In Lieu of Film Footage- What I think I remember from when Erik was born

I wrote this last year for my son’s 17th birthday because I think most people would like to know their birth story. Back when I wrote it, I was still writing this blog strictly for myself. I was following no one, and no one was following me.

So since it is once again black Friday and my now 18 year old son and I are about to prepare ourselves to head out into the mayhem, and ’tis apparently the season to re-blog stuff, I thought I would do just that. Happy Birthday again Kiddo, to my best black Friday deal, ever.

Erik was born at a civilized hour- 0947 to be exact, on black Friday, supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year . While he was being delivered on that overcast New Hampshire day, thousands of people were out standing in lines, looking for whatever items were popular in 1995.. . (Care Bears, Fluppy Dogs and something called Glow-worm and Friends apparently) (I Googled it)

Dr Mackenzie, at what was to be our last appointment, watches me walk in and heave my gigantic self into a chair. I might not be the size of an actual house, but I think I am in the realistic size range of a toddler playhouse- the kind you see populating backyards and I’m convinced this baby is spending a lot of time rearranging the play furniture it comes with. Today it feels as though it has moved a baby grand right on top of my bladder and is plinking out some Scott Joplin with it’s toes.

‘You poor thing.” Dr Mackenzie shakes his head and smiles  ” I think you might need to chain smoke through your next pregnancy, Kristen, because the trend is for babies to get bigger with subsequent pregnancies”

And I am truly huge even by pregnancy standards.  Everyone I know has asked me if I’m sure I’m not having twins. Last week my grandmother looked at me and said “Everytime I see you, Kristen, you’re bigger.” “Well, isn’t that the idea?” Yeah, I know, but come on!”   At the grocery store a man and his young son stopped to point and whisper at me as if they’d just spotted a pregnant moose. “Shhh. It’s important not to startle her as she forages for snackfoods- and NEVER get between one and the Hostess Display.”

“God help me.” I grumble. “I really don’t see how I could possibly get any bigger than this without blowing out an organ ”

“I know!”  Dr Mackenzie’s eyes widen as if envisioning just such a scenario. Then he chuckles and pats my knee.  I like Dr Mackenzie. He has a good sense of humor and in some weird way reminds me of a beagle. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the moustache and the fact he wants me to call him Kip and is just so friendly and …eager about things. If he had a tail, it would have a white tip, stick straight up behind him and wag continuously during our appointments.  He gets down to business.

“So. Have you given any thought to what we talked about last time? Doing a C-section?” I start some long winded wishy washy response and he eventually cuts me off ( but in a cheerful, beagle- like way)  “Well, I have given it thought and… I’m not messing around.” He ticks off the reasons why he’s not messing around. “We’re doing a C-section!”

Well, hurrah!  I feel a profound sense of relief that someone has made a decision. I’ve gone to my parents’ home in NH to have the baby because Geoff is on float somehwere off the coast of Bosnia. I’m so used to turning to him and saying “What do you think?” and I feel lost without him.  It is already so hard to remember that time before cell phones and e-mail.  For G and I communication in 1995 consisted of  snail mail or him surprise calling me on a regular land line. Now I can tell him what day to call.  Hurrah, indeed.

The baby has apparently decided the piano looks better over by the spleen and has set about moving it there. And it’s time to go.

“Hey, you know I was just kidding about the chain smoking thing, right?” Dr Mackenzie calls out after me as I lumber down the hall, as if  I’m already on my way to the nearest convenience store to buy a pack of Virginia Slims.

The big day is set for Wednesday, Novemeber 22nd.

“Assasination Day. ” Mom says, and starts to reminisce about the day JFK was shot.

“Oh, great, Mom.” But then I get a phone call.

“Hey, it’s Kip!”

” Oh, Hi, Dr Mackenzie.” I just cannot bring myself to call him Kip. I need him to be Dr Mackenzie from Brigham and Women’s, not Kip from Boston who has shown up to take a crack at delivering my baby.

