Slow Down: Journey From Parent To Grandparent And Beyond
Emily’s already wide almond eyes doubled in size with shock and panic as she stood in front of me. “I think my water just broke” she spoke softly in disbelief. Her silky mahogany strands fell onto her face as she looked down to the puddle that had formed at her feet. This was it, the moment we’d waited for nine long months. My baby was about to have a baby of her own– a fact that had not hit me until then. She had been having mild contractions since early in the day, but none severe enough to go to the hospital. Hospital policy was to not come in until the contractions were so bad you could not walk or talk or when your water broke. Thoughts of years before when I was standing before my own mother getting ready to bring my daughter into the world filled me. How did I go from that moment so long ago to this one in the blink of an eye? How did my sweet little baby grow into this beautiful kind woman who stood before me?
I remember when I gave birth to Emily. I couldn’t believe that after giving birth to three daughters who looked like I adopted them, I finally had one who looked exactly like me. I prayed while I was pregnant that if I couldn’t have a boy, I wanted a baby who looked like me. Seeing her grown, there are subtle differences. Her wide brown almond eyes are framed with long thick lashes that brush the lenses of her glasses. My eyelashes were thin and needed mascara for color.
The similarities stopped with physical appearance. Personality wise, she couldn’t be more different. Starting out from a shy reserved girl who always seemed to walk in the shadows of her three older sisters to one who has bloomed into her own person was a sight to see. Still somewhat reserved but spoke her mind when needed.
Unfortunately, not all dads are overjoyed with the thought of having a baby. My daughter’s boyfriend wanted her but wasn’t interested in being a father at all. Wanting what was best for her little girl, she sent him packing. My Emily is a force to be reckoned with. She has a kindness overflowing from her heart, but fierce when she or someone she loves is wronged.
It took me a little longer. When Emily was just four years old, I left with my four daughters and filed for divorce. I am not sure if it was because I didn’t want to see the truth, or it was because I was too stubborn to quit. Regardless of the reason, I finally did it and it was the best thing I could have done for my little family.
With as much calmness as I could muster, I reassured her as we gathered her things for the hospital. When we arrived, my daughter’s anxiety grew with each hastened step. The elevator doors shuddered as they closed. Our silence was heavy as we rode up to labor and delivery on the third floor and the doors opened with a “ding ding.” Our shuffling steps were all we could hear until we entered the almost empty labor and delivery wing, the only sounds we heard was the whispering of the nurses at their station and the beeps of the tiny unborn heartbeats coming from their monitors as their mothers awaited their arrivals.
As I followed her, we headed to check in. From behind she still maintained her beautiful hourglass figure. The only hint of anything different was her long quick strides were replaced with a waddle. I had to giggle because it reminded me of when she first began walking. She stopped suddenly as she reached the nurse’s station, and my shy little girl was back again as her nerves took hold of her.
When I went to the hospital to have my babies, I remember hearing blood-curdling screams from the mothers delivering as soon as I stepped off the elevator. I guess more women were choosing the path of an epidural nowadays. If it hadn’t been for the galloping sound on the monitors, I would have assumed we were the only people there.
“My daughter’s water broke” I shared with glee.
A nurse appeared from around the nurse’s station and quickly whisked us into a sardine-can-sized room. After a quick check, the nurse told us that my daughter was one centimeter dilated and fifty percent effaced. No different than what she was at her doctor’s visit a few days earlier. We didn’t care. In just a few hours we would see the sweet baby girl we had been waiting so long to meet.
I made a mental note of the time, 5:40 p.m. I never had really long labors, so I wanted to compare my daughter’ s to mine. With no real contractions starting yet, the midwife made the decision to induce labor and ordered an IV Pitocin drip. Starting it off slow, they would gradually increase the dosage every thirty minutes. The easiest part of this adventure was placing the needle for the IV, and that was not that easy. Poke after poke, the nurse fumbled to find a hospitable site for the needle as each of my daughter’s tiny veins played hide and seek. One last attempt was made in my daughter’s hand. Success, my daughter was bruised, but the IV was in place.
Not wanting to overwhelm Emily with my nervous chatter. I scanned the room to occupy myself. The odor of bleach crept into the room from underneath the accordion bathroom door. She had her own galloping horse running through the monitor that was keeping check of her contractions and the baby’s heartbeat. My excitement grew and I needed to keep busy so I walked over to the monitor to give a play-by-play of Emily’s contractions. After a few reports, she asked me to stop. She said I was making her nervous, so I retreated to my place in a chair by her bedside.
