Saturday, January 24, 2009

Baby Wait


Eight years ago this week Marty and I -- and our entire family -- lived through the most extraordinary week of our lives.

It was the week our child was born. Not only that, it was the week she became ours. And there were minutes in there that we were not sure if she would.
The birth of every child is an incredible journey. Ours just had a few more dips and turns than most. I don't think I can write it any better now than I did then, so I've decided to share some excerpts from my journal that week. I'd love to share the whole crazy story someday, when I can find the time and the proper venue. For now, I'm offering just a snippet. Keep in mind that we had not yet met the mother of our child, we had only spoken to her on the phone. She had made her decision and she had chosen us. All we could do was wait.

Not only that, we had prepared for another baby, whose mother chose to parent 19 days before the due date. Needless to say, we were terrified that this too would end in sorrow. The nursery was all ready and waiting. Our hearts were completely vulnerable. All we could do was wait.

This was the culmination of a six-year journey ....



January 23, 2001

The phone rang.

Caller ID said it was Gail.

After accepting the charges,

“Hello.”

“Hey.”

“What’s up?”

“I’m going in.”

“Going in? Going in where?”

My heart skipped a beat. My breath stopped.

“I’m going in the hospital.”

“Are you in labor?”

“Well, I think my water bag broke. I had to change my clothes twice already today.”

Oh my God.

“Are you having contractions?”

“No. I don’t think so. But, I called the doctor and he said to go on in.”

By now, I am heading out the kitchen door with the cordless phone, into the backyard where Marty is standing with the parents of his two hitters.

“Do you have someone to bring you?”

I am staring right at my husband as I ask the question. He smiles that goofy grin of his.

“Yeah. I’m going to call Miss Judy and if she can’t bring me there’s somebody else I can call.”

“Well. Call us if you need us.”

“OK. I’ll call you and let you know if they admit me.”

I hit the talk button and stare at my husband. He keeps on grinning at me. I hate it when he does that.

But, I fill him in. The waiting parents listen, offer their good thoughts.

I am stunned. This can’t possibly be happening.

I call my mother. She calls Lou. We sit by the phone and wait. And wait and wait and wait.

Shortly after 5 p.m., I’m starting to settle in to watch the Golden Globes when the phone rings again.

“You have a collect call from … Gail… You may accept the charges by pressing one.”

I press the TALK button again and hang up on her.

Oh my god.

Marty chastises me. I almost throw the phone at him. Instead I yell at him. He keeps on grinning, grading papers.

What seems like an eternity passes before the phone rings again. This time, he answers. Still grinning. Then he hands the phone to me.

“You made me so nervous I pushed the wrong button!”

She laughs.

“They put me in a room. They said my water broke and I am dilated three centimeters.”

“Do you need us to come?”

“Well, you want your baby don’t you?”

Uh duh uh duh. “yeah.”

I write down the room number and the phone number. Tell her we’ll be there as soon as we can.

The next hours are a blur. I call Mom. I call our attorney. I call my boss at home. No answer. Steve. No answer. Colleen at work. “I’ll take it from here,” she says.

An hour later we’re on the road, terrified and electrified at the same time. We call everyone we can think of -- friends, family, co-workers, bosses. Marty's children. Marty tries to call his principal. I am suddenly reminded that we do not yet have a car seat. I don’t even have a diaper bag!!!

Just after 7 p.m. we’re following the signs to the Family Birthing Unit of Terrebonne General Medical Center. We go past the emergency room, past the Fathers’ Waiting Room, the Family Waiting Room, the Short Stay Center, then finally to Labor and Delivery. We walk through a set of double doors.

“May I help you?”
We hear her, but can’t see her until we turn a corner.

“We’re here to see Ms. L.”

They point and we knock. And there she is. The mother of our child, smiling nervously from a hospital bed in a dim room. Very nervous.

We make introductions.

I have no idea what to say. What to do. Do I hug her? Do we shake hands? Instead we stand there, nervously. I tell her I have a cold and don’t want to get too close. We just stand there. She has a friend with her, sitting in the rocking chair. Marty pulls up the other chair (I think it’s a birthing chair) and I sit. We all just sit. We watch TV. The Simpsons. Malcolm in the Middle. An occasional comment is exchanged. It is very awkward.

