Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Delivery Rooms...

The Delivery Rooms
Sarah Jo Smith

Until that night, the idea of a delivery room brought images of bright fluorescent lights, heart and fetal monitors surrounding a sterile white-sheeted metal bed, and a mask-clad medical team at the ready. How was I to know that it wasn’t imperative for a mother awaiting the arrival of her children to have a doctor or midwife nearby to experience this rite of passage? I discovered that a well-equipped kitchen and an airport terminal would do just fine.

Our first child, Matthew, was born on a late fall morning after twelve hours of an exhaustive and difficult labor. The pushing, panting, waiting, and pushing-again dance of the final delivery process produced our baby. When the doctor held him up for me to see, red and squalling, I became an instant believer in miracles. Later, my focal point narrowed to the small bundle I cradled at my breast. A nurse wrapped us in heated covers and dimmed the lights. She left my husband, Gregg, and me together in the delivery room to peer with awe at the new life we had created. Only then did I find the strength to marvel at the pain, the effort, the sheer joy of it all.

Six years later, in the middle of a long-awaited night in May, sleepless and alone, once again I found myself in the midst of the final delivery process. This time, instead of a noisy hospital room, I spent the hours before the delivery of our twins in restless agitation, pacing the rooms of our darkened home. The nesting instinct gripped me. I headed for the kitchen and gathered bowls and utensils from the cupboards.

The clock over the sink read 2:30 in the morning when the oven’s timer beeped to announce the first batch of chocolate-chip cookies was baked to perfection. Whiffs of melted fudge and warm nuts scented the air.
As I eased the tray from the open oven, the wonderful aroma of freshly baked dough swaddled me like a cozy blanket. A soft kitchen lamp cast a pool of light over the countertops, where the ingredients for my grandmother’s recipe were spread out, enveloping me in a cocoon of warmth. Night shadows darkened the rest of the room. Restless and anxious, I crept across the wooden floor in stocking feet, careful not to awaken my sleeping husband or six-year-old son before it was time. While my fingers formed rounded spoonfuls of batter onto another tray, my thoughts flew through the night sky, over the ocean, and into the cabin of the red and white DC-10 that raced toward our home near Los Angeles, carrying our adopted babies from their birthplace halfway around the world to me.

While the last batch of cookies baked, I glanced once again at the clock, the second hand tick, tick, ticking methodically along at a painfully slow pace. I thumbed through my recipe card box, searching for the next ­culinary creation that would help make the time pass. In a few more hours, the long wait for this special delivery would be over. But it seemed that particular night would never end. I paused to study the latest pictures of Nicholas and Kimberly, which were propped against the teakettle. The social workers from Seoul, Korea, were kind to send us new ones for every month we waited. Staring at their tiny, precious faces, I knew there would be no rest for me until those babies were in my arms.

The jumbo Northwest airliner glistened in the noonday sun as it approached the runway at Los Angeles International Airport. All of the tension and emotions I held bottled up over the past two years through the international adoption process began to melt onto the terminal floor at my feet. I had pictured this scene hundreds of times, dreamed of it nightly, yet I wasn’t prepared for the calm that descended over me as the final moments approached. From the restless and busy night I’d spent baking, I expected to be exhausted. Instead, my composure was matched only by my alert and keenly aware senses. With steady, shallow breaths, I pressed my fingertips against the cool, smooth terminal window glass. My world narrowed, moving in slow motion. The chatter and bustle surrounding me dimmed as my focus pinpointed only on the plane as it rolled to the gate.

My family made our way to the entrance where the babies would be carried to us after going through customs. I watched as passengers from Nicholas and Kimberly’s flight walked through the tunnel and into the terminal. There were businessmen with briefcases, women with large bags, groups of students in festive moods, and parents holding the hands of their small children. Our babies were nowhere to be seen. My eyes burned from staring intently at so many people. I looked at the ground for a moment, and then blinked to clear the sting. I looked up again, and the social workers holding our children stood before me. Maybe I shouted out in a final release of pent-up tension, or maybe I acknowledged silently the instant relief of finally seeing my babies in person. I can’t remember.

The women placed a baby each in Gregg’s and my arms. We kissed them and kneeled to give Matthew a better view of his new brother and sister. We switched babies and exchanged a quick look of awe. The same feelings of peaceful contentment that engulfed me as I held Matthew for the first time in the hospital delivery room again swathed me like the warm blanket the nurse used to cover us after delivery. Gregg and I gathered our three children close for the first family picture.

Gregg drove cautiously out of the parking garage and headed for home. I couldn’t help but compare the memory of the drive home from the hospital with our first baby, and how nervous and proud he was to get us there safely. I basked in the afterglow of relief and comfort of having our completed family together.

I’m fortunate to have experienced two delivery rooms, each a different process. Now, as a mother of three, the most important long-term job of my life has begun.

The labor was worth it.

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