Today, I’m stepping away from our grief journey to celebrate the life of our sweet Emma Joy. Twenty years ago today she entered the world, a plump bundle of joy with a wisp of blonde hair and a soft cry. She has personified joy from the moment she entered the world, a trait that has only amplified over the last two decades.
It was Easter Eve, and she was already a week past her due date. Ted and I arrived at the hospital around 7:00a. My parents were at our home, taking care of our other daughter and would be joining us, along with my sister, in a couple of hours. I was more than ready to welcome our second daughter into the world, and felt a bit frustrated that she was taking her time joining us. The nursery was ready, with bright pink sponged walls, yellow stripes, and Beatrix Potter accessories. Her name was chosen: Emma, after her paternal great-grandmother; Joy, after her maternal grandmother. And her big sister had been well informed of what it would mean to have a baby sister. Now all we needed was the newest member of our family to join us. Apparently she had other plans.
At 8:00a I was given the proper protocol of medications that would help induce labor, climbed into bed, then began praying that this wouldn’t take too long. With Dot I had asked for an epidural. This time I was hoping to go completely natural. I loved hearing from other mom’s how empowering and beautiful it was to let labor and all its unpleasantness play out naturally. The only thing is that when labor is induced, it compounds the pains. And, by Noon, the pains started coming. I tried the warm bath. I tried the tennis ball. I tried the breathing. But the pain became too much, so at approximately 1p I asked for the epidural. And my attending nurse was happy to oblige.
In fact, the hospital had purchased new, sophisticated and technically awesome epidural contraptions that slowly delivered the numbing medication at whatever level the patient needed, but without over doing it so you could still know when to push but be blissfully numbed in all the right places. Well, that is what they were told. So, I laid on my side, curled up like a ball, held as still as I could, even though the pains were pretty intense, and allowed the insertion of the needle, then catheter. Then I waited for the pain to subside.
True to the nurse’s description, the pain subsided quickly, yet I still could feel pressure. She periodically checked the machine and my progress. After about an hour my legs started to feel numb. Now, it is a known fact that a needle inserted in the spine can cause paralysis. So, my first thought was, oops. She missed. Trying not to panic I called the nurse via another little handy gadget attached to the bed and tried not to cry, or scream. Well, at least if I screamed it would be thought of as labor pains, but I wasn’t supposed to be feeling pain, only pressure. So I chose to panic in silence.
Within seconds the nurse returned. She had a very sweet and sunny disposition, perfect for someone like me who was about to have a panic attack. “How are we doing?” she asked with a bright smile. When I told her I couldn’t feel my legs she looked at me with a blank stare, and the bright smile faded. But she did her best to retain her sunny disposition. “Well let’s take a look, shall we?” she asked, going right to the machine. I could tell that she’d not had a lot of experience with it as she looked over the various buttons. “Let’s just turn this off. It seems that you are sufficiently numbed up.” And with that, the lights on the machine turned off, but my legs were still numb.
I began to feel nervous. If I was completely numb from the waist down, how was I to know when to push? We already have a child with disabilities. If I can’t tell when to push, how would that affect our baby when she is ready to make her entrance, but I don’t know if I am?
Sensing my concern, the nurse checked to see how dilated I was. “Looks like you’re getting there. Not time to call the doctor yet, but close.” Close. What did that mean? Just then I felt a huge pressure, and needed to push. I looked at the nurse and said, “I think I need to push.” “No, dear. You aren’t quite ready yet. And you shouldn’t be feeling much pressure yet. Let’s give it a moment. The doctor is across the hall delivering another baby, and you’re not dilated enough.” The pressure was increasing. “Um, I really need to push.” She laughed and said she’d check to see how the doctor was fairing with the other baby.
I looked at Ted and said, “I really need to push.” “Why? You’re so numbed up you can’t move your legs”. “Ted, I REALLY need to push.” He went to get the nurse. She came back in with her sunny smile and checked to see how dilated I was.
“Well, looks like you are ready to push,” she said as calmly as she could with a slight panic. Then she rushed out of the room. “Do I push or not?” I asked Ted. By then the rest of my team had assembled, and the chatter about pushing or not began. My family is not short on advice or opinion.
However, having your mom and your sister in the room with you helps when you are unsure about pushing. “Just try to breath deeply, and wait for the doctor honey,” my mom counseled. But I REALLY REALLY needed to push, so her usually reassuring advice was just annoying. I started to feel my legs coming back to life. And pain. Intense pain. By then the nurse, with several other nurses, rushed into the room, moved things around, and sweetly barked orders about this, that and the other thing. Soon the epidural machine was gone, and trays and tools and other machines were put in place.