This is a stranger. There is no connection. It is not a warm and fuzzy moment for any of us. It’s just awkward and uncomfortable. The tension is finally broken when she decides she needs a bed pan. We excuse ourselves, gratefully.

Outside, Marty, the smart one, grins at the nurse.

“Get many adoptive parents?”

And we meet nurse Esther Lirette. She has a wonderful smile and an even better attitude.

“Not too many. Are you going to adopt the baby?”

We nod, sheepishly.

“Oh. That’s wonderful. I adopted my two babies. My oldest is 17. He’s about to meet his birthmother. We’re all excited.”

We feel better, not like vultures.

Nurse Lirette tries to explain what’s going on. Her water broke but she’s not really in labor. She’s having occasional contractions, but there is no pattern. They have no idea of a timetable of any kind. They don’t want to push it. They’re just going to wait for nature to take its course.

Nature has no idea what she is doing to us!

So, we head to the cafeteria to look for … well, neither of us is really hungry. But we go into the nearly-empty cafeteria and order hamburgers. Then, for the next hour, we sit and try to make sense of what’s going on.

But something tells me this isn’t it. We’re not in labor. We’re not having a baby. Not tonight. This is just a … test. Am I passing it? We talk about Gail and our first impressions. We both think she is just really sweet and nervous. We wonder what she thinks of us. We hope she didn’t take one look at us and change her mind.

I am bouncing off the walls. Marty has picked up an old Sports Illustrated and is leafing through it. He is driving me nuts. The ostrich is sticking his head in the sand again. I am worried to death. What if this is it? I’m not ready! I don’t even have a diaper bag, for God’s sake? What if something goes wrong and the baby has to stay in the hospital for a week? Do we stay? What are we going to do about work? A thousand questions. No answers.

But, we do decide that it’s best for us to go home. Nothing is going to happen tonight. We’ll come back first thing in the morning unless something happens. Everyone agrees. We finally go back to her room. Nurse Lirette tells us Gail is going to hit us up for some Burger King, then they’re going to give her something to sleep.

Not tonight, folks.

“Don’t spoil her too much.”

Gail does sheepishly ask for a chicken sandwich from Burger King. We readily agree. I drive because Marty doesn’t know Houma. I make two wrong turns and miss another, but finally we’re driving up to Burger King on Tunnel Boulevard.

“Our first meal for our daughter-to-be,” I say.

So, we drop it off and say goodnight. We make her promise to call if anything happens. She does. And we drive off into the cold January night.

Just past Raceland, we get a flat tire.

Neither of us could sleep at all. We rolled. I know Marty didn’t sleep because he didn’t even snore. It was awful. The fear, the worry, the anxiety, the waiting for the phone to ring. The fear that it might – or might not. Is this the beginning of parenthood?

Monday morning we dress and head back to Houma, overnight bags packed and hopeful that today we will become parents.

Nope.

I spend three hours sitting with Gail, watching Gail and her friend watch TV, trying to read a magazine, trying not to crawl up the walls while Marty goes off to get our tire fixed and to visit old coaching buddies. I do get a break when Gail needs another bed pan, I try to call Marty on the cell phone. He has it turned off. Duh. (Gail and I get him for that later. We tell him that he missed it, the baby is here!)

He finally comes for me and we head to Lou’s for a break and for dinner. I fall fast asleep on the sofa.

We return to the hospital a few hours later for an update. She isn’t in labor. She still is having occasional contractions with no set pattern. They won’t even examine her for fear of infection. We tell them we don’t want to miss it. They tell us that the only way we’ll miss it is if there is an emergency. There will be plenty of time.

Once again we head home, fearful, anxious, worried and scared.

But we sleep.

January 24, 2001

I wonder who came up with the phrase, “the cold hand of fear.”

There is nothing cold about fear. Fear is hot and heavy and it burns like a smoldering fire in the pit of the belly. It doesn’t chill, it churns. And it feels like a hot, heavy rock sitting in my stomach.

