I packed every single extra newborn diaper that Rita never used and walked across my lawn. Dan sat busily working behind his computer. I told him I was available to take as many children as he wanted me to have the next day. He didn’t seem concerned. His nonchalant demeanor really weirded me out. He was right, though. He had seen it 5 times before, and knew that his wife would do great, and that his boys at home would be safe. And even though most kids in the house were either throwing up, having asthma attacks, or running high fevers, he was confident that the babysitter would be perfectly fine. I couldn’t decide if it was delusion, ignorance, or Catholic faith at its finest.
I found Maria upstairs. She was folding baby blankets and began organizing the diapers. Her exhaustion was obvious, yet she just continued comforting the sick kids and gave me instructions for what to do if Bailey stopped breathing the next day. I could feel my own breaths hurriedly growing with anxiety. It was 9pm before she was scheduled to have her 6th baby. Someone threw up, Connor was crying in his crib, she hadn’t slept in weeks. Yet, she calmly showed me the breathing machine and said “my goal is to have the baby by dinner time so that I can be home Sunday morning.” If I were her, I would probably slip hundreds to the nurses and beg them to keep me for as many days as they could get away with hiding me behind a hospital curtain.
I arrived to the hospital the next day around 1pm. I tried my best to buy her post-delivery foods to her liking. With my bag of sugary snacks in hand, I walked into a room with a smiling mother of five boys on her sixth hour of Pitocin. The sight of the parquet floor made me nauseous. That damn wallpaper with the stupid looking fruit of whatever it is made it worse. There is more maroon in one delivery room than in all of Bayside High. Flashbacks of 8cm came rushing back. I blinked really fast and tried to find a chair. “I’m so glad you came early, it’s been so long since we’ve hung out,” she said. I offered my condolences for her thinking that entering stage two of labor equated to quality time together.
Everyone except Maria was expecting a quick labor. Isn’t the sixth baby supposed to sort of fall out? Hours upon hours upon horrendous hours went by. There were conversations about flesh eating bacteria, women becoming priests, Jim’s new concussion, con-artists, the unknown gender (pssh) of the baby, and a bunch of other things that distracted the rest of the room from her painful contractions. She closed her eyes and said Hail Mary’s. No complaining, no requests, just concern that I was missing my nursing schedule. At 7pm (12 hours of Pitossin later) it was getting increasingly intense. Dan paced the halls, she refused pain medication, I was sweating, finding it increasingly difficult to breathe, and wishing that I could borrow one of the newborns to nurse (sort of joking, sort of not). I made nervous jokes about it being International Women’s Day. The nurses had just changed shifts and gave hugs and said, “I wish I could stay with you guys! Its so fun to see such a happy family! We get so excited to see your name in the book every other month!” They all knew the drill. Aunt Sue was in charge, mom would suffer through pain without help, my mom brought obscene amounts of chocolate, and rosaries would be recited in the background.
At 8pm it was clear that Jim would be doing the bedtime routine/chaos alone. 9pm: I was, I mean Maria, was in hell. So much pain. She calmly, and fiercely breathed on, as my sweating became obvious. 10pm: This can’t be serious. It doesn’t make any sense. She deserves better. Someone do something! 11pm: What’s your deal, God? Did you forget you’ve already given her 5 boys? Is a labor shorter than 24 hours really too much to ask? 12am: Um….this baby was supposed to come on March 8th, not March 9th. She was 9cm for like a million hours. “Your hair is going to fall out either way! Just get the epidural!!!!!” I pleaded. I thought her veins were going to burst, but her determination continued to astound me, and everyone. The once cheerful, hopeful mood of the room had turned. We began to fear for her, and the baby’s safety. Dr. Nicholas warned, “get the epidural…or else.” She reluctantly complied. Even after five babies, being 5’3” and 100 lbs with hips more narrow than a 12 year old’s, does not bode well for childbirth. I nearly pummeled the anesthesiologist for being rude. Others told me that she wasn’t actually being rude, I am just crazy, apparently very protective over my big sister, and its never a good idea to fight a woman with a needle that can paralyze.
1:00 am (or somewhere around that time, it was really late and I was tired.) Time to push. I’ve had three babies of my own. Yet, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see. She used every fiber left. Dan held her hand and tried to let go of the anxiety of seeing his wife in obscene pain. My mom and Aunt Sue held her legs and continued to coach her through. I tried to catch my breath. I submitted to my tears. She gave, and gave, and gave. She focused on Mary and called on God.
It’s a boy.
Her sixth boy.
Her sixth boy, in eight years.
There is something very surreal about witnessing a birth. In a single instant, someone who is already known to be, becomes fully visible. What is already real becomes completely real in a moment of unbelievability. He opened his eyes, revealing perfect innocence and potential. He looked at her, she welcomed him, her body still trembling as he laid calming on her chest. In a matter of seconds, a mother’s most painful moment becomes her most triumphant.
Dan gleamed with pride, for his wife, for his son, for all of his sons. It was a dream come true, and a full hockey lineup.
I imagined all the fun he will have and all of the messes he will make. The goals he will score, and bones he will bruise and break.
I became sure of a few things. First, Brendan is going to fit right into the already hilarious mix. Second, after witnessing strength I didn’t know existed paired with faith in the face of what seems to be impossible, my big sister will forever be my hero. And as a very tiny mom to six not so tiny boys, she will continue to have more reasons to laugh than pretty much everyone else in the whole wide world. After we gave each other a deliriously tired “good-bye,” I drove home and endlessly thanked God for my baby girls.