There are some stories worth retelling and others that we have to retell – at least to ourselves – because otherwise we become convinced there is “no way that actually happened!” The story of how our daughter Izzy came into our world is one such story I tell myself every year around this time. She turns 11 soon and her birth story is about 3 weeks long. I am biased, of course, but it is one of my favorite stories to tell.
Pack a lunch and enjoy…
The Back Story:
On February 12, 2009, I was 26 years old and 31 weeks pregnant with our second child and daughter, Izzy. Our due date was April 4th and I was deep in the trenches of my third trimester. I was not the kind of woman that “pregnancy looks good on.” I was puffy and nauseous all the time. I did not like being pregnant. That particular day was a busy one. We lived on Ft Rucker, Alabama while my husband was in flight school. I was working full-time at a nursing home nearby and our son Samuel was 2, big and busy as life. I picked him up from daycare after work and went to a friends house for a playdate before dinner. My friend Tami had a little boy close to Samuel’s age and our husbands were in the same flight school class and were planning to meet us for dinner at their house. I remember driving over, being all the way annoyed because every time I shifted positions, I peed a little. (Sorry not sorry… this is a birth story and it gets worse. You have been warned.) When we got to Tami’s house we took the boys out to the playground. Looking back it really did feel like an out of body experience. Samuel toppled off a ladder in slow motion, I squatted down to help him up, and stood up with pants wet to the ankle. There were expletives. Tami looked at me and said “Holy shit. Did your water just break?!” I went into immediate denial and embarrassment over peeing in my pants right in front of her. I had had a baby already, I knew what it was like when your water broke… right??? An hour later Tami had me on my back on the floor with my feet in the air. The husbands got home and I calmly explained to Rob that I had called the doctor and they suggested I come in and get checked. Another hour later we were on the Labor and Delivery Floor at the hospital peeing in a cup. Skip ahead more more hour… I was in a state of complete and total terror. Rob was making phone calls and the doctors were arranging for me to be transported to a hospital that hosted a Level 4 NICU. I was admitted and Rob went home to pack me a bag…
Friday the 13th
The following day, the plan was set. My doctor pulled some strings and had me set to go to Northside Hospital in Atlanta so that we would be close to my family. That meant Rob and Samuel would be able to stay comfortably nearby with my parents and we would have some help taking care of Samuel while I was… well keeping my feet up and the baby in and Rob was keeping me (mostly) sane. It seemed simple enough. I would ride in the ambulance and Rob would drive separately with Samuel, take him to my parents house, and meet me at the hospital. Did I mention it was Friday the 13th? It was also February. It was pouring rain.
Oh… and I was nearing hour 24 of a clear liquid diet. Just let that sink in for a second.
My ambulance crew arrived a little after 4pm. The process of bringing this field trip together started on Thursday night about 8pm. I consider myself a reasonably patient person, but at 31 weeks pregnant stuck in a bed with my feet in the air, on a clear liquid diet of popsicles and fear, peeing in a bucket all day, thinking I was going to have my baby any minute – where the hell is this ambulance?!? At 4pm my chariot arrived just as I was overhearing the nursing staff arguing about who was going to have to ride with me. I endeavored to be an excellent traveling companion – chatty, interesting, funny, and endearing – so maybe they would sneak me a candy bar. Over the hum of nurses’ chatter I heard new voices in the hallway – loud, heavy local accents – who burst into my room wielding a stretcher and a pile of papers printed from MapQuest. This was the first time I thanked God that Rob hadn’t stayed and was already enroute to Atlanta.
Side Note: Let me say, very delicately, that when your water breaks, it’s not like a whoosh of water and you’re done. It’s kind of like a leaky faucet without the sound effects. When you’re not allowed to change your clothes every 5 minutes, well… suffice to say I was not looking my best and I was definitely not dry. All of that to say, moving around in that state of being is about as ungraceful as I’ve ever been in my life.
