This life stuff doesn’t always go as planned. I suppose that’s what makes it, you know, life, but still, when things don’t work out the way you’d thought they would, it can really be a shock to the system.
New Coke: I’m looking at you.
Nick and I had always talked of having two children, but we’d wanted them three years apart. We’d carefully reasoned it out: Ella would be out of diapers and we wouldn’t be dealing with a toddler and a baby at the same time, but she and her younger sibling would still be close enough in age to share some of the same toys, go to the same school, etc. It was going to be great.
Then, when Ella was a mere fifteen months old, I unexpectedly got pregnant. I realize that some people find it difficult to believe that a pregnancy can be “unexpected,” especially after having already birthed a child (so we clearly understood the whole birds and the bees thing, if you know what I mean), but it was. I’d carefully done the math, but – sparing you the details (you’re welcome) – The Math and I have never been real tight, and I’d gotten something wrong, and suddenly, there we were, pregnant.
For those of you who also struggle with The Math, 15 months (Ella’s age) + 9 months (gestation) = our kids would be two years apart rather than three.
Not only that, but this baby was also due in December – Ella’s birth month – which was really not cool with me. Like many teachers, I’d hoped to give birth in the spring, take my 6-8 weeks of maternity leave, and then back up the end of the leave right into summer break, giving me the maximum amount of (paid) time home with my newborn. Again, sparing you the details (and again, you’re welcome), we became pregnant with Ella sooner than we’d thought we might, and our “spring” baby arrived right before Christmas.
I had no childcare lined up, and didn’t plan to get any, because the following school year, I’d be job-sharing with Sarah, a wonderful friend of mine who’d also recently had a baby. For half of the week, each of us would teach, and for the other half, we’d watch both babies. It was a fabulous win-win, so I didn’t want to search for temporary childcare for Ella knowing I’d just give it up in a few months. Instead, Nick and I managed to cobble together a network of family members and friends, with each of us also using personal days, to watch Ella when I returned to school. We made it happen, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Giving birth in December also meant that I was essentially homebound for three months, because our pediatrician had warned that we shouldn’t take the baby into any “crowded spaces” — malls, restaurants, libraries, stores, basically anything with walls and a roof — because of germs! And RSV! And you never know who’s carrying a deadly disease! Given that it was, you know, winter, it was too cold to be outside with the baby (and even if I’d dared to brave the elements, there was no place to go outside with a newborn in the winter; it’s not like she’d enjoy checking out the local playground). So that kind of sucked.
And then there was the whole birthday-a-week-before-Christmas thing that was a big ol’ pain in the neck. Christmas is already its own unique kind of crazy; adding a birthday to that each year seemed ridiculously daunting, and I wasn’t really excited to take on the challenge. Plus, I worried for Ella’s sake. She’d get birthday presents wrapped in Christmas paper! Her special day would be outshone by Christmas’s glare! Not fun.
We would make it work, of course, but back then if I’d had to choose, Ella wouldn’t have been born in December. So I vowed: absolutely no more December babies.
And then The Math and I had a tussle, and suddenly the little plus sign was taunting me from its perch on the bathroom sink.
I’m not going to lie: I was not excited. Nick and I have always felt that everything happens for a reason, and we never considered terminating the pregnancy, but I did wish fervently that I wasn’t pregnant right then. In fact, more than once, I peed on yet another pregnancy stick and hoped that it would come up negative. I didn’t want to lose the baby, not at all… I simply didn’t want to be pregnant at that time, if that makes any sense. Happy just wasn’t happening.
More to the point, I was downright angry. Actually, I was terrified — of having another baby so soon, of having another being growing inside me, of the whole December-baby thing, of how having a sibling would disrupt the lovely life we’d built for ourselves and Ella, of the logistics of the whole thing. The details just seemed insurmountable: we lived in a small, three-bedroom house that was just barely big enough for Nick, Ella, and me. I couldn’t possibly ask Sarah to watch the baby AND Ella when I was only watching her son, so I’d have to scrap our arrangement and return to teaching full-time, putting Ella and the baby into daycare… But, thirty miles outside of New York City, the cost of living was so high, I’d actually take home LESS working full-time and paying for daycare than I was bringing in working half-time.
It was just impossible.
In our calmer moments, Nick and I reasoned that, somehow, we’d be okay. We’d always wanted another baby. This one was just coming a little sooner than we’d expected. We would figure out the job/childcare/housing thing. Everything happens for a reason. We’d make it work.
But the part I couldn’t wrap my head around was why I got pregnant when I did. (Okay, I know why I got pregnant, because… I’ll shut up now. You’re welcome.) Why another December baby? Why NOW? The universe and God work in mysterious ways, yes, but the reason behind the timing absolutely eluded us.
