cried and cried. It was a helpless cry that stemmed from the past 30 hours, watching one of the people I love most in the world go through hell and high water to see what she’s been anticipating for nine long months. I knew the baby was going to come out safely – I wasn’t afraid. I was exhausted. And disappointed. And hungry. And tired. And caught myself wondering if there was anything I could’ve done that would’ve made the whole process easier for her. Julie snapped me out of it when she screamed in my direction, “Nic, are you low?” Leave it to her to be concerned about my well-being when hers was still in turmoil. I snapped back, “No, I’m not low. I’m just catching up on my emotions.” Nice to know sisters can still bicker even at that stage in the game.
Lance sent me out to report to the family. I didn’t know if the timing was right since I was still gasping like a hyena on oxygen. I pushed open the doors and saw both moms waiting in the entryway, staring at me with blank zombie-like eyes. “After all that…,” I raged…”After all that, three hours of pushing and back labor, they’re telling her she has to have a (curse word curse word) C-section!” I caught Lance’s brother’s eyes welling ever so slightly. This is a guy who could easily be mistaken for an NFL linebacker, and to see him emotional was just the justification I needed to realize I wasn’t completely out of line here. I told them we’d be back with a baby and off I went.
Scene: The Operating Room. I stood back a few steps to let Lance hold her hand and talk to her through the oxygen mask. Long story short, they tried two doses of numbing medication to no avail. The second time she shouted, “I can STILL FEEL THAT!” I lost it (again) right there under the bright surgery lights. I sputtered loudly, “What the HELL?” Sensing my tension (or maybe she did it as a preventative measure fearing I was going to beat up the anesthesiologist?), a nurse came over and gave me a frail, tender hug. I know I asked her why Julie had to be in so much pain and when it was going to end, but I don’t think she gave me an answer (probably also afraid that, by saying “to get a baby out” and “soon,” would’ve led to more swinging. She may have been right.). After attempt #2, they told us she had to be put completely under to successfully cut her open. And that was that. To the hall we went.
Standing in the hall with Lance was the part I was most hesitant to document in this blog. Not because it was necessarily good or bad, but because it was indescribable. In those moments, I watched a man’s heart ache – crying with his forehead against the wall – because he loves his wife so much that her unbearable pain was his unbearable pain; I saw a man – always so pulled-together and level-headed – completely lose his cool and swear uncontrollably out of sheer frustration and fear. And then, 12 minutes after we were booted from the room, I witnessed a man become a father – his tears of fret transforming into tears of pride in a matter of seconds. We entered the small room lined with scrub nurses and incubators and I stood paralyzed by this little girl’s perfection. Crushing my gigantic camera into my hipbone, Lance embraced me with such a sense of relief I could literally feel it in his arms. To prevent further paralysis, I started snapping photos. The greatest gift my sister gave to me during the birth of Coen was the pictures she captured when Nate first met his son. I wanted to reciprocate. I took photos of her feet, her hands, her chin, her wrinkles. I took photos of her skin – first purple, then red, then perfect. Lance stood back and watched the nurses clean her off, wipe her down, check her inners and outers. I remember Nate telling me he didn’t know if he could touch Coen during this time, so I leaned in and told Lance, “You can touch her if you want.” I took photos of their first connection. In that moment, I was dumbfounded with love, so tremendously honored that I got to be there for it all. There really are no words.
Her name was Ruby. She was born on a Tuesday.
In their lyrics, The Rolling Stones want to know where Ruby Tuesday came from? I got a good glimpse and I know that this child came from love…
…She came from a mother’s dedication and unwillingness to quit.
…She came from a father’s heart, beaming and refilled.
…She came from 24 hours of contractions, three hours of pushing, two loving parents, and one adoring auntie. No, I didn’t help “make” her, it’s true. But, I witnessed the beginning of her life and vowed at that time that I would do anything on God’s green earth to protect her, keep her safe and happy, surround her with cousins, love and laughter.
My little goddaughter. Ruby Marie, born on a Tuesday. You brought a special light into our lives and I look forward to seeing what you’ll do with that light as you grow older. Aim high, be strong, don’t quit, play smart, speak your mind, marry kind, follow your heart, live full. And laugh. Never forget to laugh. I love you, little one.