Five hours had just flown by. We settled in for what we knew would be a long night. Emily wasn’t in any real pain yet. She tried to sleep, but the excitement overtook her and sleep seemed like it would be impossible for the both of us. She became engrossed in her cell phone, texting her sisters. I sat quietly, and within minutes slipped into a silent conversation with my own thoughts. I had no doubt that my daughter would be an amazing mother, but I was worried about the difficulties she would face doing it as a single mom.
I watched as she struggled through a very difficult pregnancy with extreme morning sickness in the beginning to a head-on car collision in her second trimester which led to several trips to the hospital to stop preterm labor. My own pregnancy with Emily was riddled with issues as well. Just as she did, I suffered from extreme morning sickness that lasted all day throughout my pregnancy, and at twenty-six weeks pregnant, I went into preterm labor. To stop my labor, it required medication and a cervical cerclage. A cervical cerclage is essentially just sewing the cervix closed to prevent dilation. I was sent home and put on bedrest until four weeks before my due date when Emily made her entrance into the world.
I remember seeing the sadness overtake her as she watched fathers with their kids, knowing her daughter would never have hers in her life. After a particularly hard contraction, Emily shared, “I grew up with a dad in and out of my life.” With tears welling in her eyes, she continued. “I never wanted this for my daughter.”
“I know sweetheart.” Trying to find the words to console her. “I am so sorry he couldn’t be there for you and his daughter. I know it’s not the same, but you will always have me.” She hugged me tightly, but I know my words were not much consolation to her. The same words didn’t mean much to me when I had heard them some twenty or so years earlier.
At about midnight, the midwife came in for the last check until the morning shift came on. Both Emily and I anticipated progress, but there was none, no change in the past six and a half hours. Luckily it was still early labor and she wasn’t in any real pain yet. It made me think of a conversation we had had just a few days earlier driving home from the OB/GYN. With such seriousness, she looked at me and said, “With the contractions, I have already had, and all the preterm labor, I think I will be able to handle labor just fine.”
“You will do just fine sweetheart,” I reassured her, but I knew she had no idea what she was in for. The contractions she had been feeling were just baby ones, but she would have to experience it on her own.
She lay in the pull apart hospital bed. Every woman who has had a child knows the trial of trying to sleep on one of these can be. I was given the hard vinyl chair that turns into a bed. It doesn’t sound so bad until the stiff hard foam hiding under the vinyl plays havoc on your hips. I lay there doing my best to get some sleep, knowing full well what the next several hours would hold. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t sleep. Maybe it was the chair or the millions of thoughts going through my already foggy mind. I think the biggest problem was I did not want the whole labor and delivery department to hear me snore, so I was in a sort of twilight state nodding in and out for about an hour-and-a-half. I tossed and turned until I found a position that would not kill my aging body. I never thought that in my forties I would be complaining about my hips.
I busied my mind by trying to imagine what my granddaughter would look like. As usual, when it is pin-dropping quiet, and I have nothing to distract me my mind begins to think too much. I over think what I was thinking about and then over think what I was over thinking about.
On this particular night, my thoughts drifted to the mistakes I had made, and if those mistakes are what caused my little girl to be in the position she is in now. Maybe, if I had tried harder in my marriage, or had made sure her dad visited regularly. All the “what ifs?” filled my mind with my own shortcomings. I knew as parents we all make mistakes, but I never wanted my shortcomings to affect my babies.
I looked at my little girl trying to sleep. Just when I thought she had finally dozed off she would turn over and adjust the pillows under her head. As uncomfortable as my sleeping arrangements were, I knew she had to be even more miserable on the pull apart hospital bed. It was hard enough to sleep when pregnant, but those beds made it nearly impossible.
As if God, himself had stepped in and called the nurse to do a vital check on my daughter, it broke me from my pondering thoughts of regret. I was relieved to have my mind focusing on the present. I must have been lost in thought for a while because when I looked at the clock it was nearly five a.m. I was about to go on a hunt to find coffee when the sweetest nurse offered me a cup. She made sure I was aware of how bad the coffee was, but at that point, I didn’t care. I just needed some desperately. She was right. It was horrible but gave me the caffeine jolt I needed to feel somewhat human.
Emily, couldn’t sleep either and turned the T.V. on to shark week. With our eyes fixated on the almost too- tiny- to- see screen. We watched as two men who had obviously lost their good sense wrestled with a shark. Not my choice of programs but a welcome distraction for me and for Emily as well as the contractions were becoming much more uncomfortable. She was handling them well with her breathing.
