A dozen years ago today, I gave birth to a baby girl.
I realize that it is probably strange to recount the details of her birth at this stage of the game, but then again the thing I have enjoyed most about giving birth to Julia (besides Julia herself) is retelling the story of her birth. I’ve shared it many times over the past dozen years, relishing the complete disbelief of my listeners … but trust me, every word I’m about to write is 100% true. I might be a writer, but I’m not creative enough to write fiction.
Julia wasn’t what you might call a “planned baby.”
She took us all by surprise, right from the beginning.
I already had two tiny boys, born just 19 months apart, both of whom were the results of infertility treatments. So for someone who thought she might not even have one baby, learning I was about to give birth for the third time in less than three and a half years brought about a state of compete and utter shock.
My military husband was transferred to a new duty stationed ,Fort Stewart, Georgia (near Savannah), just about the time I entered into the third trimester of my pregnancy. An intense nesting instinct immediately kicked into high gear. Getting settled into my new home, finding a church, connecting with a few people in hopes of finding a couple of good friends were my major concerns. I knew I would need all of those things to be in place before my baby girl made her appearance.
Of course, nothing went according to my plan.
Two interesting things happened that first week in Georgia:
First my husband, who was now assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division out of Ft. Stewart, was told he would be deploying to Iraq to join the rest of the troops storming through Baghdad during that spring. He was put on 12-hour recall, meaning he might leave for the war zone with a few as a dozen hours notice. (Remember … I’m new in town. I know absolutely no one. I have two toddlers, and I’m six months pregnant with a third child. And now I learn that before our furniture arrives or the boxes get unpacked in our new house, my husband will very likely already be deployed to Iraq. These were fun times, y’all. Fun times.)
Secondly, at my first visit with my new OB, I learn I had something called polyhydramnios, or in layman’s terms “too much amniotic fluid.” While not completely dangerous, it does increase the risk of complications during pregnancy and birth, as well as indicate that there may be a problem with the infant in utero. It also makes the mother’s protruding stomach even larger than normal. I was already … (ahem, how shall I put this) … rather fluffy to begin with, so you can only imagine what I looked like by the end of this pregnancy. (However, lest any pregnant women happen to read my blog and become fearful of this terrible fate happening to them, there is no reason to worry. In fact, chances are quite excellent this will NOT happen to you. Polyhydramnios only occurs in about 1% of all pregnancies. What can I say? I’m just lucky.)
To say the least, the summer of 2003 was like a wild roller coaster ride. Literally, from one hour to the next, we did not know if my husband would be deploying to Iraq. Some days we were told he would be gone before nightfall, only to have those orders reversed hours later.
In between the emotional turmoil of the guessing game as to when my husband might deploy, I was now going to the doctor weekly for ultrasounds and non-stress tests to ensure my baby girl was growing correctly. Meanwhile, my stomach grew at an astounding rate. By the time my due date rolled around, my fundus height (which should have measured 40″) was a whopping 54″ … meaning I literally looked like a very bloated beached whale.
I felt like one too … And I hadn’t even gotten around to giving birth yet.
Thursday, July 24, 2003, 7:30 am
Did you notice that time? 7:30 am? I am sorry to say that this was not the time my beautiful baby girl entered the world. No, this was my actual appointment time with my OB-GYN.
Pause with me for just a moment and consider this question: Who sets up an appointment for an irritable pregnant woman for 7:30 in the morning, especially one who is already past her due date and feeling more and more with each passing day like a can of biscuits about to burst open? Not any sane person, that’s for sure! Then again, as my story will show, the medical staff handling my pregnancy wasn’t exactly the most sane group of caregivers.
None the less, at that ridiculous time of the morning I waddled my enormous self into Winn Army Community Hospital to see my OB.
Wait a minute. I think I have actually gotten ahead of myself in this retelling. I should probably back up just one day, to July 23rd, which also happened to be my due date.
Like many a pregnant woman waiting to give birth, I was disappointed as my due date got closer and closer and I had no signs of an imminent delivery. I hoped and prayed that the date circled in red on my calendar would actually be the much anticipated birth day. Instead, I got another surprise, and it wasn’t a good one.
My husband once again received official orders to deploy to Iraq. This time he was scheduled to leave on Friday, July 25th. I realize that you are probably wondering why this is important enough for me to bring it up yet again. After all, I already mentioned this very thing had been happening all summer long. However, this time around I realized I could use actually use this to my advantage. Naturally, like any expectant mom, I wanted my husband to be with me for the arrival of our child. Considering my previous baby had been born a full two weeks after his due date, I knew that I might still be several days away from giving birth. But now I was hopeful that with this news of impending deployment, I could at last finagle a way for Miss Julia to make her arrival much sooner than her big brother.
That’s why on the morning of July 24, 2003, I went to my early morning appointment with my OB and did something I absolutely do not regret. I cried. Actually, that’s not accurate. I bawled. I made sure I wore a lot of mascara (not the waterproof kind either), and then as soon as the doctor walked into the room I just let the tears roll. I must have looked half-crazed precariously perched upon that table with my belly halfway across the room, sobbing as if the world had come to an end. That poor doctor didn’t know what to do.
