Chloe will always be my favorite Christmas present of my favorite Christmas. She was actually due on December 16th. I was excited about that due date as it afforded me the joys of a Christmastime baby with enough of a buffer to be pretty well back on my feet by the holidays. Sometime in November, though, my doctors inexplicably changed my due date to the 20th. I nodded obediently, but muttered something under my breath about knowing the conception date and silently resolved not to let go of the 16th as my real due date. So, when December 17th rolled around, in my mind, I was a day overdue.
Like every woman in her last days of pregnancy, I was uncomfortable. My skin was so tight and itchy and dry, not only because I was a thousand weeks pregnant by this point, but because my skin is always reptilian in winter. I was taking three hot baths a day which, thankfully, offered some relief from the sensation of wearing a skin suit two sizes too small and fashioned out of sandpaper.
That is, until our hot water heater broke on December 22nd when I was, by my mental calendar, 6 days overdue.
I drove to my parents house a couple of times a day to take hot baths and showers then I went home and stared at the tiny red velvet Santa dress hanging in the nursery. My sister Nicki bought it for the baby and I imagined bringing her home in that dress. I had to resign myself: This baby wasn't coming before Christmas. A Santa dress was not going to make sense after all and next Christmas she would be too big to to wear it, so I should just give it away and we probably won't have another baby and even if we do, who knows if it will be a girl or if it will born around Christmastime! Snifflle! Choke! --Wait! Was that a contraction?-- No? SOB!
On December 23rd, a week late (or 3 days, depending on who you trusted and I only trusted myself), Anthony sent me for a 90 minute prenatal massage. My mom probably broke down and called him, begging to be rescued from the weeping, raving Beluga that had barricaded itself in her bathroom. The very idea of a massage lifted my spirits considerably. I knew the spa where he had booked it, so I imagined the beautiful candlelit room with its soothing New Agey music. I hoped for the soft-spoken Middle Eastern therapist with the beautiful accent and the expensive perfume. She was always so sweet and quiet; she would make me feel better. I could feel the tension start to ebb just thinking about it.
As I checked in for my appointment however, the receptionist informed me that, she was very sorry: The music in the massage therapy rooms wasn't working. Did I want to reschedule? This gave me pause, but I was desperate. Unfortunately, I didn't get the quiet, expensively perfumed Middle Eastern lady either. Instead, I got some woman who I had just seen leaning against the building on a cigarette break before I came in. She had tried to clean up a bit, so now she smelled like smokey soap (or maybe it was soapy smoke) and never stopped talking the entire 90 minutes about all manner of grim topics that had to do with other kinds of massage establishments recently raided by the authorities. Before you ask, the answer to the question "Why didn't you tell her to stop talking?" is this: I'm a wimp. Instead, I kept my monosyllabic responses as infrequent as possible hoping she would get the hint (she didn't). Lying on my side, I attempted to hide my crying face in my armpit. Practicing effleurage on my round, draped belly with my free hand, I silently prayed, "Lord, in the Bible, you made a donkey talk. Please make this one shut up."
Nevertheless, by Christmas Eve, all the disappointment, discomfort, and disturbing massage experiences were forgotten. I was calm and ready to have a nice Christmas with my little girl, 22 month old Bronte, and my husband. We would welcome our new baby after Christmas and that would be just as wonderful as if she had come before Christmas. In fact, it gave me a chance to make up for some of the time I had wasted whining and acting like an all-around sissy instead of appreciating a few more special days with my Bronte before the new baby arrived. We got all dressed up: My husband in a tie, me in a black dress with a red rose print and--why not?--black, high heel boots, and Bronte in a little red velvet tunic and pants to match the Santa dress Nicki had bought the baby. We had a wonderful dinner at my mother-in-law's house, exchanged gifts with her, and headed home, happy and content. I settled into bed at 11pm and fell asleep instantly.
Only to wake up abruptly at 11:07 pm.
My water broke.
My eyes flew open, but I didn't move. Anthony was still awake next to me watching TV.
"Anthony? I think my water broke."
"What?! No way. Maybe you wet your pants."
"That's totally possible at this point in the game, but I don't think so."
He got up and walked around to my side of the bed and ripped back the comforter. "Oh my gosh, get off the bed. You are going to ruin the mattress!"
I couldn't help laughing as he hoisted me from the bed and up to a standing position ("Isn't gravity going to make it worse?" I asked), then he ran to get some towels. I picked up the phone and called my mom, as she was coming with us to the hospital. After an emergency C-section with Bronte, Anthony and I wanted her 20+ years experience as a Lamaze instructor and natural childbirth coach to help us avoid another one if possible (Translation: Sometimes a girl just wants her mother!). She answered the phone the same way she had every time I called her for the last week: "Did your water break?"
"Yes," I told her, laughing.
"I don't believe you."
"It did! Ask Anthony. Anthony!" I held up the phone for him to yell a confirmation to her and looked over to him, startled because mere seconds had passed and yet he was now somehow fully dressed and packing a suitcase. I was still standing in my nightgown squeezing a towel between my knees and had every intention of showering, doing my hair, and putting on my make up. Oh, and I hadn't called the doctor yet. It struck me that he might be nervous. I returned my attention to the phone. "He's packing, but trust me. I'm standing on a stack of towels. In fact, I should go. My doctor told me to call if my water broke."
