I found out an hour into having contractions at eight centimeters that the pain pump was unplugged. I feel like I have lived most of my adult life with the pain pump unplugged. They did say getting older wasn’t easy. They also warned that labor hurt. For all intensive purposes I chose to ignore the skeptics and live my life in ignorant bliss, but somehow what those smarties said caught up to me. Before I knew it, I was deviled over in what can only be described as the worst period/gas cramp my body has ever had the misfortune to experience. Doesn’t sound so bad? Pretend someone is also sitting on your stomach at the same time, preventing you from positioning yourself appropriately to help alleviate the just-kill-me pain. Oh and this lasts for nearly a minute and leaves again for another minute, teasing you that maybe the worst is over when BAM another surge of minute-long throbbing kicks in.
Let’s throw in the fact that I went into this whole experience with the notion that I was going pain-free. Unfortunately for me, I was also the crash test dummy for a anesthesiology resident, who had to do the epidural twice, prolonging the “quick” procedure an extra five minutes. Which, when you are already having contractions feels more like 20 minutes. I held that crouched over position shaking like I was doing a Pilates plank.
But hey, all that prep would certainly pay off because nothing would go wrong with the pain pump, right? Had I not learned in my previous life experiences that being naïve was the same as being at a pants party without having any pants on? Thankfully the anesthesiologist was sympathetic enough to give me an extra dose of meds to immediately numb me. If only he had been there during my sister’s untimely death eight years prior. Where’s the emotional pain pump when you need it? Oh yeah, it’s called Valium or Xanax.
After living through my sister’s passing and experiencing labor, I decided I would much rather deal with physical pain than the emotional agony of losing someone that close to me in my life again. I’ll take a wretched labor cramp over a knot-in-my-stomach any day of the week. There I said it. Now let’s rewind five months from that delivery day and pair what should be the excitement of being pregnant with your first born with the sentence, “your mother is being admitted into hospice.” That’s more than just a pants party without pants on. It’s a speech in front of an auditorium full of your closest friends and family without any clothes on.
My mother once said that in order to be a strong woman you really had to learn how to laugh at yourself. Try to find the humor in a woman in her third month of pregnancy finding out that her mother may not live to see her grandchild. This is stuff I can’t make up. It is by all accounts my life and in it I have had no choice but to do what Mom would want me to. Find humor. And damn it, somehow, some way, I have. You see there is always a light waiting at the end. The human spirit is boundless and I found out in the winter and spring of 2013 that love is too.
A phone call with a doctor at Sloan Kettering, a ‘Hail Mary’ appointment where my mother was barely able to keep her head up in her wheelchair, and a few rounds of multi-colored pills later, my miraculous hero began to get her life back. My family and I felt awed, blessed and damn lucky all at once. Before we knew it, I was seven months pregnant and my mother was not only starting to walk on her own again, but was also cracking jokes with her fiery sense of humor. Take for instance her fresh remark when I asked her opinion on a more risqué maternity camisole, “Excuse me, Jennifer Aniston, the extra small maternity tops are only appropriate when on Friends pregnant with your fake baby.” I can always count on Mom to be brutally honest.
We rallied together with our beloved network of family and friends and worked to find glimmers of hope that were lost in the darkness of a disease that has no prejudice. It attacks everyone. Smoke a pack a day. Don’t smoke a day in your life. It doesn’t matter. We however wouldn’t let it get the best of our leading lady. She wanted to fight and fight we would.
On a sunny Saturday morning in early April 13’, my mother and I
walked waddled down the
corridor of her rehabilitation center hand in hand. Both a bit unsteady
on our feet, we helped each other to the car. It was a very windy day so we
were not only holding onto her wig, but were also holding onto each other so as
to not blow over. The image of a pregnant girl escorting a recuperating cancer
patient made me snicker. I laughed uncontrollably in the middle of the
parking lot, sending my contagious chuckle to my mother who retorted that she
would kill me because she didn’t want to pee again and that frankly, it would
be my fault if she wet her pants. We got our make-up done together at
Bloomingdales and then marched on to my baby shower.
I had spent two months unsure if my mother would even make it to the baby shower and then a full day afterwards sure that what I was witnessing was a miracle. My mother, while a bit tired, looked beautiful and healthy the day of my shower. The best part of that day though wasn’t even that she got up to thank everyone, nor was it that I got to hug and kiss her as much as I wanted. It was the night and day after that made that day so special for me. My sisters, Mom and I love a good recap of a special day’s event and so crawling next to her in bed with my eight-month baby bump while we chatted about the shower was one of the best feelings in the whole world. We had come so far and I knew she would be there for my deliver day and would no doubt enjoy my maternity leave with me. It is true that you don’t appreciate the sun as much until you have experienced the rain. I intended to cherish every moment in the sun.
So once the epidural kicked in again, I was feeling like I was at a July 4th BBQ waiting for my hot dog to come off the grill. I certainly didn’t feel like I was about to push a 7 lb. 15 oz. baby out of my lady parts. I was chilling out, talking to our mothers about anything and everything under the sun. I barely remember a God forsaken thing except that I really wanted a bologna sandwich. No deli meat for 9 months made this girl very unhappy. My dad nervously walked in and out of the room not knowing what to do with himself. My brother in-law came in and out to keep my husband sane and my sister and aunt arrived just in time to get kicked out. It was show time.
It would be two more hours until I would meet you, my sweet baby. Two hours of the doctor reminding your Daddy to hold up my left leg that was completely numb from the epidural. Two hours of your father avoiding glancing at “the area” as to not see anything that may make him faint. Two hours of Ranger Hockey playing on the television in our very laid back delivery room. Two hours of lots of forehead kisses and cheering from your father. The cheering was both for you and me— and for the Rangers of course. Two hours of anxious anticipation to meet you when suddenly, with the help of a little plunger, one last push, and one last surge of excruciating pain, you came into our world. Your dad sobbed immediately and followed the nurse to the incubator where you would be measured, weighed and cared for.
When your father brought you over to meet me, your MeMa’s voice entered my head when I looked into your eyes. She had said something before leaving the delivery room to me. She said, “This is how we began.” And so the next chapter of my life would begin, with you. You made me a mother that day and just like that my life would never be the same again. I often wondered how it would feel to hold you for the first time. It felt right. It was as though life was beginning all over again with a new definition. Every meaning before had a new distinction now. I now knew what my mother meant when she said she felt that life had two curtain calls when you were a parent. The first was right before the birth of your first child because the first half of your life was over. There was no longer a margin for selfishness any longer.
Your Mema, my mommy, would have her second and final curtain call before your first birthday would arrive. You will not get to smush your first birthday cake all over your hands with her. You will not get to dance around the Christmas tree with her. You will not get to go shopping and pick out all the Disney princess items your heart could ever desire with her. You will not get to buy your first pair of ballet shoes with her. But trust me, cookie face; she will be with us when you do every single one of these things.
Life has very little guarantees, but my sweet Madison, this one I can assure you. You are your grandmother’s dream and she will watch over you every day of your blessed life.
It is hard to put into words how you feel about a woman until you realize she lives inside you and all you are doing is taking a piece of yourself and letting people in to see the beauty that she graced upon you. We carry her spirit with us and together we will both live on and share her grace, vigor, humor and elegance, my sweet baby.
This blog is dedicated to my heroin, Liz Dellapenta, who once helped me pack for a trip to the Bahamas with my girlfriends and questioned the amount of underwear I was bringing. I remember seeing her puzzled face and asked what was wrong. She looked at me and asked dryly, “Are you planning on wetting your pants a few times while you are away?” I laughed for the better part of an hour. She had such a delivery when she uttered these things to us.