Finally, he said, “Perhaps we could induced labor? You are passed your due date now.“
“Today?” I sniffled.
The doctor looked at his nurse, who quickly said, “You only have one other planned C-section for 2 pm. I think we can get her into a room on the labor wing by noon.“
Moments later, I happily snatched those admit papers and raced back home to get my packed bags.
“Pitocin, here I come!”
The labor itself wasn’t particularly eventful … unless you consider that two hours into labor my husband’s orders to deploy were cancelled. I gave him a threatening look and said, “If you so much as tell a nurse or a doctor, which results in them deciding to pull this pitocin plug, you will wish you had gone to Iraq after all!” Fortunately, for him and for me, no one kicked me out of the labor unit.
That was probably the most exciting moment … well unless you consider the moment when my water broke after six hours of labor. Remember how I had an excess of amniotic fluid? Well, in the rush of fluid, that little girl of mine decided to go with the flow, so to speak, and made a very rapid entrance into the world. In fact, she was born so quickly that I wasn’t even fully dilated. As a result, I needed quite a few stitches to correct things in that area. But none of that mattered the moment I saw her fuzzy black hair.
As I gazed at my newborn, I couldn’t find a single flaw on her smallish 20 inch frame. All 9 lb 10 oz of my daughter was stunningly beautiful. Trust me, I inspected every one of her rolls of wrist fat and carefully examined her charming double chin. She was absolutely perfect!
I was completely content with my cuddly baby girl. Julia Chambless had arrived at last, and I was on cloud nine for about two hours. Then I got moved over to the mother-baby wing of the hospital and the rest of my stay at Winn Army Community Hospital became like something out the Twilight Zone.
First there was my introduction to the ward by the head nurse, who brusquely told me where I could find my own linens should I need to change my bed sheets and where to pick up my food when I got hungry.
I was still contemplating this peculiar hospital where apparently patients made their own beds and retrieved their own food, when I was abruptly ordered to step upon a set of scales. “Hmmmph!” the head nurse grumbled. “For someone who had such a big baby, you didn’t really lose that much weight today! Hopefully you will have dropped some more pounds by tomorrow morning.“
By the time I got to my assigned room, I was feeling more than a bit uneasy about what to expect during the remainder of my stay at the army hospital. But soon enough I was enraptured once again by the sweet baby girl placed in my arms. After a sweet late night feeding, the two of us settled down to sleep, her precious newborn snuffles filling my ears.
In the wee hours of the morning, I woke up to find a strange man standing in my room. “Excuse me. I’m from the pharmacy, just delivering your medications. Be sure to read the labels before you take any of them. Oh, and ask the nurse if you have any questions.” With that, he shoved a brown paper sack into my hands and walked out of the room.
In the morning, I groggily recalled the nighttime visitor and thought for a moment it must have been some weird drug-induced dream … until I saw the paper sack on my nightstand. “Strange,” I thought as I opened the bag of pills. “Most hospitals the nurses personally deliver all medications at the appropriate times to ensure they are taken properly.“
Later in the morning, after I fed my sweet girl, I called the nurses’ station to see if I could have her taken back to the nursery area so that I could clean up. To my surprise, the nurses refused to take Julia to the nursery, insisting I needed to learn to care for my infant myself. “But I have two toddlers at home! I know how to take care of an infant. Besides, I want to take a shower and wash my hair. I’m all alone right now and I didn’t want to do that with just me and the baby in the room.“
“You’ll be fine,” the nurse stated flatly. “Just lock the door if you are that concerned about someone stealing the baby.” With that, she hung up on me. I sat there for several moments, receiver in my hand, pondering the situation. I wasn’t so much worried about my baby being stolen, but in my two previous birthing experiences I wasn’t allowed to shower or move around much without another adult with me in case I became light-headed or fainted. In light of that, it now seemed ludicrous to lock the door while I took a shower.
Who were these crazy nurses looking after me?!
The insanity of my hospital stay continued over the next couple of days. Nurses rarely came by my room to check on us. While I enjoyed the peace and quiet, it did feel odd to be left alone. Always before my room felt like a revolving door with nurses walking in and out at all hours of the day and night, poking and prodding and asking questions. Now, I felt completely ignored. Was I healing okay? What about my baby? Surely the whole point of giving birth in a hospital was to have someone looking out of things that might be amiss.
After two days, I was more than ready to go home. However, Julia had been born around 8 pm in the evening. Due to some sort of law, she could not be discharged until she was more than 48 hours old. Therefore, I expected to spend three nights in the hospital before taking my baby girl home. To my surprise, the nurses came in at 10:30 pm on the second night and unceremoniously handed me a packet of discharge papers.
“Now?” I asked. “I figured we would be discharged in the morning. It’s awfully late at night to leave. My husband is not even here anymore. He left over an hour ago to go back home.”
The nurse gave me a stern look. “We discharge whenever the patient is ready to go home, not based on the hour on the clock. You’ll just have to call him to come back to pick you up.” With that, she turned on her heels and left the room.
