The Gift of Our Family
It’s July 4, 2021 and I find myself wondering, what is it like? What is it like on the eve of your first and only child‘s first birthday with your spouse? You see, I can imagine and I do. I have been imagining this night for quite a while now, what this moment may feel like. I picture me putting the cake in the fridge in our tiny gray kitchen, chatting away, amazed a whole year has gone by. Where did our newborn go!? Joe sits on the couch watching a movie with Lily buried in his lap because the fireworks are nonstop and lighting up the sky. I imagine the baby monitor in front of him on the coffee table as he periodically checks on a sleeping Vienna. What would our plans for the next day be? Would our families come over? Would we start a new tradition just the three of us? What would we buy her? I imagine a sugary sweet mix of emotions as our baby grows and we celebrate this milestone, looking forward to a second year of memories to create. To imagine, it’s such a dangerous ability to have.
It’s July 4, 2021 on the eve of our daughter's first birthday and as Lily claws at my lap, terrified, for the 10th time tonight, the crackling booms outside overhead shock me right back to reality. I’m done imagining, I am catapulted back to the present moment. Tomorrow is Vienna‘s first birthday and I’m doing it without my husband, without her father. I am doing it with a heart so heavy it often feels as if it’s going to fall right out of my body. At least then the empty, hollow feeling in my chest will make sense.
I also can’t help but imagine that celebrating your daughter's first birthday with your husband here, doesn’t come with an overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt for not feeling happier. Guilt for having this day to celebrate when couples all over long for this opportunity. Guilt for not getting her an actual gift because the thought of doing it solo is gut wrenching. Guilt because there’s a larger than should be part of me that doesn’t want to celebrate. Yep. I wouldn’t mind if tomorrow was just another ordinary day. Our Vienna, she deserves more than that. Joe would want more than that.
Tonight, I am tired. I close my eyes and immediately, I am blissfully transported to a memory I re-live over and over again. The memories of our last July 4th.
It had become our usual routine since March. Wake up around 8, coffee and pancakes on the couch with Joe’s Hot 20 country countdown on CMT in the background. That Saturday morning was no different as Miranda Lambert filled our living room. It was July 4th and with my 39 week belly, my only plan was red raspberry leaf tea, pineapple, the yoga ball and Housewives reruns all day long. Joe went to work at the restaurant and I spent most of the day sitting in Vienna’s room. The sun would come in the side window and cast the light in a perfect window print across the rug. Lily would curl up and sunbathe and I’d sit and stare. I’d just be. It was 2pm and I had just finished my buffalo chicken wrap (Ya know the wivestale about spicy things while pregnant) and I felt the slightest back pain. Excitedly, I thought, ‘could this be something?’ For the next hour, in my slippers and Joe’s t-shirt, I walked up and down our stairs. The back pain turned into cramps and they were there to stay.
Around 6pm Joe came home after work and asked if he could stop by our friend's house. With my naive little smile I told him he could go and shouted ‘I’m cramping and it’s amazing!’ Confused, he asked if that was a good thing. Duh! I told him, it’s contractions, I could be in labor. He laughed, told me he was glad and that he’d be back soon. For the next four hours, I bounced, walked, stair climbed and shoved pineapple down my throat. The contractions slowly grew in length and decreased the time in between. And as we know, while I bounced, Joe Abate enjoyed sausage patties, whiteclaws and neighborhood fireworks. I look back at that and love it. It was so him. It was so us.
I hung up with the doctor, turned to Joe and said let’s get our bags, we’re going in. I can so vividly picture the yellow glow of the spot light over the driveway as it illuminated the back seat of his Jeep just enough to pile our bags in, the pink boppy the top of the tower. The gravel crunched as we backed out and I looked in the window to Vienna’s room. We were ready. What I wouldn’t give to be in that moment again. At 11:15pm, we made our first trip to the hospital. After two hours in triage, at 3-4 centimeters dilated and no broken water, they sent us home. I felt defeated a bit but determined to get this little baby moving and out! Joe went home and went to bed. I went home and let the contractions take over and boy did they ever.
Early Sunday morning on July 5th we were back at Yale and this time the Covid test was done and we were admitted. It was baby time. The day itself was a long one but, as ironic as it sounds, thankfully, wonderfully uneventful. The nurses and my OB were amazing and that epidural, it’s euphoric. Joe and I napped, he ate frozen pizza and we chatted with the angel nurse, miracle worker, Louise. Around 6:30pm it was time to push. After about 10 pushes and 30 minutes, Vienna Rose was born at 7:03pm. In that moment, our family was created and our next chapter began. I, more than anything, wish that chapter was longer than it’s few pages.
So today, as I post this and as you read, on Vienna’s first birthday, we’ll take it slow. Maybe we’ll have coffee and pancakes, throw on the country countdown. We’ll play, we’ll laugh, we’ll soak in the day together. We’ll spend the day writing the next paragraph in our chapter. She won’t know if there was cake and balloons. She won’t know about the gifts. But she’ll know she is, and forever will be, loved. And when she’s older, if she asks what we got her for her first birthday, I’ll smile and tell her that gift was the most special of all. That year, her first year, Joe and I gave her, or maybe it’s she who gave us, the gift of our family.