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The day our son was born began with (you guessed it) a mother’s intuition. Not Mallerie’s, but her mom’s. She woke up with a gut feeling and notified her boss that she would be working from home just in case Mallerie went into labor. The due date was just two days away, and Mallerie had shed a large portion of her mucus plug the night before.

She began having steady contractions early in the morning, texting me at work around 9 a.m. to tell me this, at which point I asked if I should find a way to get to her. Teachers can’t just up and leave, so it would take time to find coverage for my classes. Not wanting me to leave work unnecessarily, she told me that she was fine and there was no reason to leave just yet. “The contractions are a few minutes apart and I can talk through them,” she said.

She’d already given birth twice, so I trusted her. By noon, the contractions were only ninety seconds apart. Her mom and I had already been encouraging her to go to the hospital all morning. This time, I was vehement that she go check it out just in case. Bull-headed as she is, Mallerie refused, telling us both that she had a lot to get done before she could get to the doctor.

Convinced that Mallerie would be having the baby very soon, I found coverage for my classes just in case I got the go-ahead to hit the road. I worked an hour a way, so I didn’t want to lose any time. Mallerie, on the other hand, did homework and cleaned up the house. She planned to get her nails done before the other littles got out of school. The only indication that baby was on his way was that she skipped lunch (at her mother’s insistence, so she could have an epidural).

Just after 2 p.m., she texted that she was headed to the hospital. The contractions were still ninety seconds apart, but they were getting more painful. The class I was teaching was set to release half an hour later, so I told her I’d have to wait until that class ended to leave. Of course, I didn’t resume teaching. I was too busy freaking out, and my students were happy to indulge my frenetic worry.

I wasn’t worried so much as feeling trapped and helpless. I was nearly fifty miles away, and she’d probably be at the hospital by the time I got to my car. What if I missed our son’s birth?

The bell rang to dismiss class. I rocketed out the door to my portable ahead of my students and ran to my car. Once on the road, I texted that I was headed for the hospital.

“No worries,” she said. “We haven’t left yet. I still have to finish a quiz.”

Was this woman crazy? She was in labor and worried about a silly online quiz. What if he popped out right there on the living room floor? This only fueled my freakout, which meant I was going well above the speed limit on the highway.

Finally, she messaged that she and her mother were on their way to the hospital. Twenty minutes after that, she said that she’d been admitted and sent me the information for the room. Five minutes later I was punching the elevator buttons. That’s right—she’d been in labor since the beginning of the school day, I drove an hour to get to her, and I was only five minutes behind her obstinate ass when she checked in.

Mallerie checked in with four centimeters dilation. Since her previous labors were fairly long, we expected that our baby boy wouldn’t make an appearance for quite some time. The contractions were still about ninety seconds apart, but, to our surprise, she was dilating at a rate of almost two centimeters an hour.

Leading up to the birth, Mallerie had been adamant that she didn’t want an epidural with Grayson. She wanted to be fully present and to memorize every feeling during his birth. I thought she was insane, but magical, and I told her I’d support her either way. Once in the delivery room, feeling every single moment sounded a lot less romantic. Mallerie questioned her resolve almost immediately. Don’t get me wrong—Mallerie is impossibly tough and strong-willed (she endured thirty minutes of our OB-GYN pushing and repositioning a thirty-seven-week, seven-and-a-half-pound baby like a champ)—but the frequency of the contractions combined with each one’s strength meant that she was in near constant pain and could hardly breathe.

When we told our attending nurse, she informed us that she’d need to run an IV and pump a full bag of fluids first. Fun fact: Mallerie’s veins are about as complicit as she is (read: impossible to work with). Two nurses and five holes later, they called in a specialist.

Surprise! The man with the magic hands was, in fact, the anesthesiologist in charge of epidurals. He cracked jokes while he worked and had Mallerie’s line in on the first attempt. He was heading in to assist with a c-section in a few minutes, so we accepted that we may have to wait quite a while for the actual epidural. Lucky for us, he was an empathetic man and stopped in a few minutes later to place it before getting started with the c-section. Five minutes later, Mallerie could breathe.

Without the pain, she was able to think a bit more clearly, and she began to rattle off her internal checklist while I rifled through purses and hospital bags. We forgot only one thing: an SD card for the camera. Since our house was only a few miles away, we sent Mallerie’s mom to retrieve one so we could record the birth.

The doctor measured Mallerie at six centimeters. He decided to go ahead and break her water, at which point he noticed meconium. He assured us that we didn’t need to worry, but he would have to get a NICU team in the room for delivery to assist with clearing our baby’s system.

I had been staying in touch with my parents via text, and my stepmom believed that we’d be holding the baby before the sun went down. We scoffed at first, but just two hours after being admitted Mallerie was already at eight centimeters. I began to worry if Mallerie’s mom would make it back with the camera card before our son popped out.

Our doctor stayed very close, paying special attention to the baby’s heart rate during contractions, which were getting worse by the minute. Mallerie and I noticed that his rhythm slowed during each contraction, but we told each other it was nothing to worry about since the beats per minute normalized immediately after each contraction ended…then they got so close together that we couldn’t tell them apart.

For most of the pregnancy, we were skeptical of our OB-GYN. He didn’t seem particularly attentive, and he looked like a life-size wax doll. That changed in an instant. Minutes after we began to worry that our baby’s heart rate wasn’t getting a chance to balance between contractions, the doctor was in the room ordering nurses like a seasoned commander. He informed us that, since the baby’s heart was in distress, he was going to go ahead and deliver.

