We weren’t planning to party. I was 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant. Multiple generations of family members from California, Australia and Washington, D.C. arrived in New York City to celebrate the birth of, well, to be honest, my daughter. She was due on Christmas Day.
I had imagined she might be born under the tree. And we could all nestle together by flickering Christmas lights. The best present of all. Or at least the most DIY.
But the holidays were too exciting. My body labored quietly for weeks; each night there were contractions, but no baby. She was so low I walked like a bad actor playing a pregnant woman — holding my back, waddling, belly protruding in an almost phallic way. Even my largest, longest maternity shirt revealed a stripe of white skin no matter how often I tugged it down.
I walked. And walked. And walked. Every day we’d put on our coats and hike through the woods near the Hudson River. My son would gallop ahead looking for tree monsters while my mother and I hobbled along; she with a bad knee, me with a head in my pelvis.
Finally on the 29th, I felt the contractions coming on but I decided not to tell anyone. Why jinx it? There had been false starts all week. This would be between me and and my baby. I got into bed with The Last of Her Kind, a novel by Sigrid Nunez (I highly recommend it; it’s obviously got added meaning for me, but it’s good even if you’re not in secret labor). I shut the door and stayed in my room for four hours. The contractions kept coming, maybe twelve, fifteen, eight minutes apart. Something was happening but they didn’t hurt. On I read.
By dinner time I emerged and announced I was in labor. Mostly I knew it was real labor because when asked what I wanted for dinner, I burst into tears saying, I don’t know, I just don’t know.
Everyone cleared out, I sang lullabies to my older son and put him to bed. I poured a nice glass of red wine and watched TV with my husband; we found ourselves embroiled in an unintentionally hilarious ’80s Australian made-for-TV movie about sexual harassment. The jokes were flying. Then I said, you know, we should probably go to bed because this baby is going to be born tonight.
Sure enough at 2 a.m., I woke up to a rush of warm fluid. We staggered up, I showered. Our midwife was called. Sylvia was born at 4:15 a.m. after about two hours of unbelievable contractions, one after another, powering through me. I howled into the dark night, louder than I ever thought possible. And when she was born she was so peaceful, she just looked at her hands, amazed by the moving fingers.
The next day I sat at home, Sylvia was now under the tree in her basket. Her brother was looking at her. Curious. Alarmed. That evening someone brought me a glass of champagne and said, Happy New Year.
It was New Year’s Eve. I had forgotten all about it. We drank champagne and curled up in bed by ten, our new little baby Sylvia nestled nearby in her winter blankets. I never thought I’d be able to say that I’ve had a better New Year’s Eve than the night I spent at my friend Merrie Post’s watching Chic perform “Freak Out” live at midnight. But this one set a new standard.
Happy birthday, Sylvia.