SO. My rescue drivers were called Bubba and Big Girl. These were surely not their given birth names, but that’s what we’re going to call them – Bubba and “BG” for short. And no, I’m not being mean, just honest. Bubba was probably about 5’10” and one of the lankiest dudes I have EVER seen – if he was hosed down while wearing a trench coat he might weight 140lbs. He also had the mustache that only Tom Selleck has ever been able to pull off and he is “born and RAISED in DALE County – also known as God’s country.” (This is for real how he introduced himself). He was also chewing an unnecessary amount of gum. He had terrible posture, slumped his shoulders forward and had his fingers hooked through belt loops that were well accustomed to this stance. “That there streeeetcher, it can’t never leave my siiiights,” he said with a high pitched, hyper nasality to his voice that made me hope instantly that he wasn’t a conversationalist. No such luck. But he stood in the middle of my room and kept pointing his middle and index fingers at his eyes and then at me. Big Girl, or BG, came in behind him. She was at least 6 feet tall and blonde, though no naturally, wore glasses made from the thickest lenses I had ever seen, and weighed 300lbs. She was intimidating but generally confused about what to do with her hands (Cue the Ricky Bobby reference). The nurses came in to help me transfer from bed to stretcher. BG stepped out of the room but Bubba stayed because – you guessed it, that streeetcher wasn’t leaving his siiiiights. So I thanked the good Lord for the 2nd time that Rob hadn’t stayed with me, left my modesty and pride in a hospital bed in Alabama, and submitted to the care of Bubba and BG, embarking on a quick 4 hour trip to Atlanta. I had made the trip countless times and felt confident I would sleep through most of it…
The nurse who drew the short straw was a lady whose name I can’t remember. She was old enough to be my grandmother but less than 1% as sweet as my grandmother. She was the only RN on duty who wouldn’t be forced into overtime with this fieldtrip and she wasn’t happy about it. Once seated on the hard bench of a seat in the back of the ambulance, she looked like a nun – or a statue of one. We’ll call her Mother Superior. She checked my IV and my blood pressure as well as the contraction monitor. She fitted me with a nasal cannula for oxygen, should I need it, and banged on the front window with a ferocity that startled me a little and had me abandoning my earlier plan for conversation and candy bars. I had nothing with me except for my purse and cell phone – which she said was a good thing because “that’s less to keep up with if you go into labor and there’s an emergency.” The panic of that thought was overshadowed by disappointment when we pulled away from the hospital without sirens… I was kind of looking forward to the drama of the sirens.
Laying on my left side with my feet elevated, I couldn’t see out but it was already dark. Since Mother Superior was apparently in a statue trance and squashed any hope of conversation by immediately closing her eyes and dozing, I was left to my own thoughts for awhile. I kept telling myself everything would be fine. I prayed and reassured myself that none of those things they warned me about a 9 weeks premature baby would happen to Izzy. I prayed and took deep breaths and closed my eyes…
“HOLD ON!!!” BUUUUMMMPPP!!! “AAAAAAHHHEEEEE!!!!” This cry of exhilaration jolted me from sleep just in time to grip my IV pole and brace myself against the wall of the ambulance as we were airborne crossing a railroad track. It took me a second to register what had just happened, but more confusing was the hysterical laughter coming from the front seat and all of the MapQuest directions papers sliding across the dashboard. Jesus take the… “HOLD ON!!!!” We bumped again and you can enter your own colorful expletives here. I said them all. Mother Superior looked mildly annoyed and threw an irritated glance toward the front seat as she scooted over to take my vitals. “Your BP is a little elevated. Take deep breaths and relax.”
Who else just thought, “Thank God Rob wasn’t there. Seriously.”
The drive from Dothan to Atlanta is easy really… you just take 431N through Eufaula (yep, that’s pronounce ‘you folla’) until you get to Columbus, GA where you get on I-185 which takes you to I-85 and straight into Atlanta. If you have never traveled through or are not familiar with Enterprise or Dothan, Alabama you’ll need to know that if you ever do and have to ask someone for directions, their answer will likely include something about “getting not the circle.” Both Enterprise and Dothan have ‘circles’ that go all the way around town. Not all that different, I guess, from large beltways in big cities – like 285 in Atlanta. It’s also important to notice that there is no ‘circle’ in Columbus, GA. We stopped there for gas – because apparently they didn’t fuel up before they left??? – but I quickly learned we hadn’t stopped for gas. We stopped for Sour Patch Kids and a smoke break. Apparently, smoke breaks are appropriate when transporting a very pregnant woman who is actively leaking amniotic fluid and is also hooked up to free flowing oxygen in the backseat. I asked Mother Superior if this was normal – the stop, the smoking so close to the ambulance with the door open? I don’t think she replied but she went inside and came back with snacks.
CLEAR. LIQUID. DIET.
