Thursday, October 15, 2009

Elisabeth's Birth Story, Four Years Later

Since this blog's inception I've put off telling Elisabeth's birth story because there is so much more to it than just her birth. But I've decided to post it this year because, one, I try and treat my kids equally and I've posted their birth stories here and secondly because this really has turned into a virtual family scrapbook that I know I will save for my kids. As hard as the story can be to tell, Elisabeth's entry into this world should be a part of the record.

I still remember the day vividly. It started on a Friday, a full twenty-four hours before Elisabeth's birth. It was a crisp, October day when I started having intermittent contractions. At that point I was twelve days past my estimated due date. That Friday afternoon I hoped against hope these contractions might take off. I called my mom and complained to her (again) about how late I was and how I was never going into labor. I did tell her, though, about my intermittent contractions and I was to later find out she started emailing people and telling them she thought that night might be the night. I went outside and talked to neighbors. I cooked, I cleaned.

And then evening hit. The wind grew blustery. I grew frustrated at my lack of increased contracting. I quickly realized I could focus on nothing else and decided to go out for a walk. The night air was crisp and the sky was dark. I can't remember who called who, but at some point, very early in the walk, I talked to Mom. I am sure I was testy with her since she was all too optimistic that this was it-- full-blown labor-- and suggesting maybe she should drive up to begin the wait she'd been planning for weeks. I remember standing under the streetlight on the corner of Courtland and Elkhart and saying good-bye and hanging up my cell phone. I can't remember if I told her I loved her. I suppose it doesn't matter. I know she knew. With that I walked home and went to bed, determined to ignore the contractions that refused to escalate into full-blown labor.

It was a restless sleep. Some contractions woke me, some didn't. At some point in the evening, Hank awoke. Joe left to settle him back into his own bed. Every time Joe would rise to come back to his own beg, Hank would wake and whimper, so Joe stayed put. The night had an air of restlessness and discomfort about it.

A little after 1 a.m. on Saturday, October 15 I heard the phone ring. It didn't occur to me that a call at that time of night had to equal bad news; it didn't send the same pangs of dread and fear shooting through my being that it now does. I tried to answer it, but missed the call. I stumbled downstairs into the kitchen to check the caller ID. It was Bob, my stepdad's cell number. Maybe it was because at that point in my life death had never touched me too closely or maybe it was because I was still half asleep, but I immediately assumed it was Mom calling to see if I was ready to head to the hospital. I was annoyed. Irritated. I called her house and left what I remember thinking was a kind message, given the circumstances, but I'm sure my voice was laced with annoyance.

Really, though, it was Bob calling. He was in a car with my dad headed to Milwaukee. Mom was on her way, though she was taking a different mode of transportation: a Flight for Life helicopter. I found this out a few mere moments after leaving my message for Mom.

The rest of that night was a blur. Waking Joe. Driving to St. Luke's Hospital. Realizing my contractions were intensifying, but trying to ignore them. Brain hemorrhage. Stroke. Unconscious. Consults with neurosurgeons. Decisions, decisions. Joe arriving at some point. Finally we were ushered into Mom's hospital room. All present stared in abject horror. Disbelief. Wanting to be anywhere else, but yet, not wanting to be anywhere else.

Finally a kind nurse approached me. She looked at me and told me that St. Luke's did not deliver babies. I remember nodding. The nurse fidgeted. "Um," she began uncomfortably. "You might want to say good-bye." I nodded. Clearly if I left I'd say-- oh! And then it hit me; she meant I might want to say good-bye.

I remember everyone leaving the room. I remember standing there and not knowing what to say. You know when you're watching a movie and there's some tragic scene where someone has to say good-bye to someone they love and they always say just the right thing that you know they'll remember forever and ever? Well, it wasn't like that at all. I don't remember what I said. I called Joe in to be with me. I remember saying a prayer. I remember Joe baptizing her (we found out later she'd been baptized as a baby but, at the time, I thought she had not been). And then we left.

We drove over to St. Mary's, clear on the other side of the city, and found out I was, in fact, in labor (which I knew). Labor was miserable. I had had a previous c-section with Hank and I had wanted to try for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarian) but all I kept thinking about was getting back to St. Luke's. Well, if I have them do a c-section, it will be over faster I thought to myself. But if you have a c-section you and the baby will have to stay in the hospital longer I argued back.

It turned out I didn't have a choice in the matter. I was vigilantly monitored and at some point that afternoon my choice was taken away from me; off to the operating room we went because of some sort of fetal distress observed on the monitors I wasn't watching. I was calm. Unlike with Hank, I wasn't very worried. Elisabeth's heartbeat was strong and I could sense there wasn't a strong sense of urgency in the medical staff attending to me like there had been during Hank's birth. I had the c-section and at 1:36 or 1:37 p.m. (I can't remember which) Elisabeth was born.

She was completely wonderful from moment one. Her cry was hearty and she was the absolute perfect anecdote to what was a very trying time. She went to recovery with me and I was able to poke and prod, count fingers and toes, nurse and coo over such a perfect baby girl. There Joe and I decided to change her middle name from a family surname we loved to Mom's middle name before she'd married, which was Jane. I am still so thankful we made that last minute change. Elisabeth Jane.

I realize upon writing this I seem to have focused more on the sad than the happy. I mean what I've said in past years: Elisabeth's birth was a happy, joyous occasion. I felt the same feelings of elation upon holding her in my arms than I did with my other kids. In that room where I first held her, there was no dark cloud. The horrific events of the night before melted away with each suck and coo that came out of that swaddled little bundle of pink.

So, that's it. The story of Elisabeth's birth and the story of Mom's death, so intertwined and intermingled they are impossible for me to separate. The bad comes with the good. Just as there is no way for me to tell the story of Mom's death without including the happy details of Elisabeth's birth, there is also no way to tell the complete story of Elisabeth's birth without remembering the sad events that also took place.

It's easy to assume that thinking of Elisabeth's birth makes me sad and melancholy. You would be wrong. Thinking of Mom reminds me of birth and the gift of life, and that even life really, really stinks, God is gracious enough to give us good things, and not because we deserve it, but because He loves us.

Tonight we will celebrate our four-year-old's birth with grilled cheese sandwiches and broccoli (the birthday girl's request) and cake and just like in that recovery room four years earlier, we will delight in the gift that is a bubbly, stubburn, loving, redheaded little pistol. And we'll love every minute of it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Cate--and happy birthday to Elisabeth! It is always good to reminded of the way life seems to combine smiles and tears.

Erin said...

Thanks for sharing. I have heard parts before, but never the entire story.

Happy Birthday Elisabeth!

Bob said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story in such detail. Thoughts of that weekend have certainly surfaced in my mind this week-- so it was wonderful to read about the good side of the happenings. Your kids are such blessings from God.

Terri said...

Oh, Cait. I remember the day well. It is such an incredibly powerful story that holds the ultimate extremes within a few short hours. I cannot think of your story of that day without wondering at the mystery of it all.

love you

nina said...

Beautifully told. Strong emotions are so often separated by just a hair! But the love and happiness of family come through in your words. These are what stand out.

Best wishes to your wonderful daughter and to your entire family.

Cheryl said...

Somehow I missed reading this the first time around. Thanks for linking to it, even though I'm sitting here crying in a hotel lobby now. What a life-affirming story. Happy 5th birthday to Elisabeth Jane!