“Listen, I’ve been thinking… I want you to have a nice Thanksgiving so I’m going to put the C-section off until the 24th, OK?”  It’s only two days difference but I cry when I get off the phone because I’m so miserable at this point and just want it to be over, and also because I cry at everything now: my stretchmarks,  random TV commercials, the squirrel sitting out on the porch ( He looked cold and friendless- the lone red squirrel amid a gang of bigger gray squirrels whom I’m pretty sure were picking on him) and so on. Later when I mention to the nurses that Dr Mackenzie had rescheduled so I could have a nice Thanksgiving they rolled their eyes practically in unison “No, HE wanted to have a nice Thanksgiving- as in no post op complications.”


So the 24th arrives and I feel very calm about the whole thing. “I see you’re having contractions” the nurse says after they’ve hooked me up to the monitor “Really?” I say.  I hadn’t even noticed. She points to the spikes  “You don’t feel that?” “Nope.”  It’s all good.  And I am totally fine and not worried at all with the idea of my abdomen being cut open. And then the anesthesiologist shows up. In retrospect his deadpan delivery reminds me of the comedian Louis CK, only I’d never heard of Louis CK in 1995.

“Sooo…about your spinal.  A lot of bad things can happen.  My advice is don’t even read this.” He hands me a consent form. “Just sign it, otherwise you’ll be scared”

“Oh, Ok.” I say in a completely calm and reasonable voice.

But somewhere, deep in the primitive reptilian center of my brain, panic has ensued. Millions of  reptilian brain cells are pouring out onto the reptilian brain streets screaming in reptilian brain cell terror. And I begin to shake. I’m shaking so hard I can barely sign the consent form, can barely stay seated in the chair I’m in. I actually try to hold my legs still but tremors keep coursing through me like I’m having some sort of seizure. Reptilian brain, if it could talk, would say (yell ) “What are you, nuts? You signed that?  Didn’t you hear what he said? Bad. Things. Can. Happen!!” But all reptilian brain can do is shake me from head to toe.  Although just maybe, it thinks, it can also get me to bite some people…. starting with the anesthesiologist.

But then Dr. Mackenzie bounds into the room. ” So, are we ready?” He glances around happily. “Did you have a good Thanksgiving?” He seems oblivious to my answer which is said between wildly chattering teeth, and off we go to the O.R.  My fear is compounded by the thought that my shaking will cause the anesthesiologist to screw up the spinal and one of the many bad things that can happen, will. One of the OR nurses takes pity on me. I can still see her dark sympathetic eyes. “Do you have any pets?” She starts asking me questions about my two dogs and at first I think its odd that she wants to know about them, but then I get it. And strangely, it works.  It is a technique I use to this day.  Down on the streets of my reptile brain, all the panicking cells stop and stare up in wonder at two giant jumbotrons that have appeared above them, where two dogs sit smiling happily in the sunshine. ” Awww”, they say,  “Look at the doggies!” Because even on a cellular level, I am a dog lover apparently.  Calm is miraculously restored.

Dr Bulley’s face appears over the drape.  She is one of the other OBs I’ve seen here.  I like her too.  She is warm, but very no nonsense and reminds me in retrospect of Lauralee- (Bethany’s mom)( Except we don’t know her yet) (And Bethany will not even be born for another 4 months.)( But anyway.) “I was doing some surgery this morning and since I’m already here, I thought I’d stay and help out, if that’s OK” -like it wouldn’t be. “See”, I tell reptile brain, “we have TWO doctors looking after us. What could go wrong?”  But then I think, Did Dr Mackenzie ask for her help? Did he corner her by the scrub-in sink, “Jane, you gotta help me with this one. Please?’ his tail wagging hopefully. Does he anticipate trouble?? Oh God.

I realize they must have already started because I feel a painful tugging. This alarms me because I didn’t think I’d be able to feel anything.

