insomnia #11, Nick's birthday

Hit the gym in the afternoon.

Pulled off both a happy birthday for Nick and a successful Surfrider event.

Stayed organized with work details.

Chatted with a dear friend.

The house is clean.

Nick’s blood sugar was in the good range when I checked at 1 a.m.

Took a couple melatonin-valerian capsules.

Why can’t I sleep? Must be the alcohol. That damn red wine. But only two glasses (and, um, a margarita at dinner)… my head hurts and despite a sense of calm, returning to sleep eludes me. So hard to divert myself from imbibing at social functions. I forget to ask for the peppermint tea instead of the pinot noir. I am unsure how to order the junior ranchero burrito with chipotle potatoes without including the margarita on the rocks.

Um, not that I am asking for an intervention. I just want to sleep.

Nick had a birthday. Fourteen. “Finally,” he said. “Whenever people ask how old I am and I say 13, they think I’m in 8th grade.” He’s looking forward to being 18, which he equates with freedom and adventure – without the pesky interference of Mom and Dad. I tell him make sure he has a job or some savings, otherwise the independence factor won’t be as thrilling – or as likely – as he imagines.

Fourteen years ago, we lived in the desert, in my mother-in-law’s house. We’d moved back from Long Beach to our hometown during the recession of the early ’90s, planning to regroup and return to college. A temporary return to Lancaster and even more temporary move into my mother-in-law’s – that was the plan. But as we know, that’s when life is most likely to happen. Already pregnant with Kaylee when we moved back, I found myself again knocked up 11 months after she was born. (Bobby had a beard, I hated it, he finally shaved it, I was excited, we’d already beat the odds with the pill and condoms so were using the rhythm method, but yeah, that didn’t work either. Praise glory be for the eventual vasectomy.) My mother-in-law had invited us to stay with her, but once we were there, the reality of sharing a house quickly proved to be a nightmare. We should’ve moved out right away, but finances and family dynamics being what they were, that particularly horrible chapter of my life lasted four years. Hardly the best scenario for having babies and raising children. Easily the very darkest days of my somewhat drama-laden life.

When I got pregnant with Chelsea, telling people was hard because I was 19 and unmarried. People did not approve.

When I got pregnant with Kaylee, Bobby and I had just reunited after a breakup. We had very little money (despite my working three part-time jobs) due to the recession – Bobby’s pay and hours had been cut – hence the move to what was supposed to be a safe place to regroup. I was 23. Given the circumstances, people still did not approve.

When I got pregnant with Nick, I was broke, living with my vicious mother-in-law, already had two children, one of whom was under a  year old, and enduring a rather rocky marriage due to the strain of all the above factors. The stress of lacking my own home and again being in a position which invited disapproval and judgment took an early toll: I lost 12 pounds my first trimester. Unwilling to face the inevitable looks of disappointment, my pregnancy remained a secret until I was about seven months along. Even my coworkers at the bar where I was cocktailing didn’t realize I was expecting until two months before Nick was due.

Eleven days before his due date, labor pains hit hard. With the girls, my water broke, so I knew, “This is it.” With Nick, only the contractions suggested imminent birth. After 45 minutes of what I thought must be labor, but feared was “merely” Braxton-Hicks. “If this isn’t the real thing,” I told Bobby, “I will not be able to handle the real thing.” We went to the hospital, the same one where Chelsea was born. Back then, I had no idea I could make my own decisions about how to have my baby. The nurses shuttled me between the labor room, the delivery room, the recovery room. No one suggested I walk around to ease the pain. No one asked me what I wanted. The experience was about as personal as standing in line at Winco. But with Kaylee, I’d discovered the world of midwives, doulas, a birth center, empowerment. Even though I was back at Antelope Valley, this time I was prepared to assert myself.

So when I’d been assigned to a bed to await my doctor, a few minutes after arrival, I grit my teeth and told the nurses I needed to get up and walk around. They assured me, “You’re going to be here for a while, honey,” and kept gossiping while checking my vitals. The frequency of my contractions, meanwhile, had narrowed to nearly nothing between each one. Again I said I wanted to get up. Again, they pooh-poohed my request. Before I could snap back, however, my doctor happened to be strolling by, fresh from another delivery. “Jennifer! Hi!” He popped in, lifted the sheet, checked my cervix, said, “She’s at 10, get her to the delivery room!” Yes, I’d completely dilated in an hour. Take that, nurses, I thought. “A while,” indeed. So, wham, bam, Nick was born. As with the others, Bobby cut the cord. As with the others, the love I’d already felt for the baby inside me expanded infinitely when I finally saw him, held him, snuggled him.

If I could have given myself advice from the future, I would have said, “Forget all those disapproving people. You celebrate. You be happy. You have worth as an individual and as a mother. Don’t let the bastards bring you down. Congratulations, and may you move through your pregnancy with humor and grace and good fortune.” Because the unexpectedness of their existence in no way ever preempted my love for them. And ultimately, everyone came around to see how wonderful they were and what a committed mother I was. If only they’d offered that at the beginning when I really, really needed it. But so it goes; I would have to really rise to the occasion if one of my daughters announced, “I’m having a baby!” so I’m not immune to the idea that people’s unwillingness to embrace the news may have been based in worry rather than just judgment. I am not encouraging young people or those lacking resources to have a kid. But given that at least half of pregnancies are reported as unplanned, once a woman has decided to go through with it, an honest “Congratulations and good luck,” is really the only appropriate response.

I love them so much. How lucky I was that my body provided such gifts to me. And Nick… 14. I miss when he was little, running amok in his Batman cape, collecting worms in his pockets (which always made for a rather gruesome experience when pulling clothes out of the wash), getting knocked over by then-puppy Sandy, throwing rocks in the creek for hours. He was shy as a toddler, not needing to talk because the girls talked for him, then turned into a social butterfly somewhere around third grade. I mentioned at a parent-teacher conference that I was worried about his shyness; the teacher cocked an eyebrow at me and said, “Nick? I don’t think so….” He read early and often and could discuss characters and plot points of Harry Potter by age six. Several months ago, I met a friend for coffee and to discuss a book we’d both read. He joined us after school and held his own in the conversation.

He was a great sport about spending his birthday at my Surfrider event. Having a bunch of his friends volunteer to help, helped. They sang him “Happy Birthday” between movies – their idea.

A good day. A fine life. What’s a little lost sleep when I have all this?

 

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