To compensate for our sleep deprivation we implemented a few strategies to help us keep things straight.We created a journal, for example, in which we would document which baby we had fed or changed, and the time that we had done it. We also color coded Gina and Jamie's cribs and accessories, so we wouldn't mix them up. We would still, occasionally, find things like Dave's wallet in the refrigerator, but, since we didn't keep a record of things like that in the journal, we never did figure out the reason why it was in there. Things were going pretty smoothly though, so at about 12 weeks I returned to my job as a bank teller; two days a week, for four hours a day. Frankly, it felt like I was on vacation.
My first day back was a memorable one. Tellers are required to memorize a lot of numerical codes, for opening the vault, unlocking the safe, and turning on their teller terminals. Upon my return to work though, I was having a terrible time recalling even one of them. My co-workers an I were all waiting patiently for my memory to return, when suddenly someone told me that I had a phone call, and they thought it was Dave. I hadn't even been back at work for an hour yet, so I knew instantly, that something serious must be wrong. I raced to the phone, and picked it up.
"Dave," I said, my voice filled with panic."What's wrong? Has something happened?"
"Yes," he replied, calmly. "I have a problem. I mixed up the babies, and I don't know which one I am holding. Can you tell me who it is?"
"You mixed up our babies? You haven't even been in charge for an hour yet, and you have mixed up our babies?????" I yelled. "Oh my God! What color blanket does the one you're holding have; yellow or purple?"
"I don't know." he said, sounding a little miffed by my tone of voice.. "I mixed up their blankets, too. I brought them all out into the living room....and Holly was here....and,... well,... I just don't know. I thought maybe you could tell me, because Holly isn't any help at all."
"OVER THE PHONE??" I asked again, incredulous.
"Yes, over the phone!" he replied, quite exasperated. "I was hoping you could tell me over the phone! Since I have fed one baby already, and I don't know which one it was... I CAN'T DOCUMENT IT! It's quite possible that I am now feeding the same baby twice. I was hoping you would be a little more helpful, because if I feed one baby twice, then I am going to have to make ANOTHER bottle and feed the other baby! That's like I have to feed three babies!"
I walked back to my station, shaking my head in disbelief.
The girls were truly a joy though, and Dave and I were smart enough to realize it. We recognized how fleeting their childhoods would be, so we took the time to savor every minute of it with them. Before we knew it, Holly was seven and the twins were five, and I remember writing how happy we all were on every Christmas card, that year. I even mentioned how the girls were basically self-sufficient by then, and how I almost felt guilty about all the extra time I had. Life was easy, and it felt great! We even had time for a truly thorough house-cleaning, and, with a little sadness, I donated all our cribs, playpens and baby swings hoping that the next family that used them would be as happy as we were. Things were going so well, in fact, that Dave decided we needed to take a real family vacation; not just up north, but to another state. He decided we should drive down to Florida during the GM shutdown. It was destined to become the most expensive vacation we had ever taken.
Dave undertook the planning of our vacation with great enthusiasm. Since we were already in need of a new vehicle he purchased a full-sized conversion van complete with a TV and VCR, so that the girls could watch movies on our leisurely rides there and back. Next, he researched all the condos that were available, and finally settled on a beautiful two bedroom one in Siesta Key. The place was equipped to sleep eight people, so he even invited my mother to join us for a little well-deserved rest and relaxation. We had a wonderful time on our adventure, and when we returned home two weeks later we were more than a little sad to see it all end.
Life resumed its regular routine, but about two weeks later I found myself experiencing some familiar symptoms; I was pretty sure I had developed another ulcer. I quickly went to the store and purchased a pregnancy test, and within a few minutes I discovered that we had brought home an unexpected souvenir. My ulcer, once again, turned out to be a baby.
I called Dave at work to share the happy news, and once again his reaction was not, initially, as enthusiastic as I had hoped.
"What do you mean, you're pregnant? he inquired, with surprise. "I just bought a new car, AND you just gave away all of our baby furniture."
I took the time to explain that buying a car and giving away baby furniture was not a recognized form of birth control, and then hung up on him.
This pregnancy was destined to be very different from my others, as I quickly learned upon my visit to the doctor's. He casually informed me that as a "high-risk" pregnancy I would be needing a lot of different tests than I had had in my previous experience.
"Why is that?" I asked, innocently. "Why would this pregnancy be, "high-risk"?
"Because now you are old." he informed me. I was not amused.
While extreme fatigue and the need to wear maternity clothes immediately were some of the other differences between my pregnancies, the biggest change was the realization that this would be my last child. Dave and I had given the matter much consideration, but, mainly due to health concerns that arose, we decided that this baby would be the one that completed our family. Knowing this, made the time even more precious, and I made sure to cherish each and every stage, as my pregnancy progressed. Another thing that I decided was that I wanted my mother with us, to attend the birth. My own father had been killed in an automobile accident when she was only five months pregnant with me, and knowing that she had given birth to me alone had always made me sad. Plus, women of her age were always sedated during their deliveries, so I was aware that she had never experienced the wonder of that moment. I looked forward to her reaction, when I made the invitation. Her reaction, however, was not quite what I had expected.