All I could do was pick up the the phone to call my husband. Thankfully, my mother was in town to help out and so he didn’t have to rouse the sleeping toddlers for this late night hospital discharge.
Half an hour later, he walked into my room, and I buzzed the nurses to let them know I was ready to leave. But the nurse who took my call simply said, “Ok. Be sure to follow up with your baby’s pediatrician. Congratulations and enjoy your baby.“
Dumbfounded, I said, “That’s it? I can just walk out?”
“Yes … unless you need something else.” The nurse sounded confused by my questions.
“Uh … no, well, not exactly. I just figured you had to wheel me out to the car or something. You know, to check my bracelet against the baby’s to make sure we matched each other, ensure we had a car seat that was properly installed … you know, the normal discharge routine.“
The nurse’s sugary laugh felt anything but kind. “No, sweetie,” she said. “We aren’t the law. The baby is all yours. There’s no need for us to hold your hand on the way out.“
So, just like that, I walked out of the hospital, with my husband carting my suitcase and me carrying our daughter in my arms. If felt so odd and surreal that it was practically unnerving … but then, that’s the way I had felt all along. Why should this moment feel any different?
From conception to birth and beyond, I felt completely unprepared for Julia
To begin with, Julia entered this world as something of a drama queen … at least when compared to her brothers. They were both easy babies, adapting to my schedule quickly. Mothering them was somehow natural. Not so with this third child of mine. I felt as if I never could quite figure her out.
Julia cried straight through the first three months of her life. After the colic passed, she still refused to sleep unless she was touching me. Many a night I slept next to her crib, my hand grasping hers through the rails. Other nights I held her in the rocking chair for hours on end. I remember crying one night because I missed my own pillow. Crazy I know, but it is the truth. Julia was a hard baby.
She was also an impossible toddler. Julia bit, hit, pinched and kicked her way through toddlerhood. For an entire season, Julia wasn’t allowed to be left in the church nursery. I had to stay with her because her behavior to the other children was so bad. Then there was the fact that she didn’t talk until she was nearly 3 years old, and even then her speech was so garbled no one understood half of what she said.
Poor Julia. She was such a tough child to raise that I began to fear she was turning out to be sort of little girl only a mother could love. Believe me when I tell you I loved that little girl. I just wanted others to love her too!
Then Julia turned four … and something changed. The difficult baby and impossible toddler, turned into the most pleasant preschool girl. She has been a true delight ever since, constantly surprising me with her generous spirit and fun-loving personality.
Outgoing. Friendly. Enthusiastic. Warm. Compassionate. Julia is the sort of person who never meets a stranger. Her friends are numerous and she loves them all passionately. Big-hearted and compassionate, she finds something good in everyone.
Earlier this week, Julia attended a birthday party of a friend. The large group of tween-aged girls were going to be having special manicure wraps that have become a recent fashion trend. But Julia came home without a manicure. When I asked her why her nails weren’t done, Julia shrugged and said, “I don’t know, Mom. I got to talking to another girl and just never got around to it. It doesn’t matter. I can always do my nails another time.“
Later, the mother of the birthday girl shared with me her perspective of the party. She said most of the attendees knew each prior to the party, but one little girl didn’t really know anyone other than the birthday girl. As the party got started, she seemed to be on the fringes of the group, looking uncomfortable and lonely. When the mom encouraged the child to join in the nail wrapping manicure, the little girl said she didn’t really like to have her fingernails painted and then went off to sit by herself. (Can’t we all relate to how it feels to be in middle school and the outsider in a group of kids?! Is there any thing lonelier in the world than that?)
Then my friend said that she noticed Julia left the main group. She made her way over to that young lady, and quickly engaged her in a happy conversation. Before long, the little girl was smiling and laughing with Julia just as if they had been best friends for ages. My friend said, “Oh Paige, I felt so terrible for my daughter’s friend who was lonely at a birthday party. And then I saw God using Julia’s wonderful gift of hospitality to make her feel welcomed and wanted. I am so very thankful that Julia was there, and that she was willing to do what God created her to do.“
The past few days, I’ve been pondering about how this time next year I will have five teens in the house. Y’all that as a lot of hormones! When Jon and I married four and a half years ago, we knew the day would come when we would have a home overrun with teens. Now it is our reality, and I have to admit that mostly I’ve just praying God will see me through to the other side of these teenage years.
But perhaps I’ve been praying wrong all along …
Maybe what I should have been doing is simply asking God to teach me more about Himself through these amazing people that He has given me the responsibility of loving and caring for each day. These amazing young people aren’t burdens, but rather reflections of Him … if I am just willing to look through the rough edges down to their hearts.
After all, just this week, the youngest of them reminded me through her own selfless actions about how to share God’s love for others by simply taking the time to care for someone else above myself.
But then again, God has been using her to change me for more than a dozen years now. And I’m rather glad He made her mine!
Happy 12th birthday to my precious Julia!
You are wanted and loved …and I see the very fingerprints of God all over you!