Sixteen and Life to Go

Several years ago I committed to writing out the birth stories of each of my children. Probably a task that is long overdue, considering their ages, but I’ve never been what you might call “punctual.”

Today my youngest baby is sixteen. It’s hard to believe, because five minutes ago he was starting kindergarten, but here we are. I remember well my pregnancy and delivery with him, details that probably should have faded by now, but still burn bright in my memory. The pregnancy itself was awful but his birth was my favorite of the four.

In the summer of 2001, we took a family vacation with my parents, siblings and their families to the west side of Michigan. We camped, took the kids to see lighthouses and Lake Michigan, and the trip culminated in a much-anticipated stop at an amusement park, Michigan Adventures. At that time, my children were five, three, and one and a half. I felt fine on the vacation though a little extra tired, but I put that down to the exhaustion of chasing three small children day in and day out. The day we went to the amusement park, I was sitting at a café having a snack. Something had gone wrong – I don’t remember just what, seems like a ride we wanted to go on was broken or something – and out of the blue I started sobbing. I couldn’t stop. Even as I was crying, in the back of my mind I was thinking, “Wow. This is weird. Why am I so upset?”

Upon our return home, I had an appointment with an allergist. He wanted to start me on a regime of medications to help control my very out of control allergy symptoms. But first, he said, he wanted me to take a round of Tetracycline. I hadn’t taken that drug before, so after I picked it up from the pharmacy, I spent some time reading the pamphlet on it. One of the warnings that stuck out to me was all the terrible things it could do to a baby if a pregnant woman took it. At that time in my life, I kept extra pregnancy tests around often. The responsible thing, I thought, would be to take a test before starting that medication. Just to be safe. To put my mind at ease. So I did.

And it was positive. I was stunned.

Everyone I told seemed to think it was funny. My family doctor laughed. My sister laughed. My friends laughed. I didn’t laugh, as my head was generally hanging over the toilet by that point. The fourth go ’round was the worst as far as the hyperemesis went. After multiple trips to the ER for fluids, my doctor finally put in a PICC line and set me up with a home nurse. Halfway through my pregnancy, I switched doctors. Then I was diagnosed with placenta previa. My due date was April 14th and we were seriously considering the possibility that I would need another C-section. However, at the last moment, the previa took care of itself.

My doctor was concerned because my third labor and delivery had gone so fast – three hours, start to finish – and worried I might not make it to the hospital in time once I went into labor. I was cautioned to go in to the hospital if I had any indication labor might be starting and not to wait. April 14th came and went. No contractions. Nothing. Another week came and went. On the 22nd, I had an appointment with my doctor. I was heavy, hot, and aggravated. I very clearly recall demanding he do something to move the situation along. I said something along the lines of, “Listen, buddy, I’m having this baby today whether you help me or not.” He scheduled an induction for later in the afternoon.

We went home. Packed bags for the children and called family members. It was decided we would go out for lunch first, and we all met at a local diner. From there, my parents took the kids home with them, and my husband and I headed back to the hospital. Due to the problems that had plagued all four of my pregnancies, we knew this one would be my last. As such, I had chosen not to learn the gender of the baby beforehand. I wanted to be surprised. My husband couldn’t wait, and had asked the sonographer a few weeks before. He did a decent job keeping it secret, although he did make one slip that he hurriedly covered up. As we waited for my induction to begin, we discussed baby names. We still hadn’t decided on a name for a boy. For a girl, I’d picked out Elyssa Rose.

Finally, it was go time. IV was hooked up. My mom decided to come up and hang out with us. My five-year-old daughter followed her to the car and refused to go back inside the house, so she brought her along. At 6:10 p.m. my doctor broke my water. Shortly after, I expressed to my nurse that labor was definitely rolling along quickly. I did this by grabbing the bed rail with both hands and attempting to yank it off while screaming. She responded by setting the room up for delivery. She called my doctor, who said it couldn’t possibly be happening that fast and he would stop in after a couple of hours.

“How long was your last labor?” she asked me.

“Three hours,” I panted.

Her pace quickened. My screams settled to a repetitive whisper as I lay on my side, still gripping the bed rail and rocking it. “I want drugs this time, I want drugs this time, I want drugs this time, I want drugs this time,” was my mantra. My first baby was an emergency C-section that I wasn’t even awake to experience. My second had a failed epidural, and my third happened so fast there was no time for medication.