Mallerie’s mother returned with the SD card as nurses began to set the room for delivery. It took less than ten minutes to get everything prepped. Though we had decided not to have anyone with us during delivery, Mallerie and I were both beyond nervous about the baby’s heart. She told me to decide if her mom could stay with us. Scared as I was, I thought it was a good idea for her to be in the room.

I watched the doctor kneel in front of Mallerie’s vagina like a baseball catcher. He had a suction bulb next to him, and there were several nurses in the room to help clear any meconium from baby’s lungs as soon as he came out. Because of the risks, we’d been warned that they’d try to clear everything out before he cried, and we may not be able to hold him immediately.

As I looked at the plastic trash bags tucked under Mallerie’s bum and the sheer number of nurses in what looked like hazmat garb, I realized how woefully unprepared I was for this birth.

Everything was in place. Stations were at the ready. Mallerie gripped my hand. I stared at her, still unsure I could handle watching our son crown and bully his way out of her body. My chest hurt and I realized that I had been holding my breath.

“Okay,” the doctor said. “We’re ready to push.”

I’m glad someone was ready. I sure as hell wasn’t.

“One, two,” the doctor counted off, “thre-WAIT!”

As soon as he shouted, I jerked my head over. I was so concerned something was wrong that I had forgotten my hesitation about watching the birth. What I saw was, for a long time, indescribable. Two-thirds of our brand new enormous son hung outside my best friend’s body. The doctor had him in a football hold, baby’s head down, and he was swiftly clearing meconium from baby’s nose with the bulb.

There was an entire work station across the room to clear the meconium, but our doctor wasn’t having any of it. He wanted the lungs clear before our soon took his first breath. For all my frustration with our doctor during the pregnancy, in that moment he was heroic.

“Okay, let’s give it one mo-” he began.

He never finished his sentence. The rest of our baby’s body slid out like he was coated in grease. The next moment, I understand all the plastic and protective gear. Brown liquid rushed from Mallerie like a levee had broken. If I had closed my eyes, I would have sworn that I was listening to a deluge on a stormy afternoon. Of course, no thunderstorm could smell that badly.

Our son, whom we still hadn’t named, entered this world in a single (interrupted) push. Did I mention that Mallerie is a superhero?

The nurses took our baby from the doctor and carried him across the room to begin diagnostics. I was so stunned by what I had just witnessed that I couldn’t seem to move. I realized then that they were asking if I wanted to go see the baby. I did. Of course I did! But I didn’t. I wanted to see his face for the first time standing beside my best friend, my lover, my forever date. So, Mallerie’s mother went to stand with him while the nurses worked, and I continued to hold Mallerie’s hand, staring at her in disbelief and sheer awe.

IMG_4904The baby they handed us looked like a toddler. Twenty-one-and-a-half inches long, eight pounds, ten ounces. Good lord. The kid was nearly two feet tall and he’d been breathing air for about thirty seconds. Because of the doctor’s swift actions, his heart and lungs were totally fine.

You can’t see it in pictures, but our baby had the most adorable elf ears. For whatever reason, the cartilage hadn’t formed yet, so they flopped over and came to small points. Sure, it was something we’d have to address at some point, but what a perfect little leprechaun he was in that moment. I was enamored.

Not long after, I followed one of the nurses to the nursery so that I could record his first bath. His tiny cries made me think of kittens at play. There was a growl to it, but the sound was far too cute to be menacing (Isn’t that how it always starts?).

“Do you have a name picked out?” the nurse asked me while she ran a wet sponge over my son’s slimy red skin.

“No, not yet.”

This exchange would mark the beginning of every conversation we had for the next two days. It wasn’t that his gender had been a surprise, or that we hadn’t been tossing names back and forth for months. The problem was that we had narrowed it down to a few names, and none of them seemed to fit.

We were drawn to unique, somewhat strong or even dark names. We were creatures of mischief, after all. But what we held that first night was a bundle of adorable with dark brown hair, a button nose, and the biggest, squishiest cheeks I’ve ever seen. He had to have a name that matched his squeezable cute and our fondness for classic, timeless monikers.

(Un)lucky for us, nobody lets you sleep after a baby is born. Our son snoozed peacefully, but nurses had us up every hour or two to check machines, change IVs, and generally disrupt our power naps. So, we cuddled our son and revisited every name list on the internet. Every moment without family turned into a brainstorming session.

We were strict about who could visit and when, but AJ and M were instant hits with their new baby brother. They adored him, and he warmed up to them faster, even, than he warmed to me (I’m convinced he still loves AJ best).

By day two, we had suggested and shot down so many names that I literally did not care. I told Mallerie she could name him anything she wanted. Because she’s amazing and she knew I was simply exhausted, she didn’t take advantage of my state. Together, we settled on a name mere hours before I had to turn in the paperwork for his birth.

IMG_4906When I wrote out the name for the first time, it was hard to breathe. Labor had lasted less than three hours. The birth had lasted less than three minutes. Now my son had a name. Pictures with family. A “going home” outfit. Siblings. Grandparents. Gorgeous freaking lips. A birthday.

Holy heart. Our son, Grayson Willoughby, was here.

[Photo credit to Ronnie Stephens]

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