“I said you’d feel tugging”  the anesthesiologist sounds annoyed from where he sits at my shoulder.

Did he say that? Maybe I was too busy arguing with reptile brain. And then, for the first time, I hear Erik’s voice.  A surprised and angry cry. “It’s a boy! Wow! Another big baby!” It seems to take forever for them to bring him over to my face and then they put him too close so I can’t really focus.  My all too brief first impression is his face covered in that white stuff, one eye is smushed shut where it has been pressed against my gall bladder for the last trimester and the other, blue, staring in newborn shock, trying to process all this new light and sound.  I kiss his cheek and he is whisked away to the nursery.

I console myself that I will have hour upon sleepless hour to gaze at his face in the near future. And for all my shaking terror earlier, I feel completely calm now, almost detached. I know that I’ve just had a baby but somehow it hardly seems real.  On TV it there is always so much emotion and drama at the moment of birth but I just lie there, arms strapped down, listening to the talk turn to bowl games and football teams while they sew me back up.

I think for me the big dramatic moment came months earlier.

I don’t know why, but I never really saw myself as somebody’s mom. I just always had a vague idea that I wouldn’t ever have kids.  And maybe because when I did get pregnant, none of the friends I was close to had had kids yet  it just seemed bizarre- the idea that any god, higher power, karmic force etc. would see fit to make me, absent minded Kristen, killer of innocent aquarium life and slayer of plants (“Dead plant walking!  Geoff always quips when I pick out a plant at the store and walk it to the register) responsible for another human being.  But in late March my period was overdue which never happened.  But on the other hand I was getting these cramps everytime I stood up, so I proboably wasn’t pregnant, but then again, I did have a strange metallic taste in my mouth so maybe….

It happens to be April Fool’s Day when I break down and buy a pregnancy test and eventhough its not the first morning pee I really have to go when I get home so I use it and almost instantly it’s very positive. Even before the control line shows up.  I nearly drop it in the toilet I’m so stunned. Well, maybe I did it wrong. I’ll buy another one. I pull out the papers that come with the test and read about how it might actually not be pregnancy but something called hyditaform mole….or maybe some sort of malignancy. A malignancy! Oh, my God, of course!

First thing Monday I call the OB clinic .

“I need to schedule an appt. to see if I’m actually pregnant.”

“Well, if your test came out positive, then I’m sure ours will too.” says the bored sounding corpsman I speak to.  Afterall, what else do Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune do except injure their knees and impregnate their wives?  Well maybe he hasn’t read all the stuff on the package insert, I think. Or he would know about hyditaform mole!

A few weeks later at my first appointment I see an older nurse midwife. She reviews my bloodwork, tells me I’m O Positive so will not be needing Rhogam, that I have a good Hgb, and during the pelvic exam also that I need to “Loosen up, honey- or that baby is never coming out of there!” I feel myself turning red with embarrassment.  After the exam she pushes back on the wheelie stool, takes off her gloves and  says “Honey, you have a very small pelvis. I’m not saying you’ll have to have a C-section, but , we don’t want that baby getting too big.”

“So, you think I’m definitely pregnant, then?”

There is a confused silence. “Well……yes.  Why wouldn’t you be?”

Has no one but me ever read the hcg package insert?!

“As a matter of fact, let’s see if we can hear the heartbeat.” She gets out the doppler. “OK, where are you?”

She doesn’t find it…She moves it around “Hmmm. Now where are you little Adam?”(Somehow she knew I was having a boy)  Nothing. I knew it.  It’s not a pregnancy, it’s something else…something bad- I’ll be referred to a specialist.  I’ll have to call my parents and wait for Geoff to come home from the float work- up he’s on, and tell them it was nature’s cruel April Fool’s joke and

Then there it is.

Like a homing beacon from somehwere deep in the ocean or outerspace. It instantly becomes one of the the most comforting and happy sounds I’ll ever hear.  All I can think of is somewhere down in what I picture must be the inky ocean- like darkness of my uterus, a most complex and amazing program has been put into relentless motion.

