Cycling

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Chapter Forty

A light snow was falling on February ninth as we prepared to head to the hospital. My labor had started late in the night, and I hadn’t wanted to rush to the hospital. I could tell that it would be a while yet before the baby came. I was in the shower when my water broke, which made me very happy. No need to replace the mattress this time. I barely even noticed, since I was wet already. I felt a releasing, as if I was peeing, but it felt different, heavier. So I got out of the shower and dried off, dressing in comfortable fleece sweats. I even took the time to dry my hair. Then I told Ben that my water had broken. He had panicked, rushing from room to room, making sure we had everything ready for the hospital stay. I had packed bags for me and for the baby, and had placed them by the door, because I knew he would be worried like this.

“Ben, we really should get going.”

He carried the bags out to the car, while I waddled behind him. I settled into the front seat while he put the bags into the trunk. The carseat was buckled into the backseat, and the sight of it there was heartening. The next time we used the car, there would be someone in that seat. Finally. That thought carried me through as a contraction slammed my body. I tried to remind myself to breathe through it, but, God, the pain was awful.

Ben drove very carefully on the way to the hospital. Between my labor and the snow, he was increasingly anxious as the drive went on. I didn’t blame him, but I did need him to stay calm, if only to keep me calm.

“How far apart are the contractions?” he asked.

“Far enough. Stay calm and keep driving.”

“You’ll tell me if you need me to go faster, won’t you?”

“I will. Don’t go too fast. The roads could be slick with the snow.”

“I know, I know.”

I called Dr. Smith on my cell phone while Ben drove, talking to him between contractions. He agreed to meet us at the hospital. He asked about my contractions, and I filled him in on their timing and severity. So far, they weren’t as bad as the few I’d had when Anna was born, and they were still about five minutes apart, but irregular. I wasn’t worried that we would run out of time.

Still, Ben rushed me into the hospital upon arrival. “My wife is in labor,” he called out.

“Congratulations,” I replied, rolling my eyes. I went to the reception desk. “Elise Heller. I’m a patient of David Smith. He’s on his way.”

“Yep, he told us to expect you. Let me get you checked in.”

She placed hospital bracelets on my wrists before walking me into my room. While we waited for Dr. Smith to arrive, I moved around the room, trying to keep the momentum of my labor going. Each time a contraction hit, I braced myself against Ben, or the bed, or even the wall, crying out with the pain of it, trying to remember to breathe.

“Do you want me to call the nurse in?” Ben asked as the contractions got longer and closer together. “Do you want an epidural?”

I smiled at Ben. “No, thanks. I’m okay.”

“Don’t try to be brave, El. If you need something for the pain, let me know.”

“I will.”

How could I explain...? This wasn’t pain to me. Yes, it hurt. Oh, boy, did it. But it was a sign. Our child was coming. The pain was a reminder of how close we were. I relished every contraction, every pain that symbolized how close we were to the end.

Dr. Smith arrived and breezed into the room with a huge grin on his face.

“It’s time to have this baby, huh?”

I smiled back. “It’s time.”

“Do you mind if I check your progress?”

“Of course not.”

I climbed into the bed, as yet unused, and settled back against the pillows. As Dr. Smith checked my dilation and the position of the baby, I took a few breaths and tried to relax. It had already been a long day, and I still had a lot of work to do.

“Definitely looks like you’re almost there. You need to dilate a little bit more, maybe a centimeter, but the baby is descended. You are getting there. Maybe another hour or so.”

I could have skipped around the room. An hour. In an hour, I would be able to hold my baby. This was the best day of my life.

The increased pain didn’t make the day any less happy, but it did make me less happy. I was still full of excitement about meeting my child. But I was also being ripped apart. With every contraction, I cried out, squeezing the bed sheets in my fists. I did my best to remember to breathe, to move into positions that made laboring more comfortable, to move whenever I needed to. By the time I had changed my mind about pain medication, it was too late. The baby was coming, pushing itself out whether I was ready or not.

