Monday, August 11, 2014

From Beethoven to Billie Jean: A Birth Story

Inching closer and closer to her first birthday, I had yet to write out the story of how we met. I hadn't put myself under much pressure or on a timeline to do so, partly because every little detail of her birth is etched so wholly in my mind, but mostly because I haven't quite been able to coax the right words out of my thoughts and on to the page. For nearly 11 months, this story hasn't been ready for writing, and then suddenly, without reason or warning, out it tumbled.

Your story starts long before the day we met you, of course. But for today, we'll begin when I was 32 weeks pregnant, and we learned you were a breech baby—a title you chose to keep despite my every last attempt and plea to convince you to turn. We went to a chiropractor, did inversions at home, and exhausted a number of other home remedies that now I'm almost embarrassed to admit. Turn, baby, turn, we chanted. In a last attempt, we did a version procedure at the hospital, which ended in failure and a few tears of frustration. I joked that you were already a stubborn thing, but also that your mistaken position betrayed an inheritance of your father's sense of direction, something he will deny. In any case, you were turned your own way, right from the start.

Around 37 weeks or so, we were asked to schedule a caesarean a few days before your due date. We were given three days to choose from: September 11, 12, or 13th. The 11th was not a day we wanted, for reasons that you'll someday understand. The 12th ended up being completely booked, but the 13th, a Friday, had a number of times open. My doctor was nice enough to offer to come in that Saturday, the 14th, to deliver you, but given that the 14th of September is my birthday, your dad was adamant we not share it. So Friday the 13th (which he reasoned isn't taboo in Denmark) it was. I went along with it, still stunned at the idea of selecting the day that I had always, in my mind's eye, assumed would be ushered in by contractions or waters breaking, not by hovering over our phone calendars and penciling "Hospital" in to the 6:00 a.m. time slot. It felt strange to schedule the moment at which I would become a mother to you.

The next few weeks flew by and crept along at the same time, but finally the 13th of September was upon us. We greeted it right at midnight, too excited to settle down for a decent bedtime the night before your birthday. After a few lackluster hours of forced sleep, I showered in the dark of early morning, taking in my pregnant body for the last time. Feeling you in, knowing soon you'd be out.

On the short drive to the hospital, we listened to my favorite: the 2nd movement from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. It's beautiful—but not gentle, not soothing, not safe. Its builds and builds, the opposite of what it ought to have taken to calm my nerves, but somehow, strangely, it was exactly what I needed. I know you heard it, because we played it loud, the kind of loud that eliminates the possibility for conversation, just barely leaving room to think.

There are moments in life when you're totally aware, so fully present, and this was one of those. Moved by the music, my awareness heightened by nerves and the poignancy of the moment—the last calm before stepping into bright lights of a sterile operating room, not to mention the years to follow it—I blinked back tears as we shuttled down the empty highway, wondering at the gift we were about to receive, appreciating the opportunity to feel it, but knowing that everything—everything—was about to change.

We parked in the hospital garage and went in through the emergency room, the only entrance open at that early hour. Stepping on to the elevator and riding up to labor and delivery, we passed your daddy's old floor, the one for Patricia Neal, the rehab center he was transferred to after his accident. And it felt right to be back there, in that hospital, to have you. The place where he started to come back to himself, where he learned to walk again, graduating from wheelchair to walker to cane. Where we had your sister's 3rd birthday party in a hospital meeting room. The place from which finally, after almost two months of life interrupted at two different hospitals, we went home and were a family again.

After checking in, being shown to our room, and getting into the hospital gown, I had two things on my agenda: to make sure I had a good nurse put in my IV (they terrify me), and to ask about us all staying together after the caesarean, instead of you going to the nursery while I was stitched up. This felt terribly important, to have you with me at the very beginning. We had put in this request the week before, but I was doubtful that it had made it to the right person ahead of time, so I was surprised when the doctor came in and said it had all been approved, as long as you were healthy and things went according to plan.

After a kind and compassionate nurse made my IV placement far less traumatic than I'd feared, they took me back to the OR at about 7:20. Beverly, the southern, matronly nurse I was assigned for the day, talked me through the process, putting me a little more at ease.

There were some other nurses in the room, milling about and getting things ready, and they all took the time to introduce themselves to me.

"Have you decided on her name?" they asked.