I remember the passage in Hitchhiker’s Guide when the Earth is being reconstructed after it was destroyed to make room for the hyperspace bypass and Slartibartfast is taking Arthur on the tour, showing him the fiords. This is what I picture happening right now. Vast highways of blood vessels and mountains and valleys of cells are being organized into what will one day be Erik, who has a darkly ironic sense of humor and loves animals and Japanese food and will go to see the movie Hitchhiker’s Guide with his mom someday and laugh out loud.  Of course I don’t know any of that then, but at least now I do know, someone is on their way.  It’s really true.  I’m pregnant.  Even I believe it now.  A tear slips down out of the corner of my eye.  The midwife sees and gives my hand a squeeze.

“Oh, honey, I know.” She smiles.

As I lie there listening to what to me sounds like Life, the Universe, and Everything.


Marines Like These

I’m 10 years old, in the lobby of a hotel somewhere in the Philipines.  I don’t remember where my parents are or why I’m standing there alone, but I feel awkward and nervous. The room is full of sailors and Marines. There are pool tables.  A giant (he seems giant to me) of a Marine approaches and asks me if I know how to play pool- which I don’t. “Well C’mon. I’ll show you”  He shows me how to hold the pool stick which is way to big for me. “Oh, you’re a southpaw.” He shows me again as if he was a lefty. Before long I am laughing and chattering away as if he is the big brother I’ve never had. Then my dad shows up. The Marine seems to recognize him with dismay. My dad is not only in the navy but even worse, an officer. “I was just showing her how to play pool.”  he says sheepishly.  My dad chuckles “Thats OK” and steers me away. I turn around and wave.  He smiles and waves back.

I’m five months pregnant. Geoff is away on work-ups and it is mid July in N.C., hot and miserable- just like me.  I am attempting to mow my lawn.  I get about three rows into it and decide it’s too much. I go inside and lay down on the bed. Hours later I wake up feeling a little better and eventually walk back outside- to find my yard neatly mowed as if the lawn fairy has paid a visit.  I see my next door neighbor, a recon guy, doing something to his pickup in the driveway.  I have hardly ever spoken to him.  I walk over. “Hey, did you mow my lawn?”  “Uh….Yeah” He looks up briefly then goes right back to the engine. “You didn’t have to do that- but thank you!” “Umm…No problem.  I just thought you know….you didn’t need to be mowing.” He glances up makes eye contact wtih me for just a second then his eyes move down to my stomach, then back to the engine.  I stand there idly chatting about nothing in particular for a few minutes.  He seems uncomfortable.  I start walking back to my yard.  He calls out “I can mow again if you need me too” ” Oh, Geoff should be back next week- but thanks again.  I really appreciate it.”….He turns back to his engine.  “Yup”

Erik is four years old and I am driving him to the base library.  A Marine cuts me off on Holcomb Bld.  I slam on the breaks and swear.  Minutes later as I pull into a space in the library parking lot I notice with panic he is pulling into the space beside me. “Oh my God, did he see me swear at him?  What is he doing? ” He gets out of the car.  I get out of my car nervously.  “Ma’am? Are you and your son alright?  I’m sorry I cut you off.  Sometimes I do stupid things I really regret and I’m sorry.  I just wanted to make sure you were OK.”  I am absolutely speechless.  Now I feel like the bad person for having sworn at him. I stand there trying to come up with some sort of response. “Thats OK”  I finally manage. “I do stupid things all the time. ” He peeks in the window and smiles at Erik. ” Glad you’re Ok”  He gets back in his car and drives away.

My life has been full of Marines like these. And I will always have a soft spot for them.  For every Marine that has ever held a door for me, made me laugh, apologized (unnecessarily) for his language, flirted with me or helped me in any way I  want to say Thank-You-  You are stronger men and women than I will ever be.