I remember fighting to stay awake for David Letterman that night. I woke up as the credits rolled across my television screen. I stumbled upstairs to bed.
The phone rang. Startled, I glanced quickly at the clock, but my eyes wouldn't focus. I reached for the phone. With both sets of seventy-plus parents living out of town, I half expect to get a dreadful middle-of-the-night phone call. I took a deep breath and answered.
"Hello," I said in a groggy voice.
It was Sheila. She lives halfway around the block with her husband and three children--all under six years old--and their two very large black dogs. They were expecting their fourth child.
"Do you think you could come over for a little while? I think we're going to be leaving here any minute."
"Of course," I said quickly. "I'll be right there."
I jumped out of bed, pulling on my dirty sweat pants and a sweatshirt as I moved toward the door. "No time to lose," I thought. "She could be well into labor." I recalled all three of Sheila's previous births had come quickly. The last one, Alice, had been born within a half-hour of arriving at the hospital. I ran out the door and into the dark night.
John was on the doorstep holding the screen door open. He gave me a quick hug and hurried me into the house.
"Sheila's water broke about a half an hour ago," he said. "She's nervous because the baby is in a breach position."
I walked in the front door. Sheila was holding the portable phone under her chin and using her two free hands to make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. She stopped for a minute to breathe deeply and then I heard her say, "Barb's here now. We'll call you as soon as we know." She hung up the phone and stacked the sandwiches in a neat pile on the counter.
"Are you okay?" I asked, looking her up and down and trying to decide what stage of labor she was in.
"It's not too bad yet," she said calmly as she took another deep breath like a professional athlete. "By the way, there's five kids sleeping upstairs. Greg and Sandy dropped by with a pizza at dinner time and their kids decided to sleep over. They're on their way over, so you can leave when they get here." She paused for another long breath. "I was just making some sandwiches for whoever gets hungry. There's plenty of juice in the fridge and . . ."
"Go now," I said, and pushed her out the door. "We'll be just fine. We'll find what we need. Just call us as soon as you can!" I yelled after them.
I plopped down on the sofa. Jake's math book was splayed open on the floor. A stack of Annie's colorful spring flower pictures covered the coffee table. A box of Cheerios lay tipped over on the dining-room table. I paged through the baby name book I found stuck in the crack of a sofa cushion.
I felt my heart pounding with anticipation. Another baby! But Alice was barely a toddler! How would they manage? They had to be crazy. My heart pounded harder. How exciting! Another baby! Would it be a boy or a girl this time?
I climbed the stairs and peeked into the rooms. Jake and his buddy, Sam, were sprawled over Jake's bed, their long arms and legs dangling over the side and the sheets twisted around their big-boy limbs. In the girls' room, Alice was sleeping soundly in her crib, her thumb planted firmly in her mouth. A pile of shoes, dresses, turtlenecks, leggings, socks, and dress-up clothes lay in a heap beside them. They have no idea how lucky they are to become big brothers and sisters once more, I thought.
I looked down at my forty-something body. I would never again experience the rush of excitement, joy, and relief with the cry of a new baby; the softness of a baby's fresh skin next to my bare belly; smell the sweet breath of breast milk warm against my face; the tiny perfect feet of a newborn babe in my hands; the unabashed pride at the moment of birth.
Of course, the hard times haunt me sometimes, too. I remember being so exhausted from getting up in the middle of the night, I thought I would not survive to see my older daughter turn five years old. I remember the ultimate test of a parent's patience: replacing the bottle on the high chair over and over as my toddler experimented with the words, "Uh-oh!" I remember the endless days of nothing but changing dirty diapers and nursing. I remember the desperate need I had to talk with another adult.
More than six years ago, we made the decision not to have any more children. Sometimes, I still feel a little nostalgic about those early days and months of motherhood. The girls get wistful, too. One day, just as I dropped her off at her Brownies meeting, Laura asked me, "Aren't you ever going to have another baby, Mom?" And Sarah often says, "I want to be a big sister, too, someday."