The sun had come up to release the scorching day that would bring temperatures over one hundred degrees. I went outside to stretch my legs. It was still early but there were people bustling around everywhere. I quickly became very self-conscious about my appearance. Still, in the clothes from the day before and no hairbrush to be found, I made my way back up to my daughter just in time to see the midwife entering her room. After a quick examination, we found out she had only progressed one centimeter. I could see the hope fading from Emily’s full bright smile as she heard the news. It had already been nearly twenty-four hours and not much had changed. I began feeling frustrated and had to remind myself that I was not the one who had been in labor all this time. All we could do was wait.
It was about this point where I stopped paying attention to the clock. I have never been one who does well with boredom, in fact, I use my mouth to fill that boredom. This is about the time my mundane words began to pour out. “How are you feeling honey?” I asked with sincerity.
“I’m okay. Just tired.”
“Who are you texting?”
“Just Tela and Maryann,” she responded as polite as can be like she always was. Tela and Maryann were her older sisters who lived in Northern California and could not be here for the birth. They were the only two outside of our house who knew she was in labor. Being one of six kids, Emily would have had a difficult choice picking only two of her four sisters to be in the delivery room, so the fact that two of them lived out of town made the decision easier for Emily.
Emily had asked me not to tell anyone but her sisters until she had the baby. This was hard for me as I was so excited and wanted to share it with everyone. I wanted to shout from the rooftop that I was going to be a grandma. I wanted to grab whoever was close and tell them of my excitement. Fortunately, I knew my limits and settled with the young short woman with dark hair at the coffee cart just outside the hospital, the middle-aged security guard sitting in a high chair just inside the emergency room entrance, and my fellow elevator riders.
As the morning ran into the afternoon, my daughter got her first taste of what labor might be like when she heard another mother scream louder than I think either of us had heard anyone scream. As she listened to the screams, a change overcame her. The confidence she felt in early labor seemed to dwindle. The nurse who happened to come in just about then told her not to pay attention to it, but who in their right mind could ignore those screams of terror?
It reminded me of when I was giving birth to my oldest daughter. I was young and it was before epidurals were popular. The horrific bellowing screams I heard from one end of the hall to the other made me want to run home and not come back. I am sure my sweet little girl was feeling just about the same right then.
It was just about lunchtime, and neither Emily or I had eaten anything since dinner the night before. There was no way I could eat in front of her or leave her side to stuff my face when I knew how hungry she was. Again, it was like God answered her pleas when the nurse entered her room. “Would you like something to drink? Maybe some juice?” she asked as she was checking her IV.
“Yes please,” Emily responded, and in almost a whisper asked, “Can I eat anything?” Luckily for her Jell-O was on the menu for her lunch. I don’t think I had ever seen Emily so excited to eat Jell-O, but I guess when you go hours without food anything sounds good. I excused myself and headed down to the cafeteria to find something to soothe my hunger.
Riding the elevator down to the basement, the aroma of what I assumed to be a combination of whatever was being served in the cafeteria and ammonia rose up the elevator shaft and through the doors. Letting my nose guide me to the cafeteria, I walked in to find a line of hospital workers waiting to get their food. Unfortunately, everything in the heated trays was dry and overcooked or greasy and did not appeal to any of my senses. I headed to the vending machines for some snacks to tide me over until I could get my husband to bring something to the hospital.
I returned just in time to hear my own baby’s cries of pain. Labor was now in full swing and taking its toll on Emily. After what seemed like forever, she asked the nurse for an epidural. Luckily for her, the anesthesiologist was already on the floor so her wait was only a few minutes. He let her know that once she had the epidural, she would not be allowed to have anything but ice chips until she had the baby. I was sent from the room again so the procedure could be done. As much as I wanted to be there for her, I am glad I wasn’t. I have this horrible fear of needles and the thought of a needle puncturing my daughter’s spine was more than I could handle.
When I returned, I found the hospital room full. My daughters Matea and Bailey had come to join the festivities. Both were going to be present for the birth, but their presence meant there was no place for me to sit. Aside from the uncomfortable vinyl chair, the only other seat was the doctor’s stool and both seats were taken by the ones who had slept all night. Standing at the foot of Emily’s bed was all I could muster the energy to do, so I tried shifting my weight from one foot to the other in hopes of tiring less. It became too much so I asked for my uncomfortable vinyl seat back. Even that would feel much better than standing on my already exhausted legs. As tired as I was, it was nice to have the distraction. The minutes that had been crawling by were now turning to hours and I could take much-needed coffee breaks with them there to help.
For the first time since we arrived at the hospital, my little Emily could sleep. The epidural was doing its job, and she was resting peacefully. Bailey sat on the doctor’s chair trying to keep the wheels from pushing the chair from underneath her and leaned against the wall as she played games on her phone. Matea was so excited she couldn’t sit still. She walked from one end of Emily’s bed to the other whispering. “Poor Emily,” she exclaimed as she rubbed her leg to comfort her sleeping sister.