The pushing took much longer than it had with Anna. Two pushes wasn’t going to cut it with this one. After push number four, the baby’s head was out, and another push did the rest of the work. The baby began to scream immediately. It was magical and beautiful, that cry. Ben moved down to cut the baby’s cord.

“It’s a girl,” he said immediately. “She looks like her sister.”

She was placed in my arms, wet and wiggly, and wonderfully feisty. She did look like her sister. The same wisps of brown hair. The same nose.

“She’s beautiful,” I said breathlessly.

“Do you have a name?” the nurse asked.

“All those great boys’ names I’ve come up with are useless now,” Ben said with a smile.

“You’ve actually been thinking about names?” I asked.

“You…haven’t?”

“Of course not.”

“Oh.”

“What’s on your list?”

He looked down at our new daughter, at her tiny body that seemed so huge to me after her sister. She mewled and fussed against me, and I gently stroked her head.

“Brianna?” Ben said after a moment.

In my head, I knew it looked like Anna’s name, but out loud he’d said “on-na,” not the short A-as-in-apple that Anna’s name had. It was almost a reminder of her sister.

“We’d call her Brie,” Ben added.

“Like the cheese?”

“Sort of, I guess. If you want to look at it that way.”

Brie. I nuzzled my cheek against the baby’s downy head.

“What do you think, baby?” I said softly.

She let out another tiny baby noise, and I took that as an agreement.

Brianna it was.

After a moment, the nurse came to collect Brie so that she could weight and measure her, and give her a quick sponge bath. All of this took place an arm’s reach from the bed where I was beginning my recovery from the birth – a couple of stitches, no big deal, as long as I didn’t think about where those stitches went. I saw her weight pop up on the scale immediately, a healthy seven pounds three ounces. I listened to her gripe her way through her first bath, displeased with the water temperature or the brand of soap, or some other persnickety baby thing. And when she was clean, and dressed, and diapered, my daughter was returned to my arms, where she snuggled against my breast and did her best to feed.

It was a strange sensation, breastfeeding. I had spent so much time on the pump when Anna was born. I had thought this would be the same, or at least similar. But it didn’t feel the same at all. My heart caught as I watched her try to nurse, her tiny fist on the top of my breast, her little mouth working.

“I should call the girls,” I said suddenly.

“They’re on their way,” Ben replied. “I took care of it.”

“You’re the best.”

“I know.”

Ben sat next to me, and we watched our daughter try to get the hang of this breastfeeding thing. She was a demanding little thing, wanting more than I could give her. I couldn’t get over how strong, and how huge, she felt in my arms. I couldn’t believe that this was my life now. This beautiful surprise baby was going to come live in our house. I would be able to watch her grow up. To see her take her first steps. To see her learn to ride a bike. This was really happening. Soon it would be all sleepless nights, and realizing how sore I was after giving birth. But for now, I was soaking it all in.

Brie eventually wore herself out nursing, and collapsed against me in a deep sleep. Her bottom lip quivered with tiny baby sighs as she slept. It was incredible.

“Do you want to hold her?” I asked Ben after a moment.

“I don’t want to wake her.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

The transfer went perfectly, and Brie snuggled into her father’s arms for the duration of her nap.

By the time Paige and Julianne arrived, Brie had awoken from her brief nap. She was an alert little thing, ready to take on the world. Her favorite aunties came bearing flowers and balloons, as well as Brie’s future best friends, Nate and Sadie. I couldn’t help by tear up, realizing that finally, after all this time, my friends and I were all mothers. A friendship that had begun because we were all waiting had come full circle.

“Congratulations!” Paige whispered.

“You don’t have to whisper,” I whispered back. “She’s wide awake.”

“Baby,” Sadie said from Julianne’s arms.

“Yes,” I replied. “Baby.”

“What are the baby’s stats?” Julianne asked.

“Seven pounds three ounces. Twenty inches long. Brown hair, blue eyes. Her father’s nose.”

“It’s a girl?”

“The pink blanket didn’t give it away?”

“And her name?”

“Brianna Eleanor Heller,” I replied.

My friends looked down at my daughter and back up at me.

“Perfect,” Julianne said.

Paige nodded her agreement. “Perfect.”

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