None of my labors were light or easy. There is no parade or trophy for doing it without pain medication. I wanted it. Right then. I couldn’t think of anything else. My nurse paused, watched me carefully for about two minutes, and then called my doctor again. When he arrived, he did so with the statement, “Valarie, I heard you’re giving your nurse a hard time. It can’t possibly be going this fast. Just try to relax.”

He went on to say since he was already there, he would go ahead and check me. I declined to give him permission to touch me until he brought me drugs. He laughed. I maintained my order. He called in the epidural guy, who refused to give me one since I had a latex allergy and something about something in the epidural had latex in it. I sat up, grabbed one bed rail in each hand, and alternated growling, cussing, and wailing in a fashion that caused the epidural guy to hustle. In minutes, he’d given me a shot that numbed all the pertinent areas.

“Now, Valarie, let’s see what all this fuss is about,” my doctor said.

The injection was a blessed relief. I reclined on my pillows. Held my husband’s hand while the doctor did his thing. Suddenly, everything was in high speed.

“Um, Valarie?” my doctor asked.


“Whatever you do, don’t push.”

I hadn’t been planning on it right then, but agreed anyway.

“Also, don’t sit up until I get this bed broken down. Head’s already coming out.”

So much for me being overdramatic.

My water had been broken at 6:10 p.m. My baby was born at 7:18 p.m. Start to finish: 68 minutes.

We had another little boy. Obviously, he was perfect. Black hair. Ridiculously adorable.


My husband leaned toward Christopher Caleb. I tended to like names that were slightly unusual and had lots of vowels.

The next morning, I signed the paperwork for a tubal ligation. Two girls, two boys, all under the age of six. Our family was exactly the right size. Because of my surgery, we stayed an extra day at the hospital.

Fun fact: After two days, the birth certificate people quit calling your room and just barge right in, demanding you name your baby for  God’s sake, just call the kid something.

It wasn’t that we hadn’t been trying to agree on a name. We had gone through books and made lists of possibilities. Finally, we made a choice: I would pick the first name, whatever I wanted. My husband would pick the middle name, whatever he wanted.

I held my little black-haired boy in my arms, considering. In my head, I had a short list of favorite names and I turned that list over and over while I decided.

Then it struck me that one of the names I’d liked the best meant “raven.”

Raven. It suited him, with his dark hair.

“Brennan,” I told my husband. “His name is Brennan.” It fit him just right.

My husband chose Christopher for his middle name.

As a baby, Brennan made the funniest facial expressions that kept us in stitches. As a toddler, he was rowdy but so ridiculously cute it was difficult to discipline him. By about age five, we realized he had a rather enjoyable knack for dry humor. His quick wit has continued to flourish over the years, and I can honestly say he’s made us laugh daily since his arrival. A budding conspiracy theorist, he’s down to discuss trivia about Sasquatch, the zombie apocalypse, or aliens at just about any time. He is thoughtful and brave, and has a ready stock of puns to pull out for any imaginable occasion.

It seems impossible that my baby is sixteen today. He is getting taller and has the beginnings of a mustache. His green eyes are identical to mine. His once-black hair has turned to a light brown. He’ll be learning to drive this summer.

He might be getting older, but he’ll always remain my little raven. The surprise baby that completed our family and taught us that life is always better with extra laughter.

I’ve compiled a few funny FB statuses from over the years regarding this kid that have cracked me up. It’s been suggested to me that I write a “Bean Book” someday. (Bean is his nickname).

Bean: Mom, you’re my best pickle!
Me: I’m your… your pickle? What?

Bean: Help me button my sleeves?
Me: I don’t understand why you are getting dressed up before bed, instead of getting into pajamas.
Bean: You don’t know what I do after you go to sleep. For all you know, I go out to parties. Or wrestle bears under my assumed name of Mr. Beast.

Me (plowing through yet another sink full of dishes): I wish I could look at my kitchen counter just once and not have to see a mountain of dirty dishes.
Bean: Yeah, I know what you mean. Maybe we could lay a blanket over them.