All day long I felt it. As I sped up the interstate toward New Orleans this morning, I started my fatalistic visions of the future. By the time I hit Metairie, I was convinced that Gail was going to change her mind, that I would be right where I always am on Monday – right at my desk, with high school basketball standings to update and soccer games to cover.

Of course, by the time I hit Causeway Boulevard, I was debating which bridge would be better to jump off of – the Hale Boggs or the Veterans Memorial. I ultimately decided on the Veterans Bridge because, well, less traffic and I don’t think anyone has jumped from it yet.

Yes. It got that far.

Lunch time came and I had no desire for food. But, my nephew and future Godfather Lee said he had something in his car for me, so I met him and forced myself to eat a ham sandwich from the deli. My stomach was already churning.

After lunch, Lee and I went into the parking lot. He pulled his car up to mine and opened the hatch to reveal a brand new baby car seat – just the one I wanted, too!!! I squealed with delight, praying he would not have to return it.

By 3 p.m., the taste of bile was thick in my throat. I really thought my ham sandwich was going to return to haunt me. I went down to the cafeteria in search of something cool and creamy to quench the burning in my belly, to loosen the knot twisting there. I ate an ice cream sandwich. It didn’t help.

Then I called Gail. I finally caught her awake and alone. We chatted. She sounded the same as always. And, finally, the heat began to subside. The doctor told her that the baby appears to weigh at least five pounds, that she is between 35 and 36 weeks. Excellent. I told her that my sister-in-law Lou was going to go visit her later this evening. She sounded happy about that. And once again, I was reassured. She’s sure. She’s committed.

But still I worry.

Not until I talked to Lou did the pain finally go away. Lou went to the hospital and spent more than an hour visiting with the mother of my soon-to-be child.

“Lori can’t eat. She can’t sleep. She’s so worried,” Lou said.

“Tell her to stop,” Gail said. “Once I’ve made up my mind about something, I’m not changing it.”

They talked about pregnancy. They talked about their children. They talked about Dulac. They talked about me. They talked about her decision. They connected the way Gail and I did not. We never really had the chance to. Lou went right in and became her best friend. I’m only her best friend on the telephone.

Lou told her how happy everybody is that she found us. And, later, I told Lou how happy I am to have her.

And Pepto Bismol.

January 26, 2001

It’s just after midnight on Friday, January 26, 2001.

And today could be my daughter’s birthday.

After a week of anxious waiting and praying, they have decided to begin inducing Gail’s labor at 4:30 a.m. The nurse told her she should deliver by noon.

Oh my God.

I was at Wal-Mart when Lou paged me with the news. I was standing in front of a wall of greeting cards, trying to find one appropriate. There wasn’t one. Hallmark hasn’t invented a “Thanks for giving us your baby” card. I ended up buying one about God bringing people together.

I hit the baby section, too. I needed a diaper bag!!! I found one. I also bought some little newborn outfits. I am afraid all my pink baby clothes are going to be too big! I bought the Playtex nurser starter kit.

Then I came home and tried to take care of business!! I called Cheryl. I called Mom. I called Jane and Pappy. I tried hard to call Marty. He had his first booster club meeting tonight. He could have missed the whole birth!!!

I cleaned house and did some laundry. I washed the baby’s outfits and some blankets, then I put all the crib stuff in the wash ( I don’t think I had washed any of it!)

And I’m still trying to get used to this whole idea. Mom asked me today, “How excited are you?”

The answer? Not very yet. It’s all too surreal. Is this IT? Is this REALLY it?

I spent the whole day telling everyone. I presented the Casey Kosminski award to Tim Detillier at the LHSAA convention luncheon. I saw Lynne and Evelyn and Jay Jay Juan and a bunch of my old coaches.

“Tomorrow!!” I told them all. “Tomorrow!”

When I got to the main office, I had a lovely gift waiting for me. Billy had bought me a cup that said, “Mother.” There was a card, signed by all who show up for work on a Thursday noon – Josh, Doug, Steve, King, Billy, Darrell. It was so cute. “Proud to be the godfather,” wrote Josh.

