"Mrs. Oliver," he said, tapping the screen of the ultrasound monitor. "Here's the problem."
And there he was, staring back at me with big blank eyes, his heart fluttering.
"Say hello to your baby, Momma!" my doctor said, grinning.
My mouth gaping, all I could do was wave weakly at this marvel floating inside of me. The nurse and I exchanged teary-eyed glances.
After six heartbreaking years of infertility, this day was finally here with the help of prayers and modern medicine. Because of long-standing
female problems where I missed cycles for several months at a time, I had failed to notice the obvious signs of pregnancy. I was nearly 12 weeks along.
The week before Christmas, severe spasms shot up my back, which I would later find out to be back labor pains. Dismissing the pain for a normal side effect of pregnancy, I draped a heating pad over my side. The pain receded, then flared up periodically, interrupting my sleep.
Finally it was at two in the morning when during a trip to the bathroom, I stood up from the toilet and found to my horror blood trickling down my
legs. I frantically shook Stephen awake and showed him the blood all over the bathroom floor.
At the hospital, Stephen selected the one wheelchair out of the whole crew with a broken wheel and began pushing me with some effort to the
emergency room. I hadn't felt the baby move in a while.
The ultrasound relieved my gnawing fear. The baby was fine. No one offered a reason for the premature labor.
They parked me in a room alone with an IV dispensing medication to slow down the contractions. I was dilated at four centimeters.
"Mr. Oliver, your wife will be here for a while," the doctor said. "Go home and get some rest. Once she's stabilized, we'll move her to the sixth floor."
With that reassurance, Stephen wearily kissed me and left. I settled into my new environment, the situation not quite sinking in. Throughout the
night, my sleep was interrupted by the sounds of women giving birth in the room next to mine. And the applause and cheers that followed each birth.
I hungered to see one baby, just one baby. Perhaps as a sign that everything would bode well for us. I continued to feel severe contractions every hour in spite of the medication.
When my obstetrician examined me the following morning, she remarked with sadness, "Oh, bless your heart. I can feel his foot."
His foot was lodged in the neck of the cervix. A breech baby.
Late that afternoon, I was on the phone chatting long-distance with my sister, when--
"Uh, nurse," I called out. "My water just broke."
Suddenly everyone sprang into action. "Gotta go, Beth," I said to my sister and hung up. I tried desperately to dial my home number, forgetting that it was considered long-distance.
"I need to call my husband!" I cried, as they swarmed around me.
"No time for that, Mrs. Oliver," someone shouted.
I was quickly wheeled into Labor and Delivery, where I delivered via C-section under general anesthesia. While coming out of labor, I
whispered groggily, "Is my baby alive?"
"Yes, Mrs. Oliver. You have a boy!"
"His name," I said, before passing out again, "is Cody Travis."
"Beautiful name, Mrs. Oliver! Beautiful name."
Waking up, I found myself alone between drawn curtains. On the other side of the curtain were excited chatter and laughter. Judging from the
joyous sounds, it was family and friends celebrating the arrival of a new life in their circle. Finding that I was fully awake, the attendants pushed aside the curtain and began to wheel me out. As they did, I passed the
visitors, whose chatter died instantly. The center of attention, a mother cuddling her newborn, looked apologetic.
"Congratulations," I croaked.
No one stirred nor smiled. Their pity burned in my heart all the way to my room.
It was morning, and I was told to make my first step out of the bed. After a classic C-section, that was asking quite a bit. It was the vertical kind that sliced into some serious muscle. Somehow I managed to get my feet flat on the floor and shuffle across the room.
I need to see my son, I thought. I need to get better and see him.
And still, there was no sign of Stephen. I didn't want to face our son alone until my husband was there by my side. Since we lived out in the country, I couldn't dial long-distance, and no one was willing to help me make that one important call. When I tried to call collect, I would be greeted by the answering machine and disconnected automatically. I drifted in and out of drugged sleep.
I was given a sponge bath just before lunch and fainted.
"Congratulations, Mrs. Oliver!" the nurse laughed. "You just earned yourself an Oscar for that performance!"
Lunch came and went.
Still no Stephen. No phone call.
Dinner came and went.
The phone rang. It was after five.
"Hey!" Stephen said. "I guess they've stabilized you after all!"
"Uh, no, sweetie."
"What do you mean? Haven't they stopped your contractions? They said you're on the sixth floor now--"
"Stephen," I interrupted. "You have a son."
After a moment of stunned silence, the news sunk in.
"Oh, dear God," he said, his voice breaking.
"Oh, hon, I'm so sorry. Here I was up all night working on a surprise for you, and oh my..."
My heart melted with the burden he felt, missing the birth of his first child.
An hour later he burst through the door, bearing an armload of gifts. Slippers and books for me, toys for the baby. One of them an antique slingshot he had bought as a surprise for the big day.
We scrubbed our hands, donned gowns, then stepped into a world that would mark us forever.
And there he was. At station number two was our son asleep on his back, a tiny cap pulled over his patched eyes. We watched his chest rise and fall rapidly. Wires snaked all over him, attached to LEDs that recorded his body's activities.
We took turns cupping Cody's head as instructed by the nurse. Then Stephen lifted the saran wrap that stretched across the bed warmer and gingerly placed the slingshot inside of it.
The blue sign above our baby's head boasted, "Cody Travis Oliver. 1 lb, 6 oz."
Someone once said that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.
This was such a moment.