Me, at a party today, playing with a delightful dumpling of a baby:
“I like him. Let’s keep him!”
Bean: “He is pretty cute. But is he hypoallergenic?”

Took some Nyquil.
Konked out on the couch for like 30 minutes.
Bean jacked my phone and used it to text the other kids and tell them they were grounded.

Yesterday in a parking lot, Bean suddenly disappeared for a second.
Then he leaped out from behind a car, wielding finger guns at me, and shouted, “Stick ’em up! And give me all your Facebook followers!”

My mom and her bf were over, and mom mentioned he had to get back to Canada for awhile, and jokingly added that she didn’t want him to become an “illegal alien”.
Brennan stared intently for several minutes, and then, narrowing his eyes, he leaned in and whispered to him,
“Tell me everything you know about Area 51.” (he was nine)

Life has certainly been an adventure since he’s come into our lives. Happy sixteenth birthday, Bean.



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Sixteen Tomorrow

I decided a while back to write a birth story for each of my four kids. I wrote one for each of my girls within the last couple of years and since tomorrow is my oldest son’s sixteenth birthday, today I’m writing his.


My due date was April 2nd, 2000 and I was already four days past that. My two little girls were two and a half and almost four and my husband worked third shift a couple of towns away from where we lived. We had planned to drop our daughters off at my sister’s house when I went into labor, but it felt like it had been so many years since I had passed my due date that we had sort of given up thinking that might ever happen. Clearly, I was just going to stay pregnant forever. And ever.

On April sixth, my husband left around ten p.m. for work and I waddled to bed to try and sleep. I couldn’t get comfortable, and just about quarter after eleven realized I was having some contractions. For some idiotic reason I can’t even explain other than I read it somewhere in some magazine, I got up and decided to take a shower. This was a poor choice on my part, because this labor started out really fast and strong and within just a few minutes I was in so much pain I could no longer stand up. I was stuck in the shower and had nobody home to help me other than my little girls, who were sound asleep.

Eventually, I was able to crawl out of the tub and to the kitchen to the phone (remember, this was back before we all had a cell phone attached to us every second of every day). I called the factory where my husband worked at the time and gave a breathless message to the person in the office. Several minutes later, he called me back, listened to me shrieking for a minute or two, and headed home. It never crossed my mind to call my doctor. Again, I have no way to reason that out. It was dumb but I was tired and in a lot of pain. I very seriously thought I might have the baby on the living room floor, before my husband ever made it home.

Finally, he arrived and called our family doctor. She asked him to time my contractions, then listened to me screaming for a few minutes and told him they were WAY too close together for me to still be at home. Get going, she said. Go fast.

During a brief break between pains, I woke up my daughters and packed them a bag. Clearly out of my head with agony and excitement, I packed them a bunch of licorice. Can’t tell you why, only that in the moment, it seemed absolutely imperative. Then we called my sister, because that was our plan.

Problem was, she never picked up the phone. We called over and over again. No answer.

Instead, we drove the (very sleepy and confused and tightly gripping their licorice) girls to my husband’s parents’ house. At that point, I really, really thought I was not going to make it to the hospital in time.

One thing I knew I wanted to do was get some pain relief. I had had an emergency C-section with my first child, and my morphine line had a hole in it so I was in a lot of pain for a lot of hours after I woke up. With my second child, I requested an epidural, but it failed. This time, I was determined to get some wonderful pain meds, the kind I’d heard friends describe as “heaven”, which would reduce the hip-shattering agony I was currently experiencing to something along the lines of mild cramps. I thought about this all the way to the hospital.

When I shuffled in to the labor and delivery triage area at the hospital, I was breathless and barely able to talk. There was nobody at the desk, and I was certain that if I sat down in one of the chairs I would never get back up, so I just leaned forward on the desk, propping myself up with my elbows, and stood there. Shaking. After what seemed an eternity, a nurse found me and got me into a room.

“Tell me what’s going on,” she said.

“I want pain meds this time,” I replied.

She laughed. I didn’t.

After a quick check that told her I was already well past eight, she told me I was too far gone for any sort of substantial relief. Sorry, kid. That baby is coming too fast.

