My sweet Eloise,
As we approach your first birthday, I needed to take the time to write down what I remember of what it was like to wait for you, and record the details of the day you finally arrived. Before we know it, you’ll be one, five, eighteen, and that day will be a long ago memory, replaced with new ones of you…
How we hoped and wished and waited for you. I remember the day I found out we were expecting you. I couldn’t bring myself to take a home pregnancy test, so I went to the doctor and had her do it for me. I didn’t tell your dad that I was going. The morning I got the phone call, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone. I just waited for the voicemail, went out into the hall, and listened. “You are pregnant,” the message told me. I ran into the apartment, screaming “Jesse! Jesse! I’m pregnant!” And then I started to cry.
We lost two babies before you came along. The first was quick, and very short-lived. The second, though, was a very hard time for us.
We called him “Charlie Brown,” because, not even knowing if it was really a boy, that’s who he resembled, there on the ultrasound. He slipped away without us knowing, and it wasn’t until weeks later that we learned not to be expecting him, after all.
So off we went to Europe. Three weeks away to enjoy one another, explore, and for me to start to feel whole again. Little did I know that on that flight home from Paris, I was more than whole—you were there with me, tiny and buckled in for the nine months ahead.
There wasn’t a moment from then on that I wasn’t thinking of you, wondering how you were doing in there, waiting for you to get here. Every weird feeling or episode of hiccups (you had those a lot) had me praying, hoping you’d be OK. When, at your 20-week ultrasound scan, the technician gave us the news that something didn’t look right, it felt like the worst news we could get.
But we knew you were strong, and, despite those scary moments spent Googling things I shouldn’t have, I knew, somehow, that you’d be alright. As it turned out, after an MRI and multiple visits to a specialist, your gallbladder just wanted to grow a little quicker than the rest of you. It was weird, they said, but you’d be OK. I’m thankful for those monthly visits to the specialist, because I got to see you more often that way. As we got closer to meeting you, I began to feel excitement for those appointments, rather than the dread I felt at the beginning, because I couldn’t wait to see how you’d been growing in my belly.
According to the technician, you were a huge baby. “Your baby is just big,” she said, making me feel as if I was carrying a twenty-pound child. And that played into the decision we made regarding the day you were born.
It was almost your due date, and you were getting no nearer to coming out and meeting us. According to the doctor, my pelvis is on the small side (I know, I don’t believe it, either), and you, my stubborn one, seemed uninterested in making your way out of your cozy home. Week after week, with no progress, she suggested a c-section might be the way to go.
I felt sad. I wanted to experience every part of bringing you into this world on my own. I wanted that moment when you told us you were ready to come out, our bags packed and waiting by the door, your dad calling a car to bring us to the hospital.
But I wanted you more, and I wanted to know you’d be safe, no matter how it happened. I couldn’t bear the thought of putting you at risk through some sort of emergency situation, so we made the decision: April 6 would be the day you made your big debut, one day before your official due date.
I remember having to take a shower with special soap the night before we went to the hospital, and doing it again the morning of. We grabbed our suitcases, pillows, and your car seat, and hopped into an Uber. I remember looking at your car seat, trying to come to terms with the fact that, on our way back, you’d be in there. It didn’t feel real. Throughout my pregnancy, I was convinced you’d never come.
We were buzzed in to the maternity ward at the hospital, only to be told that our room wasn’t quite ready yet, and could we please have a seat in the waiting room? It felt strange to be there, this big pregnant lady surrounded by pillows and suitcases, while the others in the waiting room—family waiting on a new niece or nephew, or grandchild, maybe, dozed off or played on their phones. I read a book on my Kindle—now, I can’t remember which one—and woman asked your dad to help her figure out how to use the public phone charger, a weird detail that stands out for some reason.
They came to get us maybe twenty minutes later, and settled us into the triage room. I was hooked up to all sorts of machines, monitoring your heart rate and mine (which was probably off the charts, I was so anxious), keeping tabs on our oxygen levels, your movement. The nurse turned to me and said, “did you know you’re having contractions?” I didn’t. They must have been small, but it was a sign that you were getting ready to come out, which was a relief.
I remember nurses and anesthesiologists coming in and out, telling me all sorts of things—probably important information, but it’s all a blur. The doctor hadn’t arrived yet, and I remember worrying that she wouldn’t make it in (she had a dermatologist appointment earlier that morning, and I made up a whole story in my head about her getting bad news about a mole, and calling the whole procedure off).
She made it right in the nick of time, though, and popped her head in to say it was time to start getting ready. She asked, “did you change your hair?” but it was the same bright red pile atop my head that she had come to know over the months as our doctor (I miss that hair, but you keep me far too busy for such maintenance these days).
