Vivian Elise

Do you think it was the belly flop off the back of the boat that did it?” my mom says.

“It could’ve been the swimming,” I respond.

Susanna reasons, “Maybe it was just time for her to come.” And she’s right.

It was time–though I didn’t exactly know it. My hair is still dripping lake water when Stan and I decide to leave the tent, the sleeping bags, the crackling fire, the almost-ready supper, our daughters and the rest of the family, and head to back to town. Just in case. The hospital (an hour and ten minutes away) isn’t our immediate destination; I figure we’ll come home and see if the contractions continue. I can’t exactly remember what labour is supposed to feel like… until we get in the car. As soon as we start driving I know we’d made the right decision. The contractions come strong and steady as we drive out of the provincial park, down the mountain and through the grain fields.

Half-way home Stan sees a fox slip into the ditch. “What about the name Vivian?” he suggests. I think he tells me something about a fox and a short story and the name Vivian, but I’m too busy looking sideways at the world blurring past to make the connection. When I hear Vivian I’m concentrating on breathing, on letting my muscles pull open a pathway inside me, and on the green. The sun shines a six-thirty softness on the canola and the bearded wheat diffuses the light into a field of pistachio pudding. Looking at the poplars and willows helps, too. All of it is easier when I keep my eyes open and stare outside. He says Vivian again. I think verde. I think vida. And then I breathe deep and forget about naming anything.

The stop at home is shorter than I expected. We arrive at the hospital and I suggest taking the stairs but when we pass an open elevator, a ride up to the second floor doesn’t seem like a bad idea. An elderly man presses the third floor button for himself and then the second one for us. When the doors slide open I am hanging off Stan’s shoulder, breathing like a woman half-way to 10 centimeters, but the gentleman doesn’t get it. “We’re here,” he says.

Stan says nothing.

“You want the second floor don’t you?”

No one moves. I’m lowing as the door starts to close.

“This is the second floor. You can get out now.”

Stan, my efficient, deal-with-the-bottleneck, husband says four beautiful words. “We’re not going anywhere.” And then, “Can you hold the door?” The contraction is long enough for another door-holding request (this guy obviously missed his wife’s labour 50 years ago) but we finally make our way out and are on our way.

Not three hours later, after my doctor has come and gone, the nurse tells me to let her know when I have the urge to push so she has time to call the doctor.

“Have you ever delivered a baby before?” I ask the young nurse.

“I have,” she responds.

“Then you’ll do just fine,” I say.

The pressure numbs my toes and finger tips. Partway through this freight-train labour I want my money back for the hypno-birthing book I’d read. Though I stay focused, and siphon confidence and calm from Stan, I haven’t hypnotized myself out of the pain, or “sensations” as proponents term them; it is as overwhelming as I remember it with Belén and Susanna.

Near the end, as my body cracks open to let life out, my voice changes. Breath catches in my throat. Relief floods the bed. Our baby is born.

The doctor doesn’t make it on time, but I don’t care. Our nurse is gentle and capable and slips the cord over Vivian’s neck. When the fluid keeps her from breathing, she and another nurse work quickly with her little blue body ignoring my request to have her on my chest. (I learn why later). After she sputters, chokes, and coughs enough to please the nurses they put Vivian on my skin. Her bright eyes stay open as if trying to figure out which planet she’s landed on; she’s quiet and very alert. It’s part of the reason we name her Vivian, meaning life or alive. She’s fully here, fully with us. Full of life. And now we get to share it with her.

We are so grateful for Vivian Elise Reed, born August 2, weighing 8 lbs, 8 oz. More stories to come…

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The next morning the girls come straight from the campsite, dirty feet and all, to see their new baby sister.

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Lots of skin-to-skin time with all of us–Vivi doesn’t wear clothes for the first three days!

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Stan is working hard to keep everyone happy and well fed.

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True Story: How I got from the Gas Station to the Delivery Room

It was 10:30 at night, in a gas station an hour away from home, when I saw them.  She was exhaling loudly and he had one arm around her shoulders and another on her belly.  A belly that looked like it was ready to launch off her body.

I was on my way out of the station, but when I saw her stance and big eyes, I asked them immediately if they were okay.

“We’re on the way to the hospital” he said, stating the obvious.  Then he took her into the washroom and I waited with my daughters outside the door, half expecting to hear a splashing sound from the toilet and the cry of a newborn.

When they emerged, still just the two of them, I asked them if they had family with them.  In the short exchange that followed I learned they were alone, this was their first child, and we knew each other!  He was from my home town.  I hadn’t thought about him in twenty years but when he said his name a faint vision of him with a snowboard and less facial hair re-surfaced.

Another woman standing nearby, filling up slurpee cups for a gaggle of young children, (presumably a family of night-owls since it was now nearing 11), gave her one look and said with a sigh, “Oh, I always hate that stage.” Then she went back to the slurpee machine as if labour was nothing more than a daily irritant.

I told them I was going to follow them to the hospital, still an hour of wheat and canola fields away.  “If you need to stop on the side of the road, don’t worry.  You’ll be fine.  Babies can be born anywhere.”  I thought of the beach towels in my trunk, still damp from our river swim, and figured they would make a fine swaddle.  “Where are you from?”  I asked quickly before jumping into the car, having noted an accent.  “Argentina,” she replied, and then I told her how brave she was, in Spanish.  It’s not often you meet someone from Patagonia in the prairies.

For the next hour I waited for the brake lights ahead of me to come on, but they never did.  By the time we made it to town I had coached my kids on how they would have to jump out of the car, run down the block, and wave at the front door once their dad let them in.  I was planning to take the couple to the hospital and stay with them until no longer needed.

For the next three and a half hours I got wet towels, rocked with her, massaged her feet and gripped her hand when she was ready to crawl out of her own body.  She took turns moaning through her contractions then vomiting during the breaks.  In a way, she was the perfect picture of grace; she feeling as if her body was breaking in two to give life.  By 2:30 am, high on oxytocin with my empathy levels still shooting through the roof, I knew I should leave so I would be able to function the next day with my own family.  Plus, the couple was heading for the showers and I wasn’t planning on jumping in with them.

I went home exhausted, but feeling lucky.  I am now more convinced than ever that a woman needs another woman’s hand to hold during labour.  This time it was mine.  And, how could I have known so many years earlier, I would be in the hospital with this sweet, gentle, father-to-be; rubbing lavender oil on his wife’s feet and supporting her while she buried her cries into my chest?

Life sometimes offers up weird and delicious moments such as these; when you feel like you’re sinking your teeth into the main course instead of picking at the carrot sticks and pickles before the meal begins.

… Oh, and it’s a girl.

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Remember how I was so excited about those scavenged apples?  Well, they’re still sitting pretty  in my basement, lined up on egg cartons, awaiting their fate.  I’ve been thinking about drying them, thinking about juicing them, thinking about making sauce out of them, thinking about freezing them… And then my Auntie Fritz sends me these doing pictures.  She makes her juice out of tiny, coin-sized apples that most people consider inedible.  Instead of letting “the birds go drunk on them” she cans up 100 jars of this stuff.  Here are her photos to inspire us thinkers:

The apple juice tree

Fritz’s canned apple juice