I am a classic firstborn child. Not quite type A, but someone who genuinely likes to be organized and prepared. I'm a huge fan of binders (binders for bills, binders for decorating ideas), label makers, and to-do lists. I once had a colleague who teased me for drawing a square box next to each task just so I could have the satisfaction of checking it off.
Being pregnant for the first time only amplified my desire for lists and order. I took pleasure in assembling a basket of custom thank-you notes, stamps, and return-address stickers to send out after my baby shower.
I relished mapping out a timeline of tasks my husband, Jamie, and I would accomplish before my due date came on July 29. It never occurred to me that our baby's arrival might not go according to plan. So before going to bed on the eve of June 8, 2005, I scribbled down a to-do list. It read:
But that day, none of that happened. Life became super-unorganized when my water broke in the night. I was eight weeks early and all alone. Jamie was away on what was supposed to be his last business trip before the birth.
I picked up the phone and called him. At first, he was sure there had to be another explanation. But when I described the leaking I felt, his usual easygoing air became serious and sober. Until then I had been blindly optimistic -- even excited -- buoyed by adrenaline. Jamie insisted that I hang up and call the doctor right away.
My mom drove me to the hospital, cautiously disregarding red lights and eyeing the clock when the contractions came. She recounted the familiar story of the day I was born and calmly answered my jittery questions: Did she have an epidural? What was it like? What if it ran out? ... Did she think the baby would be okay?
I was swiftly admitted for preterm labor. Once settled in the delivery room, Mom -- typically upbeat and talkative -- became still and quiet. She scooted to the edge of the leatherette recliner beside my bed and asked if it might be a good idea to call Collin. Collin is one of my oldest friends and the female version of Jamie -- calm, steady, funny, loving. I needed her, and true to form, she was there.
All night Collin stood serenely by the bed and held my hand while I prayed hard that my baby would be born healthy and strong enough to survive. For hours I vacillated between excitement and anxiety: The baby would be here today!/The baby would be two months early. Together we laughed and cried at the bizarreness and uncertainty of the situation. I accepted the absence of the luxuries I had assumed would be part of my well-planned birth. There was no soothing lavender sachet, no delivery playlist, and devastatingly, no Jamie.
At 6:16 a.m., our son Benjamin arrived. He weighed 5 pounds 5 ounces. A beautiful hoagie of a boy.
I was allowed to hold him for a millisecond before he was whisked away to the NICU. There was no time for 10 billion kisses on his impossibly tiny lips, no time for rooting or tucking him into the neck of my gown for safekeeping, no chance to marvel and coo. And no hug to give Jamie, who received the news that he was a dad while cramped in a plane on an airport runway. There wasn't even a camera to document the occasion. The only lasting keepsake I have of that night is in my mind, along with a new set of rules by which I still abide:
Life is way better if you're flexible.
There will be days when not one doggone thing on that checklist gets accomplished (and that's okay).
The greatest blessings can emerge from even the craziest and most out-of-control scenarios.
Today, my sweet boy is a thriving 8-year-old. He'll be the one to set the agenda for this day. I've got just one thing on my list:
Originally published in the January 2014 issue of American Baby magazine.