My mom yelled to my father and my younger sisters, Megan and Erin, "Renee's water just broke!" then to me, "I still don't believe you."
"Okay, well. I'm going to the hospital, so....if you're still coming with us, come on over in like an hour."
I hung up and called Nicki. She picked up the phone saying "No way."
Eventually, I convinced my doubting family that I was, in fact, going to have this child, whether they believed it or not. My mother drove Erin over to our house so she could stay with Bronte. I kissed my sweet, sleeping child goodbye, vaguely aware that when I came back, she wasn't going to be my "baby" any more but a toddler, a little girl. I thought of how we had fawned over our only child--one that I thought I would never have--for the last 22 months. I remembered finding out I was pregnant with this second baby and looking over at Bronte sitting regally in her high chair, playing with her Cheerios: As happy as I was with my news, I had the fleeting, guilty thought: "She has no idea what's coming her way: She's about to be dethroned!" But then I realized I was only slightly older than her when Nicki was born. I don't remember ever being an only child and Bronte wouldn't either. Now, about to give birth, I looked down at my girl, still my baby for a few more hours, with her head full of dark curls, sweaty with sleep. I can't imagine a minute of my life without Nicki. "I'm going to get you a best friend for Christmas," I whispered. Anthony and I crept quietly downstairs, exchanged gifts by the tree, and headed for the hospital.
Like most expectant moms, I had a birth plan. Like most birth plans, mine didn't work out as expected. My doctor had promised me I would be free to move around, to make myself as comfortable as possible so I could work with my body as it worked with my baby. In reality, I was hooked up to no less than nine different things at once and flat on my back most of the time. My focal point was a beautiful Willow Tree sculpture my mom had given me of a mother holding her toddler. She told me it reminded her of Bronte and me. As I was lying there getting an amnio-infusion, watching my birth plan go up in smoke and fearing another c-section, I was staring intently at my sculpture perched on the bed tray when the nurse came in and pushed the tray aside. I saw the mother and child start to wobble a little, and then a lot. I looked to my own mother whose eyes were widening. She grasped desperately for the tray edge as it rolled out of reach and the little wooden figure picked up momentum, now swaying precariously from side to side. I opened my mouth to cry out then closed it just as I watched it tumble to the hard floor and snap in half.
I closed my eyes.
When I opened them, my mother had pulled her chair up closer to me. She leaned toward me, looked in my face and said, "Renee, I know exactly what you are thinking and this isn't a sign that you are going to have another cesarean. It is just an accident. We shouldn't have put it on the tray is all." I nodded through my tears, hoping she was right.
Anthony is a solutions guy by nature and he immediately went into action. He picked up the two pieces of my broken figurine and went out to the nurses station, hunting down some glue and white bandage-like tape. He and the poor nurse, who felt just awful and kept apologizing, poor thing, put my little focal point back together, and perched her right back up on the tray, barking at anyone who came near it the rest of the day.
|My bandaged and repaired focal point...and focus. Mom offered to buy me a new one, but I love it just the way it is.|
Whatever the setbacks, the discarded birth plans, the broken focal points, no one gave up on me. They helped me push through, in every sense of the word, and deliver the old fashioned way.
My doctor handed me my baby girl at 3:15 p.m. on Christmas Day, 2003.
|Our Christmas Baby|
Anthony leaned over my shoulder and stroked her head with his forefinger. "Hello, Chloe Renee. We love you!"
"A Christmas baby!" my mom sighed.
"Ha! Too bad we can't name her Chloe Christmas!" I laughed.
"Chloe Noelle!" we all said at once. And that was that. When this favorite little Christmas gift of ours was about three years old or whatever age toddlers become aware that they have middle names, we explained that her name means "Christmas" in French and so, for a number of months, that's exactly how she answered new friends who asked her her name: "Oh, I'm Chloe Christmas Mora."
A couple Saturdays ago, all three of the girls scrambled up onto our bed to present us with their Christmas lists. They were very precise. I launched into a mini-lesson explaining that while I understand how exciting it is to write wish lists or letters to Santa, part of the fun of gift giving is for the gift giver, too. It's fun to look around for a special gift, something I think you will love or that suits you perfectly, maybe something you've never thought of! So, yes, make your list. But keep in mind, it is merely a list of ideas or wishes, not a list of demands. Not a ransom note.
Finally writing out Chloe's birth story, I feel a little sheepish, considering my lecture to the girls . My wish list--a time line, a birth plan, the perfect circumstances as I would design them--had been a ransom note. I'm so grateful that my body didn't cave to its demands. God's perfect timing was far more dramatic and exciting than the tidy and comparatively dull plans I had drawn up for myself.
Chloe's birth wasn't the dream birth I had envisioned, but then, whose is? I'm sure Mary didn't sit around staring at a feeding trough and imagine laying her infant Son in it. I rather doubt, in her last trimester, she would have included "take long journey on donkey" in her birth plan. In the moments that she first realized how it was all going to play out, I wonder if she wanted her mother? I'm sure Joseph was desperate to make things right for her. But when it was all said and done, when she was was catching her breath, resting with her child snuggled up to her neck, she "treasured all theses things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
All mothers have their treasures. Mine is my very own Christmas story to cherish and pass on to my daughter.