Saturday, March 10, 2007

My Bonus Baby

My Bonus Baby by Kristy Alley
Photos by Heather Ashley





Saturday morning, the kids and I slept in while Big Daddy got up and went to work. I never thought I would consider 8:45 a.m. "sleeping in," but now it seems absolutely decadent. I heard the boys get up and turn on cartoons as Genevieve rooted around a bit in my bed and then looked up at me with her best "am I not the cutest baby alive?" smile.

The lady Somerset generally does not show her face before 10:00 a.m. on weekends, but this day she came padding into my room and crawled up into bed with the baby and me. The three of us snuggled and chatted for a little while until gradually the boys drifted in asking about breakfast. Sugar is the rule for our Saturday mornings, so Calvin and I made our favorite, chocolate croissants, and we all took them out on the front porch to eat.

The older three soon felt cartoons pulling them back inside, leaving Genevieve and me in relative peace. She likes to alternate between sitting in her exersaucer and rocking with me in the porch glider. While she practiced standing and reaching in the saucer, I gorged on chocolate and The New Yorker, reading a short story, a couple of poems (one good, one bewilderingly not good), an article about Bill Clinton's working post presidency, and a fascinating article about a WWII era sociological movement called Mass Observation. Somewhere in there, Genevieve fell asleep in the crook of my arm and I put her back in bed.

I sat there, rocking and reading and eating with my kids drifting in and out and the baby doing her baby things, and I tried to hold the sweetness of the moment in my mind. There were years when time seemed to be suspended in babyhood, when months seemed like eternities and I thought I would never see the end of diapers and sippy cups and “Blues Clues.” I never had baby fever. I lived for the day each one of them would walk and talk. Babies are sweet, but we had kids because we wanted kids. We became parents with visions of biking with them, going camping and canoeing, not of cribs and mobiles and pushing a stroller. Not that there weren't good things. Babyhood has its moments, but for the most part, I have wanted to kiss the ground as each child turned four, because the journey to that point has just about worn me out. Then one day, I realized I couldn't find clothes to fit Calvin in the toddler section anymore. Joshua was talking clearly and sucking his thumb less. Somerset, who was then our "last baby," potty trained and finally weaned on her third birthday. It felt like the end of an era, and it was bittersweet.

Two weeks later, I got pregnant. I have to confess that I was devastated. There was a time when I wanted a fourth baby, but then I had Somerset only fourteen months after Joshua. We decided that three was enough. We worried that we were pushing our luck. We had three healthy kids, why tempt fate? It was a hard decision for me, but once I decided I was done having babies, I felt good about moving on to the next stage. As it turned out, having babies was not done with me. When it started to dawn on me that I might be pregnant, I responded with strong denial. There was no way. I was so sure that I would never be pregnant again that I couldn't even wrap my mind around the possibility. I've had two miscarriages, so that always feels like it could happen again. I didn't want to miscarry, but I knew it could happen, and if it did, I would know that the whole thing just wasn't meant to be. The thought of starting all over with a newborn was just overwhelming to me. Then one day, I guess about a week (a very looong week) after I figured out what was going on, I saw blood. I walked into my kitchen, leaned back against the counter, and cried. It was crazy, I didn't even want to be pregnant, but at the same time, I felt like I had just lost something very real. I thought in flashes of everything that would never happen for that baby. I felt like I had wished away my chance to know one of my kids.

Happily, the blood turned out to be only a little implantation spotting. The baby was fine. I felt so relieved, but I still worried. I'm not the anxious type, and when irrational thoughts pop up, I usually shut them down immediately. But one day when I was driving the kids around, I looked to my right and saw a woman pushing what looked like a six-month-old baby in a stroller. A thought flashed into my mind with such force and certainty that it was almost as if it had been spoken aloud: "I'll never see this baby like that." I pushed it away, but the feeling that it was true was hard to shake. I never said a word to anyone, but through my whole pregnancy, some part of me was just waiting for the worst to happen. I did not allow myself to think about how it might go down, but I couldn't stop believing that it would. So when I was finally in labor and the nurse noticed that the belt monitor was not picking up the baby's heartbeat, that part of me just sort of detached and said, "So this is how it's going to happen." My incredible nurse, Marta, moved swiftly and expertly as she attached the internal monitor, rolled me on my side, put an oxygen mask on me, and unhooked the bed from the headboard so she could tip me on my head. As she moved, she calmly explained what she was doing and how it would get more oxygen to the baby. It all happened so fast, and I was able to listen to her, but at the same time part of me was thinking that this was how I would lose my baby. I don't know if it was the guilt over not wanting to be pregnant, or just hormonal irrationality, or what, but it felt so real at the time.

Ultimately, my fears were unfounded and Genevieve was fine. She came out looking blue as Vishnu, screaming soundlessly, and when they laid her on my chest I said, "Are you sure she's ok?" They assured me she was fine, but I was still shaken. Then my doctor held up a length of the umbilical cord between her hands and said "Look, a true knot." It was tied in a perfect knot but not pulled tightly enough to cut off the blood supply. Only two weeks later, I would learn that the baby of a friend's acquaintance was stillborn because of a knot in the cord. But my baby lived, and she was beautiful and perfect and she relaxed in my arms the moment the nurses brought her back to me. She rested her head on my chest in a way that said so clearly, "Yes, you are the right one." I could write a million words and never be able to describe what I felt at that moment.

So, finally, with my fourth and definitely last child, I have been able to enjoy having a newborn. When she cries, I feel sympathetic but not like my own emotions are tied up with hers, which is how it always felt with the others. I do not feel like my head is going to explode. Ok, sometimes I do, but that's usually when I'm trying to do something else that seems important at the moment. Most of the time, I just hold her and smell her crazy hair that stands straight up, laugh at her babbling screeching baby sounds, smile at her smiling at me. She is indescribably sweet, and so much sweeter because I know now how fast it goes. I know that I wasn't even expecting her, my bonus baby, and she came to me through sheer luck, and before long she will disappear into the child she's bound to become.

1 comment:

All Adither said...

Beautifully written. I loved this story.