The child in this story turns 28 today. She’s finished college and is working as a political activist (which is a real job with benefits and everything!) I continue to be overjoyed with her. –Ed.
As many times as I’ve told the story of my daughter’s birth, it appears I’ve never written it down. Tonight, as I prepare to put the lights on my tiny tree that I got and set up all by myself, I feel closer to that story than other years. So I’ll write it while it’s fresh-ish.
Twenty three years ago, I had a four-year-old son and I was nine-months-due-any-day-pregnant. The three due dates the doctor had given me–December 9, 11, and 15–were still a week away, so I tried to get as much holiday time in with my boy as possible before the baby came. On December 4, a Saturday, Matthew and I went to a matinee performance of A Christmas Carol (with a *very* scary Ghost of Christmas Future) and picked up the tree from the lot under the football stadium stands in our college town. I put the tree on the top of my Volvo myself, and took it down alone too, as my ex-husband wasn’t into that kind of thing. I set up the tree in the bucket I was using as a tree stand (college students are POOR), and had to use a kitchen knife to cut off the lower branches. What college student has an axe?
I put the lights on the tree and left it at that, because my little boy and I had to go to the Lights Fantastic parade. We bundled up and walked with our friends to the parade site, a few blocks away, with Matthew in a wagon (or stroller…I forget which.) After the parade, we walked home and I fell into an exhausted sleep.
Around midnight, I woke with contractions. I got on the phone to my sister, who planned to make the 6-hour trip to be there when the baby arrived. We talked for a while, since the contractions weren’t all that bad. Then we hung up, and I laid down on the couch to get more comfortable with contractions. My husband was still asleep, and I didn’t want to wake him until it was time to go. I ended up sleeping between contractions.
Sometime in the mid-morning, around 6 a.m., my water broke, I woke Benjamin, waited until the sitter arrived, and then headed to the hospital. We were one of many families giving birth that morning, so we were packed into a recovery room while we waited for a delivery room. It was now 7:50. There were no birthing rooms available. My nurse was the first male nurse I’d met, and he had tattoos all over his forearms. He’d been in the Navy. We got into the delivery room, and sometime in there my birth coach Kathy arrived. I don’t remember calling her. Maybe Benjamin did. We waited some more for the doctor to arrive.
A substitute doctor got into catcher position, then my doctor blew in, talking about how he’d been goose hunting with his father in law. He proceeded to talk about hunting for a while as I pushed a tiny human out of my body. I didn’t like that much.
Sophia was born at 8:50. She was tiny and pink and cried and slept a lot. We found out later she has osteogenesis imperfecta, so had fractures in utero and as she was being born, so she was in a lot of pain. Four hours after she was born, she was helicoptered to St. Louis and doped up on fentanyl while I stayed in the hospital and cried. I went home to my little boy that night and cried. My sister arrived later that night and held me as I cried myself to sleep. The next morning, my sister drove us to St. Louis while I cried.
The Christmas tree lights stayed on all night. I don’t know if I ever put ornaments on that tree.
We stayed in the NICU for 10 days. We got back before Christmas, but I don’t remember having Christmas that year. I don’t remember much after the car ride home, as we approached every train crossing and pot hole with 5 mph terror.
But setting up the tree has become a Christmas ritual for me, and it starts with Sophia’s birthday. Tomorrow, that baby turns 23. I was given reason to believe she wouldn’t make it this long, so that makes me happy. I am, in truth, overjoyed with this person, that tiny human who entered my life on the most Christmassy of Christmas celebration days. She will always be sparkling to me, like lights in the nighttime parade, with the jubilant expectation of a child on Christmas Eve. That’s who she is, her joy and intelligence bubbling out of her.
Tonight, I’ve set up the tree and I’ll put on some lights. But I think I’m going to wait until Sophia’s home from college later this week to put on the ornaments from her childhood. For now, it will just be the tree and the lights and me, waiting for my girl to arrive.
Happy birthday, my sweet child.