It’s time to come clean. I’m ready to share the birth story. No, not that birth story, not the one about the labor and delivery of my first child. It's not that kind of blog, people. I’m talking about the circumstances surrounding said birth, a snowy Christmas Eve a mere 13 months ago. The truth is, I haven’t told a single soul this story. My closest friends don't know the whole truth; even my parents aren't aware of the saga. I'm sorry, everyone. My husband, on the other hand, has chuckled with friends about this now infamous night in our marriage because unlike me, he is comfortable making light of his follies.
So in an attempt to turn a new leaf I like to call, "Lighten Up, Katelin,” I am going to share something I swore I would take to my grave. And then, I’ll get to Valentine’s Day.
Now that I have sufficiently built this up to be an incredibly horrific, traumatizing event as the precursor to my son’s birth, I’ll jump right into letting you down. It all comes down to a single water bottle. An empty one, but an embarrassing one nonetheless.
On Christmas Eve 2013, my husband and I got in a fight over nothing. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a fight as much as I would call it 'low-level annoyance resulting in a decision to retire to separate rooms.’ I was nine months pregnant, due in ten days, so sleeping separately was not uncommon at this point.
While trying to go to sleep, I felt some chest pains which I immediately Googled. In its usual helpful way, Google told me it was probably heartburn, but could also be a life-threatening condition. After debating for a couple of hours whether or not to call my doctor at 11pm on Christmas Eve, I figured I would stop being an idiot and call him.
In a statement from my doctor made the hour before Clayton’s birth, he said I was “overly calm” and “not hysterical enough” in that phone call for him to realize I could have a serious condition. I took a mental note to next time be more like the pregnant women on TV and give frequent and loud play-by-plays of my bodily sensations.
Over the phone he agreed that it might be heartburn (I had never had it during pregnancy so I wasn’t sure what to look for), so to take a pill and then go into the hospital if the chest pains continued.
I went into Jon’s room to tell him I had called the doctor about chest pains and needed some heartburn medication. He was completely asleep, so he basically ignored me. I pouted around a little, getting my things together, and then approached him again. I told him I was going out...into the snow...at midnight...on Christmas Eve... to get some heartburn medication. I was laying it on thick while beating around the bush as much as possible.
Then, expecting him to use ESP and follow TV/movie 'Expecting-Dad' protocol, I waited for him to jump up and exclaim,
“Oh no! Something could be wrong! Let me get you whatever you need, for you’re having my baby!”
When he remained in his incoherent and still in bed position, I yelled something cliché like, “I can’t believe you!”
Then, I chucked my empty water bottle at his head and stormed out.
There you have it. That’s my secret shame.
Once in the car, I discovered a minor flaw in my plan. It was after midnight on Christmas Day, and in Salt Lake City, I wasn’t going to find a heartburn medication store open. My fuming began to calm as I approached the hospital where I trusted they would have some drugs. Little did I know, hospitals don’t just give you a Pepcid and send you on your way.
After the nurses had a good laugh at my “first time having heartburn,” they hooked me up to all the machines and I was in for the night. As it turns out, it wasn’t heartburn. I was preeclamptic which basically means GET THE BABY OUT if you’re nine months along.
Calling Jon with this news was not the thrilling moment either one of us had hoped for when we first saw our little kidney bean squirming on the screen months before. Going from feeling annoyance and frustration with one other, to the excitement of knowing we were about to meet our son, all combined with the exhaustion of a long day behind and ahead, made for some tricky emotional navigation.
But soon Jon was with me and we prepared for the big day. No water bottles were thrown.
Then, I had a healthy baby boy that Christmas Day and we were changed forever. Amen.
Since that day, I’ve put a lot of thought into why exposing that story, or even thinking about it for the first few months, caused me so much angst. I came to the conclusion that it was for the same reason couples have extreme highs and lows surrounding Valentine’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, and the like.
It all comes down to one word: should
In planning for and imagining the birth of my first child, I had a lot of Shoulds. Not the least of which was, 'My husband and I should be so united, so blissful in the anticipation of our baby, and should go to the hospital together, anxiously holding hands while I do breathing exercises and he drives nervously.’