“Don’t touch me,” Emily growled as if a sleeping bear who woke early from her hibernation. Startled, Matea backed away from the bed.
“I’m sorry,” Matea told Emily. Emily seemed to have drifted off to sleep again, or so we thought. Within seconds we could hear the deep breathing she was doing pre-epidural. As if meditating, she drew her breath in deeply and slowly and let the breaths that held her pain be blown from her mouth. It didn’t take long before her deep breaths turned to groans as the pain intensified at an alarming rate. The epidural was no longer working.
Handing her the little button that would supply more medicine to her epidural, she began clicking it relentlessly. Still nothing. The pain was out of control and she began to cry through her breaths of desperation. As a mother, you never want your kids to hurt, so I went to get the nurse. That was about all I could do at that point. The nurse entered my daughter’s room with the midwife. “Let’s see how far you have progressed.” the midwife calmly spoke to my daughter.
“Honey, do you want everyone to leave the room? the nurse asked Emily.
“No, it’s fine,” she said. My normally modest daughter was beyond caring about anything but delivering her baby at this point. Through the pain of her contractions, the midwife checked her cervix.
“Five centimeters and ninety percent effaced.” the midwife said with a smile. I was elated at her progress, but Emily wasn’t so much. She was ready for it all to be done and honestly, I completely understood.
“Just a few more hours and you will deliver your baby. With that, Emily burst into tears.
“I can’t do this anymore.” She cried out. They left the room and I rubbed Emily’s head. There was nothing else I could do at that point to comfort her. No matter how much I wanted to take away her pain, I knew I couldn’t.
With the next contractions came excruciating pain, too much for her little body to handle and she began vomiting. Being a little freaked out, I ran to the nurses’ station. They came back with a blue bag with a circular device attached to hold it open. By that time, Emily had released the ice chips that had once been in her stomach. Since she had her epidural, ice chips were all she was allowed. Normally just the sound of someone getting sick would send me to echo the event but for some strange reason this time it didn’t. For probably the first time in my life, I wasn’t made sick by someone else vomiting. It was strange, but I didn’t have that much time to ponder the thought as my daughter needed to be changed. What was going on being too much for my other daughters to handle, so they went out to get something to eat. How they could even think of eating was beyond me.
As Emily and I sat in the room alone I tried to comfort her. Even the slightest touch to her arm made her yell out. I felt so completely helpless. As the contractions intensified, her cries had become louder. I gently rubbed her head which seemed to help calm her somewhat, but the only thing that was going to truly help was for all this to be over. She was growing closer and closer to her breaking point with each contraction. When she finally had enough she cried out to me. “Mommy please make it stop.” My heart just shattered. There was nothing I could do. I knew she couldn’t handle much more because she called me “mommy”. She calls me mom, momma, or mother, but I have not heard her call me mommy in about ten years. Every part of me wanted to take away her pain. I had never felt so helpless about anything in my life.
Matea and Bailey returned from their search for food and were not very quiet about their entrance. “Be quiet,” I whispered, reminding them of where they were. Their excitement was evident in their inability to sit down. It took a growl from Emily to put them in their place, but they were quiet after that.
Adding a new level of pain with each contraction, Emily became sick again. The nurse was sure she had eaten something, but the only thing she had had was ice chips.
“Maybe you have progressed further along than we thought,” the nurse spoke as she left the room. She returned with the midwife, and after another examination, the midwife revealed she was now nine centimeters.
“Time to get you to the birthing room.” she excitedly shared. Once Emily was cleaned up they wheeled her down the hall to the room where my beautiful little granddaughter would be born. It was a room nearly four times in size as the one we had spent the past twenty-four hours in. It was dimly lit with everything needed to bring my sweet granddaughter into the world, and a private bathroom. Up until this point, I had to wander down to the waiting room, but now I was close enough just in case Emily needed me. The shadows danced on the walls as the nurses scurried around Emily. As if an actor on stage, the only two light in the room were centered over Emily and the bassinette.
Matea, Bailey, and I grew more excited. A know-it-all nurse who we had never met entered the room.
“You know it is still a long time away.”
“Our family is fast pushers,” my daughter Matea and I said simultaneously.
“No, it will take at least an hour,” she said with such arrogance.
“Fifteen minutes is all it took Matea and me to push and deliver.” Knowing full well it wouldn’t matter because she thought she knew everything, but I still needed to have the last word.