I also had my meeting with the publisher. Never before was I concerned with such things as maternity leave. But now I am. Because I’m not physically giving birth, I can only use one week of my sick leave for the baby’s birth. I have four weeks of vacation because I’ve been at the T-P for more than 10 years. I’ll use three. I can use one week of my sick leave to care for a family member (everyone gets this). I’ll have to save one week of vacation for whatever emergencies might come up. So, I’m ready to hit Ashton with this one, asking about leave time for adoption..

“I am hoping to adopt a child that is being born tomorrow…” Everyone congratulates me. I explain to Ashton the predicament. He brings up the Family Leave Act.

“I’m adopting a baby. I can’t afford to take time off without pay.”

He said he would think about it.



February 6, 2001

And here it is, now 11 days later.

I am a mom.

I have been dying to get up here to my computer, to sit down, collect my thoughts and record all the events of the last week and a half. I have been so afraid I will forget all the details. Incredibly, this is the first opportunity I have had.

My baby is 11 days old! She has had a steady stream of visitors and well-wishers, all bearing wonderful gifts to welcome her to this world. It is so incredible I can’t believe it. In between visitors, there have been phone calls (mostly from my mother), feedings every 3 hours, diapering in between and hours and hours of just staring at this face. This incredible face. And, frankly, my brain has been too tired to even attempt to collect any kind of thoughts.

Until now.



So, let us go back to Friday, January 26, 2001.

Marty and I woke early. Like kids on Christmas morning, we woke up full of anticipation and excitement. Like any adoptive parent, we also woke up with the knot of fear and worry in our stomachs. Today is the day. Please, God, let it all go according to plan.

We're trying to get ourselves together as quickly as possible. Showering, coffee, dressing (what does one wear to the birth of one’s child?) packing, making sure we have everything we need and a bag of books, my needlepoint, playing cards to pass the time.

Breathe.

By 8 a.m., we were in the car. I had the day’s two newspapers. I tried to read them. I could not concentrate. We hit every school zone, of course, slowing our progress. Marty was driving too fast. Nervous. My mind was going a million miles an hour.

We finally hit the stretch of road between Raceland and Houma. It’s a one-lane right now, due to construction. And, of course, we get stuck behind a Louisiana State Trooper. That probably was a good thing.

Then, my pager went off. Lou.

“Where are you?”

I told her.

“Well, she just called me. She’s in labor. She had to hang up in the middle of a pain.”

Oh God. We waited too late. I call her room. She answers. I can hear the pain in her voice.

“We’re on our way,” I tell her.

“Hurry.”

Damn that State Trooper.

All thoughts of reading the newspaper are gone now. I suddenly start to cry. It’s real. This is it. This child is finally being born. Today. Now. Within a few hours. And I’m terrified that she won’t be coming home with me. I pray to Mary and to St. Gerard. Please.

At 9 a.m. we finally get to the hospital. We’re rushing. Camera. Bag of books. Purse. Coat.

A few minutes later, we walk into her room. Her friend is there, rocking in the rocking chair, watching Baby Story in the Learning Channel. Gail is VERY uncomfortable. Writhing in pain, trying not to cry, trying not to curse. She fails.

Marty says, “I’ll be down the hall.”

I feel so helpless. I want to help. I want to hold her hand.

“Do you want me to touch you?”

She writhes away. “NO.”

I gently squeeze her big toe. That’s all I can do.

A nurse comes in. She’s pregnant too. I wonder if this scares the bejeesus out of her. She gives Gail a shot for pain. All it does, really, is make her drowsy. Her curses are now slurred. Soon, she’s begging for ice. When it comes, I gently feed her some. Finally I can do something.

Soon they come to prepare for the epidural. That’s what she has been waiting for. Jeannie and I leave. They give Jeannie a beeper and tell her they will page her when we can come back. I go find Marty.

We spend the next 45 minutes in the family waiting room, waiting, watching two cute little girls play chase across the room. I call Mom. I call Lou. We’re just waiting. Praying. Hoping. Trying to do things right.

Rhett drops in. He’s on his way to New Orleans to help a co-worker move. Lou made him come. We all sit around and chat for a while. Then he leaves.