I only had a few minutes to worry about what would happen to Mother Superior’s coffee if there were more railroad crossings before BG started consulting 43 pages of MapQuest Directions and yelling at Bubba to “Git on the circle and find the big highway… I think it’s one eighty something and probably north. Or are we going east? Do you know where Atlanta is?” My inner monologue was taking a turn for the worst at this point. I was still on my left side which meant my left hip and leg were completely numb. The second railroad jump left me worse for wear, I’m soaking wet, and starving. There is a smell of something not clear or liquid wafting from the front seat – cheeseburgers! We took several left turns, made a U-turn and repeated the sequence. “Well this here says to take 280 East but ain’t we going North?” BG asks. “Does Atlanta look like it’s North or East from here? Where’s the circle?” After about 15 minutes and trips past the smoke break gas station it dawns on me, there is no circle in Columbus, GA. I heave up onto my elbow and peek out the window… we are definitely driving in circles. I decided it was a good time to speak up and be helpful. While I coaxed and explained that I was very familiar with this route and that there wasn’t a circle in Columbus, just 80 foot green signs to direct you to 185, I was told not to worry because they had “the MapQuest.” After 3 more turns around the same collection of roads and gas stations I finally caught sight of our turn and yelled OVER them, “GUYS!!! TURN RIGHT! THAT’S OUR TURN!!” “S’ok missy, we’re just gonna getcha on the circle and scoot right on up to Atlanta don’t you worry.” My voice might have bordered on hostile when I said “THERE IS NO CIRCLE IN COLUMBUS.” but I completely lost it when I was told, “OK but we ain’t going to Columbus – we’re taking you to Atlanta.” Mother Superior took my BP again and didn’t approve. I continued in my vain attempt to explain circle-less Columbus to Bubba and BG who, by this time, had abandoned “The MapQuest” and were just turning right. Forty five minutes later, we somehow managed to make the right turn and found ourselves on I-185 and headed northeast towards Atlanta.
Ten minutes outside of Columbus, the radio is up and there is a competitive banter going back and forth between Bubba and BG. Apparently, BG bought Sour Patch kids at the gas station and is boasting about how many she can put in her mouth at once. Bubba insists that seeing is believing. BG challenges him to a contest and they commence to putting the candies in their mouths one at a time. I looked to Mother Superior and asked if we had a barf bag or a basin – just in case – but she was dozing again. I swear, BG had 30 of those things in her mouth when I heard her start to gag. Luckily, Bubba conceded the victory and the topic of conversation shifted to Bubba’s relationship woes. I slept a little and woke to Mother Superior checking my vitals and telling me we were 50 miles from Atlanta. I looked at my watch. It was almost 10pm. We were 6 hours into our 4 hours trip. I firmly suggested that they take I-285 north east to avoid construction and even swore they would like it because it was Atlanta’s circle… no such luck. The MapQuest would determine the route. I recognized the lights from the airport and thought, “OK, we made it….”
A little while later, the chit-chat turned back into mild arguing over what route we’ll take. I had never been to Northside hospital, but I have been to Perimeter Mall and that’s just an exit down from the hospital and on the east side of the Perimeter. It’s at this point that I hear BG say, “There’s your exit. Four hundred, north.” 400? The TOLL road? Anybody ever seen an ambulance drive through a toll booth? Yah, me neither. To Mother Superior (who looks like she needs an exorcism at this point) I said, “Do you think they know that 400 is a toll road?” No answer, just a shrug and she turns away to get out the blood pressure cuff. I’m surprised that, by now, I’m not having a stroke. “Hey guys,” I say as we’re slowing down,“Four hundred is a toll road… but since we’re an ambulance, we won’t have to pay a toll, right?” The only response is, “We shoulda put the lights on. Got any change?” After Bubba, BG, and Mother Superior dig through their pockets for change, it is determined that among them, there are only debit cards. Bubba is talking to the toll booth attendant who is probably thinking, “Tough cookies, dude” and I’m positive that I can feel contractions. Bubba turns back to me. “Hey Kathy, you got any change on you?” Who the hell is Kathy? Gee, let me think. I don’t have on pants – no! I don’t even have on underwear! Of course I don’t have any change! Where would I put it? Before I can answer, Mother Superior gingerly hands me the purse I’d totally forgotten about, and I dig out 50 cents and pay the toll. FROM THE BACKSEAT OF THE AMBULANCE.
Shortly after the toll booth, we get off the interstate and after several turns Mother Superior informs me, “We’re here.” Praise God. We’re at the hospital in Atlanta. I can see that it’s raining – just a drizzle – and when they open the back door to pull me out, I find that it’s also very, very cold. BG and Bubba start to pull the stretcher out after Mother Superior pulls my blankets up which, by this time, are (you guessed it!) soaking wet. And it’s raining. And it’s cold. BG and Bubba are wearing their rain gear jackets and Mother Superior makes a beeline for an awning. BG and Bubba are discussing entrances, more specifically, which entrance we should use. I’m thinking this is a decision we should have considered before wheeling me and my wetness out of the ambulance into the icy cold drizzle. They decide to go for the Women’s Center Entrance, where we’re parked, and Mother Superior mentions that we should probably go through the emergency room exit since the other doors are probably locked. Bubba decides this is the best way to go because it’s where we parked. So we wheel up to thedoor and – shocker! – it’s locked. I am actively searching for something to throw. The nurse on the other side waves them over to the next door (about 20 feet away) that says “no entry after 10PM use ER.” The ER, in case you’re wondering, is on the other side of the building. But rather than load me back up, which, according to BG is just a waste of time, they decide to roll me around on the sidewalk in the rain, no umbrella and already soaking wet. We make it around to the entrance and finally… we’ve arrived.
