Why, during intense moments or important events, do our brains remind fixate on something mundane or insignificant or inconsequential?
Emily Dickinson's poem I heard a Fly buzz--when I died is the perfect example of this phenomenon. The speaker of the poem is literally on their deathbed, the room still, the people gathered 'round to witness the event done crying-- and the speaker fixates on a fly. It's the last thing they see before death.
My life-altering event wasn't death: it was my water breaking.
And my brain didn't notice any flies in the room: it thought, Don't get the couch wet. That would be a pain to clean up.
Why? Why, Brain? Why, at 3:11 a.m., after being awoken with the sensation of wetting myself, were you concerned about the couch staying clean? You were so determined to achieve this end you directed me to grab the closest blanket-- a hideous Redskins throw blanket-- and hold it between my legs to prevent any fluids from ruining the couch or rug.
I thought that women's waters only broke and gushed in movies and sit coms. After all, with my first daughter, KO, my waters didn't break until well into labor.
With this second baby, I had (like with my first) zero signs of labor. No backaches, no cramping, no nothing. Her due date of January 26th came and went, and if I'm being honest, I was a big disappointed. Her big sister had arrived on her due date, and I was certain I would go into labor earlier with my second baby. But I was wrong.
I began to mentally prepare myself for being "overdue" (although I kind of bristle at that term-- estimated due dates are just that: estimates). For all the annoying questions from well-meaning folks, all the comments about how I looked "ready to pop."
I knew I shouldn't be TOO attached to my due date, but truth be told? I was. I was still working (teaching part-time and writing part-time), and the LAST thing I wanted to do was waddle around a room of teenagers who asked questions like "does labor hurt worse than a migraine?" and "what do you mean you can feel the baby move?" and "how does the baby eat and breathe when it's inside of you?" and "who in this classroom would you trust to catch your baby if you had it right now?"
This second pregnancy was physically very easy and similar to KO's: I had a little more nausea a little longer, and I had one random bout of spotting during the second trimester, but other than that, it was a piece of cake.
But I'll admit that mentally, I wasn't in a good place. With the first baby, there was pure excitement: hypnobirthing and breastfeeding classes, decorating the nursery, buying frilly onesies and fluffy blankets, stocking up on lactation cookies.
With the second one, there was reality: the knowledge that I would love this little girl with all of my heart, yes, but also some fear.
-Fear that my relationship with my oldest would change.
-Fear that I would have a complicated birth (my first one was so straightforward and just dreamlike that there was no WAY I was going to get that again. I mean, what are the chances?).
-Fear of the pain of childbirth because, yes, I had KO without pain medication... and yes, it hurt like crazy.
-Fear of six weeks of unpaid maternity leave, and fear of leaving a newborn with a sitter, and fear of taking two kids out to run errands by myself.
-Fear of breastfeeding again-- the first six weeks with KO were absolutely BRUTAL. My nipples cracked and bled, and I cried and even screamed sometimes when she latched. I often said that nursing hurt worse than labor because it was WEEKS of excruciating pain.
-Fear of who was going to be able to come watch KO if I went into labor in the middle of the night.
So truth be told, I was mentally overwhelmed by the time my due date rolled around. I wanted my baby in my arms, but I didn't want to go through the process of getting her there. When January 26th came and went with no baby, I resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to be pregnant for two more weeks. Mentally, I checked out. Do you ever do this? There is an inevitable impending unpleasant task or event, and instead of tackling it, you just ignore it or disassociate from it? That was me on January 26th.
Then, at 3:11 a.m. on January 27th, everything changed. I awoke, alert, on the couch, where my whale-like self had been sleeping for months due to the close proximity to the kitchen and the distance from my loving but snoring husband.
Did I just pee myself? I thought. Man, that's going to be a pain to clean if it gets on this couch.
I immediately called the midwife on call number at the hospital where I'd be delivering. After a few minutes, Holly called me back, and I told her my water had broken.
"No," I answered.
She explained that I was now "on the clock" and that I needed to deliver within 24 hours, which I knew. We talked about how I should go lie down and sleep, stay hydrated, and call if there was any bright red blood or if I started having contractions close together.
"Call us back in twelve hours if nothing is happening or changing, and we'll talk about ways to try to get things moving," she said.
Great, I thought to myself, biting my lip and eyes welling with tears. I'm going to have to be induced, and that increases my chances of a c-section, and this labor is going to suck.
I then woke my husband up-- no easy feat-- and calmly informed him that my waters had broken but I wasn't having contractions and I was just going to curl up in bed next to him and get some sleep. I put down a waterproof mat on my side of the bed and laid down...
... for literally like ten minutes.
Then my body decided it was labor time. Contractions started. I felt annoyed: I didn't even get my nap. I took a shower-- the hot water running down my back eased the pain temporarily. I asked my husband to call our doula and let her know what was going on.