“The doctor is just finishing up next door. So, we’re starting without him.” And, with that, she asked Ted to hold my hand and help coach me through the pushing and stopping of the pushing as we had learned in class. He looked a bit startled, grabbed my hand, and squeezed the living daylights out of it. “Ted, can you not hold my hand so tightly?” He just looked at me blankly, at first, then laughed, which helped me calm down, but now I couldn’t feel my hand.
The pushing and stopping began. If you ever wondered what being in labor is like, try pushing a concrete wall just a few inches. Just then, my doctor came rushing in with a nurse behind him helping with his scrubs. He was wearing a baseball cap, with our local team’s logo on it. He loved baseball, and had gone on a dream trip the week before to the team’s Spring training camp and was obviously still in the afterglow. I couldn’t help but picture him crouched down below me wearing a big mitt and ready to catch the baby as you would a ball. “Where’s your mit?” I asked. “Well, I did just come from a game. It is still in my car, if you think I need it.” He had such a great sense of humor, which is why I loved having him as my OB/GYN.
Everything went pretty quickly, and even though my legs were still slightly numb, I managed to push with all my might, and within minutes Emma started inching her way into the world. Ted was a great coach, and pushing was a bit easier than I thought. I was feeling exhausted, but there is a weird adrenaline rush when giving birth. It sounds more romantic than it is. It really is just that moms are tired of the bloated feet, achy back and looking like a whale. So the pushing part is just our way of saying “You’ve overstayed your welcome and we want our body back.”
Now, my dad had been charged with the duty of cameraman, even though he was not known for his talent. If you want random shots of a foot, hand and whatever ground he is walking on, he’s your man. He’s also good at shots of him trying to figure out how to turn the camera on. But dad had apparently been practicing, knowing he’d been given a big task for the arrival of his newest grandchild. And it would be the first time any of the grandkids’ births had been caught on camera. However, no matter how cool it is to capture such a wonderful occasion, I’d given him some ground rules so that the footage could be shown to G rated audiences. There was a definite boundary he was not to cross. Dad forgot about the boundary. Literally the entire arrival of precious Emma is now available for the world to see. Thanks dad. Now we can show Emma’s boyfriends way more of her birth than should be allowed.
Everything went way better, and faster, than I’d imagined. I pushed, Ted held my hand and the doctor, in his baseball cap but no mitt, sat poised ready to help Emma make her grand entrance. And, after about 20 minutes her plump little head popped out. I could hear Dot keep asking my mom, “Baby?” And Ted was given me the play by play. Now, Hollywood likes to romanticize the birthing process. So much chaos, and the women looking professionally made up yet still sweaty and tired and in great pain. And the husband, the first of the two of you to get a glimpse of your new child, is weeping with joy about how beautiful the whole thing is. That is not what happened for us. While Ted was excited to meet his daughter, he was not too excited about how much liquid accompanied her, and shared his feelings. Out loud. And as the liquid kept coming, so did his commentary. I felt like apologizing to and taking a punch at him simultaneously.
But then it finally happened. Emma, in all of her glory, slid out into the world. By the time she made it up onto my tummy, she was crying, but looking a bit puzzled. She got that inquisitive look from her dad. She kept trying to open her eyes, I’m sure feeling confused and bewildered going from a quiet, dark space to a bright, loud and open room.
And Dot was beside herself. The moment she heard her baby sister’s cry it all sunk in, and she was trying to claw her way over to see her. I could hear her slightly panicky voice saying, “Baby? Baby?” Within minutes Emma was swaddled up tightly, topped with a little hospital beanie, and handed over to her father and big sister. So happy that my dad wisely caught this moment on video. It is such a treasure to see Dot’s reaction and Emma’s continued bewilderment.
And so our family was complete. And perfect. Two beautiful girls. Adventures awaiting us from Disneyland to Jamaica. Trips in a tent trailer, motorhome and boat. Game nights and movie nights. Church functions and school dances. And band. Elementary band. Junior high band. High school band, with dad as the director. Emma was the perfect exclamation point to our life, and she continues to remind us what a huge blessing she is. We have enjoyed watching her grow into an amazing young woman, and look forward to watching her make her way in the world. Emma, happy 20th birthday.