Things went pretty fast after that. I was moved down to a regular room, my doctor arrived, and so did my mom and siblings. My sister, as it turned out, had taken a few Tylenol PMs before bed and didn’t hear the phone ring when I called.

My first son was born at 2:52 a.m. on April 7th after just about three and a half hours of labor. He shares a birthday with my sister’s daughter, just fifteen years apart.

He was a big boy. Eight pounds, thirteen point two ounces.

My doctor looked up at me and said, “All right, Val, I need you to push again, get that placenta out.”

I looked back at her and replied, “I’m done. If you want anything else, you can go in and get it yourself.”

I wasn’t kidding. Fast labors are kind of cool but the thing about them is, you end up feeling a lot like you’ve been run over by a semi truck once everything is said and done.

We had considered naming him Andrew, but couldn’t decide on a middle name. My husband went out to the nurse’s station and borrowed a baby name book. He came across the name Donovan and asked what I thought of it.

Andrew Donovan.

We thought about that for a few minutes, and then turned it around.

Donovan Andrew.

It fit him perfectly.

And tomorrow he turns sixteen.



Ninety-Seven and Seventeen.


It was so desperately hot that summer.

1997. We were living in a double-wide modular home, in a park not far from where we live now. The heat seemed like a living thing, a second skin that slithered over me and nestled in for the long haul. Even the middle of the night brought no relief; it was sticky and hot and even a thin sheet seemed too much to bear. One hundred degree days were one after another, a record breaking heat wave that had television weather forecasters and radio DJs jabbering excitedly.

At the time, I was heavily pregnant with my second child, and had a one-year-old daughter, Olivia. Some days, I would pack the baby up in my old car and drive to the grocery store or Walmart just to walk around in the air conditioning. My hair was constantly damp against my head and I felt always out of breath, the humidity in the air seemed to steal any good oxygen I took in. We lived for the occasional thunderstorm, just to breathe some cooler air.

I was due October 11 and had an appointment with my doctor on October 7. He was concerned, he said, because my first baby had been an emergency C-section, and I had plans to deliver naturally this time. A family member of his had died and he needed to leave the country unexpectedly, and he was worried another physician wouldn’t pay enough attention to the possibility of uterine rupture. “You might die,” he told me. “You could lose the baby.” I was hot, gigantic, miserable and terrified, so when he said he wanted to induce my labor so he could attend the birth, I agreed. We made our plans: I would make arrangements for Olivia, finish readying the baby’s room, pack for my hospital stay and have my husband notify his work that he needed the time off. I went into action mode, making calls and settling my plans. My husband took me out to dinner and we grinned through the entire meal.

I was excited because the hospital was air conditioned.

We hadn’t found out the gender of the baby. I liked having it be a surprise, but everyone who had an opinion or a guess thought I was carrying a boy. We had a boy’s name picked out: Collin Phillip. My sister wanted me to name a boy Levi, and reminded me about it every time we hung out. If it turned out to be a girl, I knew I wanted the middle name to be Grace; my first daughter’s middle name was Faith. John’s choice for a girl name was Alyssa, and I liked it well enough, but at the time it was a hugely popular girl’s name, and a woman at our church had just named a her daughter Alyssa Grace. I wanted something a little bit different.

We showed up in the early evening to check in at the hospital. Everything seemed to be going dizzyingly fast, the meds and the IV and forms that needed signing and the nurses and doctors checking me. Contractions started quickly, and by the middle of the night were down to three minutes apart. I had a back labor and it felt like my hips were shattering every time a contraction hit. I cried and threw up several times, but I tried not to scream because I knew my family was just around the corner and had my daughter with them, and I didn’t want to scare Olivia. My nurse’s name was Devota. She was a night nurse, but stayed well past her shift so she could remain with me. Mom came in and rubbed circles on my back and kept my long hair out of my face. Dad came in, looked at me and promptly threw up. By mid-morning, I was confident the labor was never going to end, and I told Devota I had changed my mind and wanted to go home. She talked me into an epidural, and I waited for the relief to come and bring me rest, but it didn’t happen. The doctor came in and placed a second epidural, and again, I waited for the relief my friends had told me about. You won’t feel a thing, you can sleep until it’s time to push, they’d told me. Lies! It became evident I was in the miniscule percentage of women the epidural didn’t work for. The pain intensified, and I’d been hours with hard contractions two minutes apart. I wanted to scream, but instead I put my fist in my mouth and bit. I kept worrying Olivia would hear me and be frightened. John kept telling me to stop it, I was going to hurt myself. There came a point when – and I remember the moment with such clarity – my sister Charlotte was walking in to see how things were going, and as she came around the privacy curtain, I had just put my fist in my mouth again, biting hard against the contraction that enveloped me. John reached out and smacked my hand away from my mouth. “Quit doing that!” he scolded. And I reached right out and grabbed his arm and chomped down on it. Hard. “Ow!” he shouted and looked at my sister. “She bit me!” Charlotte’s mouth hung open for a minute, then she shrugged and told him he shouldn’t have done what he did.

