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'Twas the Night Before Motherhood

Six years ago. A Sunday. New Year's Eve 2006. Originally, we had planned to go out for dinner with high school friends, but I'd canceled. Though I still three weeks from my due date at the time, something in me had shifted and I wanted to stay home, lay low.  Two days before, I'd been to prenatal yoga and had this odd feeling that it would be my last class. Turns out it was.

We'd invited my family over for a mellow evening. In the afternoon, Husband and I braved the Fairway crowds to pick up appetizers and ingredients for the steak dinner we planned to cook. I wore my brown cashmere maternity sweater and people kept bumping into my vast belly. Normally, this would have caused me to crack a medley of self-deprecating jokes about my size, but I felt different, fiesty. I said something to my man as we waited in a long line to pay for our things: Watch. This is going to send me into labor.

At home, I put out bowls of nuts. Lit votive candles. Before my parents and sisters arrived, I went to the bathroom. Wiped. Saw signs. I told Husband about this and then phoned my O.B. The doctor on-call told me to head to the hospital to get checked. Is this it? I asked. She said she didn't know, but it could be.

At the hospital, in triage, they hooked me up to monitors. They ran two tests to see if I'd broken my water. The first came back positive. The second came back negative. A nurse asked me how I felt. I told her I was okay. She looked confused, asked if I could feel them. Them? I asked. The contractions, she informed me. She pointed at the monitor, said I was contracting every two minutes. On the black screen, I saw them. The peaks and valleys of electric green. I decided I could feel them, but barely.

A few hours later, they sent us home. My labor hadn't progressed and they said it could still be some time. Days even. Better to wait it out at home, someone said. They unhooked me, and I changed out of my gown. As we left, I felt a tinge of disappointment.

By the time we arrived home, it was almost eleven. We turned on the television and saw Times Square, that glittering ball hovering in the black city sky. Husband cooked up some steak and fries. I sat there on the couch, clutching my belly, feeling what would be among her last punches and kicks, and also waves of dull pain. At midnight, that big ball did its thing, dropping, and a new year came. 2007. We kissed. And went to bed.

But I didn't sleep. No. I stared at the digital clock on the dresser, its big numbers glowing green. Time trotted on, ticked by. It didn't occur to me to memorize those moments, those moments before. At around 2am, the contractions revved up, grew discrete and sharper. I began to count the minutes between them. Husband slept beside me. And I knew.

In the morning, I felt dizzy with exhaustion and excitement and fear. I showered, went through my overnight bag one last time. I even put on makeup. Before we left, I walked into the yellow nursery, studied the perfect drapes trimmed in little white pom-poms, the yellow rocker with white shamrocks, the waiting white crib. I called the doctor to tell her it was time.

The delivery room was small. I wasn't in a ton of pain, but opted for the epidural around seven centimeters. It never fully kicked in. My doctor arrived at some point in a smiley whirly blur, said a quick hello and changed into her scrubs. She had returned from the Galapagos Islands only hours before. Husband wore a camouflage thermal henley, twirled on a chair and ate a Snickers bar. He wore this goofy (and in retrospect wonderful) I'm-about-to-be-a-daddy grin on his face and I could smell the chocolate and nuts and for a split second, I wanted to punch him. But I didn't.

Instead I had a baby. Our baby. It all happened so fast. Maybe twenty minutes of pushing? And soon she was here. In the world, in my arms. There was a flurry of activity, a little knit hat put on, a blanket to wrap her, goop on her eyes. But it was all so casual, so quiet, so not what I expected. She was big for being two and a half weeks early. 7lb 11oz. She was healthy, pink.

We made some calls and it wasn't long before I was alone with her. The doctors had moved on. Husband had raced to the lobby to deliver our cord blood kit and to book a private room. It was just the two of us. This little girl and me. And I felt a moment of panic and I looked around that small room. But then I looked down at her, this beautiful round-faced babe, at her squinty, shiny eyes, her tiny nose, her little bow lips. And I fumbled under my gown and I began to nurse her. She latched. The rest of this time is a bit of a blur, but I remember Dad barging in. He was goofy and Dad-like and gave me a kiss on the forehead and took a peek at my girl. It didn't occur to me to memorize this moment, this moment of Dad meeting my baby. I didn't know of course that this would be the only time, that the next hospital room would be his.

We brought her home on January 3rd. She wore the little ivory Bonpoint outfit Mom got her and I put her in the puffy white bunting I got as a shower gift even though it was seventy degrees out. We hailed a yellow taxi just like it was any other day. And we went home. And when we got there, we carried her up the brownstone stairs to our apartment and I remember sitting on my couch, that same couch where I watched the ball drop, and at some point, I looked at Mom and began to sob. I am not sure I can do this, I said. And she hugged me and told me to lie down for a bit, to get some rest. And I did.

And when I woke up, I felt a bit better, stronger. And I realized something: Something utterly profound.

I was a mother.

*

Six years. Amazing. Totally unfathomable. Tomorrow is my girl's sixth birthday and we will of course celebrate in silly Rowley style. The girls are still on holiday break from school so I plan to spend another week away from here, with them, in this exhausting and exquisite mayhem we have created. But I had an overwhelming urge to come here, to write this little, or not-so-little, something about that magical and mythical night six years ago, that night before motherhood, before all of this. I will be back next week with a birthday letter for my sweet girl and with my highly-specific hopes for 2013.

Do you remember the night before you became a parent? Do any details stick out? Did it occur to you then, in those moments before, how profoundly your life and identity would change? Would you be willing to share bits of your Night Before Parenthood story here?

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