There were times when I liked Zac, like when he would send me emails in the middle of the day that made no sense and had no purpose other than to make me laugh in between clients. There were times when I adored Zac, like when he would go out of his way to make my day special by sending me flowers or rubbing my feet when I had insisted on wearing my snakeskin pointed toe stilettos for a full day of work. There were times when I was annoyed by Zac, like when he insisted on leaving his dirty socks laying on the coffee table in our living room or left toothpaste splatters on the bathroom mirror. And then there were times when I loved Zac so much I could hardly breathe, like that night, exactly five Christmases after that fateful night when we had first said those three big words to each other.
There I sat in the living room, immensely pregnant while Zac scurried around our house getting ready for our families arrival. I was three days past my due date, which my doctor assured me was totally normal for a first pregnancy. I’d wanted to murder him on the spot, but unfortunately, the conversation had taken place over the phone and it was therefore impossible for me to kill him like I’d wanted to.
“Do you need anything, Es?” Zac asked from the kitchen where he was currently taking cookies out of the oven and placing them onto the plates I had set out for him earlier that morning.
“Yeah, I need for my damned water to break,” I muttered, prompting loud, pounding footsteps to come running in from the kitchen.
“Your water broke?!” he asked almost shrilly. I couldn’t help myself as I started laughing in his face.
“No, spaz attack, it didn’t,” I smiled. He glared at me before dropping to a squat next to the recliner I was sitting in.
“You can’t blame me for coming running. You’re about to pop,” he said, giving me a sympathetic pout, “Dalton’s just being stubborn.” His hand slid gently under the bottom hem of my shirt, rubbing my very swollen belly lightly.
“Dalton or Lily,” I said with an obvious edge of annoyance, “Stop assuming it’s a boy.”
“You just don’t want to admit that it’s a boy because then you have to admit that you have a penis growing inside of you,” he laughed heartily, thoroughly enjoying the joke he insisted on saying to me every day, sometimes multiple times.
“You’re such a child,” I said before hefting myself out of the chair, ignoring his outstretched hand, “When’s lunch getting here?”
“In about a half hour, and everyone should be arriving, well… any time now, actually,” he said before taking my hand and kissing it, “Are you mad at me?”
“No, but I’m so fat and swollen and crabby that I probably should be. What’s this baby’s problem? Does it hate me already?” I asked, waddling my way into the kitchen with my hands resting on top of my considerable baby bump.
“You’re not fat. How many different people have to tell you that you’re basically the cutest pregnant person they’ve ever seen before you’ll start believing them?”
“Oh it’s not that I don’t believe them, but I still have what I’m starting to assume is about a twelve pound baby taking up permanent residence in my uterus. I don’t feel skinny, that’s for sure,” I muttered, “Ooo! Cookies!” Zac patted the top of my head playfully before going back to his previous task. I watched him slyly, peeking up at him through my lashes as he concentrated on the task at hand. He looked so painfully adorable focusing on not breaking any of the cookies as he removed them from the sheet with a spatula. I helped myself to a cookie or two and ate them as I watched my doting husband complete the task I was entirely capable of doing myself.
“What’re you looking at?” he grinned.
“Not you,” I sassed, shoving half of a still warm chocolate chip cookie in my mouth.
“God, you’re so sexy,” he laughed, leaning over to press a kiss to the corner of my mouth. And then it happened. A sudden gnawing pain spread through my lower abdomen.
“Shit!” I cried, latching onto the edge of the counter and shutting my eyes tight against the pain. I could hear Zac trying to ask me what was wrong and I could feel him trying to pull my tense fingers into his own hand. After what felt like an eternity of pain, it finally subsided and I let out a whooshing exhaled breath. “God that hurt.”
“What’s going on? Are you okay?” he asked, running his hand soothingly up and down my arm.
“That was a big contraction, much bigger than the little ones I’ve been having for a few days. I’m fine, we just need to pay attention to if they start happening closer together,” I said, rolling my eyes as he gaped at me wide-eyed, “Calm down! I’m fine!”
“Don’t we need to go to the hospital?! The doctor said that you’d have the small contractions for a while and then when you started having the big ones that it was baby time!”
“Zac… the baby isn’t coming in the next ten minutes. We can eat lunch first and then go to the hospital, okay?”
“But!” he said, not even really trying to finish his train of thought out loud. He didn’t need to, I knew exactly what he was thinking. He was worried about me and wanted to get us there around doctors who would be there to help if anything went wrong. But I knew that many more hours would pass before the baby came.
“You call the doctor to tell him that we’ll meet him at the hospital in about two hours, and I’ll go get the bag and bring it down by the front door. Does that sound okay to you?” He just nodded dumbly before stepping forward and pulling me in for a lingering kiss.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he whispered.
“I’m great. We’re going to have a baby soon,” I said, smiling and kissing him again before heading for the stairs, “Call the doctor!”
I made my way carefully up the stairs, waiting for the next contraction to hit, which happened about two seconds after I had finally joined Zac again in the kitchen.
“Zac, are you going to look at me like that the entire time I’m giving birth? Because if you are, you can sit in the waiting room,” I threatened as Zac looked at me like I was the most upsetting thing he’d ever seen.
“I’m sorry! I just hate seeing you in pain, Es!” Before I could respond to that, the doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of some of our guests. Zac ushered me to the dining room table before going to let them in. The voices I heard from the entryway indicated that everyone had arrived exactly on time. My mom practically ran into the room.
“You started having contractions?” she beamed, placing her hands on my shoulders and leaning down to kiss the top of my head. I nodded and tipped my head back to smile at her.
“We’re going to go to the hospital after lunch. Sorry!”