He should get me everything I demand, the birth should go smoothly, we should gaze at each other lovingly, and it should be one of the greatest days of our lives.
But I’ve come to terms with the fact that monumental moments in life do not always go as they 'should', and for a brain teaser, that they shouldn’t always go the way I think they should.
The bottom line is: it is unfair to ourselves and our partners to expect certain occasions to follow a fictional and elusive standard. When we do, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to smile and remember the actual moments that make up our whole lives.
I have spent (wasted?) countless hours between the dates of February 14-21 listening to tearful, angry, or resentful accounts of Valentine’s Days gone wrong. The reason? He should have made a bigger deal out of it! It was our first V-Day! It was our TENTH V-Day! It was a make-up V-Day from last year when he blew it! (I've never known a man to complain about a lacking Valentine's Day, so I am only directing this to women.)
I love this cautionary tale from Dr. Laura Schlessinger. It forever changed the way I look at holidays, also known as 'Should-Be' days:
One listener wrote that she had gotten all revved up for something incredible to happen for her on Valentine’s Day. After hearing romantic, over-the-top stories from her friends about what their husbands had done, she expected her husband to sum up his feelings for her in similar grand fashion on this one day. And for five consecutive Valentine’s Days, she was ferociously let down and disappointed. Not surprisingly, it showed in her behavior toward him in the subsequent weeks—without him knowing why.
Finally she expressed her annoyance. He devastated her by saying, “I show you I love you three hundred and sixty-five days a year, but if this one day isn’t perfect, then none of that counts?” She felt like a complete jerk because she knew he was right. She remembered all the times he’d surprised her with flowers “just because,” or took her on a surprise overnight trip, or spontaneously grabbed her in the kitchen and told her all the reasons he loved her.
She realized her husband loved her genuinely and that trying to force him to express it in a way that was more synthetic, while simultaneously discounting all he had done to show his love, was selfish and cruel. She wrote:
“I think if women would stop and pay attention, they would see that their husbands may not have stopped courting them but are actually doing it in a different way. It could be by getting up first when the baby cries, or doing the dishes so she can rest, or making a special dinner. Without acknowledging the more subtle ways our husbands show us they love us, we rob ourselves and them of that connection.When their efforts are ignored long enough, isn’t it inevitable that they’ll eventually stop?”
It is easy to take a martyr’s stance when a husband doesn’t treat Valentine’s Day, or your anniversary or the date of your first kiss as an opportunity to shower you with a certain type of love, a type which is really a certain skill set which not every man or woman possesses or even prefers.
The reality is, if so much of a relationship hinges on a handful of days of the year, the relationship is not good. I am willing to bet that if you believe you are married to a good person, the amount of love shown throughout the year, unsolicited, far outweighs the amount that can be manipulated or forced to be shown on one overhyped day.
Love is shown every day in not made-for-TV ways. I have friends whose husbands love to surprise them with elaborate dates on Valentine’s Day. I personally know that if I want a night on the town, I can pick the restaurant and hotel, ask him to join me, and my husband will be a total romantic gentleman.
I also know that if I wait for him to spontaneously do the same, I’ll be waiting a long time. It’s up to me to decide if I want to be fuming over unexpressed or unrealistic expectations, or if I want to have a good time with the one I love.
How a certain life moment should look, how a person should act, what should happen on a certain holiday, are all traps we set for ourselves that blind us not only to reality but to the nuances, the subtle joys, and the blessings in disguise that come with an authentic life.
I now find it so charming that my husband can laugh at what he thinks of as his stupidity when a water bottle flew at his head on the eve of his son’s birth. I can see how that was our moment, our history, a genuinely silly memory that will become a part of Clayton's story that can bring a smile to his face.
In choosing to embrace it, laugh about it, and share it, my heart feels immense gratitude for how far we have come and the beautiful turns life has taken over the last 13 months. I risked losing that by choosing to block it out, to mourn what should have happened instead of honoring what did happen. And what did happen was exactly what should have been, water bottle and all.