I bit him because he had shoved my hand from my mouth, and also because he was eating a glazed donut.

The pain was so great, it felt like every nerve fiber within me was on fire. My skin hurt. My hair hurt. My eyelashes hurt. Devota and my doctor whispered near my bed about the possibility of another C-section. “No,” I told them. I wasn’t doing that again. The problem was that my baby was lying diagonally in my abdomen, and her head was slamming against my hip. The solution was to twist me into randomly and ever-increasingly uncomfortable positions until she straightened up.

And finally, after about 14 hours of labor, it was time to push. The marathon was nearly over.

It only took another two and a half hours to receive my prize.

Another daughter. I was relieved and elated and exhausted, so I burst into tears and started sobbing.

“But we don’t have a name for a girl!”

My husband shushed me, and said if I would only stop crying, I could name her whatever I wanted.

I named her Savannah Grace.

There was a little problem with her breathing, so they whisked her off to have her checked out, and I cried again because I wanted to hold her so much.

Once she was declared healthy and perfect (which I already knew), she was brought back to me and I held my little girl. I felt as if I was in some magical world where every good thing that ever could happen was happening, right then, to me.

My family came in then, and they took turns holding her and crying and laughing and rejoicing in the perfection of Savannah.

And today, at 3:37 p.m., my baby girl turns seventeen.

I cannot believe how quickly she has grown from my little baby girl who hated having clothes on, to a toddler who loved Tonka trucks and building blocks, to a young girl who loved crafts and music, and now to a musically inclined young woman with amazing creative talents. My daughter has become an admirable person who is compassionate, empathetic, and fiercely loyal. And of course, she is stunningly beautiful.

Every day, she makes me prouder than the day before.

Happy birthday, Savannah. I love you more than the stars in the sky.


The Zipper


zipper-2923487_1920Eighteen years ago this week, I was given a Zipper as a gift. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it much, but after all these years, it’s grown on me. As a matter of fact, I’ve carried this Zipper with me every day since I received it. You might not see it, but I’ve got it, always, just under my shirt.

I thought it was ugly, and I cried about this gift at first. I couldn’t give it back though, because once it had been opened, the Zipper was un-returnable.

I hated it because it was red and purple, and because I didn’t like the way it felt on my skin, and because it was hard and itchy and angry and painful.

I was 20 years old – just under 2 weeks shy of turning 21 – and 36 weeks pregnant with my first child.
I kept getting sick, and kept having pain, and kept being brushed off as a nervous first-time mother. I was told by a sturdy, well-seasoned nurse that all pregnant women felt this way and I wondered to myself how any woman could possibly survive feeling this ill and having this much pain more than once in a lifetime.

Every time I attempted to swallow any type of liquid, the searing pain in my back would attack me, feeling like a Charlie horse between my shoulder blades, and I couldn’t swallow, and if, by some miracle, I managed to swallow a sip, I would immediately begin vomiting.

So I was hushed and shushed and told it was par for the course, and on the day of my baby shower, I couldn’t eat any of the food, my most favorite foods, that my mom and sisters and aunts had made for me, and I spent a good portion of the party crying in the bathroom and vomiting.

My lips had become so dry they cracked and bled, and when at last I became so overwhelmed by the pain and misery that had been with me every day for weeks, I began to cry.

But I was so dehydrated, I had no tears.

My husband was worried and frightened and when he feels that way he tends to come off as angry and loud, and he scooped me up off the floor, giant belly and all –mine, not his– and carried me to our little beater of a car.