“Sorry! For what? I can’t imagine a better Christmas present!” my dad said as he entered the room followed closely by Zac’s parents.
“So, the little one is dictating our Christmas plans?” his mom asked, leaning forward to rub my belly lightly.
“At least we get to have lunch together,” Zac grinned, though I could see panic hidden all over his handsome features. He was going to be a nervous wreck the entire time, not because he thought I couldn’t handle it, but simply because he was worried sick about me and the baby. I knew that, but it still made me feel fragile and in my overly hormonal state, that was the last thing I needed.
We ate our dinner comfortably enough. I tried my hardest to eat my sweet and sour chicken with a smile on my face, but as my contractions slowly grew closer together, the reality of the situation started to settle in around me. As soon as dinner was all cleaned up, Zac and I headed off for the hospital in our Nissan Pathfinder, our parents following closely behind until they all stopped at a local coffee shop to grab some drinks, knowing that they were in for a long day. Zac took care of everything from checking me in to pushing me in the wheelchair to my room. I was trying to stay positive, trying to breathe and not think of the fact that it felt like my body was being split slowly in two. I knew that Zac was talking to me the whole way down the hallway, offering little words of encouragement, but I didn’t hear a word of it as I worked my way through another contraction, my fingers digging deep into the padding on the arms of the chair.
“We’re almost there, babe,” Zac told me, and I finally heard him. I could feel beads of sweat start to form along my hairline despite the fact that the majority of my body still felt chilled from the late December Illinois air. Once in my room I changed into a hospital gown and got myself situated on the bed that they’d keep me on until it was time to start the actual birth. Zac got my things situated, found the birth plan we’d written out with our doctor, and made his way back to my side in record time. “The nurse said that the doctor will be here any second.”
“Good. I want to know that everything’s okay,” I said, squeezing his hand tightly as another contraction hit me hard.
After six hours of increasingly painful contractions, I was moved down the hallway to my birthing room. It was a comfort to know that my mom was just down the hall and that Zac was standing there at my side, holding my hand the entire time while occasionally taking pictures for the baby book. At the time I was sure that I’d later kill him for taking pictures of me grunting, straining, and generally looking like a killer she-beast, but post-labor was very thankful that he’d thought to do that since we hadn’t discussed in before. Out of all the things we’d been so careful to remember, we’d forgotten to discuss taping or taking pictures of the birth.
The labor could have gone on for two minutes or two days and I honestly wouldn’t have noticed the difference. I just made myself focus on the fact that no matter how horribly it hurt and no matter how long it took, the end result was what was important: having a healthy baby. It didn’t matter if it was a girl or a boy, as long as the baby came out healthy, I knew that I would be unbelievably, blissfully happy.
When the words “One more push, Esme,” filled my ears, I looked up at Zac with tear-flooded eyes. This was it. In one final effort, one last big strain, our lives would change forever. In that second, I didn’t see my husband, 27 year old Zac. I saw him at 22 on the first day we ever spoke—the day that I knew that he was what I wanted. Never in a million years would I have imagined that we would wind up here.
“Almost there, Esme,” he said to me, placing a kiss to the back of my hand currently death-clutching into his own. I nodded and squinted with concentration as I did everything in my power to finish it once and for all. After a few epic seeming seconds, the baby cried for the first time and I let myself relax forcefully back onto the pillow.
“You were so good,” Zac smiled at me, leaning down to lightly kiss my lips.
“It’s a girl,” the doctor announced, holding up the baby for us to see. She was tiny and purple and looked a great deal like a crabby old man, but she was without a doubt the most incredible thing I’d ever seen.
“A girl?” I asked, my throat immediately constricting with tears. I looked back up at Zac. “I told you I didn’t have a penis growing inside of me.” He laughed heartily.
“You sure did,” he said, “Look, there she is.” He looked on as the doctor placed her in my arms. It was so unbelievable. For the last nine months, she’d been growing slowly inside me. I’d felt her every move and now I was actually holding her. She had the faintest little wisps of brown hair on top of her head had bright blue eyes that were struggling to open against the bright lights of the room.
“Well hello there, Lily. Welcome to the world,” I said. I knew that it was lame and cheesy, but it was all I could think of in my completely exhausted state. Zac was annoyingly snapping pictures behind me about every two seconds, but I let him doing it, trying to keep a smile on my sweaty and exhausted face. I carefully shifted my weight, leaning in Zac’s direction. “Do you want to hold her?”
“Of course I want to hold her!” he beamed, carefully picking her up and sitting gingerly on the edge of my bed. I snatched the camera from his hands and took a few truly adorable pictures of him smiling down at her. “Merry Christmas, Lily!”
“Oh, she has the worst birth date ever!” I groaned, looking up at the click and seeing that it was almost ten, “We’re never having sex in March again.” I heard the doctor laugh lightly across the room and looked up at Zac.
“You’re kidding right?” he asked. I just smiled and leaned down to kiss Lily’s forehead. “It just means that we have to decorate for Christmas with pink balloons and streamers.”
“What if she doesn’t like pink?” I teased.
“Too bad. That’s what she gets,” he laughed.
“Five minutes old and you’re already repressing her. Great start, Dad,” I said, kissing him again.
“Sometimes you just have to lay the smack down,” he shrugged, gingerly leaning down to look at her up close. “She is just absolutely perfect, isn’t she?”
“We did a good job,” I said, rubbing my hand up and down his back while I continued to watch them. He nodded lightly before following my lead and kissing her forehead lightly.
“I love you, Lily,” he whispered and I immediately started to cry. Five years after he had said that to me for the first time, he was now saying it to our daughter, and I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to spend Christmas.