I stumbled down the hall to get my labor ball to bounce on.
Then I remembered: Shoot. Final grades for report cards are due today.
"Hey, babe, will you go downstairs and get my work computer?"
I kid you not when I tell you that I graded electronic student assignments in between contractions, inputting scores and clicking on prewritten comments to go on their report cards.
Eventually, the contractions were intense enough that I wanted to go the hospital. I didn't care that my water had only broken 90 minutes ago or that I wasn't timing my contractions and didn't know if they were 5-1-1 yet. I just knew I wanted to be at the hospital ASAP.
So, I told hubby to call my mom, who lives about 45 minutes away and was going to come stay with our toddler. She didn't answer. I stepped out of the shower and dialed her on my phone at 4:49 a.m.
My groggy mom answered: "Hello?"
Me: "Can you come up?"
Her, still disoriented: "Um... can you hold on a second?"
Me, in a fit of pain-induced rage: "NO I CANNOT HOLD ON A SECOND! I am literally in labor!" *screams for husband to come talk to my mom and to call the doula and midwife and our backup childcare and let everyone know it's go time*
Thank goodness our backup childcare, Alison, literally lives in our neighborhood and answered her phone. She showed up, and I heard my husband giving her brief instructions as I was throwing on clothes and groaning through a contraction at the top of the stairs.
We hopped in my husband's car, and he drove at a painstakingly slow pace down I-95. My Type A brain went through the checklist of all the things we needed for the hospital.
"You grabbed my wallet right?"
Him: "No...do you want to turn around and go get it?"
Y'all, I'm not sure why I said yes. In that moment, I had visions of being turned away at Labor and Delivery because I didn't have my ID and insurance card, and I decided that yes, we should turn around and go get my wallet. I would worry about how to punish my husband for forgetting my wallet later.
Here are some other things he did wrong. And before you think I'm "husband shaming" him, please understand that my primitive brain really did think he was doing everything wrong as I was laboring to get ready to birth his child:
1) Forgot my wallet
2) Didn't know where to park despite the VERY clear signs that said "Stork Parking" in the parking garage
3) Pressed the button to the wrong floor on the elevator, despite the VERY clear signs that indicated the main floor was on level 8
4) Offered me his jacket because I was shivering. I snapped at him that I wasn't cold; shaking is what my body does when I vomit (oh yeah, I apparently like to throw up during labor, so that's fun)
5) Allowed people to offer me wheelchairs. NO I DO NOT WANT A WHEELCHAIR. Let me walk, people.
Here is what he did right:
He listened to me. In the car, I had told him that I wanted an epidural. I knew I COULD do a med free birth, and it was what I thought I wanted, but mentally, I was in a negative place. I wasn't confident like I was with my first baby-- I was fearful and felt unprepared and weak. I just didn't want to do it, even though I knew I could. And I told him as much.
As soon as we got to the hospital, he talked to my doula and told her this update. She came and talked to me, and I assured her this was what I wanted.
Then the midwife arrived. I remember the room was dark, and there were white Christmas lights hung on the wall above the bed. There was some sort of annoying pop music playing. I can't remember the song, but I remember feeling distinctly annoyed and wishing for some classical piano or calm spa music.
Somehow I ended up on the bed and the midwife performed a cervical check. "Well, you're ten centimeters," she announced.
I didn't have time for an epidural. Or to labor in the spacious tub.
But looking back, I realize now I didn't need any of that. My body really did know what it was doing, and I listened to it. I had labored standing up, "dancing" with my husband while my doula provided counterpressure from behind. When it came time to push, I asked to push in a different position, and the nurse got a birthing bar for me to hold onto. As I was pushing, I remember pep talking myself: Get.this.baby.out.of.you and the pain will be over. That's how this ends.
I'm pretty sure Lillian was born within three or four pushes. I reached down and helped pull her up onto my chest: "We've been waiting for you," I exclaimed.
And in that moment, all the fear I'd had, all the hesitations, all the uncertainties completely vanished. She was here, and she was perfect-- all 9 lb, 6 oz of her!
We could finally announce her name to the world: Lillian Rey. "Lillian" means "lily flower," and those are often symbols of beauty and purity. It is our prayer that her heart and spirit remain beautiful and pure always. "Rey" was tough-- we went back and forth about the spelling literally until we were in the hospital! We decided on "Rey" for two reasons (and yes, we know it's a Spanish word): 1) Star Wars, and 2) it means "king" in Spanish.
I kind of love giving a strong name to a little girl, and I kind of love that it's "king" and not "queen" because #genderequality-- the connotation of the word "king" is so much different than "queen"!
Katherine's: John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27
Lillian's life verse: 1 Corinthians 16:13 "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong."
We adore you, sweet baby girl. We are so thankful God has given you to us!