This time, we did not go through the emergency room, we went straight up to the Women’s and Children’s department and he carried me in his arms and walked right up to the first nurse we saw and demanded help; in fact, he stood there and said in a very loud, firm voice, “WE WILL BE STANDING RIGHT HERE UNTIL SOMEONE COMES AND HELPS MY WIFE.”

And the nurse came around the long, white desk and peered into my face as if I were something suspect beneath a microscope, and said, “Let me get you a room and a doctor. Something isn’t right.”

I considered that nurse an angel. I wanted to kiss her, but thought it might be inappropriate, considering my dry and bloodied lips.
So it turned out that the horrendous pain actually wasn’t “just the baby kicking”, but a gallbladder filled with stones and near rupture, and I had a fever because I was pretty much filled with infection, and this was all rather upsetting considering I hadn’t yet made it past the 38 week mark that meant I was full-term.

My OB/GYN was called and he came and was sorry for the news he had to bring, but he sat by my side and held my hand and told me we had to get my gallbladder out. There was no way to do that without delivering the baby first, so I was being scheduled for an emergency C-section.

And I started to cry, because we hadn’t covered much about C-sections in the birthing classes I had attended, and because it sounded frightening, and because it meant I wouldn’t be awake when my baby was born, and because I was 20 years old and didn’t want a scar.

And I continued to cry, because it wasn’t in my plan, the way I had been dreaming about it for the last 30-odd weeks; the plan where hours of laboring ended up with me engulfed in my husband’s strong arms as he held me up, and we counted together, and did the panting and breathing, and my face would be tear-streaked (but make-up intact) and my hair would be wet with the sweat of the whole ordeal, and I would grit my teeth and perhaps scream a time or two just there at the very end of it all and the doctor would hold up our perfect baby and smile in victory, and my husband would look down at me in admiration and tell me I was so brave, and I would smile and say it was all worth it, because now look, we’re a family.

But I didn’t know quite how to get all that information relayed to those now in charge of my body, so instead I said, quite stupidly: “But I was planning an all-natural birth. I didn’t want any drugs! I wanted to breastfeed! Look! I have a birth plan!”

And of course they looked at me with pity, because maybe they thought I was actually a little bit stupid, but more likely because they understood the panic behind my words.

Everything went so quickly I felt as if there was no time to catch my breath; decisions and forms and more decisions and phone calls to be made and more forms to sign.

Then my OB/GYN asked me to sign a form stating that if my baby was born with underdeveloped lungs, I was giving permission to have her air-lifted to a different hospital, one with a specialty neo-natal unit. There were already helicopters on the hospital roof, waiting to whisk her away if needed.

I cried again but signed the form.

And because the entire mess had been taken out of my hands, all of my plans thrown out the window, I made some quick decisions that I could still control, and demanded that nobody be let to hold my baby until I did, and that nobody feed her a bottle because I was still determined to breastfeed, and that, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES was my baby to be given a pacifier.

These may seem like silly demands, but, you know, I was just trying to take control of something. Anything, really.

And then it was time, and my mom smiled a very wobbly, watery-eyed smile, and my husband kissed my head and it all became quite a blur until I woke in a horrific haze of pain and pain and more pain.

I asked, “Is my baby okay?”

Somebody said yes.

I asked, “Are you sure?”

Somebody said yes.

I said, “It hurts so much.”

Somebody told me to push my little red button, so I did. Over and over. It didn’t seem to help at all.
And in another blur of passing doors and elevators and faces of strangers, I was back in the room I had started in, and I asked again, “Is my baby okay?”

Somebody said yes.

And I said again, “It hurts so much.”

Somebody told me the morphine would kick in soon, just keep pressing that little red button. So I did.

The pain was greater than anything I had ever experienced, like I’d been sawed in half and my insides ripped out and then hastily put back together.

Which is, in a way I guess, pretty much what had happened.

So I lay very, very still and quiet in an effort to shrink from the pain, so it wouldn’t see me and attack me again.

Then my husband came in and told me we had a little girl, and that even though my mom and his mom and everyone else was quite put out about it, he hadn’t let anybody hold her. His eyes were shining and his smile was beautiful and hopeful and young.

