A Birthday Present
Sixteen years ago an unexpected birthday present arrived for me. I say unexpected, but the package was expected, it just wasn’t supposed to arrive on my birthday.
The package, in fact, was dangerous. It was expensive, worrisome, and its arrival nearly killed my wife. That is a literal reference, not a metaphorical one.
My birthday had not been cause for much celebration in years past, and sixteen years ago I was not seeing much better track records for the day. One caused a fight between my wife and I so bad that we nearly didn’t survive our marriage. Another was simply a disaster of hilarious proportions.
Nothing prepared me for my 29th birthday.
My wife was in the hospital. It wasn’t supposed to be some major, horrific and terrible thing. She had been there since June 29th. The doctor had decided that, having needed induction on my first child, inducing labor for the second would be worthwhile as well. I hadn’t realized that the drug they used this time was experimental, being used off-label, and not something we knew anything about.
After 24 hours of painful and severe contractions – not normal contractions, mind you but searing, stabbing ones that were far larger than anything she’d experienced previously, the nurses told us to walk the hallways to try and speed up the process. My wife, apparently, was not dilated nearly enough.
By July 1st, which is my birthday, things had taken a bad turn. They wheeled my wife off one direction and pulled me in another. I was put in scrubs and pulled into a room.
“Hyper-contractions” they called them. So powerful they were there was concern that my wife would cause her own uterus to burst and injure the baby inside her. They started to cut her open when my wife said “hey…I can feel that!” After 2 more failed attempts at boosting her epidural they knocked her out with Nitrous Oxide.
The present arrived. It was slimy and alien and wiggly and difficult. She looked blue and covered in what looked like blood and they cut the umbilical cord themselves. As I watched them take the baby over to another part of the room I heard the doctor curse “Shit!” Blood began to shoot out of my wife’s belly, like a fire hose left unattended.
I wanted to follow the present but they told me to stay with my wife because they weren’t really sure what might happen. Her organs were removed and put on her stomach as they sewed up bleeding holes in arteries and whatever other parts of her body were hurt. For years after they would tell us the likelihood of her getting pregnant again was slim. (They, of course, were wrong.)
When my present came bundled, I couldn’t unwrap it. Hannah we called her. In fact, her older sister for months would walk up to her mother’s belly and say “hello, baby Hannah!” and we thought it was cute. When the time came, there really wasn’t another name.
I had thoroughly forgotten it was my birthday. But when friends and relatives brought in a cake I didn’t even think about presents. I had one. A little tiny face peeked out of the bundle and looked at me.
The baby turned kid and was joined not with her father but mother at the hip. She would come over to me when injured. I cleaned up her vomit, changed diapers, gave her albuterol treatments when she contracted RSV…and she would look me in the eye while walking voer by her mother.
When her mother passed away I thought it would kill her. Instead, she handled the loss better than I did. She became closer to me and then decided it was time to be like every teenager and grew more distant. It’s the nature of presents that they sometimes get shuffled away someplace until you find them again, I suppose.
My present turned 16 today. Okay…I turned 45, but I stopped celebrating the day Hannah was born.
Through months and years she fought me, angered me, argued with me and made the most difficult of times. Today, though, she wrote me a song, tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic and funny and witty and saying “I’m sorry” and “I’m a hormonal mess” and it made me cry. First time in a long time I cried in front of her.
“I was your weirdest birthday gift ever,” she informed me with a smile.
“You were certainly the only one I ever had to pay for and never stopped paying for,” I told her.
But a gift she was. Still is. The gift of loving your birthday forever because you share it? That’s pretty amazing.
But then . . . she is a pretty amazing kid . . . and came into the world in a spectacular fashion.