Your dad was instructed to “suit up,” and came out looking like one of those scary men from E.T. (you’ll know what I’m talking about, someday). If he was nervous, he didn’t show it, making jokes and taking pictures. That’s the greatest thing about your dad: he’s the most reliable source of strength, a human dose of anti-anxiety.
And then it was time.
The weirdest part of the whole thing was actually walking into the operating room. This wasn’t an emergency, and I was in good shape, so there was no wheelchair, no gurney. Just me and my two legs, holding your dad’s hand, heading for that door. They stopped us outside the door, and told your dad he’d have to wait in an adjacent room, where he could observe what was going on. We gave a quick kiss, said “see you soon!” and I began to walk forward when a nurse stopped me and made me put a hairnet on, much to my dismay (no one looks good in a hairnet, though you could probably pull it off).
So, hair fully covered, I was escorted into the OR. I was instructed to sit at the edge of the table, where the anesthesiologist would be inserting my epidural.
The doctor stood right in front of me, hands on my legs. We talked about music—she asked what was on my playlist, as I put my earbuds in (mostly Lana Del Rey, for some reason she brought me comfort)—and talked about HQ, a trivia app that you will likely have no clue about when you’re old enough to care. And just like that, the needle was done. I don’t even remember feeling it.
As I lay back on the table, my arms held out and tied down (quite a strange feeling, to surrender that way), the doctor came over and held my hand, a moment I appreciated so much and will never forget. This is the woman who would be bringing you into this world, and in that moment, I felt cared for. In good hands.
I felt something being done to my belly—cleaning, of some sort—and I said, “when will the numbness kick in?” and they said, “try to move your legs.” I couldn’t. The epidural was doing what it was supposed to.
And then your dad was there, and—ready or not—everything just started.
Our doctor said, “I just did something really mean to you, and you didn’t even feel it!” Which was true, but I had seen it, in the reflection of the bright lights overhead. I tried to look elsewhere after that.
There was a lot of pressure as the doctor used all of her might to push you down and out of my belly. It didn’t hurt, and I remember feeling interested, of all things, as this went on. You were stubborn from the get-go—I think the doctor even had to use a vacuum to ease you down.
It didn’t take longer than 5 minutes, in all, maybe less. But time stood still when I heard your cry, at 2:42 p.m. on April 6, 2018.
I had been waiting to hear that sound for so long, it felt like. And when I finally did, it felt familiar. I was in awe of you, but I also felt this immense comfort. I already knew you.
They cleaned you up and gave you to your dad (he takes pride in being the first to hold you), and he brought you over to me, this red, wet—but still beautiful—little thing, all 7 pounds, 9 ounces of you (you weren’t such a giant baby, after all).
Then things started to hurt.
As the doctor worked to sew me up, a rush of pain traveled up my right shoulder, to my neck, down my arm. It was trapped gas—which sounds kind of silly, really—the most excruciating pain (worse than kidney stones, worse than the contractions I had with my miscarriage). When I began to cry out, the doctor said, “are those tears of joy, or tears of pain?” “Both!” I managed to get out, through gritted teeth. Though we were told something like this was a possible side effect, the doctor admitted she’d never seen anything quite like it before. Lucky me.
But I was lucky, really. You were finally here! No longer the soccer-ball kicks to my belly, the whooshing and whirring of the ultrasound scan. It was you, in the flesh. And it looked as if we had made the right choice on your arrival—your umbilical cord was hooked around your shoulder, which could have been the thing preventing you from moving down (or not, but we’ll never know for sure, and that suits me just fine).
We spent five nights as a new family of three in the hospital. Five glorious nights, where we were looked after by the most wonderful nurses, and we got to know you with no distractions at home. I would just let you sleep beside me and stare at you for what felt like hours. Aside from the hospital food, those were some of the best (and most exhausting) days of my life.
I write these memories now, with you, just turning eleven months old, asleep on my chest. Your head is sweaty and your hair is blonde and growing out, a big change from the dark head of hair you had nearly one year ago. I’m replaying the sequence of events from the past year in my head, amazed at how quickly it’s all gone by. In this past year you have brought our little family such joy, it’s hard to remember a time before you.
Your birth story was just the beginning of our memories together, and over the past year, we’ve made too many to count (and I think I’ve taken your photo at least once every day since). Thank you for choosing us, sweet Eloise. Thank you for making me mama (or, in your case, right now, “dada”), and for making the love of my life a dad (also “dada,” but at least that one makes sense). We love you so, our growing girl.