This is part one of Isaac's birth story. To read the prologue, go here.
I have a habit of holding on to ordinary receipts from important days in my life, tucking them away for the same reason that people save special ticket stubs and theater programs.
I like the way they take me back.
Date. Time. Location. Items. Price. Total.
Utilitarian, to be sure – an impartial snapshot of a brief moment in time. But sometimes the facts are all I need; they are enough to remind me of the feelings that I might have forgotten.
It was Monday, and I was 34 weeks pregnant.
Five days before, I hugged my coworkers goodbye and drove out of the parking lot for the last time, towards my chosen life as a soon to be stay-at-home mom. I had a lot of plans for the weeks between leaving my career and birthing a baby – there were the mundane tasks (wash and fold baby clothes, buy diapers, clean the apartment) and the more personal aspirations (write in journal, spend alone time with husband), but suffice it to say, the ultimate goal was to be completely prepared for when baby arrived.
On that Monday, Operation Preparation was in full swing. I emptied out all of the kitchen cabinets and set about reorganizing them to make room for bottles and sippy cups and soft-tip spoons.
By the time Aaron arrived home from work in the evening, the contents of our kitchen were no longer actually in the kitchen. He surveyed the overflow with an amused look on his face, but wisely kept his smart-aleck remarks to a minimum. I’m sure he knew that crossing a nesting pregnant woman would be about as useful, and as dangerous, as poking a beehive with a stick.
I was exhausted. He ordered a pizza, our usual pepperoni-and-cheese (with jalapenos on two slices, for me) and flipped on the football game. His beloved Buckeyes were playing, and he wasn’t going to miss one minute.
Sometime before half-time, I stood up to go the bathroom. Something felt wrong.
Suddenly I felt stiff, and the routine movements of flushing the toilet and washing my hands were impossibly labored. Alarm bells were sounding, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
There was no gush. There was no river. But there was a slow, almost imperceptible, leak.
I turned to the internet, of course, hastily Googling crude, unscientific phrases like “how do I know if my water broke” and “leaky bladder or water breaking?”
He was still engrossed in his football game when I approached him with a furrowed brow and tense muscles. I remember his calm voice. He told me everything would be okay, that there was no need to panic. He offered to make me soup. But the fear was gnawing at my stomach, growing and multiplying as every minute passed.
I laid on the bed and contacted the midwife at the hospital. Her authoritative manner quelled some of the anxiety I was feeling, and she instructed me to empty my bladder once more and then take a walk. In a calm but serious voice, she said: If at any point during your walk, you still feel like you’re leaking, come to the hospital immediately.
I remember thinking that her voice sounded a little unkind, as though she’d already fielded a hundred calls that night from nervous first-timers who couldn’t distinguish a Braxton-Hicks contraction from regular old indigestion.
I thought she thought it was nothing, and that made me glad.
I waddled to the living room and reported what the midwife had told me. Okay, he said. Go empty your bladder, and then we’ll take a walk around the park.
I waddled back to the bathroom.
The moments that followed are seared into my memory.
I felt the rush of water, it was unmistakable. It wasn’t a small leak; I didn’t need Google, or a pregnancy book or even a trained midwife to tell me what was happening. I knew.
I will never forget how it felt to stand there, alone in our bedroom, my body cold and tight. I will never forget the color of the carpet, or the feeling of my heart expanding violently in my chest.
My legs had grown roots into the ground. I watched the amniotic fluid spill down my thighs and calves and ankles and toes, like a torrent of unstoppable tears.
You moved me.
You were there the instant you heard the sharp panic rise in my voice. You swooped in and cleaned my legs, changed my clothes, brought me my sweater.
I will always remember the way your palm felt on my foot as you tenderly helped me into my shoes.
You knew I was crumbling because I was scared for our child. Because at 34 weeks, this wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. You were scared, too. But you never showed it, because you knew I needed you to carry me.
I can’t type these words without feeling the prickling hot behind my eyes.
Within minutes, we were driving to the hospital.
I didn’t know much about premature babies, but my mind was racing with fear. I thought of the translucent babies growing in incubators, babies who survived with tubes and machines, babies who were permanently disabled, babies who would ultimately succumb to complications.
It was my first brush with that certain brand of motherly fear – a fear I am now well acquainted with. It’s the one that catches in my throat when he knocks his head on the cement sidewalk or when he stuffs his mouth so full of graham crackers that I’m sure he’ll choke.
We held hands the entire way. The mess we left behind – the colanders and cereal boxes and spoons and muffin tins all piled randomly around the apartment, the half-eaten pizza and salad abandoned on paper plates – mirrored the chaos in my mind.
I felt precarious. Helpless, worried and entirely out of control.
On the afternoon of the day my water broke, I bought $12.42 worth of kitchen organization items from The Container Store.
The memory is clear. I see myself, clad in red sweatpants, a brown long-sleeved maternity shirt and tan moccasins, hair pulled back into a smooth ponytail.
The time on the receipt says 3:56 p.m. The sun had not yet dipped; the sky was wide and bright and blue.
I exited the store with my purchases, eager to get back home and finish the job I had started.
I inhaled a deep breath of cold air into my lungs and walked to the car with my hand on my taut belly, and the hope for all I had envisioned, all I was expecting, embedded confidently in my heart.
Click here to read the next installment: Isaac's Birth Story: Part Two