In between her contractions, Emily came up with the idea of including her grandmother and two other sisters in the birth. Although they couldn’t be there in person, she wanted to find some way to have them involved so she suggested we had them on speaker phone during delivery. We were lucky enough to be able to reach all three and had them wait by the phone until we called back.
Emily began calling out that she had to push. It was time for Emily to start pushing. Matea, Bailey and I made our calls: me to my mom and the other girls to a sister each. We stood there with one hand on our phone and the other on Emily. We each had a job to do to help to bring the baby into the world. As if a cheerleading squad at a football game we all cheered Emily on yelling for her to push. As I predicted, after about fifteen minutes this tiny little head full of long dark hair made its appearance. I wanted to gloat and tell the nurse I told you so, but things became chaotic within seconds.
That same arrogant nurse pushed me out of the way and I heard the midwife yell out. “We have a red robin, call the doctor.” Now, my first thought was why the hell is she talking about food right now thinking she was referring to the restaurant. Obviously, I was sleep deprived for that to be my first thought. At this point, I still had no idea what was going on. I had no idea that my daughter and her beautiful baby’s life were now in danger. It turns out that red robin was another term for shoulder dystocia. Shoulder dystocia is when the baby’s shoulder gets stuck and does not pass the pelvic bone.
In unison, my daughters and I hung up our phones. The room filled with more doctors and nurses that I had seen since I delivered my third baby eight weeks preterm some twenty-three years ago, I realized how serious the situation had become. My daughter and her baby’s life were in danger. Panic began to fill the growing lump in my throat and my heart pounded in my chest.
I felt completely helpless as I stood frozen amongst the commotion around me. I never thought this miraculous event would become one of my worst nightmares. I prayed to God to save my baby and granddaughter. It was only a matter of minutes, but it seemed like forever.
Through the tiny crevices of the medical staff, I saw the midwife lay my battered looking granddaughter on Emily’s stomach. Her little body lay lifeless and blue without a breath to be seen It was the scariest sight I’d ever seen. Her little body looked as though it was battered and bruised. The only thing was that it wasn’t. She was not breathing. The umbilical cord had been compressed and she had not received any oxygen. With one swoop, the pediatrician had cut the cord and whisked the baby to a nearby examination table.
I was so torn. My granddaughter wasn’t breathing and I wanted to go to her, but my daughter was hemorrhaging and I didn’t want to leave her side either. I motioned to Matea and Bailey to go check on the baby as I stood by my little girl. She was oblivious to her own condition as she tried to find out what was going on with her baby. It seemed like forever and then I heard the pediatrician call out. “Second APGAR is a nine.” The Apgar score is “a number calculated by scoring the heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, skin color, and reflex irritability (response to a catheter in the nostril)”(Mersch). I didn’t know what the first was but knew a nine was good. Now I could give my full attention to my daughter.
I could see the worry on her face and tried to console her. “The baby is fine honey. She is breathing.” Still, I could get no response from her until she heard for herself that her little girl was crying. Relief filled her body as her stiff tight limbs relaxed. After forty-five minutes of suturing the damage from delivery, the midwife was done and my baby was out of danger. While we were waiting, we could hear the nurses trying to guess the weight of the baby. There were many predictions, and one hit it right on the nose. Eight pounds six ounces and whopping twenty-one inches long. This was a shock for me as my daughter had gained all of twenty-two pounds while pregnant. The baby was a little chunky monkey with shoulders of a linebacker. As big a baby, as she was, she still seemed like a petite little thing and looked exactly like her mommy.
I stood in awe by the side of her bassinet as the nurse cleaned her up. As a mother seeing her child for the first time was something of awe and disbelief, but to see your grandchild for the first time is beyond any words I could use to describe the feelings I had at that moment. My own baby had created this little one looking up at me as she held on tight to my finger. My heart was overflowing with love.
Things began to calm down and as Emily began to feed her little one for the first time. The lyrics from “Slow Down” by Christian artist Nicole Nordeman came to my mind.
Won’t you stay here a minute more?
I know you want to walk through the door,
But it’s all too fast.
Let’s make it last a little while.
I pointed to the sky and now you wanna fly.
I am your biggest fan.
I hope you know I am.
But do you think you can somehow Slow down.”
At this moment, my mom’s words to me years earlier couldn’t have been truer. “Life flies by.”
It has been two years since my granddaughter entered the world. Watching her grow from that tiny baby into this amazing little person full of sass, has been incredible. Seeing her develop the most amazing little personality and sense of humor that mirrors her mommies has been a true blessing. So many times, in my granddaughter’s young life I have heard my daughter say that she was growing too fast and tells little Kenlee to slow down. If she only knew how fast time really does fly by.