Spring turned into summer and still I wasn’t excited about being pregnant. I did all of the things I should – I ate right, I took my vitamins, I exercised, I cut out caffeine, I didn’t consume a drop of alcohol – and, as my stomach expanded, we did our best to prepare Eleanor to become a big sister… but I just wasn’t into it. Summer ended and I returned to teaching and, as the months crept toward my due date, despite my own personal scolding and pleading and chiding and stern talkings-to, I simply could not muster happiness about the arrival of this baby.
And then, right around Halloween, I was watching something on TV featuring a pregnant woman who lost her baby. It wasn’t A Baby Story or anything like that, and actually may have just been a dumb sitcom, but as I watched, I felt this terror take hold of me and I realized that I did not want to not be pregnant. I could not lose this baby.
It was quite the shock, that: realizing that I no longer wanted to not be pregnant. (Yes, it took me until I was SEVEN MONTHS along… Mom of the year before I’d even given birth, that’s me…) It wasn’t exactly the same as actively being excited to have another child, but it was a helluva lot better than outright dread.
As November progressed, my indifference slowly shifted to acceptance, until finally, by December, I was – at last – looking forward to meeting this wee one who’d been renting space with me for the past 8.5 months, THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS AMEN. Nick and I still had no idea why the timing worked out the way it did, but at least we were psyched to become a family of four.
Being psyched, however, could not guarantee a smooth delivery. Alas, the baby was sunny-side up and became trapped in the birth canal – and so, after laboring for seven hours, completely turning down the epidural so I could “feel” where to push, then pushing for nearly three hours, an emergency c-section was ordered. (Good thing, too; poor babe came out with a bloody mark on her forehead where she’d been smooshing up against the bones of my pelvis.)
Annabelle Grace arrived at 8:11 p.m. and was healthy as could be. Damn cute, too.
Nick went home that night to be with Ella, and I phoned him around 2 a.m. asking if he could find any Allegra or Claritin to bring me — it seemed I’d forgotten mine and was developing hives. (Have I never mentioned that I have chronic, unexplained hives [technical term: chronic idiopathic urticaria] and, every night since I was thirteen, if I don’t take an antihistamine, I break out in full-body hives? No? Well, I do. They’re swell.) Even after taking the medication, however, the hives never abated, and it was finally determined that I was allergic to the Percocet they’d given me for pain. My other drug allergies ruled out Vicodin and the like, which meant that my only options were Advil and Tylenol.
Advil. And Tylenol. For pain from an emergency c-section, after which the doctor ordered that I remain in the hospital an extra day because, having pushed for so long and so hard, it was “as though (I’d) given birth twice.” Super fun.
The second night of my hospital stay, I received a call from Nick at 2 a.m… Ella had thrown up all over her crib. Yep, our almost two year-old had come down with her first-ever tummy bug, and there Nick was, in the middle of the night, trying to change crib sheets and clean up a pukey kid, while I was in the hospital, unable to even lift Annie from her bassinet without tearing my stitches (I’d taken to just holding her in bed with me so I could nurse her when I needed to and not bug anyone for help), all hopped up on TYLENOL AND ADVIL.
Extra super fun.
The following morning, Nick’s mom – who’d flown in from Minnesota to help us out – became ill (unrelated to the stomach bug) and had to fly back home. Nick’s dad and GranMary were able to catch the next flight from Minnesota to offer their assistance, and none too soon, because the day after I returned from the hospital, Nick came down with the pukes… which meant, clearly, that he couldn’t be near Annie, because a five day-old really isn’t supposed to catch the stomach flu. And I couldn’t really help out with Ella, because I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than Annie…
So, yeah. Extra super duper fun.
Still, pretty much from the moment she arrived, Annie was magnificent. I wasn’t stuck inside with her like I’d been with Ella; when you have your first December baby, you stay home for three straight months because the thought of germs is paralyzing. When you have your second December baby, you understand that your two year-old is harboring more germs on her right forefinger than the entire children’s section at Barnes and Noble, and you give up and just get on with things already.
It became clear almost immediately that our family, while perfectly happy, had been incomplete without her. She was a precocious baby, immediately engaging, and an obvious daredevil from the word go. Eventually, Annie would come to command the attention of everyone in the room everywhere she goes — she has the most magnetic, draw-you-in personality of anyone I’ve ever met (and she’s freakin’ hilarious, so that helps) — but in her early months, she definitely took a backseat to Ella.
It wasn’t that people weren’t interested in Annie, who was, by all accounts, an adorable and fun baby, but rather that Ella was so full of life, so talkative, so bold, people naturally gravitated toward her and didn’t pay Annie too much mind. That is, until she met my grandmother.
I don’t know what it was, but from the moment they laid eyes on each other, Annie and Phoofsy were smitten. Phoofsy had always loved Ella – there was no worry of that – but there was something special about her relationship with Annie. They lit up when they saw one another; where everyone else would be captivated by Ella’s stories and songs and dramatic reenactments, Phoofsy would go up to Annie and coo at her, instead. Annie’s biggest fan, we called her. It was pretty damn neat.