“This here Atlanta, son.”
The next thing I have a clear memory of is my (first of many) room(s). Since the nurse could hear my teeth chattering from down the hall, they changed out by blankets immediately and said they would get me changed as soon as we got my initial paperwork filled out. As you’ve probably guessed, Bubba still has the stretcher I’m on “in hissiiiiights” and BG is off in search of a vending machine. When we finally roll into a room where I’ll be staying for awhile, a young nurse’s assistant, who we’ll just call “Awesome” because I cannot remember her name, comes in to take my blood pressure and temperature. She’s a young, very pretty black girl who is all business. She notes my shivering and wet hair after a few minutes and asks if I’m cold. “Warming up.” I say. “Looks like you been through it tonight. You couldn’t get nobody to give you an umbrella?” I glare in Bubba’s direction and find him smacking his gum and slumping his shoulders, fingers in his belt loops again. Awesome follows my gaze and gives a little grunt (I think in understanding). She informs me that my blood pressure is good, other vitals looks fine, and that she’s ready to help me get moved onto the other bed from the stretcher. This is that graceful, mortifying task I mentioned earlier that would have been made less awful if I had been wearing pants… When I start to scoot on the bed, the sloshing sound is obvious and painfully embarrassing. Bubba is watching and I’m all the way annoyed and exasperated. Awesome is a keen observer and says, “Sir, you’ll need to step in the hallway a minute so she can get into bed.” Bubba lifts his fingers, points them to his eyes and to me and Awesome. “That ther streeetcher, it cain’t never leave my siiights.” Awesome looks confused. “What?” Bubba repeats his sentence and the gesture. Awesome stands up a little straighter and glances at me. I sighed and noted all the throwable objects within reach and wondered if they would actually take me to jail if I knocked him out with a blood pressure cuff. I closed my eyes briefly and took what I hope was a steadying breath. When I opened my eyes, Awesome had turned her gaze on Bubba and is giving him a very slow once over. She lifts her two index fingers and throws Bubba’s gesture right back at him. “I’ll keep mysights on this stretcher while you wait in the hall.” Bubba shakes his head like an indignant three year old and insists something about responsibility. Awesome looks at me with a question in her eyes. “I want him to go” I say. She gives a nod and looks at Bubba. “Sir, you need to step in the hallway. Now.” Here comes the gesture again and Awesome’s patience waivers. She throws her hand out, gesturing around the room. “Do you see anybody in here that’s gonna take yo stretcher? We got our own. If they do they gotta go right out that door, right where you gonna be standin’, now go on out and wait. Give this woman some damn privacy!” Bubba digs his heels in and I think I really might break down and cry, or nail him with the bed pan, but Awesome puts up her ‘talk to the hand’ hand and says (and this is my favorite part):
Awesome: “Where you come from, sir?”
Bubba: “We came up from Dothan. Alabama.”
Awesome: “Alabama. OK well Imma tell you this since you don’t know. This here Atlanta, son. You gonna step out in that hallway and give my patient some privacy or I’ll move you to that hallway myself And trust me Alabama, you don’t want that.”
Bubba hesitates and to my ever-lasting glee, Awesome takes two steps to the foot of my bed and puts her hand on her hip: “Best to remember where you are. Now get out, ‘fore I PUT you out.”
See why I call her “Awesome”?
And so, we made it. My mom arrived within the hour and made sure I got some rest – meaning that she told the nurses to knock me out. Stat. Ambien on a clear liquid diet is magnificent. The next day was Valentine’s Day and I spent most of it sleeping and having tests run and worrying about our baby girl… I wrote down this story that day, hoping and trusting that one day I would tell her about our wild night and crazy people in the ambulance. Despite the 17 near-death experiences it took just to get us to the right hospital, I’ll never regret that ride and I’ll always be grateful to Bubba, his stretcher, BG, Mother Superior, and Awesome who got me (and Izzy) into a warm bed in one piece. I may or may not buy her some Sour Patch kids for her birthday every year…
Eleven days after our wild arrival, on Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 16:24 our Isabella Evelyn was born. 5lbs 11oz and as perfect as any baby has ever been… more on her birthday story in Part II…