They brought her to me, then, and I cried again because she looked exactly as she had looked in all the dreams I’d had while I was pregnant, when I would fall asleep holding my own belly and wondering.

And I kept asking if her lungs were okay and I kept being assured her lungs were fine and then I would ask again anyway, just to be sure, and I stared at her face that was at once so tiny and so chubby, and her perfect blue eyes and little wisps of hair and the way she would clasp her dainty little fingers together on her chest as if contemplating the great big world she was suddenly residing in. She yawned and my husband and I both laughed at the way her tiny mouth opened so wide, like a mouse, we said, and seemed to take up her entire face.

The laughter made me feel like I was ripping apart and I cried again.

The lactation consultant came and helped me figure out how to feed her, how to not hit my incision and taught me about the “football hold” and how to make sure she was latched on. I loved this action so much that I cried again.

It was several hours later, when the night shift nurses came on, that somebody realized the reason my little red morphine button wasn’t working was because there was a hole in the line, and all the meds had puddled in a wet mess beneath my bed.

I fell asleep content and hurting and happy and relieved that my baby had been a girl because I hadn’t really liked the name I had agreed to if it had been a boy.

The next day they came, the medical people, and explained what had happened and that my gallbladder had ruptured and there had been sixteen stones and I was probably sore because they had to “go fishing” for them to make sure they got them all out.

Then they none too gently pulled off the bandages to check the incision that ran from sternum to pubic bone, and because the head of the bed was sitting up slightly I could see it and it there it was, the Awful Zipper, angry and red and purple and stapled shut, and it had cut through my belly button and made it look like something from a horror movie where a person had been chopped up and haphazardly stuck back together.

I didn’t want it, this Zipper. It was ugly and horrible and I knew it would stay with me forever, and I hated it and just the thought of how it made me look caused me tears, and I knew my husband would think it was ugly, too, and I didn’t want him to see it.

But my baby was perfect and beautiful and every single good thing in the world, and her lungs were just fine (I knew because I asked again, just to be sure) and I was so happy to be able to name her Olivia Faith, because I just adored the way it sounded when it rolled off my tongue and I said it over and over and over.

My hospital room was filled with many pink presents. And balloons. And flowers. And more pink everything.

Underneath all the joy and pink happiness was this worry that I was always going to be ugly, because I had opened this present I didn’t even want, and now I was stuck with the Zipper.

Time went by and the Zipper faded some, and stretched some, and it sometimes still gets itchy and my belly button will never again be the pretty little thing she once was.

My next two children were natural births, and my fourth child, six years after the first, was a planned C-section. I actually questioned the doctor – hesitant and almost whispering – if he thought, during the surgery, he could fix the horrendous scar left by the birth of my first child.

He said it wasn’t his business to fix another physician’s mistake. And that was that.

It didn’t matter anyway, because my fourth child actually ended up being a natural birth, too.

And over the years I’ve had friends tell me there must be a way to fix it, that a good plastic surgeon could probably make it disappear.

Maybe. I don’t know. I’ve never pursued it.

Because the thing is, this Zipper has grown on me. I’ve carried it with me wherever I go for eighteen years, and now it’s mine. It’s been with me through three pregnancies and the births of all my children. It’s been with me through medical scares and deaths of family members. It’s been mine when I was grieving and mine when I rejoiced, and after all this time, this Zipper has sunk into me the way tree roots sink into the ground that nourishes them.

And now it’s just part of me, like outrageously curly hair and freckles and the large, pickle-shaped birthmark on my right leg and an inability to ever understand more than basic math.

My tiny little baby girl is now a high school Senior, and when I watch her laughing with her friends or concentrating on difficult homework or watch her face light up when she is telling me about a topic that she is seriously interested in, I look at her, this woman-child, so filled with grace and happiness and intelligence and I feel overwhelmed by it.

I’m thankful for that present I never wanted to open, and sometimes in the mirror I look at myself, and run my forefinger up and down, up and down that Zipper, feeling the cracks and ripples in it, the way it has spread wider in some places and stayed quite narrow in others.

It’s beautiful, this gift.

It reminds me I am strong, and capable, and of all the Super-Hero things my body can do if one of my children needs me.

I wouldn’t return my Zipper now, even if I had a receipt.