After mulling over (and over… and over…) our options post-baby, Nick and I decided that his 90 minute commute into lower Manhattan was simply too much. My going back to work full-time was too much. Finding childcare that would cost more than my half-time salary was too much. We could not stay in Bronxville any longer. As luck would have it, Nick’s company had a branch in Rochester, and because we already knew the area (with my mother and her sisters having grown up here, and my grandparents still living here, with a house on the lake where we visited each summer), we decided it made the most sense for him to change jobs and for us to move here. And so, in July of 2007, when Annie was seven months old, we did.
We split the time that summer almost evenly between moving into our new house and going to the lake. I’m pretty certain that I saw my grandparents more in those first few months than I had in the previous thirty-one years of my life. The girls had the incredible experience of spending unlimited time with their great-grandparents. Things were good.
At the very end of September, my grandfather went in for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Although that sounds scary, the location of the aneurysm and his overall good health caused his doctor(s) to predict an easy fix; they expected him home within a day or so. At 2:38 p.m. that Friday, he sent all of us the following email:
going to hospital at 4. TTYL
Very sadly, there would be no “later.” The operation wound up being much more complicated than they’d anticipated, and although they successfully repaired the aneurysm, he never woke up; we lost him on Sunday morning.
The weeks following his death were a blur, with family coming and going, but eventually, everyone left and it was just my grandmother (and my brother and sister-in-law, who were living locally at the time) and us. We made sure to see her often, both because we didn’t want her to be alone and because we really enjoyed her company. Thanksgiving eventually rolled around and my extended family came back into town to celebrate together. While I was thrilled to have them visit, it struck me that it felt a little funny with them there; we and Phoofsy had fallen into a kind of (irregular) routine, and interrupting it was a bit uncomfortable. We were the ones who were supposed to be here.
Wait a minute: we were supposed to be here. HERE, in Rochester, right exactly then. If we hadn’t moved when we did, we wouldn’t have had that summer with my grandfather. We wouldn’t have been there when he died; my brother and I wouldn’t have been the ones to stay with him in his hospital room and say goodbye to him after they turned off all of the machines. We wouldn’t have been there with my grandmother after his death, dragging her gamely along to the children’s museum and the apple orchard, and accompanying her to mother/daughter celebrations at her social club. If we hadn’t moved when we did, she certainly wouldn’t have had Annie and Ella nearby to cheer her up, to make her smile, to give her hope.
It was all so ridiculously clear: If Annie had not been born when she was, we never would have moved when we did, and life as we know it would not exist.
Everything happens for a reason, indeed.
It wasn’t just my grandma who benefited from Annie’s timely birth, of course. We’ve all – everyone who meets her – been so tremendously fortunate to have Annie in our lives. She defines the word character. She is vibrant and exceedingly full of energy. She never stops talking. No, I mean it… Never. Stops. Talking. Wait, I take that back; she stops talking when she’s singing. Does that count?
She wakes up happy nearly every single day, and greets me – whether it’s first thing in the morning or when I pick her up from school – with the broadest grin imaginable and an elated, “MOMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!” She’s one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met, as evidenced here and here. She certainly has no shortage of self-confidence and purpose, as is shown in her frequent use of phrases such as, “I’m going to give them a gift… It’s called The Awesome of Annie.”
She can turn on a dime and be the crankiest kid you’ve ever come across; and then, just like that, she’s laughing again. For three parent-teacher conferences in a row, her teachers referred to her as a “pistol.” She’s so exuberant and funny and delightful and just plain crazy, we kind of didn’t realize that she’s also crazy smart; her kindergarten and first grade teachers let us know that we’d greatly underestimated her.
She’s utterly exasperating in the mornings before school, when I head downstairs to let the dogs out and she’s got her pants on and is putting on her shirt and tells and will be down shortly — and then, twenty minutes later when I realize she’s never appeared, I go upstairs to check on her and discover that she’s now undressed and is rolling around on the floor, teeth still needing to be brushed. She’s similarly exasperating in the evenings before bed when it takes fifteen minutes to put on her pajamas.
She is kind and generous and sweet and a truly fabulous dinner-making partner; she now makes all of our salads every time and has, more than once, been responsible for cooking virtually all aspects of the meal. There is nothing she cannot turn into an art project (no, really, nothing; I know this from experience). She idolizes Ella and would do anything for her – just today, she earned a prize at school for twelve consecutive days of good behavior and “spent” her points to buy a gift for her sister instead of herself – but also purposely needles her – gleefully – with all of her might.
Annie is unbridled joy and to-her-core happiness. When I say that our lives wouldn’t be the same without her in it, I mean that in every possible way; we’re literally here today because of her. She fills us all with her light; we didn’t even realize how bright things could be until she came along. We may have been thrown for a loop when I got confused with The Math and became pregnant with Annie, but I’m so very glad we’re along for the ride.
And it turns out that December birthdays aren’t so bad after all. Go figure.
Seven years, Banana. Seven years of awesome.
Lucky, lucky us.