Today is Rachael’s 21st birthday. In the spirit of tradition, I am going to chronicle on paper what I usually do in person with each of my three children on their birthdays, which is to recap my pregnancy with them and the events surrounding their births. Their birthdays, after all, are not only important days for them, but memorable ones for me, as well.
I was 38 years old when I delivered Rachael on April 18th, 1991 and let me tell you, 38 is not 29, the year I had Sarah, or even 33, the year I had Liz. My pregnancy with Rachael was touch and go from the get-go. First, I had had two miscarriages prior to my pregnancy with her – hence the five-year span between Liz and her – and each of those miscarriages occurred at the very end of my first trimester at 12 weeks. Needless to say, that made Rachael’s pregnancy high risk with a couple of exclamation points following, and my age didn’t help anything. So, from the beginning, I was told by my midwife – yes, midwife – all three girls were born at home, that I needed to take it easy. No running, jumping, climbing or even rushing. This was difficult for me since that was my natural pace and I had it in my mind that this flurry of activity was good for my health and soul, but fear of another miscarriage had me “settled down” in short order. Ray and I truly wanted a third child – the family didn’t feel complete without that final addition – and so we were both determined to do everything in our power to help make our new little baby arrive healthy and happy. Of course, when I begin the usual cramping at Week 12, we both knew this might not actually be within our control.
The good news is the midwife was on top of the possibilities of a 12-week problem and had me off my feet as quickly as possible with strict orders about my activity level. In addition, I took herbs that were supposed to help keep the baby in place and, whatever the cause, the baby cooperated. I was allowed to get back up for limited activity after the crisis period and then off I went back to regular activity until around the 8th month when all of a sudden everything on my body swelled. Ray likes to say that I looked like Elvis in the latter years – and pictures of that time period affirm that he nailed my physical state pretty clearly. I was puffy and rather than pregnant, I just looked like a square refrigerator, or more clearly, a woman who spent too much time at the lake, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. My father-in-law would come over for a visit and when he first saw me, he’d just stand with a sad expression on his face and shake his head. As if to say, “Oh God, she used to be cute.”
Fast forward to the day before the birth. By this point, I was so pregnant, I could barely breathe. I was also so puffy my feet would not go in any shoes. Unfortunately, I was still a week away from my due date. However, I decided I couldn’t stand one more day of being pregnant so my midwife told me that if I truly was ready, I could naturally induce labor. That meant 2 Fleet enemas and a half a bottle of castor oil followed by orange juice. I did this early one evening and by 4 am I was up and in full labor. Ray was still upstairs. I was downstairs, holding onto the backs of chairs in the sitting room during labor pains. A while later, Ray came down to check on me, and something must have told him to call the midwife. I was expecting hours of labor so I don’t think it was me. Shortly after, he had her on the phone and after listening through one labor pain she said, “If you’re standing up, go lie down on your side right now and start panting. I’m leaving now.”
The midwife lived an hour and a half away and sure enough I was ready to push long before she got there. Ray and my friend, Patricia, were running around in their green hospital scrubs (where they got them I can’t remember) and they had the birthing book open to emergency birth. All I remember is Ray running around saying, “We need a pair of clean shoe laces! I don’t think we have any.” The whole house was awake. Liz was in her room making a “magical potion” with a little friend who was visiting, which later ended up all over the carpet. Sarah was right by my side coaching the second baby of her life into the world. She was 9.
The midwife finally arrived and I delivered Rachael on the floor in our bedroom on a sleeping bag – the bed felt too soft to me – 15 minutes later. I remember the neighbors starting their car so I know it was right at 7:30. They left everyday at that time to get their kids to school by 8.
Rachael was beautiful. Exactly 7 pounds, 19 inches long. Skinny legs, round tummy and big, big eyes. Luckily, she’s kept the big eyes and lost that tummy.
So, there’s the story of Rachael’s beginnings. From now on, she can read it instead of me telling her. Well, no, I’ll probably still tell her, but she’ll have this for later, when she tells her own kids.