We hadn't; not yet. There were two names we were torn between. Your dad had a clear favorite, but after months of agonizing back and forth, the only thing I felt sure of was putting off the final decision until we met you.

Sitting on the edge of the operating table, I leaned forward as instructed, hugging my arms around Beverly while I was promised only a bee sting to numb me before the spinal block. I was freezing, which made it hard to keep still, but nestling up against her helped with that, and I was too scared and cold to care.

After the spinal was in, they laid me back and soon started the tap, tap, tap around my lower half to check that it was working. I should feel it but not feel it, they said. "Ok," I said, "I feel that, but how do I know if I feel it?" It seemed a very important thing to get right, that making sure that the block was as it should be. After a few pinches that I suppose should have hurt, I was given the all clear.

Your dad was whisked in and seated at my head. Shortly after that, they told us they were starting, and I started to feel some tugs and pulls, the rest of me sometimes moving along somewhat with those, the only indicator of what was happening on the other side of the drape. The radio was on, the pop station in town. They said you were almost out. Billie Jean had just begun. I'll never forget that: Billie Jean is not my lover; she's just a girl who claims that I am the one...not the song I would have picked for your debut, but I at least felt better that we'd gotten the Beethoven in earlier.

Another pull, a big tug, an exclamation from a nurse at all of your hair, and then a cry. I nearly lost my breath.

Followed by a "whoops!" and silence. You had slipped back in, they said, so they pulled you out a second time.

So you were born twice, moments apart, at 7:46 a.m.

A nurse brought you around for a quick peek before cleaning you up. We gaped at your head full of blonde hair atop the prettiest little face. You were announcing yourself with impressively loud cries, so for the second time that morning, we found ourselves in the kind of loud that rendered us speechless.

I don't know how to say it, but it wasn't the you that I had pictured. I'd always assumed dark hair, like me. Like almost my whole extended family. And yet, there you were, a little blonde Scandinavian thing with the most perfect tiny rosebud lips.


She came out of me? I remember thinking. 

"She's Ingrid," your daddy said, one of the two names we had in the running, the one I wasn't so sure about. Was it too different? I had worried whether it was a pretty enough name in English.

And then the nurse brought you back over and placed you in the arms of your beaming, proud father. Looking over at you, the spitting image of your Danish daddy, I realized that you were indeed Ingrid Elizabeth, not the Charlotte Elizabeth I'd been expecting, and I saw that you would have no trouble at all carrying the name I'd been a little afraid of.

"Yes," I laughed, "she's Ingrid, isn't she?"

Now quiet and calm, you stayed in your dad's arms while they finished with me, and they laid you by me in the bed when they took us back to our room. You were nursing by 8:20, and other than needing a few minutes in the warmer, you showed no apparent distress at how significantly your little world had expanded in the preceding hour. I, on the other hand, was in utter disbelief at my reality's sudden explosion to include you; I marveled at how in the span of that early morning I'd gone from worrying over an IV to breastfeeding a baby, from Beethoven to Billie Jean in between. A whirlwind of the very best kind.

And so an hour or so later, when much of the excitement in the room had died down and someone piped up with news of a hurricane brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, I shouldn't have been surprised by what they named that spinning storm.

They called it Ingrid. Of course they did. We threw our heads back and laughed at the odds of Life handing out a coincidence of such proportions. We wondered at the gift we had received.

Keep turning your own way, sweet girl. You are our whirlwind of the best kind. We see you, we feel you—you're our Ingrid. You were, all along. 


10 comments:

  1. this is ACTUALLY the best birth story i've ever read.

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    1. That is truly a compliment of the highest order—thank you! Scheduled c-sections aren't the most exciting (thank goodness!)...but I like to think that what we lacked in blood, sweat, and tears we made up for in the little details.

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  2. Tears - beautifully written!! Love this.

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    1. Thanks, Jill! Love seeing pictures of your sweet boy!

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  3. You are a truly incredible writer. I found your blog on the COFFEE + CRUMBS site and have been reading your stories for about an hour! I had a scheduled c-section with my second baby (those breech babies sure are stubborn!), and you just helped me relive that happy day. Thank you. :)

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    1. Thank you, Meghan! Oh, those breech babies are special, aren't they? :)

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  4. What a lovely way to meet your daughter and choose her name. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

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  6. Beautiful Ingrid.. Loved her hair :)
    I am scheduled for C setion but i was terrified and got anxiety attacks, but after reading your story, am a bit okay now.

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