"What?" she said. " I've been there for each of your births. Of course I will be there for this one, too."
"No, Mom, " I replied. "We want you to actually be IN the delivery room for this one. You can be there to actually see the baby being born."
"No." she said, to my surprise. "I didn't even want to be in the room when I gave birth to my own children; why would I want to be there for yours?'
"BECAUSE IT'S VERY BEAUTIFUL, AND YOU ARE REALLY GOING TO BE HAPPY!" I answered, a little testily.
Finally, after thinking it over for a few minutes, she begrudgingly agreed.
Time passed quickly and before I knew it I was seven months pregnant and about to celebrate my 35th birthday. I knew how important my husband would view this occasion, so with great anticipation I awaited his arrival home from work. As soon as he walked in I rushed over to greet him, and much to my surprise he handed me an envelope.
"Where's my present?" I asked, excitedly. "Is it still in the car?"
"No..." he replied. "I just put some money in the card, because I thought you would like that better. You like that better, right?"
"Not unless it's an awful lot of money." I responded, with considerably less enthusiasm. I opened the card, and looked at the cartoon on the front. I paused, and then looked at him. Then I opened it up, and read the verse. Dave began to look nervous. I closed the card, and stared at him silently for several minutes. It was an uncomfortable silence.
"Dave," I said. "The card you have given me has a cartoon picture of farm animals rolling in a mud puddle on the front."
"Yes, I know. You like animals a lot, so I figured you would like it."
"I'm not done." I continued. "The inside verse says, and I quote, "I hope on your birthday you are as happy as a mud-caked sow." Let me repeat myself, a mud-caked sow. What man in his right mind would give his 7 month pregnant, 35 year old wife a card that says I hope you are as happy as a mud-caked sow on it???"
"Well, I don't actually READ the cards I give you." was his reply. "I just thought you'd like the picture."
"Well, I don't." I said, completing the last three words I would be saying to him for the next two months.
The big day finally arrived though, and by then I had started speaking to him again. We dropped off the girls, picked up my mother, and proceeded on to the hospital for the birth of our fourth child. No longer a novice, I greeted the medical staff by emphatically stating that I would be needing drugs, and that I did not want to talk about natural childbirth or breathing techniques.
"This isn't your first. " the nurses replied, laughing.
I was extremely surprised then, after the resident doctor on staff examined me, and told me that I wasn't in labor.
"What do you mean I'm not in labor." I asked, incredulous.
"I mean you aren't in labor. Your doctor isn't on call tonight, but I will call the one that is filling in for him, but I am pretty sure he will be sending you home. Don't get too comfortable."
I was in a state of shock. I knew the pain of childbirth dims, but I definitely did not think it was so dim that I couldn't recognize it when it happened again.I began ranting to my mother and Dave.
"That woman is crazy!!!" I said, heatedly. "I have had children before, and I know what labor pains feel like. These are definitely labor pains." I continued on for several minutes.
"You were right. This is a lot of fun. " my mother replied, in a voice that did not sound like she was actually having a lot of fun. "I am very glad to be a part of this." Just then Dave cheerfully chimed in.
"Hey this is great!" he said, to our complete bewilderment. "This room has a TV, so I can watch the basketball game. March Madness, yes!" We ignored him and waited for the doctor to return.
"Well," she said, unapologetic. "He said, that since you already have three children I shouldn't send you right home. He wants me to check you again." She proceeded to do another quick exam.
"Oh," she said. "I guess you are in labor. Good thing you didn't leave."
"You are an idiot." I said under my breath.
"Sorry?" she said, leaning closer. "I didn't hear you. What did you say?'
"I said, my husband is an idiot." Smiling, she nodded her head in agreement, and left the room.
A mere eight hours later they wheeled me into the delivery room. All that passed before was forgotten, and the three of us shared the wonder of Olivia's birth, together. It was amazing. In the years that followed, my mother would often remind Olivia of how she had been there for her birth, and I never doubted for a minute how happy sharing that experience had made her. It was a remarkable thing, to have two generations of women usher in the third, and I will treasure that memory forever.
Olivia's arrival home was memorable, too. We picked up the girls at Olivia's new Godmother's house, and were delighted by all the banners and decorations welcoming her home. This was also accompanied by about an hour long introduction and presentation prepared by the girls and their best friend, Alana, and fortunately we filmed it to treasure forever.
Just as in the past, we soon could not imagine our life without this baby of ours, only this time our other three daughters shared in our wonderment, as well. She was the last piece in the puzzle; the final member who made our family complete. Today, they are all adults; each one venturing out into the world on their own. I think back at the joyous time we had raising them, and commend myself and Dave. These children are here because of us....they are the living validations of two lives, well spent.