Next a cute blonde girl pops in, looking for me. It’s Jessica, the hospital social worker. She tells me about her visits with Gail, that Gail seems very sure of what she is doing. She has decided to see the baby and spend time with her. That is reassuring, yet frightening. When birthmothers refuse to see the child, it sends up red flags. Nevertheless, it is frightening to a hopeful adoptive parent. What if she loves it too much? But, Jessica encouraged her to do so and seems confident about it.

We ask about procedures. How things will happen after the baby is born. She does her best to lay it all out. It’s all relatively easy. The hospital has a release form. Gail can sign that and they will let us take the baby home with us. No provisional custody agreement is needed. Melanie doesn’t even have to come to Houma. This is wonderful news. For one thing, Melanie’s aunt is very ill in Texas and she is trying desperately to get there. For another, it eases some fears. Some hospitals, we have heard, refuse to even acknowledge adoption. The birthmother goes home with the baby. Period. What she does with it after that is none of their concern. Melanie has said that she has had to do some agreements in hospital parking lots. Daniel’s teacher’s parents had to meet the attorney at the old K&B drug store. This is so much better.

A few minutes later, the beeper goes off. Jeannie and I head back to Gail’s room. She is in a much nicer place, now.

There are more people there. Another girlfriend of Gail’s. Lots of nurses. They are actually moving Gail to another place. I help gather up her things and carry them to the new spot – Delivery Room 9. There is another woman outside.

“Hi Lori. I’m Judy.”

Judy Lirette. Our saint. Our deliverer. The one who gave Gail our letter all those months ago. I hug her.

“I’m praying,” I tell her.

“I know.”

They work to get Gail settled. She wants the TV on.

“How long?” I ask no one in particular.

“We don’t know,” no one in particular answers. “Could be a few minutes. Could be a few hours.”

I don’t want to stay in this room. Gail had already said that she really did not want me in the delivery room. It stung at the time. Now, I understand completely. And I really don’t want to be there either.

“I’m going to go find food,” I say. “While I have the chance. Come find me if anything happens. We’ll be in the cafeteria.”

First I go to the waiting room where Marty waits. We head toward the cafeteria. I really want coffee. Something to soothe my stomach.

The cafeteria is closed.

We head to the machines. I get an iced oatmeal cookie and a chocolate Yoohoo soda. Marty gets a pack of blueberry muffins. We sit down in the main lobby to eat. We talk. We eat. We don’t say much. We are both scared to death.

Marty decides to go run his errands. He needs to go to the bank to cash his paycheck (so we have some money!). He wants to go to Sears to pick up our tire being repaired.

“Leave your cell phone on,” I tell him. “And if I tell you to turn around, turn around.”

He kisses me and dashes off.

I head back to our waiting room where there is a payphone. I call Mom. I call Lou.

“They have moved her to a delivery room,” I tell them. “Could be an hour. Could be 5 hours.” Lou tells me that a girl she knows had the epidural and then quit having labor pains for four days. Oh goodie.

Then I head back to Gail’s room. I knock. The nurse, the same pregnant one, comes to the door.

“One of you want to go talk to her?”

Oh God. What’s happening.

Judy comes out. “This is it! We’re just waiting for the doctor”

Oh God.

I run back to the waiting room and start dialing.

“Marty. Turn around.”

“Mom, she’s delivering. They’re waiting for the doctor.”

“Lou, she’s delivering. They’re waiting for the doctor.”

Lou squeals.

I head back down the hall and start pacing. Just like a nervous father would.

This is what it must have been like in the old days, before they allowed people to watch. I imagined my father pacing these halls as I was being born, not being allowed in to watch. And I prayed like all get-out. Holding my St. Gerard medal to my lips, I prayed, I begged. I said a million Hail Mary’s. I could not breathe.

I am parked in an intersecting hallway. Around the corner to my right is the hallway that leads to the main entrance. Around the corner to my left is the hallway that leads straight to Gail’s room. I can see the door of the room through a large set of glass-topped double doors. Directly in front of me is the hallway to surgery. I see more than a few patients wheeled by. See doctors find family members to update them, just like in the movies. I feel like I’m in the way. In the wrong place. Then the elevator door opens and I see them wheel a little baby cart into the nursery. It must be close.

Where is Marty? He is taking too long. Way too long. He is just determined to miss this. I am reaching into my purse for my phone when he FINALLY turns the corner. Thank God. We hug. I fill him in. We wait.

