This weekend, we celebrated my grandson Bentley’s first birthday. I can’t really believe it’s already been a year since I spent three days in labor and delivery helping Boop stay as calm and as comfortable as possible after eight, yes EIGHT, epidurals failed to give her an iota of relief. There is nothing that can knock a mother’s heart around her chest like a rickety roller coaster ride more than seeing her own child struggling through the frighteningly fragile, yet tenacious and powerful process of giving birth. Bethany is a true warrior, and so is her little lad, Bentley — otherwise known as Nana’s Little Acorn. They weathered an incredibly long and arduous journey.
I got the call on a Thursday night. I was just sitting down to dinner with the boys and Mike’s parents when Boop explained that she was going to be admitted for preeclampsia and that the docs would be inducing labor in the next day or so. As you can imagine, there were several incredible stressors within this single phone call.
#1: Boop had preeclampsia. I had just gone through it myself the year before. I knew how very dangerous the condition can be to both mother and baby. Bethany was having extreme headaches and swelling. Her blood pressure was up and her urine was throwing protein. Bentley would need to be delivered no later than the weekend.
#2: Nana’s little acorn was to arrive nearly six weeks early. Again, I had just been through that scenario a little over a year before. Luckily, Boop and Bentley had reached the 34-week gestation marker, so we knew he likely wouldn’t need any oxygen, but he would need practice eating (preemie boys are notoriously lazy feeders) and maintain his body temp. I knew there was a probable two week stay in the NICU in store for my Bentley and an unavoidable hornet’s nest of raw, stinging emotions ready to take up residence in Boop’s chest – a chest that would already be crowded with the honeycombed sweetness of milk from her mammary glands. There was an emotional perfect storm circulating just off the horizon.
And #3: The call was on Thursday night – in football season. That meant the next night was a Friday. Friday Night Lights Frenzy. And no mama. Shit. What would I do with the boys? Double shit. But as fortune would have it, my in-laws were here when I got the call so I had extra hands on deck. Friday night would’ve been a near-impossibility if not for his mom and for my ever-dedicated and most beauteous best friend. Of all the besties in the world, my Queenie is nonpareil. There’s a vocab word for ya. I would say look it up, but there’s no need because I’m telling you that the definition is: Tammy Bramblett Queen, the incomparable, generous-hearted best friend of Heather Peters Candela. Between my mother-in-law and my bestie my boys were fed and nurtured and entertained on a very busy and very stressful Friday night. So that was one less thing I had to worry about.
And finally #4: Weaning the boys. Not only has it been a year since my sweet little Acorn came into this world, it has also been a year since I last breastfed the boys. I pumped until February of this year, but it was a year ago in October that I physically nursed them for the very last time — in the English department storage closet on Friday afternoon before I headed up to Knoxville. Mike had brought them by for that express purpose. He knew how hard it was going to be on me. I wasn’t ready, but I knew that being gone for at least three days would as good as wean them, and it would be downright cruel to start them back up again, only to wean them all over again later. So there, surrounded by a bevy of beloved classic literature, I breastfed them one final time. One final time, I felt the tingly, pinching ants of letdown. One final time I felt the sweet pull of milk filling their bellies. One final time I felt the flush and bloom of sweat on their necks as they grew warm and content. It’s funny, but just before they emptied my breasts entirely, they began to play patty cake — something they’d never done before. They clapped and clapped, Parker’s right hand pressing Tate’s left, a nipple clenched in each of their smiles, as if applauding this passing of a milestone — this one step closer to being grown. I won’t say I didn’t cry.
Exit to Knoxville: The next three days were a wild and whirling pain-fest of Pitocin and pointless epidurals. Poor Bethany! She’s just one of those individuals whose body just doesn’t chemically interact an epidural. In eight attempts, the block was never more than patchy and poor, at best, so my poor baby girl felt a whole lot of agony (remind me to tell you a little story about Bethany and the “agony” in a bit) for a whole lot of hours. As in, thirty-two. Active labor hours. With no epidural. That’s super very much a lot, thank you very much.
Boop progressed super slowly, stalling out at 4 centimeters dilation and staying there for over 24 hours. The Pitocin pumped and pressured and prodded and her uterus clenched and cranked and contracted, but her cervix was noncompliant. The nurses and docs tried some tricks to help her along, from a foley bulb catheter to a birthing ball. Neither contraption worked. She lived in raw, primal, animal pain for well over a day. I used to boast that I was in labor with Caitlin for twenty-six hours with no epidural, but those bragging days are gone. Boop’s got me beat, let me tell ya. She is the grand champion of marathon labor. My baby girl is one tough mother.
But tough as she is, Sunday afternoon around 4:00 found Boop begging for a c section. Hell, we were all begging for a c section — her best friend Maggie, her cousin Lauren, her man Bradley, even her big sis the surgeon (who felt helpless and far-far away — 843 miles away, to be exact) — we were all begging for a c section. Boop was writhing in pain and wrung the F out. Her energy was gone. Her enthusiasm was gone. Her patience was gone. There’s only so much that ice chips, cheerleading, small talk and back rubs can do to keep you going when it’s day three and you haven’t eaten or slept and the waves of pain are smashing your body like a… like a… like a squirrel in agony.
So now for that “agony” story I promised you… Bethany was around four and the cutest, wide-eyed, hat-wearing, little fart blossom (my Grandmother’s favorite term of endearment) on the planet. We were a block or so away from picking up Caitlin from school when we rounded a curve and came upon a squirrel that had just been hit by a car. It was thrashing around in the throes of anguish when Bethany saw it and gasped, “Oh, no!”
“Bless its little heart,” I said. “The poor thing is in agony.”
“What’s ‘n agony?” she asked.
So I explained to my precocious girl that it was in extreme pain and suffering. As we pulled up to the pickup line at the school, I finished with… “so that little squirrel was in agony.”
“Oh, it WAS a squirrel?” she squawked in confusion, “I thought you said it was an agony!”
Fast forward to twenty some odd years later, and I’m at Bethany’s bedside as she writhes around in an agony that I’m fairly certain was closely akin to that of the pitiful little squirrel back on Mission Road so many years ago. I wanted her out of her misery, and I was steeling myself to do battle with her obstetrician when the charge nurse offered to do one last check…
And… a 6! She’d progressed to a 6! Finally her cervix and her uterus started working together! An hour after that, she was an 8 — and within thirty minutes after that, it was time to push. Hallelujah and cut the cord! Well, we delivered the baby first, of course…
Somehow Boop mustered the energy to push and push hard. I took one of her shoulders and Bradley took the other. We counted off each push – cheering her on toward that bloody, brazen end zone. The little guy came out like all babies do, covered in birth juice and clotted cream and truly, truly scrumptious. He bore one battle wound from his epic birth journey: a tiny cut on his nose from the monitor leads.
Bentley carries that hairline scar across his nose to this day… along with all of our hearts (from mine, to his Aunt Cay Cay’s in the Big D, to his little uncles Parker and Tate, eighteen months his seniors), he carries all of our hearts wrapped tight around his little finger. Because he is the most beautifully perfect little Acorn you ever did see. He has green glass eyes and an open, hearty smile. He’s his mama’s perfect clone. Her spittin’ image; her carbon copy.
And Bethany is the most beautiful mama I ever did see. She was born for motherhood. She is breathlessly incandescent. She is luminous. She glows. She has always been a bright and beautiful light in this world, but now her light is softer, warmer, deeper, more soulful. She radiates maternal perfection. I’d like to say she’s the spittin’ image of me as a mother, but that would be a lie. She’s got me beat. She is a master of maternal prowess. My baby girl is one tough mother.