Suddenly, my niece Lena turns the corner.

“They sent me,” she says, throwing up her hands.

We all stand in the corner. Waiting. I tell Lena she’s in THAT room, pointing to the closed door. Only now, it’s not closed.

One of the nurses is coming out, both hands full of linens. She nods. She motions with her head, Come on.

Really?

Come on.

I throw everything at Lena – purse, camera, untouched bag of books, coat. We dash toward the room.

Yes, I am holding my breath as I walk into the room. There is Judy, Jeannie, Sue (Gail’s friends). A nurse is smoothing Gail’s sheets. And there is Gail, sitting up like she’s just finished eating breakfast, but holding the tiniest little bundle of a baby I have ever seen. The picture is burned into my memory. My steps into the room are tentative. I keep expecting her to tell me to go away.

She does not.

“Are you ready for your daughter?

Oh my God.

I start to cry.

I move toward her.

The nurse stops me. She tells me to wash my hands. I do so through my tears. As fast as I can.

Take two.

Gail gently hands me this tiny little bundle as everyone begins to cry.

And there she is. Looking like she had just been in a really bad fight. Red as a beet. Eyes swollen and blackened. The most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I am holding a baby. My baby.

It is all so surreal. I can’t believe it is happening. I can’t believe we got this far. Past the being chosen, past the doctor’s appointments, into the hospital, past the birth. I’m praying it all doesn’t come to a crashing halt.

I hand her to Marty. He too is surprised at her appearance. Later he tells me the first thing he thought of is the line from the movie Rocky. “Cut me Mick. ” Because of her swollen eyes. He goes over to hug Gail, still holding the baby in his arms.

The nurse tells us she has to take the baby upstairs to the nursery. There are tests to do and they have to clean her up. I waited a lifetime for such a brief moment. But it was pure bliss.



On Monday, January 26, 2009, that baby girl will be eight years old.

Gail is Lora Leigh's birth mother, her first mother, and she is a part of our family. Lora Leigh knows her and the half-sister she has, and has met aunts, uncles, cousins and her grandfather. They know her. The see her at least twice a year.

Lora is in second grade now. She's a smart, beautiful, funny, talented little girl with big dreams and (I think) a very bright future. She loves to sing and act and dance. She writes funny stories. She draws great pictures. And she is the light of my life.

Maybe, someday, she will come to know and understand how wanted she was, how cherished she is. Maybe, someday, she will read the whole story of her journey to us. Maybe she too will feel that it was all, somehow, meant to be. Maybe she too will think of it as a miracle.

We do.

And I hope this story gives hope to all the couples out there who are waiting, and hoping, and holding their breath. If you don't believe in miracles, you should. And I hope your story also has a happy ending.

LL

Thursday, January 1, 2009

T'wasn't quite the season to be jolly

It's January 1, 2009.

Visit my house today and you would hardly know that the Christmas season just passed. The tree has already been picked up from the side of the street. The lights are off of my house. All the decorations are safely back in their boxes and put away in the secret closet under the stairs.

The only signs still visible are the few late Christmas gifts we received after the 25th, and the leftover cupcakes in the kitchen.

Christmas is over over here. And it ended none too soon.

No one was exactly in the mood. We did things half-heartedly. Our tempers were short. Our tears too close to the surface.

This was our first Christmas without Pappy. My husband's first Christmas without his dad, Jane's first without a husband, my kids' first without their grandfather. And he was noticeably absent -- not just in the kitchen.

It was his job to get the turkey done -- his and Marty's. They would spend hours in the kitchen, cutting up the seasonings and soaking the bread for their turkey stuffing. But the time was measured in hi-balls.

Pappy may not have been the loudest or the biggest person in the room, but his presence always was felt. He seemed to enjoy hanging out in the back, on the fringe of the crowd, observing. Rarely commenting. Just enjoying it all.

But I know he would have loved to have heard Lora sing her solo in church. And I know he would have taken a big piece of that apple pie for dessert.

But we said our prayers and our toasts and tried to keep him in the room. We tried not to be too sad, too maudlin. We tried not to miss him too much.

We tried.